Brazil (Spring 2020)
Student participants in the Social Impact Field Seminar 2020 Brazil will share their reflections on their learning experience in the below blog posts (unedited)
Not getting to go to Brazil to meet with our consulting partners was a twist that none of us saw coming, but this experience has shown us a lot about globalization and the interconnectedness of our world. Despite never making it to Brazil to meet with our client’s hardworking team, presenting them with our final report felt like we were wrapping up a huge project, and the lessons learned were not diminished at all.
While I’m sure we all would have preferred to go on the trip we expected and meet with our consulting partners, being able to view a small startup as they navigate a worldwide pandemic has been illuminating. Our client is a small company that works in the favelas to provide solar energy to homes and businesses. Because they are involved with the national energy grid, they have gained the trust of community residents and they have access to their bank information. While this would normally only be used to track energy usage and expenditures, in 2020 it has become most useful as a way of distributing aid to the community as needed. Because our client is a trusted entity, they are able to work as a point of contact for communities that may not have the resources to effectively protect themselves in a pandemic.
Distributing funds and supplies is very different from their mission to provide affordable solar energy options to low-income communities, but in looking at their Theory of Change, it seems they’re doing exactly what they should be in this situation. While goals related to sustainability may have to take a backseat for now, our client has stated that one of their indirect goals is that
"[The community generating their own power] creates a feeling of community empowerment”, and their ultimate impact is to improve the quality of life for community residents. At this time, when one of the greatest needs is for effective and safe distribution of resources, our client’s involvement has been a great asset to the community as they pivot their focus while keeping an eye on the larger goal.
When the world learns how it can best adapt to this new normal, our client is eager to bring their focus back to their goals surrounding sustainability and education. In the meantime, however, they’re perfectly positioned to be a resource to their community, and this may end up being the best marketing strategy they could ask for.
When community members learn about them now, it is as a leader and helper for those in need, highlighting the value that was always there in their mission but perhaps not as obvious to consumers.
This transition was not easy for anybody, and the transition back to life as we know it will also be difficult, but our client has shown that they are ready to meet whatever challenges come their way.
[...] I am astounded by what can be accomplished when everyone works together to achieve a common goal. My experience with this project is no different. I am grateful to have worked with our client team that exudes such a passion to serve the underprivileged.
As I endure quarantine at home, I think about the essential workers risking exposure to COVID-19 and how our definition of ‘essential’ before the pandemic has largely been taken for granted. COVID-19 has brought ‘essential’ back to its roots. Although fundamental to our daily living, the transportation, civil, farming, municipal, utility, government, and healthcare services ran silently in the background, out of focus unless for major once-in-a-while occurrences, but as we lay isolated in our homes in the throes of a pandemic, the importance of these services is thrust to the fore as a primary means to our survival through this very difficult period. With all non-essential businesses pausing operations to prevent the spread of the virus, these activities have become absolutely vital to maintain critical infrastructure. The nation must now depend on workers in these services to risk their health on the frontlines as they work through the pandemic to meet our essential needs. I particularly feel for those healthcare professionals whose honorable duty of treating patients who suffer COVID-19 is not without great sacrifice to quarantine themselves from their own families to maintain their health in order to serve the greater good. The struggle to overcome the disease cannot rely on essential services alone and requires complete cooperation from everyone to do their part to flatten the curve. Unlike pandemics experienced by generations before us, we have the technology and resources to stay connected despite our social distancing so that we can work together as a global team to beat COVID-19.
As this crisis unfolds, I cannot help but notice similarities of our current situation with the daily struggles of the people of Maranhão who, restricted by their limited economic opportunities, require the relief of essential services as they cope with their poverty and disease.
Citizens face numerous biological threats, a few of which such as water-borne diarrhea, can be prevented with access to clean water. Like with COVID-19, the effort requires a commitment to public health that expects affected communities and their stakeholders to work in concert (monitor, review, and act) to reduce disease incidence. Seeing the COVID-19 curve flatten in multiple countries, I am astounded by what can be accomplished when everyone works together to achieve a common goal. My experience with this project is no different. I am grateful to have worked with our client team that exudes such a passion to serve the underprivileged. They set a high bar for the project as they described the seriousness of the problem and the enduring hope that the Healthy Homes program can bring for the people of Maranhão. Not only did I admire their dedication to the mission, I also really appreciated their genuine kindness and willingness to help with any concerns or questions we had to ensure that we put our best foot forward.
