By Pammi Bhullar, Manager for Experiential Learning, Center for Social Value Creation
As part of a multi-disciplinary, international consulting practicum offered by the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, ten graduate students ventured to Sri Lanka in May 2014 to spend three weeks consulting with small business owners and government agencies. Students in this practicum, called Facilitating Economic Growth in Sri Lanka, were funded by the Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER) while working as consultants on USAID-funded projects. The International Executive Service Corps (IESC) provided pre-departure training, project support, and in-country assistance while Biz+ Vega, a USAID grantee, led on-the-ground operations including cultivating and managing client relationships. Students were also supported by the Office of Global Initiatives (OGI) and the Center for Social Value Creation (CSVC). Contributing to the students’ cultural education, Ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya and his Board of Ministers hosted the students at the Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Under the direction of Professor Kislaya Prasad, Director of CIBER at Smith, students underwent a competitive application and interview process to be accepted into the program. The selected group of ten represented three academic degree programs, Master of Business Administration (MBA), Master of Public Policy (MPP), and Master of Science in Information Systems (MSIS), and hailed from five different countries, including Japan, Thailand, India, the Czech Republic, and the USA.
While in Sri Lanka, students worked on high impact projects with key stakeholders in the local communities. Hirokazu Masuoka (MBA ’14) worked with the Eastern Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Production and Development, Rural Industries Development, Fisheries, and Tourism Projects to develop a proposal for establishing a cooperative rural banking facility as part of the multipurpose co-operative in the Eastern Province. On-the-ground observations made all the difference for Masuoka, he noted, “Now I learned what I need to take into account, what works, and what doesn’t work when I engage with financial markets in developing countries. There is a huge difference between working with my laptop in the U.S. and working on the real site.”
One team composed of MPP, MBA, and MSIS students provided recommendations on strengthening the National Policy on Local Government. Through site visits and interviews, the team developed recommendations regarding Budget and Revenue Generation, Human Resource Management and Workforce Training, Transparency, and Information Systems and Technology. At the culmination of the practicum, students presented their recommendations to their clients, representatives from the local community, USAID, IESC, Biz+ Vega, and Smith School of Business.
Not only were students immersed in improving business processes, but also in the cultural nuances of the Sri Lankan people. Maurice Nick (MBA ’15), having not traveled to Sri Lanka before, was floored by similarities that he discovered between Sri Lankans and himself. Nick elaborated on one of the distinctions that actually made him feel closer to the Sri Lankan culture than to his own American culture in an article posted in the Washington Times and the Smith blog. Nick wrote, “Even though I was sent there [to Sri Lanka] to teach business owners how to maintain their financial records, in the end, it was the Sri Lankan people who taught me to always hold steadfast to my faith regardless of where I am in the world.”
Smith School of Business students have benefited from the opportunity to take part in the CIBER-supported Facilitating Economic Development in Sri Lanka practicum since 2011. Smith has sent five different cohorts, including 34 graduate students from the MBA, MPP, and MSIS programs. This has given students from the U.S., Europe, Southeast Asia, Japan, and China the opportunity to work with and positively influence Sri Lankan enterprises throughout Sri Lanka.