Currently viewing the tag: "Business competitions"

In April, after I wrote my last post from the Hall of Flags, I was emailing with Manjula Dissanayake, one of the students featured.  A week later, we sat down and he described the incredible path he has followed from his pre-Fletcher days to now.  With Commencement just around the corner, I’m featuring Manjula’s story.

It all starts in 2007, when Manjula was working in finance in the DC area.  He and his roommates had previously raised funds for Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami, but they felt they could do more.  They decided to focus their efforts in the area of education, forming Educate Lanka.  Before long, Educate Lanka was occupying so much of Manjula’s time that he decided to dedicate himself to the effort, starting by pursuing graduate study in development and social entrepreneurship, either through an MBA or an international affairs degree.  An application process later, he enrolled in Fletcher’s MALD program in September 2010 as a Board of Overseers Scholar, and quickly got to work on building his own intellectual infrastructure to run the organization, which currently has a core volunteer staff of ten, and a larger pool of about 40 to draw upon.

I should pause here and describe Educate Lanka.  The organization’s main activity is securing micro-scholarships of $10 to $20 for students who lack funds but have a high potential to become future leaders, by connecting the kids with sponsors from around the world.  100% of the sponsorship funds go to the students.  There are no administrative expenses (this being a fledgling organization), but if something comes up, funds are raised through a separate fundraising process, which also generates some scholarships for students without sponsors.  Currently 275 students are receiving scholarships.  A total of 350 have received funds, about 30 of whom have completed school (though a few left school and the program).  There are over 400 sponsors in 15+ countries.  Once they are in the program, the kids are funded through their undergraduate studies, starting as early as fifth grade (age 10).  Over 12 million Sri Lankan Rupees (about US$100,000) has been awarded.

Back to fall 2010.  Manjula settles in, registers for courses, etc.  Good things started to happen pretty much right away.  The first was that Educate Lanka was selected to receive the funds raised through Fletcher’s annual Asia Night event.  That same semester, Manjula drew support from Empower, a project of the Tufts Institute for Global Leadership (IGL).  And Educate Lanka took third place in the Tufts 100K Business Plan Competition.  Not a bad start for one semester, and at that point Manjula started to think Educate Lanka had the potential to become a larger organization.

In spring 2011, Manjula took a microfinance class with Kim Wilson, and cross-registered for a Harvard class on education and social entrepreneurship with Fernando Reimers.  Both professors offered advice on complementary models for Educate Lanka, and on how to make the organization more sustainable and scalable.  Should it continue as a 501(c)3 (non-profit)?  Or should it turn into a blended social business?  Also that semester, after attending the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference, someone referred him to USAID and the State Department, because he works with the Sri Lankan diaspora community, which led to an invitation to speak at the Secretary’s Global Diaspora Forum.

Come summer 2011, while also interning in the Education Investment Group of the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, Manjula was a finalist in the MassChallenge competition, as a result of which he received mentorship and guidance.  Toward the end of the summer, he used a fellowship from IGL to travel to Sri Lanka, visiting the north and east of the country, where Educate Lanka wasn’t yet working.  He returned with a sense of how to achieve near-term organizational expansion in Sri Lanka, including a corporate partnership model.

Meanwhile, Manjula’s roommate, Sadruddin, was thinking of replicating the model in Bangladesh, and had received a good response to the idea.  He hopes to pilot the project by the end of this year.  (Here they are together.)

Back at Fletcher in September 2011, Manjula reconnected with Prof. Wilson and Prof. Reimers, who together mentored him and helped him to think about global replication and to add a corporate partnership model to Educate Lanka.  An MIT class on Development Ventures required him to take his ideas and act on them.  He received another IGL/Empower fellowship to return to Sri Lanka during the winter break.  And he continued entering business plan competitions.  He was one of two finalists in the MIT 100K Elevator Pitch Competition.

His Fletcher classmates sent more funds Educate Lanka’s way from 2011 Asia Night proceeds, and Manjula was one of a small group honored as a UN Volunteer of the Year in Sri Lanka.  Also helpful, more Fletcher students were jumping on board, including a group that wrote a consulting report on the concept of distance learning in Sri Lanka.  He received additional funding from the Center for Emerging Market Enterprises, and IGL is committed to supporting Manjula, even after graduation.

