Tag: CEL Practicum



Abigail MacDonald, MBA ’18, contributed this post on behalf of Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning. Lexi Bainnson, BSBA ’21, edited and formatted this CEL blog post.

Back row: Jeff Brown, MBA ’19; Ingrid Claussen, innovation manager, Rosario Board of Trade;
Nick Wosniak, MBA ’19; Gabe Berkland, MBA ’19. Front row: Abigail MacDonald, MSW/MBA ’18;
Ana Galiano, Austral University, Rosario – School of Business Sciences dean; Ankita Bhalla, BSBA ’20.

St. Louis is known as one of the best agricultural technology ecosystems in the world. With great agriculture universities, world-class research centers, interested investors, and thoughtful infrastructure, St. Louis is a perfect example of a successful ecosystem.

This fall, a team of graduate and undergraduate students at Olin Business School took a deeper dive into agtech ecosystems to learn about the importance of those essential institutions, groups, and entities necessary to have a successful ecosystem. We partnered with Austral University in Rosario, Argentina, and the Yield Lab, located both in St. Louis and Buenos Aires, to look at two different agtech ecosystems. As part of this process, we traveled to Buenos Aires and Rosario in early October.

Wheels up

Before leaving for Argentina, the team conducted research and interviews in St. Louis. We were excited to share their findings with the partners at Austral University in Rosario and the Yield Lab upon arriving in Argentina. We had a full schedule once we touched down in Argentina, and all of us were focused on the goal of the trip: to understand the key drivers of the agtech ecosystem in Rosario and to learn about how it has evolved over time.

Rosario is located in the province of Santa Fe, which is in the heart of soy country in Argentina, making it a perfect place for an agtech ecosystem to emerge. St. Louis is also located in a heavily agricultural region. The team spent some time driving between the cities of Rosario, Cordoba, and Santa Fe. Ultimately, this traveling gave us the opportunity to see the countryside of Santa Fe and how it closely resembles the agricultural region around St. Louis.

On our second to last day in Rosario, our team visited Molinos Agro, a large local soy crushing facility in San Lorenzo (just outside of Rosario). We had spent most of the week learning about the agtech ecosystem from the beginning of the value chain with startups creating new farm technology or genetically engineering seeds.

A fuller view

As a result, visiting Molinos Agro was especially helpful in that it gave us a glimpse into the middle-end of the value chain. The soy beans came into this facility as raw materials and left as either soy mill or soy oil. This was a great experience for our team, as it allowed us to see the effects that startup technology can have on an entire industry.

Our week in Argentina was filled with activities. Throughout the visit our team had the opportunity to interview with accelerators, startup founders, large local corporations, government agencies, investors, and the Rosario Board of Trade. These interviews provided great insights into the Rosario agtech ecosystem. Upon returning to St. Louis, the team has been hard at work to learn more about the Rosario ecosystem and to create a gap analysis between the two ecosystems. This gap analysis will provide insight into the necessary pieces of a successful agtech ecosystem.

Based on our experiences thus far, taking on a CEL practicum project is a lot of work, but it provides students with experience in industries in which they may have never considered working and helps students to develop useful skills in consulting, teamwork, and critical thinking.

Pictured above: Abigail MacDonald, MSW/MBA ’18; Gabe Berkland, MBA ’19; Nick Wosniak, MBA ’19; Jeff Brown, MBA ’19; Ankita Bhalla, BSBA ’20.




Jeff Brown, MBA ’19, wrote this on behalf of his practicum team from the Center for Experiential Learning. MBA ’19 team members included Jeff Brown, Abdul Rehman Azmat, Grace Lee, Ricardo Marrujo Mexia, and Samuel Roth. The project advisor was Rich Ryffel.

Our client was Doyon Limited. Doyon is an Alaskan Native Corporation (ANC) and the largest private land owner in the United States. At the beginning of the project, we knew little about ANCs or about the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act that led to their creation.

What we soon discovered, however, was that Doyon has a responsibility to protect Native Alaskan land and resources and to help its shareholders flourish. The part we were to play in helping Doyon fulfill this mission involved strategic planning as Doyon seeks to diversify beyond its core upstream oil and gas ventures.