I was particularly taken by the support of individuals who, having no direct involvement with our project, took the time during this stressful climate to provide useful feedback. My gratitude extends to classmate Kaci and public health expert, Boston University Research Associate Professor Clarissa Valim, MD, who were available to discuss the project and share insights. Kaci and I spoke about our project discoveries and noted the differences with client interaction (one versus multiple), which is not a simple delineation since our project themes were distinct from each other. Insights from my conversation with Professor Valim really put into perspective the importance of our work. Having received a medical degree from the University of the State of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil in 1988 and her doctorate in Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the Harvard School of Public Health in 2003, Professor Valim has extensively researched infectious diseases affecting public health in developing countries notably malaria in Malawi, Zika in Brazil, and childhood fever and pneumonia in the Gambia. Hearing about her experience in the field allowed me to better understand the people and their problems, which led me to further explore areas for recommendation such as women empowerment (eg vaccination, contraception strategies), public health education, and disease prevention measures (eg protecting clean water sources from mosquitos).
The findings from this project demonstrate that healthy outcomes can be achieved when everyone involved works together as a team to meet public health goals. As we undergo the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic, let us remind ourselves that we are all essential and that collective participation is required to beat this disease.
Special thank you to Professor Flammer whose unwavering support from the beginning allowed me to take part in this opportunity and the team whom I had the pleasure to work with and learn from.
By Alexandra G.
This experience opened a door to a whole new world for me. For someone whose concentration is Operations and Technology Management I found extremely inspiring the work done and created by businesses with a social impact vision and mission.
In my case, our client works with sustainable wood and creating an impact in the Amazon environment in Brazil.
It was disappointing to hear about the cancellation of the trip. We missed the experience of getting to know our client professionally and personally. I missed the experience of “seeing and feeling” the passion which drives each individual in the company and the passion behind the impact they create in the Amazon forest. Our client partners with communities in the Amazon providing them a source of income in exchange for their work.
I am happy to mention that we were able to overcome this challenge as a team and work with our client to understand the goal, and in the end deliver a robust project.
I think it is important for everyone to understand that the challenge of not being “present” did not stop the impact we created as well.
We worked hand to hand to develop a plan that met the client’s needs keeping in mind their mission and work with timber in the Amazon.
Some of us identified with their vision and wished we could even do more for them leveraging our own expertise. I was fortunate to be part of a team with a variety of backgrounds: marketing, finance, operations and education and delivered not only a business plan but a tool that will allow them to become even more successful.
I learned from this experience several things. However, the two more important things I learned are that no matter what sentiment the business drives, and the passion behind it; the business is still a business- working with the mentality of creating a better world is not enough to be able to survive in any industry. Therefore, a clear finance, marketing and operational plan must be developed. In addition to this, this experience taught me much more about resilience and the importance of empathy and flexibility around uncertainty. After all, we don’t know what tomorrow brings; we need to adapt to quick changes and adapt to uncertain times.
It was a pleasure being part of this team and learning about social impact. Furthermore, it was an absolute pleasure to see missions that go beyond profitability by putting people and the environment first.
[T]his project helped me keep perspective and made me re-evaluate my feelings on all that is happening in the world. This situation is far from ideal, but we made it work and I do feel like we still made an impact to the client.
Well, the past month has not turned out how I expected it to. I was hoping to have returned from Brazil refreshed, rejuvenated and motivated to put together our final report to provide the greatest impact to our client. I also was hoping that I came back with a more global perspective of the world and an appreciation for Brazilian culture. While I do have a new perspective on life after this past month, it unfortunately was not because I traveled to a new country. COVID-19 has brought a new way of life for the entire world and continuing working on this project during social distancing and being away from campus has pushed me to think more creatively and forced me into trying to have a positive mindset while completing this course.
Initially, I wasn’t sure how to react when the trip was cancelled. It definitely was the right decision, but I knew this class and this project would not be the same. “What is the point?” I thought to myself as I continued researching and putting together our presentation for a client. After the initial sadness wore off, I dove in full force into researching and providing the best presentation we could do for the client. When it all came together for our initial presentation to our client I was not sure what we provided was going to be exactly what he was looking for. Additionally, I was sure that the virtual presentation was not going to be the same as what it would be like getting to meet in person and having it more as a conversation rather than a presentation. However, during the presentation I realized how meaningful connecting with someone – even virtually – and providing insight and feedback for them was.
