Second-year Global Master’s in Management students have the unique opportunity to apply the theoretical knowledge and business management skills gained in the first year by working on a business project with an external client. Students work in teams with a sponsor company over the course of a term to develop a solution to a real-world business problem. In her latest blog post, Judith Durkin shares her experience working with a team scattered across the globe to tackle challenges facing an international non-profit organisation.

children holding hands

When I was given the opportunity to work with international non-profit Ashoka for my second-year business project, I was thrilled (wahooooo – my first choice!). But the logistics of addressing an ambiguous, real-life business challenge with a diverse group of team mates proved a little more complicated than initially anticipated… Ashoka’s mission is to empower members of their organisation to achieve educational transformation, and we were asked to help grow and develop their network of ‘changemakers’, a brief that presented us with our first challenge. What is a changemaker? How do you go about transforming education? What could we do to help?

Ashoka logo“Transforming education systems must begin with us. … Just as 50 to 100 years ago society took the radical step of saying that every person must master written language, now we must insist that every person have the social skills necessary to be an effective, confident changemaker before age 21. These core skills are empathy, teamwork, a new type of leadership, and changemaking.”

PHEW. That’s a hell of a lot of responsibility to be given for a business project. Yet as we worked, as the project developed, we recognised we had the opportunity to create something really special. Ultimately, we were able to produce a development strategy for Ashoka that we were proud of and, though we perhaps didn’t realise it at the time, experienced our own lesson in Ashoka’s values in the process.

Empathy

Empathy was certainly at play when we all chose the Ashoka project to work on – it’s easier to commit yourself to a tough challenge when you believe fully in the cause. What we learned over the course of the term, however, was how to apply empathy not just to the cause but to our work styles. We learned that empathy is about truly understanding the problem so that the solution can actively support those involved. Empathy is about taking a wide and ambiguous project brief and taking the time to sort through the superficial in order to create meaning, clarity, and a product that genuinely has the potential to make a difference.

Teamwork

“So we could Skype at 5pm?” … “Is that 5pm UK time, or 5pm Brazil time?” … “Brazil time.” … “Right, so 9pm UK time. Does that work for everyone?” …
“Unfortunately that’s 4am Malaysia time, I think I’ll be in bed”
… “Ah…”

It is testament to our commitment to the project and our strength as a team that grueling 4 am meetings over Skype, endless Facebook discussions, group negotiations punctuated by members leaving for and arriving from the airport, ‘quick’ (!!!) telephone catch-ups, and messages relayed through three people actually brought us all closer together and even more determined to produce a cohesive, useful solution for Ashoka.

Leadership

Each member of the team brought with them a different skill set and approach to the work. By taking the time to learn and understand our differences and divide leadership responsibilities amongst ourselves, we found:
• A team member who could successfully explain network theory to us (no, really! It’s actually fascinating!) and help us develop a clear strategy for expanding Ashoka’s own network based on this theory.
• Someone who really loved to organise (yup, that’s me!) and took charge of directing the project timeline, coordinating with Ashoka, and arranging meetings and room bookings.
• That really useful member of the team who every so often would stop us and make us evaluate whether we were still going in the right direction.

Changemaking

Did we make a difference? I like to think we did. The project was not without the conflict and friction inherent in joining together five outgoing and (occasionally) stubborn individuals, but what resulted was a concise understanding of what makes a successful changeleader and how Ashoka should go about developing and measuring the success of its network.
As the culminating piece of work of nearly two years on the Global MSc Management at LSE, the business project really was a fantastic opportunity to both acknowledge how much we’ve learned and also to put those skills to the test. And waddya know, it looks like the Business Project ticks all of Ashoka’s boxes too…

 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Judith Durkin EGMIM student Judith Durkinhas just finished up her Global Master’s in Management programme at LSE with an MBA exchange term at Cornell University, and is about to become one of those useful, contributing members of society – watch out world! From the UK originally, she was born in Brunei and grew up around the globe living in eight countries across three continents. A theatre and culture enthusiast (to put it mildly) she previously worked in the Science Museum in London and has since co-founded and directs a theatre-in-education social enterprise called Big Ben Learning. She started her new job as a Graduate Editor in the Global Editorial department at Shell in September.