During spring break, I spent 2 weeks in South Africa with 38 classmates. Our trip was part of the Fuqua Client Consulting Practicum, which is a 6-credit course. We went to South Africa to meet our clients and fulfill the consulting projects that we started working on in November. The trip was a great experience for both personal and professional development, and it was a lot of fun, too!
My team’s client engagement started with a city tour. Our client introduced us to the history and stories of the city, to help us understand the social environment. We saw the real sides of South Africa, from brand new infrastructure to the underprivileged townships. Naturally, I saw some similarities to BRIC countries, and I noted South Africa’s uniqueness due to its distinct location, history, people, economy, and social issues.
Later in the trip, we were able to see an on-site movie shoot, operated by our client’s parent organization, and we talked to the cast and crew. The footage looked amazing, and we cannot wait to watch Nothing for Mahala!
From visiting museums, I improved my understanding of the history of South Africa. Some of the uprisings and democratic events reminded me and my teammates of similar activities in our own countries. Witnessing some of the horror of Apartheid was an intense experience for us, but it is good to know that part of African history.
We also had the opportunity to attend sessions about business, institutions, and corporate social investment in Africa, presented by Deloitte. It not only helped us know more about the continent, but also clarified some key concepts in South Africa’s economic policy, which were critical to our project. The consultants’ presentations also inspired me to think of several suggestions for our client.
Delivering the Project
Our client, forgood, is an Internet-based social enterprise aiming to connect people and causes in South Africa. Albeit some initial analysis before spring break, the majority of the work needed to be done within the 2 weeks that we visited the client.
I had never worked with a start-up before. It was challenging yet exciting. Our team talked with the CEO and CFO every day. It was inspiring to work with such passionate social entrepreneurs, and we learned a lot from them. Face-to-face communication is much more efficient than conference calls, so we understood the situation quickly, and articulated our hypothesis. With the client’s assistance, we also had the opportunity to
visit some of their customers and vendors,
including giant national banks and small boutique workshops, which allowed us to collect valuable insights.
The practicum also enabled us to experience life as a consultant, to some extent. Due to the time constraints, most teams worked until 1-2 a.m. in the hotel lounge on the night before our final presentations, but I enjoyed the viewpoints exchanged and the camaraderie involved with the teamwork. After some heated discussions, our team adjusted our hypothesis, agreed on the key problems and proposed a prioritized list of recommendations. Over time, my communication style also evolved — I improved my assertiveness in advocacy, and defended my points more aggressively in debates.
During the weekend, we went to a safari resort. It was peaceful and the resort had nice amenities. Some teammates enjoyed playing golf on a mountain, which they got to by helicopter. Then during 3 safari drives, we saw numerous animals, including elephants, rhinos, lions and lionesses, giraffes, zebras, impalas, and much more. Sometimes, those giant friends were just several inches away from our Jeep. It was thrilling and exciting! It was an extraordinary experience for everyone.
During the safari, we met up with 33 other classmates who were there on a GATE (Global Academic Travel Experience). They continued on to Cape Town, but it was cool to enjoy some time with them.
Despite the limited time for sightseeing, I think I made the right choice in choosing the consulting practicum. This was a once-in-a-life opportunity for skill building. It was the first time that I visited external stakeholders so intensively, and worked on a real business problem for a real client. This is quite different from reading casebooks and handing in write-ups in school. We sat in the clients’ and their partners’ offices, talked to the real people, and worked on real-time problems, knowing that our recommendation would make a change.
Finally, our client was very satisfied with our presentation, and our team was also pleased that we made a positive impact while enjoying the trip. This practicum experience, is one of the most attractive programs in the globalized B-school, and is one of the reasons why I chose Fuqua. I’m glad that I ticked another item off of my to-do list!