MBA and MPP (Masters of Public Policy) students from the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business and School of Public Policy traveled to Sri Lanka as part of an annual summer internship program (June-July 2012). The program is delivered by theCenter for Social Value Creation, Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER), the School of Public Policy, the Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA) program of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the International Executive Service Corps (IESC). The internship is a consulting based opportunity and focuses on improving competitiveness and economic revitalization in Sri Lanka. The six students selected consulted with three distinct clients— the Jesuit Academy of Trincomalee, an aquaculture business called Aqua ‘N Green, and VEGA’s BIZ+ job creation grant delivery platform in Colombo.
After a month of preliminary research in the DC area, the students traveled abroad to visit their clients first hand and conduct on-ground research. Students conducted interviews, examined supply chain mechanisms, and analyzed the efficacy of business processes and procedures. Once analyses were complete, the teams delivered recommendations to the clients on the ground and then returned to the U.S. to complete more formal presentations and reports.
Participating students had the opportunity to apply principles they learned in the classroom to real-world situations in a developing country, an experience they all reported was invaluable to their educational experience. The students said the project was both professionally and personally fulfilling, providing critical thinking skills and new insight into career possibilities in the fields of consulting and international development.
“This project was a very important complement to my academic education at the University of Maryland,” wrote one participant in an evaluation of the program. “It provided me with a level of regional understanding that I can apply to other areas going forward. Similarly, the firsthand experience of working in the field offered a variety of skills that I truly believe I would not have been able to experience with such depth in any other capacity.”
The participating consultants were, left to right: O'Reilley and Andres Feijoo (MPP '13), Jesuit Academy of Trincomalee; Valerie Lubrano (MBA/MPP '13) and Martha West (MBA '12), Aqua 'N Green; Caitlyn Zachry (MPP '13) and Sergio Pinto (MPP '13,) BIZ+.
The program culminated in a series of afternoon presentations in the Smith School suite at the Ronald Reagan building to stakeholders from USAID, IESC, and a number of University of Maryland entities.
In the case of the Jesuit Academy, the team focused primarily on digital marketing strategies as it related to attracting new students. By introducing processes and training on social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube as well as search engine optimization and user-friendliness advice on their main website, the Academy should be better positioned for customer retention going forward.
“Since the conclusion of the civil war, internet use has skyrocketed,” said Genevieve O’Reilley (MPP ’13.) “One of the first things we looked at was Facebook. We converted them over to a business account, which kept them in compliance with Facebook regulations and granted them access to Facebook insights. We believe this tool will be extremely helpful in helping them understand what generates interest in the organization.”
The team working with Aqua ’N Green analyzed fish industry trends and practices in the United States to create step-by-step recommendations for the aquaculture company to enter the U.S. market. The students working with BIZ+ assessed its evaluation process and tools, reviewed the business operations of the program’s first grant and other applicants, and interviews potential business development service partners, as well as provided training for regional staff.
At the conclusion of the presentations, audience members offered constructive feedback, reminding the consultants of the effect that political environments can play on the relevance and feasibility of business advising.
“All of you were focusing on one dimension, focusing on these terms of reference working with these projects. As foreign service officers, we face another dimension, the political dimension. … A lot of people think of AID as this altruistic organization, but it’s really a tool in the foreign policy toolbox,” said Paul Richardson, director of Economic Growth in the USAID Sri Lanka Mission. “In addition to dealing with technical issues in the field, you always have to deal with the political dimension. Foreign policy involves the wishes of the U.S ambassador, who is a personal representative of the President of the United States, so we have these other angles we have to play with. Development in and by itself is indeed very challenging, but you throw in the politics as well and it’s even more interesting.”