Global Consulting Practicum (GCP): Much More than ‘A Lot of Work”

Africa Cancer Research GCP Team (Ghana)

During Preterm’s slew of program introductions, one opportunity in particular stood out—the Global Consulting Practicum (GCP). In an attempt to learn more, I asked second years about GCPs, and their advice generally boiled down to “I heard it’s a lot of work.” Yet I found that GCPs are much more than “a lot of work”. They are an opportunity to learn and bond with a small team, as well as bring value to a business or social impact project.

GCP’s predecessor, the Wharton Multinational Marketing and Management Program, was founded in 1978 by Leonard Lodish as an effort to involve Wharton students in solving real problems for companies attempting to enter the US market.  Then and now, a key to the program’s success has been the partnership between students from Wharton and a top business school which is local to the client or market.

Kyle (Wharton) and Teles (HEC) Waiting for a Flight (Senegal)

Kyle (Wharton) and Teles (HEC) Waiting for a Flight (Senegal)

Today, GCP partners with MBA programs in at least ten countries to collaborate on consulting projects. The current GCP class is working on nine different projects that resulted in Wharton students traveling six or more countries over our Winter and Spring Breaks to gather data, work with partner school students, and engage with the client.

After finding a personally engaging GCP project—optimizing cancer care and research in Sub-Saharan Africa—I decided that I wanted to participate. In October, I began searching for classmates with mutual interest and experience in Africa, cancer, or healthcare. Thankfully I connected with Linan Xiao (WG’17), Huda Almanaseer (WG’17), and Adnan Sajjad (WG’17) in my cluster (#C24L) and met Jen Wong (WG’17) at Bonners (#WhartonProud). After being selected for the project, we began work with five MBA students at HEC Paris, hailing from Croatia, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Japan, and South Korea, as well as our TA, Amrith Krushnakumaar (WG’16).

During Q2, our team conducted background research by culling through academic papers on cancer, speaking with experts, and coordinating our winter travel to Senegal and Ghana. We also met with our client, the Dana Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard University, to understand and scope the project. Our client meetings and research showed us that longer life spans in Sub-Saharan Africa led to an increased incidence of cancer; simultaneously insufficient and inefficient healthcare infrastructure led to inordinately high mortality rates compared to more developed countries. Travel to West Africa soon confirmed this stark reality and helped the team understand the key capability gaps contributing to the problem.

In early January, our team began working on the ground in Dakar, Senegal. We visited hospital administrators, cancer wards, blood banks, the local medical school, and the Ministry of Health to understand the reality of cancer care and research from the practitioners. More than a few doctors asked us why business students were working on a medical project. We would respond that we were bringing an organizational and business approach to optimizing patient care and research opportunities.

One particular site visit to the childhood cancer unit at Le Dentec Hospital impacted the group more than any other location. At this ward, we met doctors and nurses who cared for extremely sick children with limited treatment options and resources. Set in a two-story concrete building, “Clinique Medicale Infantile” was designed to treat 25 children, but had over 30 patients, forcing children to receive chemotherapy while sitting on the floor of the hospital. Given the limited treatment options in many developing countries, the pediatric oncology units often are waiting rooms for dying children. In a later interview with Dr. Larry Shulman, deputy director of the Global Oncology Unit at Penn, we learned that most pediatric cancers have a survival rate of over 80% in places like the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; however, the survival rate at Le Dentec was much lower.

Despite the austere conditions, the children and families tried to make the best of the situation. Huda bonded particularly well with children, bringing smiles and joy to an otherwise difficult environment. We also met Dr. Mare Diouf, a pediatric oncology psychotherapist, who works to ease the physiological burden on children, families, and clinicians. She scrounged resources and programs to help those in the ward more effectively communicate with one another as well as process the emotions associated with child sickness and mortality. Dr. Diouf is just one example of the many healthcare professionals creatively finding ways to take care of patients.

Huda (Wharton) and Hany (HEC) Spending Time with a Boy in Childhood Cancer Ward (Senegal)

Huda (Wharton) and Hany (HEC) Spending Time with a Boy in Childhood Cancer Ward (Senegal)

Following our work in Senegal, the team flew to Accra, Ghana to continue our work and begin comparing how separate countries approach the problem of cancer.  This comparative analysis highlighted common gaps between the countries as well as practices which could be shared to increase effectiveness. In Ghana, the team also had a chance to experience the nightlife with our Ghanaian classmate Raphael Awuku (WG’17).

Since returning from Africa, the team continues to consolidate observations, engage with relevant experts and organizations, and develop proposals to increase research opportunities and improve care. The team will complete the program by providing our client with comprehensive research and recommending solutions to make a dent in cancer in Africa.

While the GCP experience has been extremely valuable, the program is not perfect. For instance, completing the GCP (MKTG 890) is worth 1.5 C.U. but most academic departments only count 1.0 C.U. towards a major. This undervalues the work required for this class as it spans Q2, a week during Winter Break, and all of second semester. Departments should recognize the amount of effort and learning that occurs during GCP and count the course for its full 1.5 credits.

The GCP Office works diligently to make the program available for both the full time and executive MBA programs but nearly opposite schedules make joint classes very inconvenient. GCP faculty provides classes on consulting topics and the sessions are scheduled during perceived overlap periods. This effort caused classes to be scheduled at the front end of high travel periods for full time students, like the Saturday before Thanksgiving or Friday before Spring Break. Realizing the difference between the programs and separately scheduling classes for each would improve the program’s image.

As I near the end of this seven-month journey, I cannot imagine my Wharton experience without the GCP. Sure, it’s a great deal of work, but it has allowed me to contribute in a small way to the most difficult problem set I’ve had to complete at Wharton and has forged wonderful relationships with an amazing group of friends.  And one small plug—our visit to the children’s cancer ward made such an impact that our team will be scheduling an event in April to raise funds to help Dr. Diouf with basic school supplies and games to occupy the kids during their treatment.

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