The 2021 LEADER Project Goes Virtual and Involves Alumni in New and Exciting Ways on a Global Scale.
Gillian McIver | June 18th, 2021
The LEADER Project is an economic and entrepreneurial development program run by Ivey Business School students in the MBA, HBA, MSc, and PhD programs. The mission of LEADER is to coach and inspire promising entrepreneurs in frontier markets to envision, launch, and scale new ventures through the delivery of a two-week case-based curriculum. Over the last 30 years, the LEADER Project has built a vast network of over 1000 LEADERites (instructors from Ivey Business School) and 8500 entrepreneurs from 20 countries around the world. The program has grown significantly since its early days and after having to cancel the 2020 delivery due to COVID-19, adapted to a virtual setting for 2021.
Every year LEADER recruits alumni to take part in the program where they lend their time, expertise, and experience to the classroom and case discussions. Alumni Volunteers are an integral and extremely valuable part of the LEADER Project and are made up of individuals from within the Ivey network, be it past LEADERites or Ivey graduates. Traditionally, 3-4 alumni travel with LEADERites to take part in the curriculum delivery, yet as the LEADER Project pivoted to encompass new avenues of delivery in the virtual setting, the ways in which Alumni Volunteers could be involved grew to include new opportunities, and larger numbers. In total, 18 Alumni Volunteers participated with India, Nepal, Vietnam, Serbia, and North Macedonia sites in the following capacities:
On the final day of the two-week program, participants at each site are tasked with pitching an existing business or a business idea to a panel of judges. Alumni took part in the competitions in a few different ways:
2021 LEADER Alumni Volunteer Team
Top row: Ryan Meadwell EMBA '20, Nadine de Gannes HBA & MBA Professor, John Dickey MBA '93, Denisa Balla EMBA '19, Raphael Bender Bennett HBA Professor, Amy Childs MBA '15
Middle row: Ayesha Khan EMBA, Mohammad Kanaan EMBA '20, Cathy Chen HBA '18, Dominic Lim HBA & MBA Professor, Scott Mikalachki MBA '98, Irena Cerovina MBA '11
Bottom Row: Derek Panzer EMBA '20, Ryan Ackers EMBA '20, Diane Piquette EMBA '19, Matthew Goldsilver EMBA '20, Jason Edwards EMBA '20, Paul Fleming MBA '96
The 2021 Alumni Volunteers team included past LEADERites, Ivey Business School professors, and HBA, MBA and EMBA graduates. LEADER is thrilled to have had the involvement of many 2020 EMBA graduates, instigating a strong partnership with the EMBA program for years to come. The willingness of alumni to take part in a virtual capacity, and the patience and understanding of the challenges that accompany a shifting virtual program allowed participants from around the world to learn, grow, and think critically about their business ventures, and the feedback regarding alumni involvement was overwhelmingly positive.
A sincere and heartfelt thank-you goes out to all Alumni Volunteers that gave their time, expertise, and feedback to the 2021 LEADER Project. The overall success of the LEADER Project would not be possible without the dedication and enthusiasm of the Alumni Volunteers year after year, and the entire LEADER team thanks those who took part, or expressed interest to do so, this year. We look forward to welcoming you back for in-person site travel in the future.
On a personal note, as I prepared for my MBA last year, I was repeatedly told of the vast Ivey alumni network that awaited on the other side, but I was never clear on what this network truly looked like or what my place within it would be. Having now had the opportunity to engage with and get to know a wide array of alumni in preparation for the LEADER Project, it has become abundantly apparent how extensive, thoughtful, and helpful the Ivey community truly is. With each conversation came genuine questions of interest concerning post-graduation plans and offers to make connections with individuals operating within my industry of choice. The support that the Ivey network has for one another is a reminder of the benefit of staying connecting amidst the virtual world – as a recent graduate I am keenly aware of the importance to be an active participant in the Ivey community and look forward to attending reunions and events in person and getting to know more of my fellow Ivey alumni.
The LEADER Project is currently recruiting alumni to participate in the spring of 2022. If you are interested in travelling in-person or virtually with the LEADER Project as an alumni, please get in touch by emailing email@example.com, or by completing the Alumni Volunteer form, available here. You can learn more about the LEADER Project by visiting www.leaderproject.com.
Take a look at YiMin Shen, HBA'20's video on her experience teaching in Irkutsk, Russia during Summer 2019. Some of her favorite memories include getting to know her students while helping them develop their entrepreneurial toolkit. What is your favorite memory from LEADER? Share below!
