MBAs Contribute to Marine Conservation Efforts in the Mediterranean

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Last July, a group of Georgetown MBA students traveled to Madrid as part of their Global Business Experience (GBE) course to consult for Spanish NGO Alnitak (new window). We spoke with team members Megan Kunkemoeller (MBA’18) and Joseph Costable (MBA’18), both third-year students in the MBA Evening Program, about their consulting experience with a marine conservation organization.

Tell us a bit about your client organization and your team’s consulting assignment

Every summer, Ricardo Sagarminaga, our client, sails the Toftevaag across the Mediterranean conducting marine conservation research to better protect turtles, whales, dolphins, and other marine life off the Spanish coast. Ricardo’s crew — a team of volunteers who pay to live aboard the ship and participate in his marine conservation research — spend one week at a time living and working on Ricardo’s 19th-century sailboat, conducting hands-on research that has led to changes in Spanish marine conservation law and the protection of countless marine animals. Ricardo’s NGO, Alnitak, is composed of marine researchers focused on changing government policy, so our team’s recommendations centered on helping Ricardo better identify a target market of potential volunteers and on developing and deploying a robust communications strategy for him to better reach and attract potential customers and crewmembers.

What were some of the challenges your team faced and how did you you solve them?

Not only did our team need to deal with the challenges of interacting virtually with a client on another continent, but also had the task of communicating with someone who was both the single point of contact for us and the single point of action for Alnitak. Ricardo alone is the Alnitak organization – he is the skipper of Toftevaag, the grant-writer, the research director, the personnel manager, the customer service agent, the sales force; he does it all. This created two unique conditions. First, if we needed any information about Alnitak, then it had to come from Ricardo.  Second, if Ricardo appreciated our suggestions, then he had the power to implement them.

Knowing our client had so many demands on his time, he pushed us to present our recommendations as a three-phase approach so that we could show him which steps to take first and helped him visualize the changes our proposals would bring.

What was the highlight of your consulting experience?

The highlight of the experience was meeting our client and seeing his boat and research operation first hand. We traveled to Cabrera – an island nature reserve off Mallorca accessible only by boat – to present our project on the deck of the Toftevaag. After a home-cooked dinner with our client and his customers on the deck of the boat, we began our presentation using a projector and a screen made from a bedsheet tied to an oar with the sunset and a 14th-century castle in the background! It was unforgettable!

What feedback did you reserve from your client?

Our client lives and breathes his business, but our MBA skills gave him an outside perspective and highlighted in a concise manner clear, actionable steps he could take to make his customer experience more intuitive. We think he really appreciated our perspectives. In fact, we already have seen our client implement some of our recommendations, including opening an Instagram account two weeks after we presented and posting to it regularly, helping build awareness of his brand.

How has GBE shaped your perspective of global business?

Our project exposed us to the challenges of working virtually across time zones and to the differences between Spanish and American business cultures. Also, it was a useful exercise in communication – across cultures and across industries. The ability to translate business school concepts to something that can be understood by different audiences is a skill that we will all take with us in our careers. For team Alnitak, we gained the traditional skills from the Global Business Experience: teamwork, cross-cultural communication, and problem solving skills. Also, we had the adventure of a lifetime and gained a personal sense of impact.

This experience gave us insight into how NGOs operate and also showed us many of the fundamental challenges entrepreneurs and small business owners encounter. Alnitak is a small, six-person organization and everything runs through Ricardo. Seeing how he managed all aspects of his business showed us how his own time was the most precious resource the organization had. In building our recommendations, we learned a lot about corporate social responsibility and how to grow and use personal networks to expand operations and develop a community of support.

What was your impression of the Spanish culture?

Spain is a different world! From the siestas, wine, late dinners, and attitudes, Spaniards operate much differently than Americans. We loved getting to enjoy Spanish culture together as a team.

Our client was such an important part of our experience, and Ricardo is a true changemaker. He has real passion for the sea and strives every day to make an impact on the world’s marine life. We are grateful for having the opportunity to work with him.

What recommendations do you have for future Georgetown McDonough students taking the GBE course?

The timeline is short, so if you want to make a difference start out early. Customer feedback is hard to come by, and you will learn over the process about your client and their customers, so always be maturing your ideas from day one.