I never very much cared for a sedentary lifestyle. Growing up on the border between the United States and Canada in Buffalo, NY, traveling between countries never seemed an issue, simply part of the normal routine. While I love my hometown, I always wanted to explore new places and try different things. Starting in high school and continuing to this day, I am always looking for new places to explore, and often mountains to climb.
I chose to attend university in Toronto, drawn to the quality of the school and a vibrant city that offered a diversity of experiences unmatched by most others. Though for a brief time a computer science major, I ultimately elected to study international relations. Again, I enjoyed learning about different ways of doing things, and the complexity of the field’s challenges. Answers in this field are often unclear and rarely absolute.
During this period, I spent half a year developing and then implementing a community-based project in Kenya. I immensely enjoyed the experience working to fulfill the communities’ objectives. Our project was successful in achieving our aims on time and under budget, and the water resources and health centers created during that time still run today. Yet, the project’s construct was far from perfect. I learned some important lessons regarding approaches to working on international development project. I came across several old development projects that simply failed to endure the test of sustainability or were forgotten all together – one short bore well struck an old forgotten water pipe system from the 1970s or 80s, only a few feet after breaking ground. Even our own projects, which incorporated affected stakeholders at each phase and relied on them to sustain these initiatives, had its faults – the model was not easily scaled as capacity building to replicate these types of programs was not a priority.
I deeply value the experience of traveling, living, and working in different contexts and countries. In the few years that followed, I spent time working back home in Washington DC and Vermont and studying abroad in Spain. More recently, I sought adventure in Ecuador and Peru, chasing anacondas, climbing 6,000 meter peeks gasping for air, and sleeping atop giant sand dunes.
From what I have seen, experienced, and read, the development landscape is changing rapidly in ways that will encourage the development community to draw from the lessons and tools of business and management. Many interesting programs supported by international organizations and private foundations alike focus on supporting the pilot and scaling of successful programs. These initiatives are leading in some of the most interesting areas, be it the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation leveraging its reputation and budget to sponsor market-based research into improving sanitation or the Grassroots Business Fund’s investment in promising social enterprises.
The MBAs Without Borders program embraces these principles, sending their advisors to existing organizations, businesses, and governments to support development through socially sustainable market-based solutions. The combination of working in a new country, with people, and on a substantive assignment drew me to the program.
For the next year I will serve as an advisor on an ongoing project that invests in companies in former conflict areas. The project seeks to fuel economic growth in these regions by providing grantees the financial and advisory support they need to grow their businesses. Having just completed a training program with fellow advisors in Washington, I am excited and ready to get started.
John Ginther is an MBAs Without Borders Advisor supporting economic growth in Sri Lanka. John holds an MBA and a Masters of Global Affairs from the University of Toronto.