Structuring the problem

Our first task was to bring structure to ambiguity—to bring ourselves down from 30,000 feet to ground level. This proved to be more difficult than expected. The complexity of the project put us in danger of venturing down numerous rabbit holes and getting lost in the minutia of the industries we were tasked with analyzing. However, our ability to clearly define the project via a statement of work hammered out together with the client helped us to create a project framework and stay on track.

Interacting with the client

In our first week on the project, we had the pleasure of meeting Doyon executives in person. Throughout the day, we interacted with the client professionally and—just as importantly—personally. too. This time spent together allowed us to better understand Doyon’s business and helped build a rapport that was useful during subsequent meetings. We became more confident that we could ask difficult questions, and at the same time, the client gave honest feedback on our work. In the end, because of the trust we built, we delivered a better final product and more value for Doyon.

Housekeeping and administration

Sometimes the little things can have major implications in a client relationship. After our first virtual meeting, our advisor, Rich Ryffel, gave us a piece of advice that we will use moving forward: “Make sure to keep meetings within the scheduled time or the value of your time will be diminished in the client’s eyes.”

Rich explained that not only should you respect the client’s time but that the client should respect yours, too. Mutual respect can keep both sides from making unreasonable asks and help maintain a productive working relationship.

Getting to know the local culture

Phase 2 of the project took us to Alaska, where we visited Doyon’s offices in Fairbanks and Anchorage. We also presented the results of our analysis and recommendations on which industry to make the focal point of phase 3.

The team spent the first two days as tourists, attending cultural events and visiting various attractions. We watched the beginning of the Iditarod, hiked a waterfall trail, and even caught a glimpse of Denali. When the meetings started, we were given a tour of Doyon’s in-house museum of native Alaskan artifacts and had lunch featuring dried salmon that is apparently such a delicacy that buying and selling it is regulated by the federal government. These experiences taught us a lot about native Alaskan culture and drove home the importance of Doyon’s core values.

Understanding the client’s businesses

Through meetings with various subsidiaries, we developed a better understanding of those businesses’ relationship with the holding company. We learned about utility joint ventures, oil exploration, pipeline building, oil and gas engineering services, and government IT outsourcing.

The meetings illustrated the real-world implications of findings from Frost and Sullivan, Ibis, Bloomberg, and others. Each night, after a long day of meetings and dinner, we rushed back to the hotel and worked well after midnight to incorporate what we had learned into the presentation we were preparing for senior leadership.

Adapting the message

Finally, the team met with the CEO, COO, and CFO to present our mid-project recommendations. Each executive brought a different perspective, and with that perspective, a different level of interest in or resistance to our recommendations. The discussion was not always easy, but the reactions we received taught us that, when presenting to executives, we need to consider all the vested interests in the room so that recommendations may be as acceptable, practical, and actionable as possible

Pushing till the end

Our final presentation went off with a hitch, and our team leader, Jeff Brown, was even invited to present our findings to the Doyon board of directors at their annual meeting. The feedback from Doyon was positive, and we wrapped things up with confidence that Doyon could integrate our recommendations into its long-term strategic planning process. While we learned a lot about business throughout this process, the best part of the experience was the time spent with the team and the client.

Having fun with the team

As MBA classmates, we already knew each other to varying degrees, but sharing this experience brought us closer and created moments that we’ll remember long after we’ve forgotten the actual project. One such memory was the birthday party that we threw for Grace while in the middle of putting the final touches on our executive summaries.

We surprised Grace with a card and cupcakes and sang happy birthday in the meeting room. It was just one moment during one meeting, but the experience was indicative of the good times the team shared together and of why we are much closer now than at the beginning despite the intensity of the experience.

Working with the client

Working with the client has taught us how to lead meetings with confidence, how to communicate more clearly, and how to read the client for clues about where they are taking the conversation. All these skills came to bear during our final presentation, which was done remotely via WebEx.

In a video conference, reading nonverbal cues can be very difficult, and the meeting flow can easily break down. By the time we delivered our final presentation, we had already completed five previous video conferences. As a result, we were familiar with how to manage the pauses, how to read the client’s questions, and how to reply in a way that moved the conversation forward.

These experiences will be invaluable in our future career and made us look back on our final presentation with so much pride about the work we’d done.

Pictured at top: Team members Jeff Brown, Abdul Rehman Azmat, Grace Lee, Ricardo Marrujo Mexia, and Samuel Roth, all MBA ’19.




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.




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!