Seeking to Improve Access to Financial Services for the Poor in Kenya

As soon as I heard about Wharton’s Global Consulting Practicum (GCP), I knew I wanted to take this course. The GCP is an elective in which Wharton full-time MBA and EMBA students are teamed with business students at partner universities around the world to consult for a company or organization. Usually, the client is seeking to enter or expand its position in the U.S. or other world market, but the program also includes social impact projects with governments and nonprofits.

I was interested in the GCP because it would be an opportunity to gain experience working with an organization outside of the classroom and beyond the scope of my own job. Specifically, I wanted to work on a social impact project that could ultimately help millions of people in a developing country.

My team of five Wharton|San Francisco EMBA students was assigned to work for the Gates Foundation (our client) on a project in Kenya. The issue involved how to increase access to financial services for people who are living on below $2 a day. How do you create a better banking system? How do you provide better credit? How do you make things like health and life insurance available? How can you apply new technology to help streamline financial service processes?

Working with a team of students from HEC Paris, we began researching the issue last fall, holding weekly conference calls. Trying to get 10 busy executive MBA and full-time students — spread across two continents and multiple time zones — together on a weekly basis was our first challenge. Beyond that, it was a matter of figuring out how to collaborate with people we had never worked with before and how to manage all of the various opinions on the project.

Another challenge was the sheer importance of the issue and the nature of our client. We’re talking about the Gates Foundation so we know we need to step up our game and really deliver on this project. This isn’t just a matter of writing a paper, but rather about making recommendations that can make a real difference.

We had worked out a lot of our group processes by the time we left in January for our 12-day trip to Kenya so it was a lot of fun finally getting to know our HEC counterparts in person. We also worked really hard in Kenya, conducting interviews and visiting urban and rural areas to find out how people use financial services. Our time there was invaluable. We never could have understood the dynamics in Kenya if we had stayed in San Francisco. It was important to be there and spend time with the people we were trying to help.

Now that the Wharton team is back from Kenya, we’re continuing our research that will result in the delivery of a report with recommendations to our faculty and client in May.

Although it’s not over yet, the GCP has been one of the most rewarding experiences during my time at Wharton. Not only have I gotten to work with and know people from our partner school in France, but I have the chance to help improve the lives of millions of people in Kenya. It’s also an opportunity to use what I’ve learned in about every class so far in the project, and see what consulting is all about.

It’s a lot of work and very challenging, but I’d never be able to get this type of experience anywhere else. The GCP should be on everyone’s to do list at Wharton.

Andrey Vinogradsky is a regional operations manager at 7-Eleven Inc. in Pleasanton, Calif. and a second-year EMBA student at Wharton|San Francisco.

Click here to learn more about the GCP.