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Making a Difference in Uganda
The hardships of living in Southwestern Uganda may seem worlds away from the sandy beaches and nightlife of San Diego, but for 18 days in January, four USD International MBA (IMBA) students and their professor happily gave-up the comforts of home to learn from the community and provide ideas for projects that will make a difference in the lives of children in the city of Mbarara.
Like many parts of the developing world, Uganda struggles with limited access to healthcare and the impact of mosquito-borne diseases. With Malaria accounting for 20% of all hospital admissions in the country, the Catholic Diocese of Mbarara recognized a need for a pediatric hospital to help address the deadly impact of the disease.
Civil unrest in neighboring Kenya has driven the cost of gasoline to $15 per gallon – more than twice what hospitals and clinics charge an expectant mother for a routine delivery – and existing healthcare facilities often cannot afford to run generators to power equipment that keeps critically ill patients alive. With such limited resources, how can a new hospital hope to find sustainable sources of funding to best serve the needs of the community?
This was the question posed to USD’s team of business students, led by Professor Patricia Marquez, whose area of expertise is poverty alleviation through market mechanisms. The IMBA students – Eric Grobe, Corinne Durazzo, Kyle Dupree, and Scott Grant – went into the community to meet business leaders and entrepreneurs to better understand the market and the potential for creating new ventures contributing to the new children’s hospital.
The students determined that the long-term financial viability of the project will require the establishment of a business that can become profitable within a year and can be scaled to help further support the growth of the hospital into the future. “Uganda does not have the infrastructure to make operating a large scale business a straightforward task,” said Grobe. “But I was extremely impressed with level of entrepreneurial spirit and innovation we encountered, and how people have overcome the challenges of operating in Uganda.”
The IMBA students identified the strengths and weaknesses of several types of business ventures that are well-suited to the market, including a printing operation, agricultural services, and a recycling facility. “The business initiatives they proposed combined learning from USD with a deeper understanding of the harsh realities of poor countries,” said Professor Marquez. “In sharing their ideas with community members students demonstrated a creativity and humility coloring the type of leadership they will exercise in the future.”
The IMBA students were joined on the trip with other members of the USD community, including nursing and chemistry students, who provided patient care analysis and environmental testing to support the project. And while the diocese and local leaders were grateful to have the consulting support from the USD community, the experience seemed to have the greatest impact on the students themselves. “I was very touched by the kindness and generosity of the people we met while in Uganda,” said Durazzo. “I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a part of such a unique project.”
“This was a great experience,” added Dupree. “It speaks to the integrity of the business school's focus on ethical leadership and social responsibility that an opportunity like this one was offered to students. The project allowed us, as students, to apply the skills we have learned to a real world project that, in the future, may have a positive impact on a region that is in desperate need of help.”