Author: The CEL


About The CEL

The Center for Experiential Learning (CEL) provides students with the opportunity to engage in real-world, team-based consulting projects and experiences around the globe. Guided by distinguished faculty, students are able to deliver actionable results to organizations, develop skills as a life-long learners, and establish themselves as credible business and community leaders.

With our student consulting projects underway, we wanted to highlight the Center for Experiential Learning teams’ international footprint. This semester, 95 students are packing their bags to travel to five different continents through the CEL Practicum and Global Management Studies program.

From Ecuador to Uganda and India to Madagascar, there is Olin representation all over the globe. But what are these teams doing and how are they delivering business results to various clients?

Some teams are working with nonprofits to combat systemic issues in these regions. A healthcare consultant from Missouri, a software engineer and change maker from India, a globetrotting businessman from Vermont, and a combat medic from California are coming together to consult for a nonprofit in Africa.

The team is collaborating with Mavuno, an organization working to end extreme poverty in eastern Congo by developing “GOs,” or grassroots organizations. Part of their project is analyzing the demand of potential business ventures in Congo. Being on the ground will provide students with a better perspective of the culture, people, and business environment to pose actionable recommendations.

One team is working with a brewery to audit and understand the operations and financials of the company. In doing so, they will learn the inner workings of beer manufacturing and how the process differs from the United States to Germany. Coming from St. Louis, the team will have local knowledge to build upon.

While it is great to create international impact, many teams have the opportunity to consult with a client with operations that extend from St. Louis and abroad. These teams, including The Yield Lab and Missouri Botanical Gardens, will be able to see how local contributions can create impact for a global environment.

Beyond consulting with a singular client, the Global Management Studies teams are getting to dive right into other cultures and experience businesses through tours and travel. Two GMS trips are happening this semester – Japan and Colombia.

These students are taking on the role of being Olin ambassadors by building relationships with business executives and planning company visits. They have been planning for this through a class this past semester and will get to see it all come into fruition now.

So, whether you are passionate about supporting causes abroad or understanding business from an international lens, CEL has a place for you. We are excited to build student interest and global experiences to create business-learning opportunities. Stop into the CEL Hub (Simon 100) to see what programs, clients, or trips could align with your interests.

Allison Halpern, BSBA ’18 and CEL marketing student associate, writes on behalf of the Center for Experiential Learning.

Through the CEL Practicum, students have the unique opportunity to consult for companies on a global scale, from startups to Fortune 50 firms.

Professional MBA student Elise Hastings and a team of student consultants recently traveled to Mumbai to meet with their CEL Practicum client, ArtO2, an independent art organization aiming to increase the awareness of contemporary art practices. Elise reflects on the consulting process her team undertook in Mumbai, and why site visits are essential to project success:

What was the biggest takeaway from consulting in-person, rather than remotely?

Elise: It was extremely important that our team understood the context of our project by meeting with our clients in person. We met with all the stakeholders involved and were able to build a relationship. They treated us with immense kindness and respect. They helped show us the rich culture of the city and prioritized hospitality. We understood that relationship building and trust was important in the business culture there, and being with the clients in person greatly facilitated these interactions. We also met with some of the people our clients served, which made it easier for us to understand the challenges and opportunities of the organization and areas we could provide support.

What unique value did your team contribute to ArtO2?

Elise: Our team has a variety of skill sets and backgrounds–including law, accounting, strategic planning, nonprofit fundraising, and social enterprise consulting. We were excited to work with a relatively younger and smaller organization like Art Oxygen, because we could play a larger role in structuring the organization for growth. With our group’s skills, we can support a lot of the strategic planning and organizational structuring that can best position ArtO2 to grow their impact and reach sustainability.


What were the most rewarding—and most challenging—aspects of working with your client?

Elise: It was a great opportunity to work with a group of passionate individuals that are attempting to bring contemporary art to Mumbai and build an arts infrastructure in a rapidly urbanizing city. We enjoyed building connections and understanding the process of creating an international consulting relationship. Although this relationship-building experience was rewarding, it was challenging to achieve. Being in a new place and cultural landscape over just a short timeframe, it was difficult to build that base of trust and understanding. Throughout this process, we enjoyed witnessing the impact of their work and learning how we as a group could help the organization grow that impact.

