MIT Sloan Fellows Blog

The MIT Sloan Fellows Program has educated some of the world's most influential leaders. With this blog we look to share the collective wisdom of our global community of alumni and faculty. Stay tuned to find out what's happening on the international frontier of business and industry.

The World Bank: Reinvention in response to global pressures

It’s common to criticize many of the world’s mega-organizations for being resistant to change, but reinventing large organizations—across borders, across cultures, across governments—can be a daunting feat. Nevertheless, the World Bank Group, with 188 member countries, is tackling an unprecedented reinvention in an effort to boost the organization’s impact.

0115-wassimyAs the Middle East North Africa regional manager for the Trade & Industry Competitiveness Program of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector investment arm of the World Bank, Hazem ElWassimy, SF ’09, is on the front lines of the historic transformation at the World Bank Group (WBG). For the last two decades, he has been working for and with multilateral organizations and government entities to generate investments and spark innovations that help countries modernize and expand economic opportunities.

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Cryptocurrencies: Is your wallet going digital?

It can be argued that money has been digital for a long time. The Bitcoincredit card, of course, is digital currency, and there are parts of the world—Scandinavia, for example—where consumers use credit cards for nearly every transaction, big or small, not bothering to carry cash at all. And innovations like Apple Pay mean you don’t even have to show your credit card. You can present your phone instead, which is linked to your credit card account. But perhaps the most controversial digital iteration is cryptocurrency, a digital currency that can be transferred directly from one “wallet” to another without ever going through a bank. What you get in lieu of paper money is a highly complex mathematical code. Your computer receives the code, solves the problem, and releases the sum from the “block chain,” a digital vault where the cryptocurrency is stored.

After a few hits and misses, Bitcoin and Dogecoin, the two major players in the cryptocurrency realm, have rendered their codes increasingly uncrackable. And Silicon Valley startup Coinbase has launched the first major exchange for online currency. Persistent hackers, however, have been able to decipher the encrypted strings of text used by less rigorous cryptocurrencies. Given that hackers—who are intent on proving that cryptocurrencies will never be fully secure—are continually finding vulnerabilities in the system, we asked MIT Sloan finance faculty whether this form of digital currency has a future.

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Using system dynamics to thwart counterfeiters

One of the hallmarks of system dynamics is its extraordinary flexibility as a problem-solving tool. Healthcare, education, poverty—MIT Sloan Fellows alumni have a history of applying system dynamics with marked success to a wide range of challenges. Now Graham Rong, SF ’06, has added thwarting counterfeiters to the list.

In a recent MIT Sloan Global Entrepreneurship Lab (G-Lab) project, Rong, Senior Industrial Liaison Officer at MIT, sat down to talk counterfeiting with a leading European company specializing in security products. The company wanted to produce a system for identifying counterfeit auto parts, a formidable global problem. In fact, loss from fraud in the auto parts industry exceeds $2B a year—not surprising when you realize that automotive manufacturers produce somewhere in the range of 200,000 different parts and that nearly 10 percent are being counterfeited.

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Leadership + Innovation = Progress

xoli-kakana-modalXoli Kakana, SF ’08, founded ICT-Works in 1999 with two outsized goals—to use technology to tackle tough challenges facing her native South Africa and to prove that women are major players in the technology realm. Her vision was inspired by a strong sense of responsibility for redressing the inequities of apartheid and was supported by her forward-thinking mom, who used her own pension payout to fund her daughter’s startup.

Kakana recruited like-minded codirectors with complementary skills—Margaret Sibiya and Sindile Ncala—making ICT-Works the first wholly black-women-owned and managed information and communications technology company in South Africa. ICT-Works now holds multi-million-dollar contracts and employs more than 100 people. The company has raised the standard of IT and telecom services in South Africa, and that success means that Kakana and her team can offer robust opportunities to women aiming to build careers in the technology sector.

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Reimagining government philanthropy in Switzerland

For a small land-locked country, Switzerland leads the world in a number of impressive metrics. It has the highest nominal wealth per adult in the world, for example, and both Zürich and Geneva rank among the cities with the highest quality of life. It’s also one of the most generous nations on earth with a philanthropic tradition that reaches back generations. In fact, the country boasts one of the highest per capita densities of charitable foundations on the planet—roughly 12,500, by one recent estimate. For Swiss Vice General Consul and swissnex China Executive Director Pascal Marmier, SF ’08, that rich philanthropic tradition is something to be treasured—but also challenged.

