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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Wharton's Healthcare MBA: my consulting trip to Capetown, South Africa

I have mostly written about topics that probably primarily interest me. Possible exception are my posts about the MBA admissions process that hopefully either help or entertain a larger audience. Since I am listed on Hella's site and I recently commented on the Owen Blogger's post about health care MBA programs, I want to describe my MBA experience in Wharton's Healthcare MBA program as that would probably be more of an interest to a larger audience that my health care navel gazing posts. Most importantly, I've got a story to tell and all of us like to tell stories.

The most incredible part of my MBA program at Wharton was an international volunteer project where I led a team of students and alumni on a 2 week consulting trip where we worked with the head of the Capetown public health department, Dr. Ivan Toms, and broke bread with Archbishop Desmond Tutu (or "Arch") as he preferred to be called. The fact that as a social working Peace Corps Volunteer whose only business experience prior to Wharton involved using an ATM card, I led, dragged, pleaded with and empowered, a talented group of students and alumni on this trip still boggles my mind. Here's the story, broken up into Acts, in This American Life style.

Act I How I pulled this off: The prior year a group of students and alum had taken the first trip to Capetown (part of the Wharton Healthcare International Volunteer Trips (WHIVP) to work with Dr. Toms and had done some great opening work around clinic operations improvement and helping with cost accounting so they could demonstrate how much it cost to treat various disease classes which helped defend budgets and demonstrate how much treatment Capetown could expect per dollars budgeted. The students presented their results to us first years and invited us to continue their work. Inspired to continue my Peace Corps style development work on a macro level, I approached one of the presenters and asked "How do we continue your work next year and go back to Capetown? What do we need to do to start organizing?"

The second year presenter smiled at me and said, "By you asking me this question, I think that you have now started the organizing" Wharton has a very student driven approach so it's not uncommon for a student be able to run major parts of an organization. Other schools are student-driven, too but at some the administration takes on certain responsibilities that may be done by student clubs at Wharton.

So I just volunteered myself to lead the whole thing from the student side to keeping everyone motivated, connecting with the alumni and Dr. Toms, and organizing our teams. While I had no business training and our leadership classes hadn't started yet, I put together a game plan that went like this. This game plan below is also my answer to every question that I get about leadership in job interviews.

Let passion lead
While this sounds like a romance novel, I made sure that everyone who wanted to go on the trip was really interested in development work and not just interested in a trip to South Africa. I had long, humorless conversations about the mission with anyone interested in joining in order to set the tone. At the initial meetings, I always asked why everyone was interested to reiterate the mission of the development work. I made napkins embossed with the importance of the mission- no not really. I also had everyone choose their own committees such as fund-raising, banking, and logistics to make sure people were on committees that interested them even though it meant banking only had 1 person. By making sure all the participants were motivated by the mission, the vision for the trip created itself.
I also came up with this before reading Jim Collin's "Good to Great" about getting the right people on the bus so it felt more groundbreaking than it probably seems.

Creating champions I drafted the most dedicated folks who represented different Wharton cliques into a subcommittee for idea generation, debating tactics, and dividing up responsibilities. That ensured that I brought plans to the larger group that already had been vetted by others and also that there were at least 3-4 people in the room who already agreed with me. This plan helped me avoid making some less well-received suggestions like fund-raising techniques that involved raffling off crafts that we could make.

Create a sense of accountability We were all going to be at summer internships across the country when we needed to do some serious logistical planning around travel. I needed to know that people would respond quickly so I created a culture of quick responses. I always responded to any question within 48 hours. Additionally, I did some test cases where I threw a fit when people didn't respond to minor questions like about who would bring a lap top. Well, it was calling people out for not responding and emphasizing the importance of timely communications to the trip's success. Remember, being humorless was one of my tactics. But my temper tantrums work as we were able to organize some major airline ticket purchase on a group rate which saved us 20% on travel.

Act II The 1st words that I heard Archbishop Tutu say were "I will follow you to make sure that you do not steal anything."
To be posted later. . . .

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