Blog

We Educate Global Leaders Who Create Sustainable Prosperity Worldwide

By Katy Spada '13

All Thunderbird applicants are required to write an essay explaining how they will put these words into action - during their time at Thunderbird and after. In my two years at Thunderbird, I have never seen these words so passionately and humbly put into practice until my colleagues and I organized the Thunderbird for Good Strategic Management Competition. On April 23rd ten teams competed for the chance to win four laptops for their client - a 10,000 Women Graduate.

It all began when Professor Rob Owen generously donated laptops to the Project Artemis program in January. After the completion of the program the Office of Thunderbird for Good had four laptops remaining. Amy Scerra, Program Director, asked me to find a student group that would create and administer a creative way to select four out of the eighty 10,000 Women Fellows that have graduated from Thunderbird in the past year. I put out a call for help via the Thunderbird student networks and two first-trimester students eagerly jumped at the opportunity- Chris Gosselin and Bryan Dempsey.

Chris, Bryan, Amy, and I organized a Strategic Management Competition. Amy selected 10 women to participate and we recruited students to work as consultants and be the voice of the women. I have never seen Thunderbird students respond so quickly and in force to an opportunity. Within 72 hours over 40 students signed up!

The teams worked with women entrepreneurs from Haiti, Nicaragua, Honduras, Kyrgyzstan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Bolivia, and Colombia. This was a truly Thunderbird competition. Students from all over the world were working with businesses from all over the world to solve a real business problem. This was not a case study, it was real life.

I had the pleasure of attending a few of the teams’ meetings. One team was working with Carmen from Nicaragua who sells coffee to large corporations and businesses to resell. Nicaragua had recently imposed a 15% sales tax on coffee and this was deeply affecting Carmen. Luckily, she had also just secured a large contract with a multinational. The team was advising Carmen on her cost structure, how to overcome the new sales tax, and the best way to navigate the negotiations with the new client.

Another team was working with Valessa from Bolivia who makes and sells fine jewelry to upper class locals and tourists. The team was busy navigating the financial information Valessa had sent. It was clear that Valessa needed a more relevant accounting system to be able to obtain a clearer picture of her profitability before she could assess who was her target market. The team began making templates and researching the markets in Bolivia to help steer her in the right direction.

The third team I visited was working with Ika from Indonesia who makes handicrafts out of local seashells. Her products are truly a work of art and her team was lucky enough to have members that had recently worked in Indonesia and understand the business environment very well. Ika currently focuses on selling her products wholesale to other businesses but her team believed she should switch her focus and sell directly to the end customer. They created a Facebook page for her and began collecting data on her target market. They also developed a three phase program that would help focus her current efforts and eventually expand her business.

On the night of the competition the Lecture Hall was packed with the teams, judges, and spectators. I have attended several case competitions but this one felt very different; it personified Thunderbird’s mission - “Create sustainable prosperity worldwide.” After three grueling hours of presentations, the judges deliberated and announced the four winners of the competition - Carmen, Valessa, Ika, and Min.

Although there were only four laptops to award the winners everyone walked away that night with the feeling that something bigger than them had occurred in that room. As we trudge through the day-to-day lives of an MBA student we realize that when we graduate we have the obligation to use our skills and knowledge to create a better world. On behalf of all of the students that participated in the competition, I would like to thank the Office of Thunderbird for Good for reminding us of the purpose of our degrees.