Even though we were not able to meet in person, the work we did prior to the trip and leading up to it was important and I think because we were not in Brazil, we dived deeper into certain things we researched since we weren’t going to have that firsthand experience. Our client was so appreciative of the work we did and understood the disappointment we felt not being able to travel. He made the presentation much more of a conversation and was able to provide us really good insights on what our next steps in the research process should be. Going into our meeting I had a very negative outlook on presenting virtual and the overall impact we were going to make. However, afterwards, and after talking with our client for a while, I realized that the work we were doing was still impactful regardless of if we were there in person or not. While yes, it would have been better for both of us if we were able to meet in person, I had an appreciation for technology and the way the world can connect nowadays.
The fact that we were able to connect and meet during a global pandemic was satisfying, but the ability to present and recommend ideas to our client was impactful.
I came out of the meeting with an appreciation that while although we are all quarantining and practicing social distancing, without the technology we have we would be in a far worse place. This class would not have been able to continue and much of our work would have gone to waste. While I am still disappointed, this project helped me keep perspective and made me re-evaluate my feelings on all that is happening in the world. This situation is far from ideal, but we made it work and I do feel like we still made an impact to the client. At the very least, it provided me with the perspective I need to take to get through these next several months while the world adapts to a post-pandemic society. I am grateful for technology, and grateful for the opportunity to connect across cultures during a time when I am connecting in person with very few people on a regular basis.
By Alexa V.
On Wednesday March 11th, exactly one week after hearing that our plans to Brazil had been dashed due to what would later become an unexpected pandemic, our team was preparing to meet with our client. Although it was a less than ideal situation, our class sentiment was to ensure that our commitment to our clients would not be in vain, and to provide our knowledge and research to the best of our ability. In the weeks leading up to our travel to Brazil, our group had tirelessly been crafting a presentation that performed acquisition and partnership analysis on four key firms for our client. Despite the change in logistics, our team scheduled a conference call with the client, in order to present our preliminary research findings, receive feedback, and discuss his perspective on the intricacies of social impact with regard to sustainable consulting.
We discussed with our client our firm analysis on the key companies we researched, and rather than rattling off slide after slide, urged our client to take-part in a greater discussion with us about the meaning of our research, in order to better understand what it really means to be socially impactful in relation to our client’s long-term goals. In examining the concept of social impact through the lens of this course, it is abundantly clear that social impact can occur at the granular-level, as individuals seek to drive and inspire lasting change; however, it was in our conversation with the client that I was able to understand the importance of thinking locally before globally when it comes to inspiring and executing change. While some of my teammates briefed our client on the smaller more local firms for acquisition, I together with another teammate discussed sizable firms that would be viable for potential targeted partnerships. In presenting my analysis, I highlighted their portfolio, leadership organization, merger and acquisition process, and ability to provide meaningful guidance in crafting a long-term strategy. [...].
What changed my perception of social impact was our client’s comment that despite their unsubstantiated presence in critical and central locations within the region, if the desire and resources for sustainable business was present than it was still a step in the right direction.
Whether it was a 5-person office, in locations such as Chile and Panama, or their 70-employee or 100-employee offices in Colombia and Mexico, our client solidified the idea that change can be important regardless of magnitude.
In coming from a Finance background working at Raytheon Company, “the numbers” have always been an integral and crucial part of my career. At Raytheon, I’ve built my career on being precise, knowing and understanding financial values, managing portfolios of programs, and being a key correspondent in our recent merger. These experiences have made me appreciate business on a global-level and a national-one. Whether its performing due diligence, creating or validating financial analysis, as well as understanding and operating within a scope where scale is so important, it was easy for me to miss the idea that change on any level is movement in the right direction.
What our conversation with our client quickly became was a lesson in understanding your local community and landscape first, in order to begin making positive improvements, prior to moving to a more global mind-set. In essence, walk before you run.
The rest of our presentation analysis and feedback with our client provided a platform for our group to make some additional adjustments prior to finalizing our report, which was essentially collecting more information on our final recommendation and streamlining our presentation deck. Our client’s request that our final report be in the form of a slide-deck also illustrated the importance of meeting a client “where they are” in terms of information, presentation structure, and briefing format. As our team debriefed over the past month, we also discussed the potential impact of Covid-19 on the global economic-landscape, and whether or not an acquisition or partnership was feasible given the timing and financial impact to multiple businesses and firms around the world. [...] As the conclusion to our project is naturally ending, our team is hopeful that our analysis can provide a strong foundation for our client’s business decisions moving forward, and aid in the expansion of their social impact.
