Combining International Business and Social Enterprise at Indiana’s Kelley School of Business

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There are many reasons to go to business school: advance your career, learn new skills, or earn a higher salary. But when I talk with MBA alumni, almost all will emphasize and reflect on the experiences they had and relationships they built while in the program. You can’t always quantify these experiences in business school rankings, so I went looking beyond the data to find MBA programs that offer both academic innovation and life-enriching experiences. That search led me to the Indiana University Kelley School of Business and their Global Business and Social Enterprise (GLOBASE) initiative.

Many of the top MBA programs have strong international programs, but Kelley’s GLOBASE program adds a focus on social enterprise by having students directly support local businesses and NGOs. Students apply their skills to help improve the competiveness of small business enterprises in Guatemala, Ghana, and India. The program stretches 7 weeks and is led by the student participants themselves. The program not only teaches valuable leadership and international business skills, but also gives students an experience that they carry with the rest of their lives.

I had the opportunity to speak with Analilia Silva, the Director of Global Strategy and International Initiatives at Kelley, who provided some background and context for the program: “GLOBASE was started five years ago by students as an evolution of our international program. Students felt something was missing from their international exposure, and wanted to give back to those communities. The program gets students involved with real business and real projects.”

Each GLOBASE team is run by four student leaders who apply for the coveted leadership spots. Team leaders participate in a leadership development program, define their project, and recruit their student teams in advance of the program start in January. Silva explains, “Leaders vet the client, develop a consulting framework, and then sell the project to students.” The leadership development program occurs during the fall semester and helps to prepare the student leaders to train their own teams. Ray Luther, the Director of Recruiting and Leadership, explains: “The ultimate objective of our GLOBASE Leadership Development program is to prepare leaders who are equipped to lead student teams in global settings and deliver excellent results for their clients.  We accomplish this through experiential learning with numerous coaching and review sessions – students live the leadership experience firsthand.” The program concludes with a day-long team building and leadership exercise run by the local US Army ROTC chapter. This exercise enables many of the planning, execution, and review elements to come to life for the student leaders.

The full seven-week GLOBASE program begins in January and involves approximately 75 students organized into 15 groups of 5. Students meet for 3 hours each week in January and February to work on the engagement. In the second week the client visits Indiana, providing an introduction to the challenges ahead and sharing data that will help support students’ recommendations. Silva emphasized that education occurs on both sides between the client and the students. The initial weeks are spent developing an understanding of the client’s local business culture, focused project management, and discussing the case. At this point, students’ are excited with lots of ideas, but by week four, frustration starts to build. Silva explains, “Suddenly, the solutions in the classroom won’t always apply in developing countries. But that ramps up students’ adrenaline and they overcome their frustration.” Each team also involves two faculty and staff advisors from Kelley, who help to coordinate with the countries and local organizations. But for the most part the entire project is student organized and run. Projects can range from helping a local business increase their sales, to helping an NGO build a sustainable source of income. Students also get involved in community service activities such as building a playground for an NGO that helps rescue children from slavery.

The project culminates in a two-week visit to the client’s country. The first week is spent working with the client and delivering a final presentation and recommendations. Students then spend the second week immersed in the local country and culture. One alumnus I spoke with, Ben Cober, spent an entire day along on the Amazon River and summed up his experience this way: “I can only hope that the rest of my life is filled with such adventure.”

Students are unanimously supportive of GLOBASE, which has become a cornerstone of the Kelley MBA. The program gives students real-world experience that benefits them in interviews and career placements once they graduate. Silva concludes: “If students can tackle these projects with all the ambiguity and uncertainty of a new culture, then they can certainly handle Fortune 500 companies.” Kelley’s GLOBASE program goes beyond most traditional international experiences, giving the world’s future business leaders an experience that enriches their lives both professionally and personally. Ray Luther adds, “Global social enterprise provides the context where we can bring out the greatness in our student leaders.”