Management consulting outside the comfort zone
Lisa Andersen and I won the UTS Team Teaching Award for our Management Consulting subject, for the development of students’ professional skills and social responsiveness. The Management Consulting subject requires students to work with under-resourced, underprivileged community organisations in real need.
Students act as consultants, working on the problems that the community organisation has for the moment.
They collect data, analyse data and come up with recommendations, which they then write in a professional-style report and present in a boardroom-style environment.
Over the years now we have done more than 60 projects, and I have to say our students have been doing fantastic work.
One of my favourite projects is a project that our students worked on last year with a community radio station that broadcasts to ethnic communities in inner-western Sydney, Radio Skid Row.
The students looked at the sustainability of the organisation in the longer term and one of the recommendations they developed was for the community organisation to reconsider extending their broadcasting and also reaching to some other ethnic communities they were not reaching yet.
The interesting thing is how they came up with this recommendation was that one of the students sat in his car and drove around the area where the radio station was broadcasting and had a map and was mapping where the signal was still working and where the signal was becoming really weak.
And based on this exercise which he did over a few evenings he came up with a map and showed the client that they were actually not covering a large area of Marrickville where there are a lot of ethnic communities, and they could have a much bigger reach by starting to broadcast in this area as well.
The community organisations we work with are all very small, very under-resourced. They don’t have any resources to pay for professional consulting. So unless we help them they would not be able to pay for professional consulting advice.
The projects that our students do have quite a significant impact. We hear regularly from our community clients that they are implementing solutions, and we have a lot of repeat clients.
This means we have a lot of community organisations coming back for a second or third project, which obviously is a signal of the value they receive form the students’ work.
What our students get out of it is exposure to real-world problems, very complex situations, the opportunity to work with a real client and the opportunity to develop a range of professional skills.
But in addition to the professional skills, our students also report that the subject has made a big difference in their values. Through the exposure with these organisations, they experience a number of communities they normally would not come into contact with. They are exposed to the issues that these communities experience, and this has a profound impact on their views of the world and their values. We actually have quite a lot of students continue their engagement with the non-profit sector in one way or another after the subject.
More than $1.2 million in management consulting advice has been delivered to community and not-for-profit groups as postgraduate students hone their professional skills in a business subject that has now been recognised with the prestigious UTS Team Teaching Award.
Over the past eight years, more than 50 community and not-for-profit organisations have tapped into the expertise of postgraduate students studying the Management Consulting subject delivered by Natalia Nikolova of UTS Business School and Lisa Andersen of UTS Shopfront Community Program.
Dr Nikolova and Ms Andersen were recently recognised at the 2014 Vice-Chancellor’s Learning and Teaching Showcase for their “sustained teaching and experiential learning approach to developing student professional skills and social responsibility”.
“This award for the Management Consulting subject recognises a fine example of cross-university collaboration,” with beneficial outcomes for everyone involved, including students, their consulting industry advisers, and the community groups involved, Chris Bajada, Associate Dean, Teaching and Learning and UTS Business School, told the awards ceremony.
University of Technology, Sydney, Deputy Vice-Chancellor International and Development, Professor Bill Purcell described the award as being for a “true partnership which results in a very positive sum outcome for all the participants, as well as the university at large”. The experience had been profound for many students, he said. “Many have gone on to continue that volunteering work or to actually work in not-for-profits.”
“The exposure is so positive for some students that after graduation they have agreed to act as business coaches to the next cohort of business students,” Dr Bajada said.
'It is the most demanding and challenging subject
... but at the same time the most rewarding'
Dr Nikolova says the Management Consulting subject is not an easy one. “We regularly hear from our students that it is the most demanding and challenging subject in their degrees – but at the same time it is the most rewarding.”
Ms Andersen says: “Each project, every semester, is different – coming with its own set of real issues and challenges. This is the strength of the student experience and the challenge and excitement in teaching the subject.”
Teams of students have 13 weeks to develop recommendations on business issues for a community organisation in real need, under the supervision of an industry adviser. In this time they build management consulting skills such as analysis, problem solving, critical thinking, data gathering, team management, project management, report writing and presentation.
Projects have included a governance plan for the African Food Project; a social enterprise plan for Aboriginal maritime training program Tribal Warrior; a strategic plan for Ghostnets Australia’s environmental work in the Gulf of Carpentaria; and operational reviews for community station Radio Skid Row and for Afghani-aid agency Mahboba's Promise.
“The community organisations we work with are all very small, very under-resourced,” Dr Nikolova says. “Unless we help them they would not be able to pay for professional consulting advice.”
The projects have a significant impact for the students and for the organisations involved, she says. “We hear regularly from our community clients that they are implementing solutions … and a lot of community organisations come back for a second or third project, which obviously is a sign of the value that they receive form the students’ work.”
Meanwhile, the students get exposure to real-world problems – often very complex situations – and the opportunity to work with a real client.
“But in addition to the professional skills, our students also report that the subject has made a big difference in their values,” Dr Nikolova says. "Our students, who are largely from middle-class backgrounds, with conventional for-profit experience, are taken right out of their comfort zone.
"They experience a number of communities they normally would not come into contact with. They also meet people who work with these communities not for the money but because they are passionate about helping. They are exposed to the issues that these communities experience, and this has a profound impact on their views of the world and their values.”
Read about the Radio Skid Row project here.
Read about the Mahboba's Promise project here.
Read about the African Food Project collaboration here.