March Madness: The Madagascar Edition

Krutika Sood, MBA ’20, a member of the Missouri Botanical Garden team traveling to Madagascar wrote this for the Olin Blog. Krutika worked with fellow MBA students Lael Bialek and Coilean Malone as well as faculty advisor Karen Bedell and CEL Fellow Megan Cowett to complete the project.

On March 8, 2019, three MBA candidates and one CEL Faculty Advisor set out on a 31-hour plane journey from St. Louis to Madagascar. After an eventful week learning about the distinctive flora and fauna found in the forests of Madagascar, only two of those MBA candidates made it back to St. Louis on the March 16, 2019 (Don’t worry, the other two members of the team made it back after a 42-hour journey on March 17, despite a missed flight).

The reason our team set off on this journey was to visit the Madagascar Program team of St. Louis’s own Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG).

The MBG was founded in 1859 by Henry Shaw. Today, the MBG is a National Historic Landmark and a center for science, conservation, education and horticultural display, and is considered one of the top three botanical gardens in the world. The Madagascar Program, started in 1987, is MBG’s largest and most successful international program.

Biodiversity hotspot

Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot and global conservation priority as it is home to about 14,000 species of flora (95% of the species are endemic) and only 7% of its forest cover still remains. This, coupled with the fact that Madagascar is one of the ten poorest countries in the world, has defined the two core goals for MBG’s Madagascar Program:

  1. To conduct botanical research and exploration on one of the world’s most distinctive and threatened floras.
  2. To conserve biodiversity through local engagement to improve natural resource management and the quality of life improvement in local communities.

The Madagascar Program consists of two major components – the Research Unit and the Conservation Unit. Our team was tasked with understanding the functioning of the Research Unit in order to recommend an optimal operational and financial strategy geared towards sustainable program growth. As a consulting team, our main goal was to provide recommendations that are realistic, actionable, and in alignment with the mission and goals of the Madagascar Program and the MBG.

Value of overseas site visit

This experiential learning opportunity has been valuable and enriching for us because it gave us a chance to utilize our collective professional and academic experiences to tackle a complex problem for a real client. We were able to gain valuable work experience during our MBA program that challenged us to think creatively and acquire knowledge about the symbiotic relationship between firms, local communities and the environment – a very crucial relationship in today’s business world.

Furthermore, collaborating with various stakeholders across three continents (USA, Europe & Africa) has been both a highlight and a challenge with this project. It taught us how to adapt and be effective in a dynamic and ambiguous environment, a.k.a, any real job. This project also allowed us to experience a new country and immerse ourselves in a different culture.

We didn’t get much sleep, but we did get to eat delicious food, see exotic forests, dip our toes into the blindingly blue Indian Ocean, and meet some adorable lemurs. Overall, it was a rewarding experience and we would surely choose to do it again. Working on a CEL Practicum has definitely been the highlight of our year.

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