Throughout the time I have spent with PittBusiness’s International Consulting Program this semester, I have been blessed with numerous opportunities to gain new skills, learn about different cultures, and become more grateful for many of the things I take for granted day in and day out. While participating in this program was certainly not an easy endeavor, because of the reasons I have listed above, I could not be more thankful for getting the chance to participate. Before going into what I have learned and gained from this experience, I’d like to thank my team for being welcoming and collaborating so well from the start of our engagement, PittBusiness for offering me the opportunity in the first place, and the teams from Amizade, NatureSeekers and DORCAS Women’s Group.
One of my biggest takeaways from my work with NatureSeekers and DORCAS Women’s Group is how fortunate we are in the United States and at the University of Pittsburgh with the internet connectivity that is available almost anywhere you go. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, our school was able to shift to a virtual platform within a matter of weeks. Unfortunately, our partners in Trinidad don’t have the same luxury. Throughout the semester, our team was rarely able to have our communications uninterrupted by connectivity issues.
Another takeaway I had from the semester was that nonprofit organizations and their leaders do an amazing job devoting themselves to their cause but their dedication to their cause can often lead to unsustainable business practices. In this case, I am referring to unsustainable in the sense that the organization itself may not be able to financially sustain itself, not that the organization is harming the business environment. Some examples of this with our client can be seen in their lack of a website or social media engagement during the current virtual landscape. While developing social media accounts and a website may take time away from the organizations leaders making a difference in the environment or creating jewelry, these platforms are a quintessential part of sustaining the organization through the pandemic.
Besides those two takeaways, our team’s engagement with NatureSeekers and DORCAS Women’s Group have helped me develop as a professional. Given the circumstances of the consulting project (COVID 19 pandemic and virtual landscape), my team and I had no choice but to learn how to adapt and make the most out of the information we received. Because of the communication issues with our client and our team’s inability to travel to Trinidad, we had very little information to work with when building our deliverables. This forced us to “think outside the box” to ensure that all the information we received was used in one way or another. In my past consulting engagements, frequent client meetings and the ability to visualize the company’s business practices will typically give you the information you need. However much of the information we needed was not attainable such as the financial figures needed to conduct a thorough financial analysis. After brainstorming, our team found unique ways to learn about the organization and ask the right questions when we met with the client. For example, we were having trouble learning about the best practices when it came to selling jewelry in Trinidad given NatureSeekers’ budget until we heard a presentation from our contact at Amizade, Gail. Though this presentation was meant to teach us about the culture and history around Carnival, it ended up informing some of the key recommendations we made about marketing. Because of the knowledge Gail provided us with regarding key holidays and celebrations like Carnival, we were able to ask informed questions to NatureSeekers’ team regarding their selling practices during these events and formulate a few recommendations around how they can improve their marketing for these events during the pandemic and in the future.
Another example of how our team learned to make the most of the information we were provided with revolved around the financial component of the feasibility plan. Initially our team’s goal was to come up with a budget for Nature Seekers and determine the financial feasibility of our recommendations and partnerships based on the organization’s funds at the time. However, without a secure way to transfer that information over to us and since we couldn’t learn about their financials while in Trinidad, our team had to shift our goal. After brainstorming ideas, our team landed on a new way to provide value to the client: by mapping out a cost analysis of the recommendations we planned to provide. This ended shaping a lot of our other recommendations as well since our team tried to keep the cost of our recommendations to a minimum so that NatureSeekers could focus their funds on their incredible mission.
To wrap up my final blog post, I would like to leave future groups with three key pieces of advice that can help them navigate the International Consulting Program at PittBusiness. The first of these is to stay attentive and show a genuine interest in the culture of the country you are studying in. You never know when an insight like this may help you with your project or improve your recommendations. Because our team was focused and excited to learn about things like Carnival, we were able to add value to the client’s marketing strategy around this event; something the client hadn’t brought up otherwise. The last two pieces of advice align with a mantra I have learned throughout my time consulting at PittBusiness (through the CPLE, CPDA, and ICP) and Incline Consulting Group: never assume you know everything. The two ways that this mantra relates directly to this program is that you always need to focus on asking the right questions and you can not be afraid to ask for clarification. As a consultant, you are tasked with helping your client resolve some sort of situation that they don’t feel they have expertise or time to handle themselves. However when it comes to the client’s business model and the business environment they are in, the client is typically the true expert. By focusing on asking the client the correct questions, you can begin to gain insight into the best solution available for the situation. Just asking the questions and taking note of the answers is not enough, especially in the International Consulting Program. Throughout the Q&A process, a good consultant will constantly pose questions that will allow the client to clarify their initial answer so that everyone is on the same page. In the ICP, this is especially important since there is often a language barrier with the client or at the very least the client may have a very strong accent; both of which can easily lead to miscommunication. Additionally the social norms of each country will dictate the unique meanings for each word. Without clarification this can also lead to both sides of the engagement being on different pages. To combat this issue, make sure that you are clarifying through the client meetings and a very helpful practice my team got in the habit of this semester was sending follow up emails with a summary of our notes from the client meeting. This way we could simultaneously show our diligence to the client and ensure we had the correct information.
Best of luck to all future members of the International Consulting Program!!