In spring 2012, Manjula was a semi-finalist at the Harvard Social Entrepreneurship Pitch Competition.  And this semester also found him in two classes specifically selected to build his skills set.  Along the way, he needed to write a thesis and do the other things expected of Fletcher students.  Oh, and he attended Clinton Global Initiative University in March, and was an Echoing Green semi-finalist.  In preparing to graduate, he created his own Fletcher Field of Study:  Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship in International Development.  (His second field is International Political Economy.)

I asked Manjula to reflect on his Fletcher experience, which seems to have been uniquely successful in connecting him to the local academic community.  He said that he came to Fletcher “with the idea to get more guidance, more advice” and to “test the model and see if it has legs.”  He confirmed that he was able to do that through classes, the business plan competitions, talking to mentors, seeing the response of people who believe in the Educate Lanka model (including some who want to replicate it elsewhere in South Asia and in Africa), and talking in panels and at conferences.  All of this pushed him to move Educate Lanka toward a sustainable social business model while maintaining its core scholarship model.

What’s coming up after graduation?  There are five or six fundraising events set up for the summer.  The model will be starting up in Bangladesh, leading to “Educate World” in many countries.  There’s a plan to start an online platform to arrange one-on-one mentoring for underprivileged kids, enabling knowledge-sharing between the developed and developing world (and also generating more traffic for the Educate Lanka website).  The mentoring program would offer a new means of involvement for people who can’t contribute funds, and builds the community of people Manjula says are energized with “‘change the world’ spirit.”

Finally, Manjula took a minute to say “how much I appreciate all the support and backing I have received from my fellow Fletcher students, from all three classes (’11,’12,’13) with which I had the privilege to share my experience, as well as faculty, staff, and alumni. I owe them my  thanks.”

I’m going to try to keep up with Manjula and Educate Lanka through the coming year, and I’ll report back on Manjula’s post-Fletcher path.  Based on his success in the past two years, I’m guessing there will be plenty to write about.

An established annual event is the Tufts University Energy Conference, in which Fletcher students have played important roles.  This year, the conference chair is Katie Walsh, a second-year MALD student.  Katie describes her involvement below.

At the end of this week, I, along with 34 other Tufts students (from Fletcher, the undergraduate programs, and the other graduate schools) will overrun The Fletcher School to execute the 7th Annual Tufts University Energy Conference (TEC), April 20-21.  More than eight months of planning has gone into this two-day event, with speakers arriving from all over the country and the world to speak on the issues that define our global energy economy.

TEC is an entirely volunteer student-run initiative.  We plan the content, we contact speakers, we ask for funding, we lose countless hours of sleep and send thousands of emails.  Each year, something new has been added to or tweaked in the conference offerings.  These features stem from the creativity, enthusiasm and follow-through of the conference organizers.  At last year’s conference, we introduced the Tufts Energy Competition, Tufts’ first-ever energy-focused student innovators competition, which I helped initiate as the 2011 Marketing Co-Director.  One group of winners used their prize funds to produce a resource guide on low-cost, sustainable and renewable energy technologies in Zimbabwe; the other used them for materials to create a demonstration high-performance hybrid vehicle.

By no measure am I an old hand at energy.  Before coming to Fletcher, I coordinated a Chinese language program at San Francisco State University.  My undergraduate major was history and many of my professional experiences were in international education.  My intention in coming to graduate school was to develop experience and expertise in a completely new field – energy and the environment.

Now, a year and a half into my master’s program at Fletcher, I find myself chairing this year’s energy conference, working at the University’s environmental institute, and fortunate enough to have secured internships in the energy sector both last summer and this, in Washington, D.C. and Beijing, China. When I actually have the time to think about my experiences thus far (such as to write this blog entry), I am just astounded by how much there is to take advantage of at Fletcher, and Tufts as a whole.