Although we were unable to travel to Brazil to interact with the selected firms regarding the strength and profoundness of social impact, what I learned through my teams interaction with our client was that having a voice, wanting to make sustainable change, and doing right by your community and environment is achievable.
As proprietors of our social impact journey and benefactors of IM860, I’ve learned that caring about communities and future generations enough to want to make the right choices, the right decisions, and form the right strategies is purposeful.
Green finance is just one piece of the puzzle; all the organizations our class was able to work with help to fill in other pieces. I wonder what would happen if these organizations worked together to leverage their collective power.
The work to combat climate change involves shifting perspectives and increased partnership. As my group began our work with our client, I realized how powerful the world of finance and investing is. This is not my field, and I am not familiar with investment funds or the green finance space. I realized there is a lot of potential for climate goals to shift with financial tools. As we moved further into our project, however, it became clear that green finance alone will not solve catastrophic climate change, nor will any one industry or organization be able to accomplish this shift on their own.
Combatting climate change will require shifting how we view returns. Returns are often seen in quarters, months, or annually. Affecting climate change will require expanding this view to include multiple years, perhaps decades. It is difficult to make decisions now that you might not see change from until 10 years from now, but this is the perspective shift that needs to occur in order to see real changes. In my team’s project, we saw this with how investors are holding green investments for longer because the returns are not just financial, but also environmental. Including these environmental effects in the returns of the bonds necessitates that we shift our timeframes for how we evaluate investments and decisions.
Combatting climate change will also require shifting who we work with and how we understand partnerships. While I had never researched green finance opportunities and understood the potential impact green finance could have on climate change, I also recognize that green finance alone cannot solve this problem. There are many different organizations working to combat climate change and they are all needed. As we view their work collectively, we can see each organization’s work is having a local, and necessary, impact. If these organizations were to work together, sharing insights, capital, access, and methodologies, the impact they could have would be increased exponentially. In our current system, non-profit organizations are trying to survive in a world that continues to create the very problems they are trying to solve. Through partnerships, they may be able to shift the systems just enough to stop the problems at their source. Green finance is just one piece of the puzzle; all the organizations our class was able to work with help to fill in other pieces. I wonder what would happen if these organizations worked together to leverage their collective power.
While many of the best practices and principles I’ve learned over my career in fundraising were applicable, I came to realize that working with such an organization [...] required different skills and knowledge that I had ever gleaned from my professional life.
When we were given the choice to pick the organization we wanted to work with for this field seminar, I made my decision based on where I thought I could be of most value. In this case, the organization that my team and I worked with asked if we could help them develop a comprehensive fundraising strategy and diversify their income streams.
At first, the project scope seemed to align directly with both my interests and professional experience in nonprofit fundraising. However, after our initial conversations with the client, it quickly became clear that this project would require a lot of on-the-fly learning.
Our client had immediate funding needs that proved to be very different from the nonprofits that I’ve worked for in the past, which had their own needs but typically had a strong infrastructure and earned revenue model in place already.
While many of the best practices and principles I’ve learned over my career in fundraising were applicable, I came to realize that working with such an organization - especially one that is operating in a considerably different governmental and societal context - required different skills and knowledge that I had ever gleaned from my professional life.
During the scoping and research process, we learned about Brazil’s culture and the landscape that nonprofit organizations face in their particular context. We faced challenges in defining and negotiating the scope to align with the constraints of the semester and our team’s collective expertise, because the client sought as much help as they could get. We also had to face and resolve communications challenges that were exacerbated by only being able to connect remotely.
As we put the final touches on our report, I’m hopeful that our client will be able to immediately leverage the recommendations we are providing them. They have an incredibly motivated team and a demonstrated need for their work, which serves as an inspiration for my continued career in nonprofits.
[T]he most valuable lesson I learned was in regards to managing client relationships and all the nuances that come with not only managing a client relationship, but managing a client relationship from a different country virtually. Understanding cultural norms is essential to building trust which is the foundation of successful relationship management.
Today we will be submitting our final report to our client and I must admit it was a bittersweet feeling. I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with a team and consult with a solar energy organization in Brazil and help them strategize innovative ways to generate revenue. I am also grateful for the opportunity to learn more about a new sector and get a glimpse of what global business consulting feels like.