This November we sat down with Ivey Alumna, Janet Lambert, to hear about her favorite memories from her LEADER volunteer experience. Janet travelled with us to Nepal earlier this year.
Please tell us about yourself! Sure! I am the national director of Leadership Giving for Crohn’s and Colitis Canada - a health charity that is looking to further find the causes and cures for Crohn’s and Colitis. My background has spanned the private sector, trade associations, charitable organizations in Canada and the US, and I originally started off in the pharmaceutical industry. I have also worked for an organization called CESO – Canadian Executive Services Organization, which sends retired executive volunteers around the world, to help support capacity building and economic development.
How did you first hear about LEADER, and what made you want to get involved? I originally heard about LEADER in the alumni InTouch magazine. I’ve always wanted to give back and support and volunteer wherever I can, so when I found out about the LEADER experience I thought it sounded absolutely fantastic – immediately I thought ‘I’d love to do something like this’.
Where did you travel on your trip with LEADER, and what was that experience like? We were based in Kathmandu, Nepal, and it was a life changing experience. Seeing the beauty of the Himalayas in the background of every view was absolutely breathtaking. Every day we had the opportunity to tour around before the afternoon teaching sessions, so we has we our mornings to go out and explore the city and experience the local culture. Our hosts were incredibly gracious! They would tour us around with their family, and show us Nepal from an insider’s perspectives, something that you wouldn’t get elsewhere. That being said, the highlight and what stuck with me the most after the trip was definitely coaching and teaching the local entrepreneurs.
How do you feel your LEADER experience differed coming in as an Alumna? I had the great opportunity to work with four other LEADERites, two HBAs and two MBAs. My role was to provide the experience and real world examples, while the younger team members provided the concepts and understanding, and the latest way to approach entrepreneurism, so it was a really nice mix. The highlight for me was getting to know these young, bright, future leaders of our society - we lived together, we toured together, we ate together, and we taught together, for two weeks. I got to learn about what the younger generation values and how they think.
We connected on such a personal level, and really spilled off each other in the classroom, focused on giving the best experience to the entrepreneurs. As well, from teaching young entrepreneurs in a less developed country, you get to see the light that they have and the intensity with which they want to learn. I can’t express how fulfilling it was to impart our knowledge and experience, and see the meaningful impact we were having on their future.
Was there any particular story or experience that you would like to share with others considering joining as an alumna? In the classroom we were talking about cashflow, and the crisis of growth. We were speaking about it from an educational standpoint, but I was able to share one of my experiences in a smaller organization, and how we ran up against these exact issues. In that moment I remember hearing my finance professor Jim Hatch speaking in the back of my head as I was going through it! The entrepreneurs in the room were drawn in, hearing this first hand recount of a real life scenario in which the learnings can be applied. It is incredible what the presence and experience of an alumna adds to trips like these.
What would you say was your biggest takeway from the trip? Oh there’s tons of them, it’ll be hard to pick just one! One standout was the informal interactions that we had during the breaks with the entrepreneurs, and the one on ones after class ended with entrepreneurs who were interested in getting focused advice on their businesses. The mutual learning, and problem solving was absolutely invigorating.
When you’re facing a problem and you have someone listening, providing advice, and you’re going back and forth in an iterative process, a third way comes up - I think that’s something invaluable that we were able facilitate. For some of these entrepreneurs that were getting blocked with their business, we were able to go beyond the learning and the sessions of the day, and truly helped them. You could see lights going off in their eyes, and they would say ‘Okay, I gotta try that!’ or ‘I haven’t about that aspect'. Those moments are truly memorable.
Was there anything during your time there that surprised you? I was surprised at how close I had got to the MBAs and HBAs and just how much Kathmandu and the people there captured my heart. I can’t wait to go back!
What would you say to other Ivey alumni that are considering joining a trip with LEADER? You have so much more to give back than you think. This will be a different type of experience. This is really living with the local folks in the local way. Travel does broaden you, but this type of travel is unique. The hosts are incredibly supportive, and you have the MBAs and HBAs from back home with which you’re all together in this. What you learn and what you get will be life changing.
We are always looking for Ivey Alumni to join us in our journeys. If you’d like to travel, volunteer, and leave an impact with the LEADER Project, we’d love to hear from you! Please reach out to us here or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you.
