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The Impact of the MBA Six Months in

Alexandra Cairns is part of our Full-time MBA class of 2020. Before starting her MBA she worked for a start-up non-profit organisation. When deciding to take on her Full-time MBA, she didn’t want to cut all ties with the charity; and has therefore remained part of the organisation on its advisory board. Alex reflects on her time so far in Manchester and how the MBA is already impacting her advisory board role.

“We’re encouraged to reflect as part of the Manchester Method, but despite our best efforts, in the midst of the craziness of the MBA, it can be difficult to recognise how much you’re learning along the way. I had a welcome reminder a few weeks ago when I stepped into my ‘pre-MBA’ life as part of my role as an Advisory Board member at Kupona Foundation.

"Kupona Foundation is a start-up non-profit based in the United States dedicated to providing high quality healthcare to those who need it most in Tanzania. We mobilise resources and build strategic partnerships with individuals and institutions who share our passion for global health. I was on the team at Kupona for four years before joining the MBA programme, and prior to that I spent over two years living and working in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania with their sister organisation, CCBRT.

"Kupona, CCBRT, and the programmes they deliver in Tanzania have been a huge part of my life and career, so making the decision to leave for Alliance Manchester Business School was not an easy one. I am still very passionate about the work that we do. I’ve invested a lot in these organisations, and I wasn’t willing to leave them behind completely. Being elected to the Advisory Board in June of this year made the transition to start my MBA much easier by, giving me the perfect opportunity to stay involved. It also means that the team at Kupona also gets to benefit from the skills I’m building during my time at AMBS.

"As an Advisory Board member, it’s my role to support the full time team however they need it. We help promote campaigns and lend our skills to certain projects. We’re on hand to serve as a sounding board, sharing our experience and ideas to help solve problems and seize opportunities. We’re also the people following you around with Square readers at fundraising events, making sure you haven’t forgotten to make a donation! It was in my role as a strategic advisor that I realised just how much the MBA has already changed my perspective, and the way I approach problems. 

"A donor had asked the team to ‘think big’ about their next round of funding, and asked the literal million dollar question: What would you do with hundreds of thousands more dollars? Organisations like ours live on shoestring budgets and have to get creative about how to deliver transformative programmes with very few resources. So when somebody comes along and asks a big question like this, it can be hard to know where to start. This is a big opportunity, and you have to be strategic. Go too wild, and either the donor won’t take you seriously, or you’ll leave yourself in danger of serious mission creep. Play it too safe, and the donor won’t be excited enough to support your ideas.  

"I did my best to keep things in perspective, to guide my colleague through a practical thought process and keep our eye on the big picture. What will add the most value for Kupona, for our partner hospital, and most importantly for our patients? What will add the most value for the donor? Where can we meet in the middle? I sat back at one point and considered not only the advice I was giving, but the way I was giving it. It’s then that I realised how much influence the MBA has had on me already. The structure I brought to the problem, the references and experiences I was drawing upon to guide our thinking: it was all developed during the MBA. In particular, it was through last term’s live consultancy project, things I’ve learned from classmates, and from the training I’ve received during the Venture Capital Investment Competition.

"I’m a more confident advisor to Kupona Foundation now than I was six months ago, and it’s thanks to the MBA experience so far. It is already delivering the value that I hoped it would. I’m looking forward to seeing what the next 15 months bring!”

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