Action Learning Through Consulting Abroad

Each year MBA students have the opportunity to travel abroad to gain international consulting experience. The purpose of the consulting project is to further develop students’ leadership and team skills and to enhance their cultural awareness in an international setting. In addition, international organizations benefit from receiving consulting services. Many of the projects have a strong focus on socially inclusive business models or issues of sustainability. Below is a sampling of these projects.

Examples of International Practicums:

  • Project completed in January 2013 and 2014  – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

SECOVI-Rio is a government-sponsored organization that receives funding from condominium associations in Rio de Janeiro.  Management in SECOVI-Rio was interested in learning how to improve the environmental sustainability of both existing commercial housing units and future housing development projects.  After meeting with the clients and conducting research in this area, the student team presented a number of feasible “green” initiatives to the clients.  The clients were particularly impressed with one of these ideas—building a “model condominium” complex as a demonstration for developers, builders, and tradesmen to view in person.  The clients were so impressed with the presentation that they asked the student team to translate their entire presentation into Portuguese and return in the near future to present this to their Board of Directors.

student experience

“I attended the International Practicum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in January 2013. Beyond the amazing cultural experience I had and the overall expansion of my comfort zone, the practicum has given me so much more. Working with students from COPPEAD, I was able to hone my intercultural business skills. The company, SecoviRio, offered us a challenging project and real world practical experience. Finally, the professor provided essential consulting knowledge and advice, which added to the success of the project. Overall, I believe that the International Practicum experience provided by the University of San Diego should be a major requirement for the development of effective and knowledgeable MBA students, as I consider it to be one of the best professional experiences in my MBA career.” Daniel Shehan, IMBA

  • Practicum – January 2014 – La Romana & Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Edify, Inc.’s mission is to improve and expand sustainable, affordable, Christ-centered education in the developing world. They do this by providing capital to educational entrepreneurs to support facilities, curricula, and business and teacher training. Through a grant from Edify, Inc., USD consultants were able to travel to La Romana and Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic to investigate the feasibility of installing solar panels on the roofs of small Christian schools. Considering electricity is very intermittent and expensive in this country, this type of project was necessary. While in the Dominican Republic, the students built a survey instrument, traveled to school sites and interviewed principals, met with a solar panel installer and gave their final recommendations. Ultimately the students concluded that it is feasible for medium and high-end electricity users to afford loans for solar panel installation at competitive microfinance interest rates.

Dominican Republic practicum participant and Evening MBA student, Mario Orozco, commented:

“It is important that people come to business school with different goals. This kind of project and our exposure to it was an important reminder that we, as future business leaders, have a responsibility to society. It’s not all about making money for the company or organization. We need to make sure we’re using our resources to train and educate these small businesses that are trying to make a difference. If you can make a difference here, you’ll make a difference out there.”

MBA Student Mario Orozco with client in the Dominican Republic

MBA Student Mario Orozco with client in the Dominican Republic

What about you? What lessons did you learn while consulting abroad? Share your thoughts below.

Global Entrepreneurship and Social Change Course

MBA students traveled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil In January 2013 and 2014 for the course, Global Entrepreneurship for Social Change. The course is offered in Buenos Aires, Argentina in January 2015. The purpose of this course is to learn what is possible and how, by examining a myriad of diverse experiences that are making a difference all over the world. Through readings, case analysis, guest speakers, and experiential exercises students gained an understanding of the processes for translating good ideas and intentions into high-impact ventures. Students acquired knowledge, tools and skills that enhanced their capabilities for identifying and developing opportunities. The course called for an exploration of what students can do by developing financially viable ideas for on-going enterprises for which positive social and environmental impact is essential.

We live in a world filled with complex global challenges. It is also a time of opportunities for making a difference. In this context, the way we pursue and achieve social change must be “revolutionized” through fresh paradigms for solving the world’s diverse pool of problems: environmental degradation, increasing inequality gap in the United States and other industrialized societies, famine in an era of obesity, obesity in a world with extensive hunger, lack of access to potable water by a large majority, persistent illiteracy and isolation in the time of the Ipad and Facebook, among many others. Entrepreneurship for social change is about combining business and management skills, imagination, passion, and the courage of individuals to effectively tackle some of these issues. It can be found across sectors and takes different organizational forms and business models.

Student experiences follow:

“Human beings who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so”   ~ Douglas Adams; I believe that this quote encapsulates why going abroad to Rio de Janeiro was such a rewarding experience for me.  We were exposed to a variety of social ventures (Afro Reggae, Saude Criancia, Rio-Ro, Asta, etc.) and we were able to learn from their successes and pitfalls.  We were able to analyze business models that were successful and obtain a firm understanding of what a social enterprise truly is and the type of impact that it can make on the world.” – Christopher Franklin, Evening MBA

student experience

“The course in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, opened up a whole new perspective on doing business. The visits to social businesses, meeting the social entrepreneurs as well as the classes by Professor Marquez were highly impressive and made me realize that doing business can be used to change the world. The beauty of the country and its people are the perfect setting to get inspired and be creative to develop your own social business ideas.” – Ann Sophie Loehde, Dual-degree IMBA with WHU