This September, we sat down with Professor Nadine de Gannes to chat about her experience travelling and teaching with the LEADER Project at various sites.
Please tell us about yourself! I always find this such a challenging question! Professionally, I am equal parts teacher and researcher. The bits of my personal history that importantly shape who I am include my upbringing in Trinidad, my undergraduate years at Ivey and Western, my doctoral training at the London School of Economics, and my 5-year-old who I have both the privilege and responsibility of raising.
How did you first hear/get involved with LEADER? I first heard about LEADER when I started the HBA program in 2007. During that phase of LEADER’s history, all of our sites were in the former Soviet Union. I was fascinated by that part of the world. Russia, in particular, intrigued me; culturally, historically and politically. Immersed as I was in my Ivey education, I was curious about the business realities for entrepreneurs in a region that I had only ever read about.
When I returned to Ivey as an Assistant Professor in Managerial Accounting and Control last year, I was excited to reconnect with LEADER, and I was especially thrilled to learn that LEADER had shifted its focus to include sites in Nepal, India and Vietnam, among others. In the coming years, I will be involved in curriculum development, as well as travelling to several sites to teach and assess the impact of our curriculum.
Where did you travel to with the LEADER Project? What was the experience like? In 2008, I travelled to Nizhny Tagil, Russia. Our team was so warmly welcomed. To today, it remains one of the loveliest receptions I have received in my travels. Adapting the key concepts, however, was not without its challenges. Nizhny Tagil was formerly a manufacturing city, known for its military tank production. In the post-Soviet collapse, the harsh economic climate presented numerous obstacles for entrepreneurial success. For the first time, I had insight into the implications of crony capitalism on the income statement.
In May 2019 - as an Alumni Volunteer - I travelled to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It was a fundamentally different experience from my time in Russia. Which is in fact, the beauty of the LEADER Project; each site presents a unique experience because the challenges and opportunities for local entrepreneurs are historically, culturally and economically contingent.
How was your LEADER experience different travelling back as an alumna? It’s really interesting to contrast the two experiences. As an HBA student, with no teaching experience and little industry and life experience, I was very concerned with the technicalities of teaching the material effectively. With age, experience and hopefully wisdom, I can see the wood for the trees a bit better. This year, I felt I benefitted from the mental latitude to think not only about the curriculum we delivered, but the challenges and opportunities for Vietnamese entrepreneurs in an increasingly open economy.
Are there any particular stories you recount from your most recent trip to Vietnam? I really struggled with jet lag! Glass half full though; I watched Ho Chi Minh City burst to life each morning. Equipped with a city map and a list of ‘must-sees’, I would go for strolls at 5am. It was extraordinary to witness what peddlers could balance on their scooters. Not to mention doing so amongst the tidal wave of scooters that traversed the city’s streets. I found crossing the street to be a death-defying act when I initially arrived. I’d like to think I have achieved an intermediate level of competency after my time there.
The highlight was working with the entrepreneurs at our site. Their passion for their ideas and businesses was contagious. Our afternoon coaching sessions were both mentally demanding and enriching. I learnt as much as I taught.
What were your biggest learnings from the trip to Vietnam? I was surprised to see Facebook function as such a popular medium for sales. I was also surprised by how cash-based the economy still remains, yet excited for the wave of opportunities and change coming in this regard. The climate for entrepreneurship is certainly alive and thriving in Vietnam.
Do you have any closing remarks that you want to share with Ivey Alumni? The week I spent in Ho Chi Minh City was one of the most meaningful weeks of work I did this past year. I believe if you have a mentoring soul, then you have a teaching soul.
We do not teach in a vacuum, especially when using the case method. It is our task – as LEADERites - to animate the discussion, enhance it and guide its course. Those who participate in LEADER grow immensely through these iterations of teaching and learning, made that much more interesting because you are experiencing it in a different culture.
It’s a great way for all Ivey Alumni to engage with the School. In my view, it’s a win, win, win. For the alum, for LEADER, and importantly, for the entrepreneurs.
If you’d like to travel with the LEADER Project, we’d love to hear from you!
Please reach out to us through http://www.leaderproject.com/alumni-volunteers-travel-with-leader.html or email us at email@example.com.
