The Emzingo Group is bringing communities and young business leaders together in synergy.
By Pablo Esteves
Imagine you are standing in front of a small placid pond. You reach down with your arm extended, hesitantly using your fingertips to gauge where the water lies. After a few seconds you submerge your hand, then pull it out.
What is happening?
The water is dripping from the back and front of your hand; maybe even from as high as your wrist. It glides slowly through your fingers, accumulating at your fingertips to form droplets that eventually fall back into the pool of water where they create that mesmerizing effect, those ever-expanding "water rings." The ripples can be followed outward incrementally.
You have changed the state of the pond.
Now, apply that visualization to the arena of CSR: "dropping" a young business leader into a local organization of a developing community in the likes of South Africa or Peru has a ripple effect beyond the initial point of contact. He or she can change the state of the community for the better, but just like the water drop this person needs "a hand" to get started.
The Emzingo Group: Business vs. Social
Enter the Emzingo Group, a company founded by three MBA students set on bridging the gap between business and social sectors. Soon enough we discovered we were stubbornly committed towards changing the status quo in ways that promote long-term social development. We select highly driven, social-conscious graduate school students and pair them with our field partners: social entrepreneurs and organizations in emerging markets like Johannesburg, South Africa and Lima, Peru.
For the next eight to 10 weeks, six of which they spend working directly with a field partner, the students help these organizations – the field partners – with mission critical issues such as developing a three-year strategic plan, a marketing strategy, or a sustainable income model.
These fellows hail from various backgrounds and industries (e.g., consulting, finance, marketing, media). The 78 fellows that have already been through this experience represent more than 40 different countries and include MBA, Master in Management, and Master in International Relations students from some of the top schools in Europe: IE Business School, Leeds University Business School, ESADE, and London School of Economics.
The Ripple Effect: Believing
Much has been debated about the ability of graduate students – especially MBAs – to have a positive influence in society, to alleviate poverty and to generate economic growth. But beyond the degree they are pursuing, these fellows have demonstrated through seven of our programs in the last three years that well-prepared individuals – with the right skill sets and the desire to solve social problems – can make a long-lasting positive change in these communities, that poverty-related issues can be addressed in a more efficient and effective way.
This is the ripple effect of the Emzingo program.
The Johannesburg Student Sponsorship Programme
The work of the fellows with Student Sponsorship Programme (SSP) in Johannesburg, South Africa serves as the perfect example. This non-profit organization provides academic opportunities to top performing South African students from low-income families by not only facilitating their admission into the best secondary schools in the Gauteng province but also by covering the costs of admission.
Since we began working with SSP three years ago, seven fellows have helped the organization improve its marketing plan, recruiting process, information management, advisory board relations and alumni engagement. This has, in turn, improved SSP’s ability to select promising students, prevent program dropout, and seamlessly manage student information.
All in all, the Emzingo fellows have helped SSP secure a more solid reputation for itself as an organization. This in turn allows more talented, young South Africans to receive better education, increasing their likelihood of entering university, and substantially improving their income and their families' livelihood.
With the Community, For the Community...
By collaborating with nearly 30 social organizations and entrepreneurs to become better, stronger and more efficient – our fellows have helped the communities in which these organizations serve; not only do they receive knowledge that is difficult to find in their own networks, they also benefit greatly from outside assessment. And the moral and sense of purpose of everyone involved (the community, the local programs, the students) is uplifted.
So far, over more than 15,500 hours of collaboration, Emzingo fellows have worked on issues including marketing and business development (35 percent); problems in organizational structure, operational capacity, and enhancement of processes (29 percent); the betterment of strategic and business plans to increase the likelihood of success of the organization (27 percent); and a mix of projects improving legal, financial and IT deficiencies (9 percent).
From Classroom to Emerging Market
And it's not only the communities that benefit. The fellows themselves gain a great deal from this experience. By being dropped into an emerging market, they have the unique opportunity to experience a foreign environment and culture first-hand, to learn how to tackle problems with limited resources.
They must figure out how to transfer what they have learned in the comfort zone of a classroom into the imperfect world of everyday life, and they must adapt quickly in order to succeed. And because the Emzingo fellows work in teams (with each other and with the field partners), they gain valuable team management experience, practice emotional intelligence, and undergo personal development.
Engaging the Interest & Involvement of the Community
I realize this all is starting to sound very rosy, but the key element that ties it all together is the community – that body of people that Emzingo fellows are working with to sustain their organizations. Without their buy-in, the entire system is flawed.
Thus, in order to have a long-lasting social impact, the field partners receiving the support, and the fellows providing this support must both engage the interest and involvement of the community. If the community itself does not have the determination to improve itself, positive impact is not sustainable.
With the SSP projects, for example, our fellows and SSP staff worked very closely with current SSP students and alumni in order to fully understand their reality. You can understand why, for example, it would be very stressful for a 12-year old to travel every day from her family home in the slums to a private school in a suburban neighborhood. Why it would be difficult to persevere with homework without the proper materials or in a broken home. The success in such a situation is determined by the long-term viability of SSP, the active participation of the young student’s family, and the immediate community.
Imagine again that pool of water: once the ripple from the water droplets begins to dissipate, the status quo returns. That’s something we can’t allow at Emzingo. We want to create a long lasting "drip" of socially-conscious and talented fellows who constantly plunge into these communities.
With Emzingo we have started the ripple effect, but we don’t just want to be a droplet in a big bucket, we want to do it with the force and tenacity of millions of raindrops.
Think we are making a difference? Then please join us in our journey through our newest initiative, a crowd funding campaign, which seeks to raise awareness on the importance of long-lasting positive impact and allows us to further address some of the world’s biggest challenges.
About the Author:
Pablo is the Director of Strategic Partnerships and Marketing for Emzingo Group. He has been involved in entrepreneurial endeavors for over 10 years, ranging from working in a media startup in Mexico to opening and running a coffee shop, and a career as a professional golf player. He has lived, worked and studied in five cities across four different countries including Mexico, United States, Spain and South Africa. Pablo holds a BA in Business Administration, an MBA from IE Business School and is a 2011 Emzingo Fellow.