Two years ago at about this time, visiting Fletcher’s Open House, I don’t think I could have predicted all that I would have learned so far, the relationships I would have formed, and the opportunities that coming to this school would have afforded me.  But, in visiting the classes, meeting with professors and talking to students — I did get a feeling that Fletcher was different from any of the other graduate programs I was visiting.  I sensed that it was going to be the kind of place that would appreciate the skills I came to school with — inquiry, innovation, ability to implement and organize — and provide me with the space, mentoring and academic rigor I needed to build legitimacy in a new field.  That feeling has proven all too right.

In what is getting to be another annual Fletcher tradition, several students had great results in the University’s $100K Business Plan Competition last week.

Within the Social Entrepreneurship category, both the first-place and third-place teams included Fletcher students.  The first-place winner, Sanergy, with first-year MALD student Gaurav Tiwari on the team, developed a low-cost water-free toilet made of local materials for use in rural Kenya.

The third place team in the category, Educate Lanka, includes first-year MALD students Manjula Dissanayake and Sadruddin Salman, and aims to sponsor underprivileged children in Sri Lanka to provide them with an education.

Check out the coverage in MHT (Mass High Tech).  Congratulations to Gaurav, Manjula, Sadruddin, and all the people their ideas will inspire and help!

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Every so often, I ask students for blog input — sometimes in the form of their own post, but other times I only want a sentence or two.  That’s when I’m most likely to be surprised and impressed at how much energy they’ll put into something that advances my work but, to be honest, doesn’t do as much for them.

A week or so ago, via the Social List, I asked student organization leaders to tell me what their groups have been up to.  An applicant had asked me about student groups, and I felt that what you could find on the web site or the the calendar listings doesn’t do justice to the richness of Fletcher student life.

This is the first of the posts in which I’ll share the responses I received, with credit to the student who sent each update.  They’re in no particular order, but I hope that together they’ll give blog readers an idea of the many activities that enrich the academic and social life of Fletcher students.

Margaret:
The Fletcher Youth Initiative is focused on youth development and education issues both locally, here in Somerville/Boston, and throughout the world.  This Spring we are extremely excited to be hosting our annual youth conference through which we reach out to local high school students and invite them to come to Fletcher, learn about the field of International Relations, and engage with current Fletcherites about how this diverse and dynamic field can impact their lives.

Seth describes two organizations:
This semester, the Social Business Club conducted a workshop on models for social businesses from around the world, and discussed their relative strengths and weaknesses.  We hosted Daniel Fireside from Equal Exchange (oldest and largest Fair Trade company in the United States) at Fletcher for a discussion on financing and operations.  Looking ahead to the Spring, students are organizing to participate in the Tufts Social Entrepreneurship Business Plan Contest, with $50,000 available in prize money.

Students in the Fletcher International Law Society are writing an amicus curiae brief for the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, focusing on the construction of dialogues in consultation as a means to resolve the conflicting obligations of protection for foreign investment and indigenous peoples.

Patrick:
The Latin America Group has been very active.  First we organized a Symposium on Colombia and Venezuela Affairs with lots of great speakers, including Michael Shifter, the President of the Inter-American Dialogue.  We also had a Latin American wine and cheese night attended by about 40 students.  We hosted a talk by a Colombian labor leader about poor conditions at a mine in northern Colombia, run by a major foreign company, that provides much of the coal that fuels Massachusetts.  Last, we screened the film Oscar’s Cuba, about Cuban prisoner of conscience Oscar Biscet and the human rights situation on the island, which included a live Q&A with the film’s director.  Next semester we organize and host Latin Night!

Amos:
The Foreign Language Conversation Club coordinates language tables for students who want to practice their conversation skills in English, French, German, Mandarin Chinese, Italian, Arabic, and Japanese.  The Latin America Group coordinates the Spanish and Portuguese sessions.

Jeffrey also writes about two groups:
The Fletcher Foreign Service Club (AKA Fletcher Diplomacy Club) meets to discuss the Foreign Service Exam process.  Many of the Pickering Fellows and those who have passed the exam make it much less intimidating for us hopefuls.  We even have practice sessions, and share knowledge on the career.