Marmier offers his country’s early adoption of public-private partnerships, or PPPs, as a case in point. “In Switzerland, PPPs represented a significant advance over traditional individual and foundation-based philanthropy,” he says. “PPPs enabled individual funders, as well as science and innovation agencies and universities, to expand their impact using the established infrastructures of government entities. Private foundations achieved greater democratic legitimacy as a result of public involvement, which increased the breadth and influence of their undertakings.”

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Philanthropy: The next biotech frontier

Jessica HarringtonJessica Harrington, SF ’07, is driving revolutionary medical innovations to market with a funding model that is as radical as the biotech innovations she’s supporting. Dr. Harrington is a cofounder, former director, and now an advisor to Broadview Ventures, a for-profit philanthropic organization that singles out biotech innovations that would not attract traditional venture capital because of a long runway to market.

Founded in 2008, the Leducq Family Trust established Broadview specifically to accelerate the development of promising technology in cardiovascular and neurovascular disease through targeted investments in and support of early stage ventures. By making funding available at a critical moment in the development of new technology, Broadview is taking a leadership position in venture philanthropy by finding creative ways to support translational research that bring the advancements of science to the care of patients.

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How strong is the dollar?

Is the dominance of the U.S. dollar waning in the international marketplace? We asked that question of MIT Sloan Fellows alumni from Sao Paulo to Moscow, and we’ll be sharing those perspectives in this forum over the next few months. We start with Jim Walker, SF ’06, COO and Head of Business Development at Private Bank-Americas, Credit Suisse. With clients all over the world, Walker’s business is as global as global business gets. Does he see an immediate threat to the hegemonic status of the dollar?

“Enduring factors drive the demand for dollars globally,” he says. “As our clients build substantial wealth in their countries of origin, they want a significant portion of that wealth to reside in the U.S.—and you have to own U.S. dollars to buy U.S. assets. Even our Chinese and Brazilian clients want their children’s assets to be U.S.-based.” Walker notes that many are willing to accept a negative yield just to park some of their wealth in the relative security of the U.S. dollar. The reason, he thinks, is fairly straightforward: among central banks, only the U.S. Federal Reserve has consistently demonstrated a capacity for timely and decisive action in times of turbulence.

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Building a better doctor

David RosenmanFeatured in FierceHealthcare’s “9 People to Watch in Healthcare,” David Rosenman, SF ’12, is changing the system one doctor at a time. Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Founding Director of the Preclinical Block at the Mayo Medical School, Rosenman is creating a new breed of physicians who are well rounded and patient-centered—as adept at communication as they are at diagnosis.

Rosenman oversees the preclinical block, a transition course for medical students that takes place at the very midpoint of their medical school experience, that all-important segue between the first two preclinical and second two clinical years. The Mayo Clinic’s preclinical block is the longest and most comprehensive in medical education, spanning the breadth of healthcare—pediatrics, surgery, internal medicine, and a dozen other specialties.

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The U.S. Postal Service goes green

The prevailing misconception toward the green-oriented world is that sustainable practices are something of an ideological luxury. Organizations are quickly coming to realize, however, just how wayward that myth is. The U.S. BrennanPostal Service, for example, saved $52+ million in 2012 alone with green initiatives. CEO of the USPS, Megan Brennan, SF ’03, says that the economic success of those efforts illustrates that sustainability can be as much a financial boon as an environmental benefit when tackled strategically.

With a 25% decline in mail volume over the last decade or so, the USPS has seen a severe cut in revenue. Even the federal government has gone over to e-commerce. To make up the shortfall, the postal service has been aggressive at cutting costs—and many of those savings have been driven by comprehensive facility energy projects.

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Disruptive change in healthcare delivery

Craig Bunnell, SF ’08, Chief Medical Officer at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has been negotiating the steep hills and deep valleys of government-mandated healthcare since Massachusetts became the first state to institute health insurance reform in 2006. As healthcare providers now fear about the Affordable Care Act, the revamped system and its subsequent amendments in 2008, 2010, and 2012, disrupted the status quo, forcing organizations and individuals to rethink their positions in the marketplace.

Craig Bunnell, Dana Farber CMO and Sloan Fellow AlumAlthough Bunnell acknowledges that new health insurance realities have posed prodigious difficulties, he’s not interested in rolling back time. “Change is difficult,” Bunnell says, “but necessary. We have an ethical and economic imperative to repair this nation’s healthcare system. Yes, we felt the disruption of the Massachusetts healthcare law, but we also saw the impact. After the legislation was introduced, that percentage of uninsured in Massachusetts dropped to one to two percent—the percentage of uninsured across the rest of the country is somewhere around 14 %.” [The federal percentage has been steadily dropping under the new healthcare law.]

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