“In Rio de Janeiro we dove into a rich world of ideas and inspirations behind a variety of social enterprises – a socially responsible and high fashion sneaker company, a sports organization that fuels the desire for change from within for the homeless, and a drug company that valued patients more than its own bottom line.  Then we visited local favelas (Brazilian slums) where people had started their own businesses to make a change, and suddenly ideas that were flat on paper stood on their feet.  Some of then danced and sang, like in the case of AfroReggae; some of them dazzled and flashed, like in the case of Mulheres de Salguero… The stories we learned from these cases not only gave us frameworks to develop the seed of our own ideas, they also sparked a fire of motivation in our bellies.” – Tina D’Amore, IMBA

Students of Global Entrepreneurship for Social with Prof. Patricia Marquez

Students of Global Entrepreneurship for Social Change with Prof. Patricia Marquez

“The guided city tour on the weekend took us to the famed landmarks of Rio and enabled us to enjoy the charm of this former imperial capital of a once major European power.  That night we were treated to the Brazilian food and music culture, first with a decadent churrascaria dinner and then a visit to a Samba School. Putting this in perspective with the revelations of various social issues – from the tours we had to the Afro-Reggae movement in Rio’s favelas and the Mulheres de Salgueiro workshop – [the course] gave us a new insight into how two worlds can exist not just in one city, but within one person.” – Danidu Wijekoon, IMBA

What about you? Have you participated in a course abroad that inspired you to develop a business that will have a positive social and environmental impact in the world?

The Man, the Country, the Brand: Juan Valdez Café

According to Mr. Méndez Juan Valdez Café’s value proposition is to “create well-being, emotions, and satisfaction around the best coffee in the world”. The brand’s vision is “to be the premium Colombian coffee brand preferred globally by its quality and the well-being that generates around it.”

Hernán Méndez (below), CEO of Procafecol S.A., agreed to fly to San Diego from Colombia on September 23, 2014 exclusively to present to the USD community on the story of how Juan Valdez Café centered its branding strategy on quality and its ethics on the small Colombian coffee growers producing it. This presentation is part of the Ahlers Center 20th Anniversary International Speakers Series, which is highlighting the positive impact of businesses on society.

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Mr. Méndez began his presentation by speaking of the grassroots organization of the Colombian coffee-making machine: the coffee growers. Because of Colombia’s diverse Andean terrain, the country is able to grow mild-washed, Arabica coffee year-round. Coffee production has become a “socially-stable income source” throughout the entire country, with over 500,000 small Colombian families growing coffee. Mr. Mendez, then, broke down the evolution of the Juan Valdez brand into four sections: the creation of the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia in 1927; the differentiation strategy of the 1960´s of creating the Juan Valdez character for marketing and advertising in the United States; the 1982 ingredient brand strategy and logo creation; and the 2002 inclusive business and international projection.

In 1927, Colombia’s coffee producers founded the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia (FNC), which is a non-profit organization that actively represents the interests of the small coffee producers of Colombia. Its tasks include: guaranteeing open-market floor prices based on international markets and the dollar-peso exchange rate, scientific research and strategies to adapt to climate change, technical assistance to growers, quality control checks for all exported coffee, and promotional and advertising efforts.

The late 1950’s saw the international price inflation of Colombian coffee, low country-of-origin knowledge by customers, and other factors impeding the growth and success of Colombian coffee sales abroad. To combat this, the FNC, and Colombian growers in general, created a differentiation strategy to show how Colombian coffee is a better quality of product than other mass-producing countries, such as Brazil, who had an advantage of lower costs of production due to various geographical differences. The brainchild of this strategy was the creation of the Juan Valdez character in 1960 to put a face to the quality-first, hard-working and family-oriented brand Colombian coffee growers were portraying their product to be. The United States, where a large portion of Colombian coffee has always been sold, saw a strong influx of modern marketing and advertising campaigns with this character through all media outlets to promote “100% Colombian coffee” brands and the notion that “only with hard work makes the best coffee.”

Denise Dimon, Director of Ahlers Center for International Business with Mr. Hernán Mendez

Denise Dimon, Director of Ahlers Center for International Business with Mr. Hernán Mendez

In the 1980’s, the trend in customer preferences became geared towards the ingredients of their purchased products, and so the FNC and Colombian coffee growers shifted the focus of their marketing from the Juan Valdez character to how the quality of Colombian coffee warranted a higher cost than competing brands. This culminated in a successful “push-pull” strategy and the creation of a universal “Café de Colombia” logo (featuring the face of Juan Valdez). This also including a monstrous advertising campaign costing upwards of $600 million.

The new millennium brought both new challenges and new successes for Colombian coffee. With international popular culture suddenly so focused on expanding the facets of coffee-drinking, such as the emergence of multinational chain coffee shops and single-serve coffee brands, Colombian coffee growers had to once again evolve their strategies. In 2001, the FNC recommended Procafecolto to move their coffee in the value chain by taking advantage of the available brand equity and opening coffee shops around the world. This would, in turn, create profits that would be distributed by the FNC to improve the standard of living for its growers. Thus, the overall goals were: share profits (with growers), increase international demand with a better price and increase the visibility of Colombian coffee as a brand.

