Fresh from his career as a Marine officer, Joe Butcher, WG’16, came to Wharton with the hopes of using business to have an impact and help solve societal problems. As he wrapped up his first year in the MBA program and his experience as a Lipman Family Prize Fellow, he had the opportunity to do just that on a “once-in-a-lifetime” trip to Malawi.
The Fellowship experience culminates with a site visit to one of the three finalist organizations to work on a consulting project. Joe and two other Lipman Fellows (Jay Pepito, SP2’16, and Walker Moseley, MPA’16) traveled with Kate FitzGerald, Marketing Director for Wharton’s Leadership Program, to visit Riders for Health — an organization that ended up taking home the 2015 Lipman Family Prize.
“Learning about marketing, operations, management structure, and company culture in the classroom is one thing,” Joe said. “But applying this material to provide insights into a global health organization’s strategic roadmap for one of its newest countries and delivering our findings to the COO and country manager brought the material to life in a way that’s just not possible in Huntsman Hall.”
On the Ground in Malawi
Before arriving in Malawi, Joe and his teammates had spent several weeks discussing the project with the Riders team and researching their business model and programs in other countries.
The international NGO addresses one of the greatest challenges facing health care workers in sub-Saharan Africa: a lack of reliable transport to reach remote communities. They manage more than 1,300 motorcycles, ambulances, and other four-wheel vehicles to improve access to health care for over 21 million people in Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, and the Gambia.
The trip allowed the Fellows to see the Riders for Health business model in action. After arriving in Africa, they had a full day of meetings with the in-country staff, followed by a day of meetings with external stakeholders, including the Ministry of Health and various other nonprofits and partners in the area. “Following these two intense days, we spent a considerable amount of time digesting this information and discussing our findings so that we could make insightful and useful recommendations,” Joe said.
They also had the opportunity to observe the Malawi office’s premier program, which utilizes trained couriers and motorcycles to deliver blood samples across the country from remote clinics in small villages to labs and regional hospitals. “The day trip had us following a courier to a remote village where our team witnessed firsthand the medical conditions in the country, followed by visits to a testing lab and regional hospital,” Joe said. “This experience revealed the dire conditions in the country, as well as provided valuable information for our final day’s presentation.”
For that presentation, the Fellows met with key local staff members and the Riders for Health COO, who had traveled from the organization’s headquarters in the United Kingdom. They shared their findings and recommendations — which included social enterprise approaches, marketing recommendations, and the importance of a strong organizational culture.
“This trip reminded me not only why I came to business school in the first place but, more importantly, how much value you gain from traveling to new places and developing worthwhile relationships,” Joe said.
“The Lipman Family Prize Fellowship is truly a gem at the University of Pennsylvania and was the most rewarding experience of my first year at Wharton,” he said. “It allowed me to be surrounded by like-minded individuals from across campus, learn about incredible organizations making meaningful progress in the social sector, like Riders, and develop professionally as I prepared for my next step after the military.”
The Heart of Africa
The trip wasn’t all work and no play. “Malawi is known as ‘the warm heart of Africa,’ a name it certainly lived up to,” Joe said. He and his teammates were blown away by the warmth and welcome of each person they interacted with on their trip, especially their hosts at Riders who were eager for them to take in the sites and local culture.
After their first two days of meetings, they went on a mini-excursion for the weekend. They drove 90 minutes to a little place on Lake Malawi called the Safari Beach Lodge.
“Walking into the lodge and up the stairs to my ‘gazebo’ overlooking the lake — all while surrounded by baboons running around and fighting with one another — was surreal,” he said. “Relaxing in this little oasis was the perfect way to spend time with friends and reflect on our Fellowship experience, the work ahead of us, and just life in general.”
After the group gave their final presentation, they took one last excursion before wrapping up the trip — a two-day African safari. “This was the first time in Africa for all of us, so we felt that this was something we had to take advantage of,” Joe said. They spent two days and nights in tented chalets at Thawale Lodge, where they went on two game drives and a boat ride along the river that spans the Majete Game Reserve. “Highlights included zebras, warthogs, impalas, and an entire elephant family of seven that walked straight through our camp site, luckily our tents were raised,” he said.
“As I reflect back on the trip from time to time, I honestly can’t of a better way to have culminated my first year in business school. The trip had the perfect combination of cultural immersion, experiential learning, professional development, and good times with friends.”
This story was adapted from a blog post by Joe Butcher, WG’16, that originally appeared on Wharton Magazine’s Wharton Blog Network.
Posted: April 20, 2017