This spring, students in the Fox School’s Enterprise Management Consulting (EMC) Practice traveled to Rome to observe and participate in the planned expansion of an Oxfam America and United Nations World Food Programme initiative that seeks to relieve poverty and enhance food security through risk reduction.
The Fox School’s EMC program provides MBA students with a professional consulting project for a paying client under the guidance of academic instruction and an executive mentor. This year, five EMC students advised Oxfam America (OA) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) on the expansion of their R4 Rural Resilience Initiative, which aims to address rural resilience against climate-related risks. The R4 Initiative seeks to provide risk-reduction tools to the world’s most vulnerable populations – those who depend on agriculture and live on less than $1 per day.
The EMC students studied OA’s pilot program, launched in Ethiopia, and the R4 Initiative’s expansion into Senegal and two additional developing countries. The team developed a five-year strategic business plan for the partners, OA and WFP, to implement and share with potential funders, as well as several other deliverables, including a research presentation, research report and R4 budget workbook.
“A large part of this was research, getting to understand micro insurance, Senegal, Africa and poverty,” said Natalie Barndt, the independent consultant who served as the EMC project manager. “There was a huge learning curve because this is not a traditional business case.”
The students presented key research findings on Senegal and the vulnerability of the country’s rural poor, and they proposed solutions and preliminary implementation considerations. Their research delved into issues including environmental factors on levels of food insecurity, poverty reduction efforts in place and current approaches for micro risk management.
After the research phases, the team put together a compelling, 388-page R4 Initiative strategic and operation plan, which provides a technical and strategic foundation for the R4 five-year plan and which will aid in the funding of the R4 Initiative. In addition, the EMC team developed a comprehensive R4 Budget Workbook.
After the team produced this extensive research and strategic plan, the partners invited Barndt and two EMC students to Rome to participate in a gathering of world leaders working to develop a detailed R4 Initiative business plan.
For the students, Barndt said, the consulting engagement, R4 strategic plan development and international exposure is invaluable.
“They get real-life experience at a very complex project with a very, very sophisticated client,” she said. “They really learn to develop the consulting story. They learn about the program, and they learn to format it in a way that tells a story that is compelling and has data and facts to back it up.”