Juan Valdez Café came about because, in order to increase brand visibility, the FNC had to forgo the Café de Colombia logo in favor of a unitarily-structured single brand. This resulted in a licensing agreement between the FNC and Procafecol with the National Coffee Fund and Juan Valdez Café. Thus, the Juan Valdez Café is the product of a joint collaboration of public and private management, with most of the legal ownership going to the FNC, but with good portion going to the International Finance Corporation (a World Bank group), and over 18,600 shareholders being actual Colombian coffee growers.

Hernán Méndez said that Juan Valdez Café’s value proposition is to “create well-being, emotions, and satisfaction around the best coffee in the world” and that the brand’s vision is “to be the premium Colombian coffee brand preferred globally by its quality and the well-being that generates around it.”

The new frontier for Juan Valdez Café is their ever-expanding number of worldwide coffee stores, currently culminating in over 200 within Colombia and over 99 in 14 other countries. This expansion has been a process of trial-and-error, with some stores in the United States having to close due to being large flagship stores in areas with expensive retail spaces. However, with a Juan Valdez Café on almost every continent, the “authentic premium coffee experience” the brand offers has found success through a myriad of different concept stores that cater to the vast demands of its customers.

If you missed his presentation or would like to watch it again click here.

IMBA students with Mr. Hernan Mendez

IMBA students with Mr. Hernan Mendez

Bringing the Best Faculty Members from Around the World to Enhance USD Students’ Global Awareness


The Ahlers Center welcomes numerous international short-term scholars and faculty members every year to teach at USD and enhance the global reputation of the School of Business, as well as strengthen the international exposure of our students. Such visitors contribute to the Ahlers Center’s vision of creating a dynamic and more globally robust environment in and out of the classroom by also collaborating with USD faculty in research projects and academic endeavors.

Below is a list of the international scholars we welcomed in the 2012-2013 academic year:

Visiting from the Tecnológico de Monterrey, Guadalajara Campus, Dr. Salvador Leetoy spent the fall semester at USD instructing undergraduate communication studies courses. His areas of research include cultural studies, theories of mass communication and models of citizenship.

Paolo Guerrieri is a professor of International Economics at the University of Rome, La Sapienza, as well as a senator in the Italian Republic and a member of the Senate´s Treasury, Programme and Budget Committee. At USD, he instructed an MBA course titled European Business Environment.

Julia Gaeckler is a Ph.D. candidate at the WHU Otto Beisheim School of Management in Germany and while at USD conducted research on the strategic topics of purchasing ambidexterity and decision-making pace.

Xiomara Vazquez, Ph.D., MSF, MBA, is both the Accounting and Finance Department Director (since 2007) and the Master in Finance Director (since 2012), respectively, at the Tecnológico de Monterrey. While on the USD campus, instructed undergraduate finance and accounting courses.

Arial Casarin (above, photo) holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Warwick Business School, a Masters in Economics and Finance from the University of Warwick, and a Masters in Finance from CEMA University. At USD, Professor Casarin instructed a graduate level business course entitled Latin American Business Environment, which culminated in a five-day trip to Bogota, Colombia where students participated in company visits and guest lecturers.

conducting international business

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Mannsoo Shin, Ph.D., is a professor of International Business and is currently the Director of the Center for Asian Business at Korea University Business School. He has twice spent several months at USD conducting research on Asian business management, lectured on the Asian Environment of Business to participants of the GBS program and instructed the MBA course entitled “Business Environment of Asia and the Pacific Rim” this fall semester.

Mauricio Ramirez, Ph.D., is a professor at the Universidad de Guadalajara and his research focuses on economic growth, pollution and topics of Mexican consumption. He spent the Spring 2014 semester at USD instructing undergraduate economics courses.

Sebastian Kortmann, Ph.D., studied Industrial Engineering and Management at RWTH Aachen University, Germany. While receiving his Ph.D. in Münster, Germany, he was a visiting scholar at the University of San Diego. He is currently the Assistant Professor of Strategy and Innovation at Amsterdam Business School, Netherlands. A three-time visiting research scholar at USD, his the focus of his research is on strategy, technology and innovation management.

Carsten Gelhard is currently a Ph.D. student in Strategy and Innovation Management at the University of Münster, Germany, where he also has received his Master of Science in Business Chemistry. Carsten Gelhard and Sebastian Kortmann have collaborated with Professor Carsten Zimmermann in the field of strategic, technology and innovation management.

The Ahlers Center is also committed to promoting the internationalization of our own faculty. Below is a snap shot of the International Expertise of the School of Business Administration Faculty:


46% have participated in the Ahlers Center international faculty trip

58% have taught for USD or another university abroad

40% speak a language other than English

80% have lived, worked or studied outside of the US

Did you participate in a lecture or speaker event conducted by any of these great minds? If so, how did that contribute to enhancing your global business awareness ? Share your comments below!