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MBAs Without Borders: Have Degree, Will Travel

Members of MBAs Without Borders in Marakech

Dozens of MBAs seeking short-term international work assignments have found jobs through MBAs Without Borders. The program, which started in 2005, is now run by the nonprofit, Washington-based CDC Development Solutions, which advises clients on economic development opportunities in emerging markets. CDS uses MBAs Without Borders to find temporary talent for the overseas initiatives of clients that include small businesses, non-governmental organizations, and at times, local governments.

Historically, CDS has placed 10 to 15 MBAs on projects each year and it expects to ramp up to 20 placements in 2013. The MBAs come from top business schools, including those at Columbia, Georgetown, Dartmouth, and Duke. The projects don’t pay salaries, but all provide a living stipend and cover an MBA’s cost of travel and housing. Occasionally, clients offer the candidates full-time employment. Bloomberg Businessweek‘s Erin Zlomek spoke with MWB director Jailan Adly about what candidates should know before they apply. What follows is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Describe some typical assignments through MBAs Without Borders.

These are pro-bono consulting projects in developing markets that typically last six months to a year. Over the past few years, we’ve sent several MBAs to work on projects for PATH, a global public-health organization based in Seattle. Last year we had a PATH advisor in Uganda and another that traveled back and forth between Kenya and Ethiopia. ABT Associates is another firm we match talent for. They are currently recruiting for three MBA advisors to work on a USAID-funded project that addresses reproductive health and HIV/AIDS in Malawi.

We also have MBAs working in oil and gas extraction in Equatorial Guinea for companies such as E.G. LNG, a subsidiary of Marathon Oil (MRO), McDermott International (MDR), and Noble Energy (NBL). Sometimes, governments require those companies to hire local vendors. Our adviser at E.G. LNG is helping local businesses improve their operations so that they can become viable vendors.

At what stage in their careers are MBAs applying for these positions?

I’d say 50 percent are recent graduates—either they’ve just finished their MBA or are a year out of business school. The rest, on average, have three to four years of post-MBA work experience. The latter group sometimes varies. We’ve had people with anywhere from 10 to 25 years of collective work experience.

How competitive is the selection process?

It varies. When we are recruiting for a project that has a language requirement, or that requires sector-specific experience or a long work history, we may look at 10 to 15 candidates. When there are no language requirements, such as for the positions in Malawi, we get a much larger pool and may see 20 to 30 applications.

How are MBAs using these positions to advance their careers?

Most are looking to get international development experience. For example, job applicants at many Washington-based consulting firms need to have had some kind of work experience abroad in order to be considered. Others are looking to stay in the corporate or private sector, where companies need MBAs that have been embedded in a region and understand its cultural nuances. Others are looking to [make a] transition to a new industry. We have a lot of MBAs who come to work in oil and gas extraction because they see it as a way to break into energy.

Where do MBAs typically get hired after completing an assignment through the program?

A lot have ended up staying in the country where they completed a project because they found a job through the network they built there.  Others have gone on to work for the umbrella organizations of the projects we recruit for, such as PATH in Seattle, or the Grassroots Business Fund based in Washington.

Others have used the experience to join corporations. For example, we had an adviser who recently started a job atHershey (HSY) because the company was looking for someone that understood a certain market in Africa.

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