Jessica started her MBA in 2013 at Westminster Business School. She selected the Social Entrepreneurship module as her elective and worked for two weeks for the charity Busoga Trust in Uganda. We asked Jessica a couple of questions as we wanted to know how her MBA helped her during her work for the Jinja Community.
Q1: How did you apply the business skills you learned during the MBA at Westminster Business School to the social entrepreneurship model in Uganda?
The social entrepreneurship module in Uganda was actually a consultancy project and fitted in just perfectly as we just finished our MBA core module consultancy skills. The charity Busoga Trust told us about their business problems. There was a list with seven to eight points and we had to look at it and go through the strategic options. We came up with three different areas and suggestions of how we could help the charity. It was about recognizing the situation and linking this to leading and managing people in the sense that we were so used to working in a UK or western world setting, but if you then go to Africa things are working totally differently. Your project manager is amazing but it’s a complete different pace, complete different schedule. What we think when we say, we haven’t got time for this today, means a complete different thing there and it is about adopting to your surroundings and using emotional intelligence to see through that and to accept that some things are not going to happen.
Overall, the MBA and what we learned at Westminster Business School helped us to navigate our way through the project.
Q2: What were your expectations of the social entrepreneurship module before you went to Uganda?
I don’t know if anyone really knew what to expect. We probably thought we would get there and everything would be on a slower pace. We would be working in the office of the charity Busoga Trust, have a few interviews and a structured day. I guess this was my own wishful thinking … I didn’t expect to have the opportunity to be so hands on in my project and it turned out to be completely different once we got there. I guess no one can truly explain how it’s going to be until you experience it yourself: It’s your first day and you are in the office and the next thing you know, you are in a van going to your first meeting in a slum! This isn’t corporate America by any sense!
I didn’t expect how genuine the experience is going to be and the people we were meeting to be so incredible helpful and wanting to help us with the change. I think this was a big thing that was different out there.
Q3: What was your first impression when you arrived in Uganda?
On our car journey from Kampala to Jinja we were all looking out of the window and it was exactly how I thought it would be, except way more beautiful. We were driving through some really poor areas, slums of the big cities but then you look out and the landscape is gorgeous, it is so green and rich. I thought Ireland was green but nothing compared to Uganda. It’s such a beautiful country! We arrived the Saturday night pretty late and were tired after the long journey. On Sunday we had a day to get our bearings and rest before we started work on Monday. So we went to town and walked around and my first impression was that people were so incredibly friendly and helpful. They wanted to help you and they were so appreciative to just us talking to them and having a conversation with them. I thought I would feel more afraid and uncomfortable but that was not the case. This changed my indentation especially.
Q4: What did impress you the most and what was your most memorable experience during your social entrepreneurship model inUganda?
Hundred percent hands down, the first time that we went to Vic View Primary school – that was the school who helped us with the educational programme – was especially memorable. On our first day of working, we were going to a meeting with the director and this was in the middle of the school court yard, and the children all wanted to talk to us and touch us. They were bowing down in front of us and just wanted to hold our hand and walk with us. That was probably the most overwhelmingly emotional experience. They were just so happy that we were there. I think the kids were especially so excited to see six of us at the time and we were taking pictures with them and playing with them but we took so much more out of this day. We were standing up at a stage and three hundred kids were screaming with laughter and this was just a wonderful feeling.
Q5: What would you recommend to other Westminster Business School MBA students who have to choose between social entrepreneurship and other electives?
I can only recommend anyone to take the module. It is such a cliché and I am sure others said it before, but it’s such a once in a lifetime experience. I can go back to Africa anytime on vacation or go to Jinja and meet these people. But doing it in a way that you are working there and being involved in the community, meeting the school directors, the mayor who welcomed us at their homes is something that gave us a very unique experience.
If you sign up for this project, there is so much to take in and to emerge yourself in the local culture and the experiences you can have. You are working really hard from 9 am to 9 pm but I probably would recommend to anyone to explore the city and have a dinner, meet with the people and take advantage of that and finish the report once you get home.
In any case, I would do it again in a heartbeat and I would recommend it to anyone else in a heartbeat!