by Stephanie Kim (P’15)
There are few better ways to get to know a new city and culture than by having to get up early and go to work every day. Dressed in business casual and armed with bug spray, our five-person team—Donald Hoang (P’15), Janice Wong (WG’15), Jason Yow (WG’15), Van Tran (WG’15), and myself—met at 7:30 each morning to wolf down rice, fruit, and Vietnamese coffee before piling into a cab and heading to Children of Vietnam’s (COV) headquarters.
COV—the air-conditioned refuge we called our professional home for almost two weeks—is an NGO based in Da Nang, Vietnam, working to lift children in rural areas out of poverty. The program we worked with awarded microloans to the poorest single mothers with school-aged children across Da Nang, enabling them to start small businesses. Most businesses were corner stores, noodle and coffee shops, and for animal husbandry such as raising chickens and cows – clearly our line of expertise. We had eight business days to design and deliver a sustainable small-business and financial management training curriculum to program staff and beneficiaries. With only two Vietnamese-speakers on our team, we had our work cut out for us.
Our project was divided into four phases, each taking two days: 1) observe/learn, 2) develop, 3) test, and 4) deliver. Phase 1 consisted of site visits; we took a bus out to the countryside, and visited four program beneficiaries of the microloan program. Our intent was to observe the interaction between COV staff and the beneficiaries and also hear directly how the program has worked for them, what challenges they have faced, and what they hoped our training curriculum would deliver. Phase 2 took place in the office and our hotel, with the five of us pouring our ideas onto a single Google Doc and watching our training content emerge within one sitting. Phase 3 meant testing our content (by then translated into Vietnamese by our tireless team members and COV staff) on government workers in a “train the trainer” fashion, knowing that while we would ultimately deliver a training to COV beneficiaries, we needed to ensure that the program officers were well-versed in the material. We started spending later nights in the office, cabbing home on the last night at 2am.
Phase 4 was the delivery; presenting the workshop to 30 COV beneficiaries. My favorite memory was our lunch break during that training; COV splurged and treated their beneficiaries to a decadent sit-down meal, and we split our team up and tucked in at different tables. I sat with four amazing women who could be my mother’s age and was overwhelmingly humbled as they each clamored to top my bowl before serving themselves. There I was, after having delivered my own training bit on the poverty cycle and women’s empowerment, being lovingly served by the women I was there to serve. It was a powerful and moving experience and I will remember that meal and vivid conversation for years to come.
The three MBA students on my team all agreed that this was the hardest they’ve ever worked on a project in business school (my apologies, Wharton professors). Such a significant learning experience and comprehensive exposure to a foreign country’s culture in just two weeks is more than enough reason for me to recommend WIVP to others.