As I reflect back on everything that took place during this course, including the COVID-19 pandemic that resulted in our trip getting cancelled, the most valuable lesson I learned was in regards to managing client relationships and all the nuances that come with not only managing a client relationship, but managing a client relationship from a different country virtually. Understanding cultural norms is essential to building trust which is the foundation of successful relationship management. I truly enjoyed getting to know my clients and learning more about the solar energy sector.
As a Health Sector Management student, partaking in the social impact field seminar has really taught me the true meaning of social impact and the wide array of ways the missions and business plan of companies and organizations can impact communities and the world around us.
Furthermore, while I myself was not working with a health care organization on this project, I was pleased to learn about the health care organizations my peers worked with which showed the cross section of social impact and health, something I am interested in exploring further in this program.
By Alessandra B.
[S]ometimes crises precipitate change and sometimes they do not. It is my hope that COVID-19 will promote positive social changes not only in the public health and emergency response spaces, but also more broadly.
It was a privilege working with my team’s NGO partner over the past few months. Over the course of the project, from the initial prompt my team received through today, a lot has changed. At first, the biggest change was in the scope of the project itself. Initially, we thought we would be advising on the organization’s transition from an NGO to a for-profit/social enterprise organization. As the project got started, we learned that the organization’s biggest priority was actually securing short-term funding. About mid-way through the project, our trip to Brazil was cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. It would have been hard to imagine then just how much the world would change in the following month.
We have just submitted the final recommendations to the client. The hardest thing about ending a project like this is not knowing how the recommendations will be received by a client and hoping that they are as useful as intended. Now, with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and the turmoil in the global economy, there is an added layer of uncertainty. It’s hard to know how the organization will fare given this new context. On the one hand, individuals and corporations may be influenced by the heightened social consciousness that is pervading many communities right now. On the other hand, it’s possible that philanthropy may be focused more specifically on public health and emergency management given.
I have spent a lot of time over the last few weeks thinking about how various stakeholders react to crises like COVID-19. Of course, for many, understandably and appropriately, it is hard to think about anything much beyond the issues at hand during a time like this. It has been interesting, however, to see other social issues receiving more attention at the same time. For example, on social media there have been a lot of posts about the positive impact that widespread quarantine conditions have had on the environment, even in the relatively short period of time since the beginning of the pandemic. Another conversation I have seen across social media has been centered around what we can learn from this situation, which has required to many people to work from home, in order to implement better work-from-home policies in the future that will benefit employers, employees, child-care providers, and others affected.
I have noticed during past times of crisis and upheaval that there are often resolutions made for the future. For a variety of social, economic, and psychological reasons, sometimes crises precipitate change and sometimes they do not. It is my hope that COVID-19 will promote positive social changes not only in the public health and emergency response spaces, but also more broadly. The rapid pace at which coronavirus has spread is a testament to how close and interconnected the today world really is, not just digitally.
It is my hope that communities understand that this interconnectedness spans not just physical interactions but also to the many social and economic issues that are inextricably linked. While the organization we worked with focused on solar energy specifically, its work really impacts the sustainability of communities more broadly. It is my hope that the attention to social issues that has arisen from this pandemic does not abate and that the organization we worked with and others like it survive and thrive far past the decline of COVID-19.
This has been an incredible experience leveraging our skills learned in our classes taken thus far at Questrom and our unique industry backgrounds in delivering a polished business plan and financial modeling tool for our consulting company.
I would highly recommend students within the business school to take this course upon completion of the core requirements – you’d be surprised to see how much you’ve learned.
With the current situation with COVID-19, this has drastically impacted our client’s day to day business but has presented an opportunity to dive into developing the strategy for divisions they would like to grow. This business plan couldn’t have come at a better time – which included was a strategy to mitigate risk during global economic downturns. We’re excited to hear back from our client once they’ve reviewed the finalized documents.
Working within a team with diverse backgrounds and perspectives resulted in a product that one individual couldn’t produce. I’ve learned efficient team working practices, logistics, operations, and marketing knowledge from my teammates that will be very useful throughout my career. We’ve developed friendships that will last for years to come.
We hope to hear back from our client on company updates and success stories in the future. I hope to keep an open-ended dialogue with our client through informal Whatsapp messages and social media.