T-Birds in Madagascar

By Nash Wills, Co-Editor; Alex Marino, Staff Writer; and Melissa Gaylord-Ratsimbazafy, Guest Writer

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the true value of being a T-bird is access to a network of unique opportunities that place you in a position to let your ambitions and passions run wild. In this authentically misfit style, T-bird explorations create impactful solutions to global problems as ambition fuels persistence. Every year students branch out all across the world to embark on these missions that transcend borders, promote our vision for a better humanity, and expand the network’s influence; and we’d like to share our contribution to that shared mission by presenting our summer consulting project in Fort Dauphin, Madagascar. Along the way we will explain how interactive coursework from esteemed T-bird professors and invaluable training at the Net Impact Conference and Global Consulting Laboratory equipped us with an instinctive knowledge base heading into Madagascar.

Fort Dauphin, Madagascar. PC Nash Wills
Fort Dauphin, Madagascar. PC Nash Wills

Upon arriving in isolated Fort Dauphin, we first discovered that we were the fifth consulting group to work with our client CARA within the last two years. CARA is a nascent business development center developed in partnership with the World Bank and mining conglomerate Rio Tinto (RT) to develop Small-Medium Enterprises (SME) in the Anosy region. CARA’s original mission was to create a shared value through entrepreneurial and financial management training for local SMEs, ultimately resulting in sustainable capacity building to minimize supply chain expenditures for RT. Currently, CARA is entering a new phase of its life cycle as its support funding from RT will gradually begin to diminish, with the ultimate intention of redefining CARA as an independent and self-sustaining entity. So in such an important transitional period and following several professional consultants who failed to deliver expected results, you may be asking how three MAGAM students from across the globe with minimal work experience could make a worthwhile impact? WE’RE THUNDERBIRDS!

In the project discovery phase, we utilized our GCL experiences in Peru and used a triangulated approach that involved speaking with multiple stakeholders including beneficiaries, CARA executives, RT collaborators, and Board members. Through this investigative process, we discovered that CARA’s primary issues were financial sustainability due to donor dependence, a poor internal organizational structure, and a vaguely defined strategy. To tackle these challenging internal and external problems, always keeping cultural sensitivity in mind, we shifted into an intuitive mindset and trusted the instinctual training base and skill-sets acquired at Thunderbird.

Madagascar hike. PC Nash Wills
Madagascar hike. PC Nash Wills

After thorough analysis, we determined that CARA’s self-sustainment depended on financial stability. Therefore, through each deliverable phase we presented strategic advice, interactive financial tools, and internal management processes to refocus the organization towards a revenue-seeking business mindset. Considering their social impact intentions and shift to a business orientation, we remembered the principles of Net Impact geared towards creating shared value through a social enterprise. However, diving deeper into the project dimensions revealed an unexpected twist: a meeting with a Malagasy legal representative informed us that CARA NGO’s status was non-lucrative. Before this shocking revelation, every stakeholder was under the impression that CARA was a lucrative NGO preparing for a transition to financial self-sustainment. Despite the unexpected news, we were able to think on our feet and strategize a proposal to keep the NGO status and create a new entity as a social enterprise to act as the NGO’s functional arm. The proposed transition would set CARA up to financially function as a strong business development center promoting an entrepreneurial culture through social impact operations while also maintaining an NGO status for access to donor funds.

The wealth of knowledge that comes from being a Thunderbird set us up to make an impact when real people’s livelihoods were on the line. The GCL experience showed us the importance of taking the time to build strong relationships, develop a collaborative approach to identify all the key stakeholders involved in a project, and then embrace that relationship at every level of the process. Net Impact’s social impact conference helped us identify the perfect fit for our client based on their mission, vision, and values. Our cosmopolitan T-bird professors tied it all together with knowledge of strategy and marketing approaches, financial management, and organizational capacity building. Our final deliverable’s importance to us was experiencing what it really means to transcend borders and work as a T-bird, and for CARA it means a functional blueprint to guide them and their Malagasy beneficiaries to a more certain future.

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