Tufts University Water Polo Club: Yes, it is the U, and not Fletcher-only, but it’s a club sport, so grad students are eligible.  I’m passionate about the sport, and it helps keep me balanced against the academic load.  Plus, the undergrads here love our involvement and it’s a great way to branch out into the greater Tufts community.

That’s all for today’s installment.  More to follow later this week!

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Only a bit of an update, because there’s really no news from our end.  The first deadline for admitted students has passed and just about everyone has been heard from.  Some responses are still trickling in by mail.

The next date of note is May 1.  By then, all the applicants admitted in March should have sent us their enrollment decision.

Equally important:  If you were offered a place on the waitlist, you should be sure you  have informed us that you wish to claim the place.  If you don’t send the response, there’s no way for us to know you’d like to wait.  You can find the form within your GAMS account.  Admission will not be offered to anyone who hasn’t indicated an interest in waiting.

In other news, first-year student Elise Crane did a very thorough write-up of the Tufts $100K Business Plan Competition.  Check it out for the details I didn’t have last week.

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We regularly see notices (official and less-than-official) when our students do something special.  In the past ten days or so, details of two particularly special honors came over the news wire.  The first is that three Fletcher students were among the 13 recipients of the Harold W. Rosenthal Fellowship in International Relations.  Congratulations Beau Barnes, James (Jamie) Ermath, and David Wallsh!

And, particularly cool are the results of the Tufts 6th Annual $100,000 Business Plan Competition.  Big congratulations to the Masawa team of Shailesh Chitnis, Darius Hyworon, Joshua Haynes, Marian Levin, Christine Martin, and Julie Zollman for their plan for developing an integrated technology platform to function on smartphones.  They competed in the Social Entrepreneurship category.

The Fletcher KoffeeLINK team, led by Hayden Kwast, took second place in the Classic Business Plan Competition.

Both Masawa and KoffeeLINK will receive funds to bring their plans to fruition.

Great job, everyone!

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I’ve been checking in with some of my past posters to see if they have some final words before they graduate.  First up is Joshua Haynes, to whom blog readers were introduced in January 2009, when he was halfway through his first year at Fletcher.  Now he’s eyeing the end of his second year as a pioneer in the first MIB class.  Joshua writes:

Wow.  In two months, our diplomas will signify the end of a wild journey.  Unfathomable. Sure, they say that time flies; but we haven’t flown, we’ve teleported.

Last time I wrote, it was the day before the beginning of our second semester.  I was pondering the busy-ness of the first semester and all that we had accomplished and been exposed to.  It’s now April of the second year, and when I think about all that has transpired over the interim 2.5 semesters, I realize that:  Wow!  I was naïve, ‘cause it’s been wilder than I could have ever imagined.

Classes, extracurriculars, speakers, weekend (and some weeknight) activities, conferences, travels, internships, forums, side jobs and side consultancies, friends, coffees and teas and crumpets and social hours have certainly filled our days.  We study and read sometimes, too.  Sure we’re busy, but over the past almost two years, I’ve come to most appreciate the ability students have at Fletcher to explore and deepen their interests.

I came to Fletcher thinking I was interested in Sino-Arab relations.  That quickly turned into a focus on technology and international development.  Although Fletcher has no courses on technology and international development, per se, I’ve been able to explore my interest using every means possible.  A group of students last year decided we wanted to host a conference on mobile banking in Kenya.  Fletcher was extremely supportive and the conference was very successful.  Through professors and their contacts, I was able to work on projects last summer in Niger, Germany, and Mozambique.  Along with another Fletcher student, I received a Clinton Global Initiative award for a start-up idea, which Fletcher then supported in kind.  We’ve now teamed-up with other Fletcher students and are finalists in the Tufts’ 100K Business Plan Competition.

Research, project follow-ups, and thesis have led me to London, Niger, Haiti (twice) and Barcelona — none of those during the summer.  These are just a few examples of what being at Fletcher has allowed me to do; my fellow Fletcherites — MIB, MALD, LLM, MA, and PhD alike — will certainly corroborate with their own experiences.

It’s the resources, structure and people that allow you to focus on what you want, at the level you want it.  That’s what has has made Fletcher a special and wild journey for me.

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