We’ve been very impressed with our students and their business ideas – some have even launched their business already! An exemplary case of this would be of one of our students, Sajal. She has founded a water filtration business that aims to provide Kathmandu households with purified drinking water – a real issue in the city. By offering individual filtration units and extended payment terms, their business is able to allow households to breakeven on their investment in 3 years and access water for a much lower price going forward. This is an innovative solution to a rampant problem in the country, made possible by spreading the household’s investment over their payback horizon.
On Thursday, we got the opportunity to attend a Nepalese wedding of one of our student’s cousins, an 800-person affair of excellent food, drinks, and dance. Our team was grateful to be invited by the family and even took over the dance floor to learn Nepalese dance moves. What a unique cultural experience!
On Friday, our host and partner the Nepalese Young Entrepreneurs Forum (NYEF) hosted their monthly social and meeting. We were lucky to be invited and got the chance to sit in on a Q&A session with a local politician and then interact with the members at the social that night. It was fascinating to meet with members who have operations in diverse businesses such as tourism, energy, movies, construction, and finance.
This weekend we travelled to Chitlang, staying at a nice resort in the countryside. It was a relaxing break from the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu and a good chance for us to bond with Sweety and Cheteze, two NYEF employees who joined us for the weekend with their friends and family. On Saturday we were taken around a small reservoir near our hotel by canoe. After docking, we took an hour to explore the picturesque backdrop of the reservoir, which included forest-covered mountains and a large suspension bridge. We then returned to a relaxing night around the campfire where we enjoyed playing the local game called Carrom, listening to music, and had great conversations. For dinner we had a seemingly endless supply of chicken, paneer (a vegetarian cottage cheese dish), and vegetables roasted over the fire pit. It was a great meal and a good night of bonding with our new friends.
The next morning, we woke up early for what we were told was a light three-hour hike up a Nepalese mountain. Our expectations of a laid-back trek were crushed within the first hour of the hike. The porter took us on a crumbling dirt path that was no more than a meter wide, where any misstep could have led to painful tumble down a steep cliff. Needless to say, it was an exciting journey. After three hours of exhausting uphill climbing (and a few scrapes later), we made it to the summit. On the way back down we decided to take a more relaxing route and explore some local farms.
On Wednesday, we wrapped up our program with our student’s final business pitches. It was a great day all around, with many interesting businesses being presented. We are very confident in their ideas and look forward to seeing many LEADER alumni starting businesses in the country. We hope that we will see many more years of fruitful partnership with NYEF.
Our team arrived one by one in Ethiopia with a sense of excitement and knowledge of very few words in the local language, Amharic. We later discovered we were mispronouncing the very few words we did know, but our students and locals always appreciated the effort. The airport was located in Bole, a newly expanding area southeast of the city centre with a lot to offer culturally, entertainment-wise and with endless dining options. The drive home from the airport to our hotel made us anxious to explore the city.
We had our first true cultural experience at Yod Abyssina, a traditional Ethiopian restaurant accompanied with traditional Ethiopian dance for entertainment. True to Ethiopian tradition, meals are preceded and end with a hand-washing ceremony called sen’na bert, during which water is poured over the hands with a basin held below to catch the water. The team quickly grew fond of the various Ethiopian dishes that are accompanied with injera bread, a spongy sour dough made from teff.
Ethiopia has a very strong café culture and life seems to take a slower, more relaxed pace in general. This was a very warm welcome to our team given our busy lifestyles back home. We discovered cafes that doubled as art galleries and tasted some of the best coffee in the world in the country of coffee’s origin.
Some of our best memories were formed inside the classroom, as there was nothing more rewarding than seeing the development of our students. Our students were initially very shy and reluctant to participate. As our friendships grew stronger, so did the engagement of the class. Business plans were slowly beginning to shape and the enthusiasm of both our team and our students mounted for each following class.
During our first weekend, the team made arrangements to go on Safari outside the city to Awash National Park. Accompanied by a trusted tour guide and a scout, we saw many animals, bathed in a natural hot spring and relaxed by the raging Awash Falls. It was incredible to imagine that baboons, warthogs, wildebeest, tortoises and other exotic animals were common sights for the locals.
It had only been our first week and we had already made many friends in the area. The students quickly became close friends of ours and it became routine for them to stay behind after class to socialize and share stories when they were not working on their business plans. Over time, our vocabulary grew as well thanks to our Amharic for Beginners guide and we were well on our way to becoming Ethiopian.
By the end of the second week in Addis, we were getting accustomed to life in Ethiopia. We were taking the local “big taxi”, which were large vans that had set routes around the city with an “assistant driver” who shouted out the route/destination out the window. Understanding the way these taxis worked was confusing, but we quickly mastered the basic Amharic words required to take them, and really started to feel like locals.
