Action Learning Newsletter
The MIT Sloan Action Learning newsletter is published periodically throughout the academic year. Please click on the titles below to read the articles from our most recent edition.
Volume 1, Issue 1
A Message From the Director
Over the past twenty years, MIT Sloan has, through its “lab” courses, offered our graduate students more than 500 project-based learning opportunities throughout the US and in more than 50 countries worldwide. Working collaboratively with a variety of companies and organizations and in a wide range of industries, student teams take on these projects to address real world problems that companies want to fix. Nearly 80% of all Sloan students participate in one of more than a dozen lab courses; more than 25% participate in two or more labs during their tenure at Sloan. With these diverse elective offerings, students work with companies to address challenges in a range of topics, including global health, enterprise management, and sustainability.
In response to ever-increasing student demand and faculty interest in developing action learning labs, MIT Sloan continues to make significant investments in these unique learning opportunities. The Action Learning Office was established in 2010 to further enable Sloan to meet its mission of educating leaders who can address the myriad complexities of today’s business environment.
We are proud that the depth, breadth, and scale of our Action Learning program is unmatched by our peer institutions and serves as a model that other business schools in the US and around the world seek to emulate. Sloan’s commitment to and investment in Action Learning has produced a unique, robust portfolio of courses and programs that, collectively, distinguish Sloan from other management education institutions.
As we continue to develop our dynamic suite of offerings, we look to more deeply engage our dedicated Sloan and MIT alumni, as well as our alumni host companies. If you are interested in assisting us in this effort in any way, we would be delighted to hear from you. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michellana Y. Jester, Ed.D
Director and Lecturer
MIT Sloan Action Learning Program
Repeat Action Learning Host Reaps Benefits: MIT Sloan students help phosphate company OCP advance its sustainability efforts
When a company chooses to host a team of students from MIT Sloan for an action learning lab, the investment of senior management time is significant. But that investment pays off, as many companies return to host again and again. This year, for the first time in MIT Sloan’s Action Learning Lab history, returning company OCP hosted multiple lab teams in a single academic year.
OCP is the largest phosphate company in the world and the largest company in Morocco, directly employing 18,000 people. It is responsible for 3.5 percent of Morocco’s annual GDP and a quarter of the nation’s annual exports. Action Learning Labs also worked with OCPSkills, a corporate social responsibility initiative focused on creating trade and entrepreneurial skills in communities surrounding OCP’s worksites.
A longtime friend of MIT through the Industrial Liaison and Executive Education programs, OCP first partnered with MIT Sloan Action Learning as a 2011 host in Leading Sustainable Systems Lab (L-Lab). L-Lab focuses on critical issues of global business sustainability. Student teams work with host companies to create dynamic cross-boundary challenges while exercising leadership and sense-making skills.
This year, OCP hosted three Action Learning Teams. In the fall semester, student teams from both L-Lab and Global Entrepreneurship Lab (G-Lab) worked with OCP and OCPSkills on projects designed specifically for each lab’s pedagogical mission. And this spring, a Global Organizations Lab (GO-Lab) team of MIT Executive MBA (EMBA) students joined OCP to analyze the company’s sustainability initiatives and assess how to drive social and environmental commitments forward through the internal organization and surrounding communities.
G-Lab students work with entrepreneurial ventures in emerging markets to help solve the problems that keep entrepreneurs awake at night. GO-Lab, a required course for the EMBA, pairs teams of students with organizations working in multiple global locations to tackle obstacles associated with transnational work.
Crafting meaningful project proposals that match each lab’s learning objectives takes plenty of preparation and planning ahead, as OCP’s Deputy Director for Sustainable Development, Nour El Houda Benomar, knows well. She works to write the project proposals and coordinate internal and external stakeholders who will be essential to project success. Benomar says that each lab team has at least two OCP staff contacts and that departments are enthusiastic about working with student teams
This high-touch approach and investment in Action Learning projects is noticed and appreciated by students and faculty alike.
“OCP has brought the same spirit of partnership to GO-Lab that it does to the Moroccan people and to firms and NGOs around the globe,” says Jonathan Lehrich, MIT EMBA Program Director and Lecturer.
L-Lab student Phela Townsend, MBA ’13, says, “One of the most memorable things about working with the OCP team was that they welcomed us into both their culture and their company."
The high quality of MIT Sloan students and the utility of skills and models learned in their management education is part of what draws OCP to continue hosting. Says Benomar: “The students are excellent and the MIT models are highly adaptable.”
For students, the ability to apply curriculum concepts in real life at a real company is part of Action Learning’s appeal. According to Townsend, “L-Lab gives us an opportunity to use tools and frameworks of change. Having the opportunity to immediately apply these newly acquired skills is a gift and is what makes the action learning experience one of the most rewarding at Sloan.”
The popular Action Learning course GlobalHealth Lab, just completing its fifth year, offers students a unique opportunity to address pressing real-world challenges. Students learn by collaborating with host organizations on the front lines of healthcare delivery in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
Working with the GlobalHealth Lab course team, hosts develop projects focused on their needs in strategy, operations, technology adoption, or marketing. The goal: enable students to develop by putting into use what they are learning at MIT Sloan while helping host organizations to improve.