A special thanks to our partners at IIT Bombay, our IIT Bombay-WashU Research and Educational Academy family, and most especially, Executive MBA alumni Ravi Vishnu and Saurabh Shrivastava for their support in making this project happen.

Learn more about the CEL Practicum experience on the CEL’s website.

The Olin/United Way Board Fellows program provides impact to the St. Louis community by placing students as voting members on a nonprofit board for an academic year—and requiring them to consult on an important project for the agency.

“Olin/United Way Board fellows’ hard work and innovative thinking is an asset to the nonprofit community and the many people across our region,” said Orvin Kimbrough, president and CEO of United Way of Greater St. Louis.

Orvin Kimbrough speaks with Olin/United Way Board Fellows students.

Since its start with nine United Way agencies in 2010, the program has engaged with 82 unique agencies and immersed 266 graduate students on a board for the 12-month experience.

“The board fellows program allows our students to build a professional network, learn best practices in governance, and begin building their lifelong passion for community service,” said Al Kent, program director.

Al Kent, Program Director for Olin/United Way Board Fellows presenting to nonprofit partners.

With more than 42,500 hours of impact to the St. Louis area, the program’s graduate students not only have engaged with the board on making pivotal decisions for our community, but also have engaged with consulting project for the nonprofit.

“My board fellow’s dedication and persistence is helping us improve our board recruitment, orientation, engagement, and continuing education practices,” said Mary Rogers, executive director for Sherwood Forest, which connect with, educates, and inspires low-income and underserved youth in the St. Louis area.

Learn more about Scott Diamond’s, MBA ’17, and Paul Kirbach’s, PMBA 38, journey as a board member of their nonprofit board experience through our video (above).

Olin/United Way Board Fellows serve boards as a voting member and are responsible for executing a project designed to provide lasting social impact. Interested? Learn more on the CEL’s website.

Students in the International Impact Initiative provide real-world, team-based consulting for business leaders in a global setting.

This is part two of a look at a student consulting trip to Ethiopia, where MBA students Molly Goldstein, Brenna Humphries, Paul Dinkins, Jerrod Anderson, and Raisaa Tashnova worked with US-based nonprofit Dignity Period. You can read Part One here.

Raisaa Tashnova writes about the team’s experience.

Our first destination in Mekelle, Ethiopia, was the factory where the reusable sanitary pads are produced. A traditional welcome of carefully laid palm leaves guided us from the gate of the factory complex to the main building. There, we found more than 50 women working in a neatly organized production floor.

It was impressive. Since its inception nine years ago, Mariam Seba Sanitary Products Factory has grown into a well-organized, mid-sized production facility. Many of the employees have worked there since the beginning.

As her first employees in the factory started their families, founder Freweini Mebrahtu started a day care center in the factory complex to accommodate new mothers and allow them to continue working. An unexpected delight was our visit to the day care center, where seven tiny inhabitants looked at us intruders in awe as we “oo-ed” and “ah-ed” over them.

On another day, to understand the full value chain of the Dignity Period project, we visited two of the project schools in the nearby city of Wukro. Each of these public schools had a “Gender Office” where students could lie down in a rest corner—a cool, inviting, curtained-off segment of the room reserved for the girls. The facilities were amazing for us to see. But what took the prize for the day were the students themselves. Thanks to Dignity Period’s education and intervention, the students were confident and strong as they told us about the positive impact the sanitary pads made in their lives.

Over the next few days, we set off to find more opportunities for Mariam Seba Sanitary Products Factory and Dignity Period to expand their reach and impact in Mekelle and all northern Ethiopia. To design a commercial distribution network, we needed to understand the competitive landscape, so we set out to research available brands of menstrual pads and their prices in the local markets.

We uncovered the dominance of Chinese manufactured imports in the markets and the high prices for low quality, disposable products. There definitely was opportunity to introduce a higher quality, locally manufactured product in the market.

In our week of exploration in Ethiopia, we gained more from this project than ever imaginable—for us as students, but more importantly, for our clients. We did not only learn about doing business in Africa, but also about education and the extensive healthcare network of the country.

We met with people from diverse industries—from nonprofits to business to psychology and healthcare—and came back with a holistic understanding of how Ethiopia works.

We learned to look beyond the obvious for inspiration and to be inquisitive as we shifted our expansion plan from a traditional retail market route to the healthcare channel route. In the process, we helped empower our clients to think differently and gave them what they wanted most from this engagement: hope.

Students interested in learning more about the Center for Experiential Learning’s Practicum experience can find information on the CEL’s Website.

Students in the CEL Practicum: International Impact Initiative provide real-world, team-based consulting for business leaders in a global setting. Second-year MBA student Raisaa Tashnova describes the experience of working with Professors Al Kent and Hillary Anger Elfenbein and fellow second-year MBA students Molly Goldstein, Brenna Humphries, Paul Dinkins, and Jerrod Anderson to consult for US-based nonprofit Dignity Period. 

Puberty for girls in Ethiopia comes with a double whammy. First, menstruation is a taboo subject, causing embarrassment, shame, fear, and surprise as girls have their first period. Second, this cultural taboo creates a shortage of menstrual hygiene supplies, causing makeshift remedies, accidents that cause embarrassment, missed school, and more.

Interviewing the director of a rural health center

Dignity Period, a US-based nonprofit that’s addressing the issue through education and access to sanitary pads, has seen tremendous results. But through Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning, I had the chance—with a group of fellow students—to help Dignity Period’s mission become more sustainable.

Few of us have traveled to Africa. Even fewer have seen how business is conducted on the continent. Learning about the African economy is what motivated me to apply to serve on the Dignity Period student consulting team. Because of the client’s visionary social impact, the opportunity was even more exciting. After our recent trip to Ethiopia, I was inspired by business opportunities in Ethiopia and humbled by this opportunity to represent Olin and the CEL in Africa.

Dignity Period came into existence through Freweini Mebrahtu. Freweini grew up without access to menstrual hygiene products, a fate common to women in Ethiopia. Upon graduating from high school, she was awarded a scholarship to attend college in the United States. When Freweini returned to Ethiopia in 2009, after a successful career as an engineer, she decided to address the lack of access to menstrual hygiene products.

Inspired by Freweini’s vision and leadership, Dr. Lewis Wall and his wife, Helen Wall, founded Dignity Period, a US-based nonprofit. Its mission: Keep Ethiopian girls in school by providing free access to sanitary pads and the health education needed to break the powerful social taboo around menstruation.

Since 2014, Dignity Period has reached more than 73,000 boys and girls with menstrual hygiene education and sanitary products. In selected schools, girls in grades 5 and above receive a free kit of four reusable pads and two pairs of underwear, all sewn in Freweini’s factory. Both boys and girls receive education around menstruation so that all may help break down taboos. Research conducted by Wall and his colleagues identified a 23 percent reduction in school absenteeism for girls after the Dignity Period intervention. With such a powerful effect on the community, Dignity Period is now looking to expand its reach and create sustainable change in society with the help of the CEL student consulting team.

Our five-member student CEL team and two faculty advisers were tasked with assessing the question, “How does Dignity Period grow?”

Motivated by the organization’s mission, we wanted to bring our business knowledge to help Dignity Period reach more women and girls in Ethiopia and become a sustainable business for the long term.

Before our client visit in Mekelle, Ethiopia, we distilled our project focus into two areas: operations and market expansion. The operations agenda included analyzing Freweini’s factory’s value chain, identifying her pain points, and recommending solutions to streamline the production of the pads given her high-quality, patented design.

The market expansion agenda involved identifying new channels to distribute the reusable menstrual pads, creating a market for them.

But the biggest solution we could provide for our client was hope: Hope that what they created from nothing could and would continue. Hope that the mission they embarked upon could be accomplished.

Stay tuned to hear more about our student consulting trip to Ethiopia in Part II!

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