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 firstname.lastname@example.org.