Students match with projects before class starts, then draw on six weeks of interactive classroom sessions, meetings with mentors, and access to MIT resources to develop an initial study. For two weeks they work side-by-side with enterprise leaders, sharing their findings on site. Back on campus, collaborations wrap up as students finalize their practical recommendations, connecting their ideas with coursework and research.
This year’s twelve projects took place in South Africa, India, Kenya, Zambia, Tanzania, Bangladesh, and Nepal. David Rabinowitz, Kaustubh Pandya, Briana Burgess, and Konstantina Georgaki, all MBA ’13 students, worked with Himalayan Healthcare (HHC) in Nepal. HHC is a nonprofit that provides sustainable healthcare in poor rural communities. The team was asked to help HHC develop marketing and business plans that would refine the value proposition and increase patient demand for its underutilized community hospital in Ilam, a town set in eastern Nepal. HHC also sought to understand if membership fees could drive the local community’s use of its hospital services.
The resulting financial and market analysis will guide HHC’s future strategy. Along with their host deliverables, students developed materials to share the learning. For the HHC team, this took the form of a video. In it, the students describe the project and their pre-trip expectations of what they planned to recommend to HHC. They explain how their ideas evolved once they were on the ground, saw the hospital first-hand, and talked to people about the operation. They also reflect on their experiences encountering a unique culture.
Rabinowitz says of his lab experience, “Action Learning projects give you the opportunity to build relationships across the world in such an extraordinary way that’s nearly impossible to replicate. We were blown away by the hospitality as well as the focus that our HHC group leader, Milan, brought to the project.”
Pandya reports that all three of his Action Learning courses have been “phenomenal.” “How you apply the principles outside of a classroom is an experience you cannot replicate elsewhere,” he says.
Shari Loessberg, a Senior Lecturer in Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Strategic Management, has been a member of the MIT Sloan Global Entrepreneurship Lab (G-Lab) teaching team since the course began in 2000. She now leads the recruiting process for G-Lab and assists with onboarding host companies in other labs, including Global Organizations Lab (GO-Lab) and India Lab. The Action Learning Program caught up with Loessberg to capture her thoughts on the value that Action Learning teams add to host companies and to find out why so many companies are repeat hosts.
What is it about Action Learning Labs that seems to appeal most strongly to MIT Sloan students?
Action Learning Labs are in some ways capstone courses, where students can put to work in one place all the elements of their Sloan education. If we do our job right in selecting host companies, then hands-down the best takeaway for our students is in seeing the impact they have with their companies. The knowledge that they have affected a living, breathing company—that the work, the strategies, and the recommendations they made are going to change and improve the way the company runs—that’s enormously powerful for our students, I believe.
What types of projects are best for Action Learning Labs?
It’s important (for hosts) to think about what four smart outsiders can do well and not so well. An Action Learning team is probably not the best resource for recommendations on how to sell to your local customers across the street from your office. However, if you are struggling with questions such as: ‘so, what should our next strategy be? How do we enter a new market? , What are best practices in other markets that look like ours?’ well, those are the kinds of questions that our outside talent can really take on to deliver mission-critical analysis and recommendations to senior management, who can then apply their own company and local expertise to yield a superior outcome.
What do you feel makes hosting Action Learning Lab teams appealing to host companies??
I can answer this on multiple levels. First, we frequently hear that the insights of the team on the ground help crystalize decisions that current management is already close to making. That team becomes the tipping point for a decision, which is enormously useful and clarifying for management.
At a different level, by hosting a lab, a host is now part of the MIT networks. The host is a member of the ecosystem of alumni, supporters and family of MIT and MIT Sloan. That is an enormously powerful aspect, and it’s one that we are working to improve and enrich so that the sense of membership and identity reaches all of our host companies.
Why do companies want to host an Action Learning team multiple times?
Our repeat hosts, who make up more than a third of projects on an annual basis, get results because they leverage their teams and their teams’ contributions. They efficiently use their team’s basic horsepower, their access to primary and secondary sources of knowledge, and their global perspectives to get the concrete deliverables as well as the larger, strategic value they seek. They know what expectations to have of their team and how to collaborate, consult and sometimes, just be a host company!
Year after year, repeat hosts find that their teams have delivered extraordinary, cost-effective value. These hosts know how to shape projects that will first yield the team’s recommendations and deliverables, but the real dividend is the platform of value that the company can build on internally, long after the team has gone back to MIT. The benefit for a team to work with a repeat host is in the richness of the institutional knowledge that we can transfer from year to year in terms of hard and soft knowledge about a company, its operations, culture and market. It’s a winning combination!
Recruiting for fall Action Learning labs will begin in mid-July. Please visit the MIT Sloan Action Learning website /actionlearning/ for more information about specific labs and to access the project questionnaire when it becomes available. If you have specific questions, please contact email@example.com.