In the classroom, our students were really beginning to understand the case method and warm up to us. We were able to get our quiet students to start debating against each other in front of the class, and the business plans were really starting to shape up. By this time, the students all had their ideas, business model, and marketing strategies thought out. They covered everything from educational services to spas to advertising – we had a truly ambitious group.
In our second week, we also met with Dugassa and Hanna from the Entrepreneurship Development Centre (EDC), our site partner along with the Addis Ababa University. We were able to tour their office and understand more about the work that they are doing for entrepreneurs in Ethiopia. EDC offers training, workshops, mentorship, and advisory services to entrepreneurs all over Ethiopia. It was inspiring to hear about the work that they do every day to serve entrepreneurs.
Our last week in Addis cumulated in two big events for our students: a case competition and their business plan presentations. For the case competition, we did a case on a canoe company and had the students come up with solutions. It was amazing to see how far they had come since the first class, confidently standing at the front of the room and owning their presentation.
Our LEADER team trickled into Macedonia one by one from different parts of the world. I was the first to arrive. After backpacking for 7 weeks in Israel and Eastern Europe I was a bit travel-weary and was happy to have the night to myself. Once I had showered and unpacked, I flipped through the welcome package from our site partner, Macedonia 2025 (MK2025). I was surprised to find the LEADER project was heavily featured as one of MK2025’s capstone events. When we met with MK2025’s site director a couple of days later she told us the LEADER project is one of the best business courses available in the country. Then I read through the bios of our 42 students. Many of them had MBAs or specialized degrees in economics, accounting, and marketing. Ok so... no pressure! Having finished MBA classes eight weeks earlier naturally I had already forgotten everything I'd learned. I couldn't imagine how I was possibly going to teach these people anything. But I was motivated to try.
Our first teaching day was heavily administrative. We spent four hours talking about the case method, introducing ourselves, and having each of our students introduce themselves to the class. I felt confident it was an important part of everyone getting comfortable in our classroom, but I didn't feel we’d exactly captivated the students. The next day wasn't my teaching day (each day two of our team of four instructors taught – one for the lecture, one for the case), but I went just to sit in class, get to know the students, and see how our classroom norms were shaping up. I was SO nervous. But watching the students’ eagerness to contribute and my colleagues’ skills at running the classroom made me more comfortable. Tomorrow it was my turn. Marketing lecture. I could handle that.
I went home (after our requisite post-class culinary plunge of course) and worked until the wee hours of the morning tweaking my slides, practicing which parts would be interactive and which would be more lecture-based. I tried to remember how I felt a year earlier before I took my first marketing class. I reminded myself to be comfortable with silence, and resolved to be challenging but supportive. Then called my husband, snuck in a few hours of sleep, and woke up feeling excited. Here goes!
And go it did. Having worked as a camp counsellor for years I was used to standing in front of a group (although I was usually singing ridiculous camp songs involving a great big moose or the like. I wasn't sure that would play well here.). I paused, planted, and projected: “What the hell is marketing, anyway?” Apparently I swear a lot as a teacher. But I think it broke the ice and made the students more comfortable to see that I was being myself. It turns out I'm a pretty bossy teacher too (not a surprise because I can be a pretty bossy everything in life). I’m not sure my style was ideal for every student, but it helped manage the classroom of students eager to talk over each other. Nonetheless, off we went together, the students and me. They took the material everywhere I hoped they would and some directions I didn’t anticipate. Thankfully my Ivey training had prepared me more than I gave it credit for. Knowledge came rushing back as I needed it and the students and I explored market analysis, marketing strategy, and marketing tactics in 90 minutes or less. They were champions. And I was hooked. We went on to explore more complex cases and lectures as our two weeks went on. I could tell they were gaining knowledge and confidence with each passing class. And so was I. When I got to watch some of their business pitches on the last day in front of a panel of highly respected Macedonian business leaders, I got a little teary-eyed with pride.
LEADER is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever participated in. I am so grateful to Ivey for giving us the knowledge, the LEADER program for giving us the opportunity, the students for challenging and trusting us, and MK 2025 for supporting us on the ground. Finally, I owe a big thank you to my colleagues Matt, Anna, and Jeremy for being great teachers not only to the students but also to me, and for making this experience such a blast!