Like many of my International Policy Study peers, I was confused by the choice of Development Project Management Institute (DPMI) or International Professional Service Semester (IPSS) as the mandatory finale to my MIIS experience. But neither one seemed to be quite what I was looking for, and I was putting off the decision like a champion procrastinator. Then, as the clock ticked towards the last possible moments, I got a lucky break.
Someone had heard from someone who heard from someone that I speak a bit of Portuguese (to be technical, “eu falo português”), and soon the movers and shakers behind the mysterious new Frontier Market Scouts program were on my radar, very politely asking me if I’d be interested in going to Brazil. It seemed like an odd question, as if anyone ever refuses to go to Brazil.
There was just one major hitch. I am a development student. Frontier Market Scouts is all about business. My gut reaction: I CAN’T do it! It’s going to be TOO HARD.
GET A HOLD OF YOURSELF! I said, well… to myself. You are a MIIS student, you CAN do it! We’re all here because we have huge tolerances for scary, challenging endeavors, right?
So I pulled myself together, signed up for the month-long series of intense prep workshops in June, and got ready to learn about business. More specifically, to learn about how to “become a talent scout and investment manager serving local entrepreneurs and social-minded investors in low-income and weak-capital regions of the world. The scouts provide due diligence for investors and technical assistance for entrepreneurs with the goal of generating high-quality deal flows and supporting portfolio companies at a low cost.” You got all that?
Business models. Profit margins. Entrepreneurship. Venture capital. Social impact investment. Overhead. Scalability. Portfolio? Yiiiiiiiiiiiiiiikes, my first couple of days were pretty rough, like trying to become completely fluent in a foreign language after watching a subtitled movie. I kept making enthusiastic pitches about helping people, and my MBA peers kept asking me confusing questions about supply chains, products and revenue.
It took a while before I got my head around how a businessperson thinks, and how, to my development-minded delight, a company’s profit could ultimately translate to widespread poverty reduction. Strangely enough, by drawing a decisive link between the worlds of capitalism and NGOs, the glimmers of a real solution to the eternal problem of grinding, joyless poverty was starting to emerge. All of a sudden, and very unexpectedly, business became a part of my worldview.
I’ll be heading to Brazil in January to take the reins from the very brave First Scout in Brazil, Grace Andrews. So far, it’s looking like the marriage between business and development is going to be a very happy one.
Please check out the FMS website and the blogs of Scouts already abroad: