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Written by Carolyn Tharp
A Summer with an Afghani Business
Chris Miller ’08 spent five weeks over the summer interning in Kabul, helping develop a rural business incubator that supports educational options for girls in the area. While cultivating the business, he was able to apply the business- development skills he gained in his first year at Columbia.
"Working with Aid Afghanistan reinforced how good a decision it was to get an MBA,” he says. “I think back to how limited I was three years ago, before I had any of the skills I now have.”
Although Aid Afghanistan’s primary mission is education, it also addresses the underlying causes that limit access to education, including poverty. To help the business, Miller worked on understanding the marketplace, exporting products and how to improve the quality of products for export markets. He felt that Aid Afghanistan was a place where he could make the most impact as an MBA.
“It was difficult to improve or find where to improve because you can’t travel safely,” he says. “You can’t do focus groups or market research to find out what people need or want.”
Through quantitative analysis, Miller determined on which of the company’s 15 product offerings it should focus. He discovered that producing beaded coasters was more cost-efficient than bags. However, the company was focusing on high volumes of bags. Once Miller realized the results, the program director ordered production to switch from bags to coasters.
“She literally picked up the phone and told them to stop production immediately,” he says.
After spending a summer overseas, Miller is convinced that his MBA is a valuable asset. What’s his advice to first-year students considering an internship next summer?
“Be proactive—reach out to students and alumni. This industry is very receptive to young people starting their careers, and you need to access the network effectively.
Profiting for the Not-For-Profit
“It’s like having marks on the wall that I could look at and say, ‘I’ve improved.’ I saw that I had changed in just one year of business school,” Olivia Peoples ‘08 says.
With eight years of nonprofit experience, Peoples saw a need in the sector for individuals with MBA skills, and she tested her new skills at CRE this summer. She worked with a group of nonprofits that were looking for ways to build the infrastructure of their youth programs. While brainstorming for ideas, Peoples drew from her nonprofit background to propose solutions.
“I had strong ideas, but I probably would not have been able to identify them prior to business school,” she says.
Using her MBA skills, Peoples was also able to raise questions about the youth program’s costs. She asked whether there were ways to ensure that the costs of the programs were accurately identified and allocated so that both program staff and funders achieved impact out of each dollar that went into programming.
"Not only did my first year of business school make me think about these concepts, but I was also well equipped with how to act on these ideas,” Peoples says. “That was really my, ‘Aha!’ moment of the summer.” Even after years of experience, Peoples knows there is still more to learn to benefit nonprofits, both in her classes and from her peers. She came to Columbia Business School specifically for the Social Enterprise Program. "For me, this is the field I will be staying in,” Peoples says. “I wanted a school that has a group of people that could help me foster a career in this field.”
Vibhav Nuwal '08 interned at Sustainable Conservation, a nonprofit in San Francisco that works in the environmental-conservation and climate-change spaces. He focused on Carbon Emissions Trading and the value of carbon credits that the organization could generate. Nuwal’s internship exposed him to a new area, and he gained a more in-depth perspective about the environment.
“I’m looking at available career paths in this area very seriously now,” he says. At Columbia, Nuwal is continuing to explore how business, as well as nonprofits and NGOs, can address environmental concerns. He took Finance and Sustainability and wrote a paper on climate change for another class. His internship experience resonates with this class work. “This summer internship provided me with a foundation to further build my interest and knowledge of the opportunities in sustainability,” Nuwal says.