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On the Road with UCLA Students in South Africa and Ghana

Posted By Nora Brown, Monday, April 23, 2012

Nora BrownThis month I had the pleasure of accompanying a team of five MBA students from UCLA's Anderson School of Business to South Africa and Ghana. The challenge was simple: find interesting health organizations, learn about the challenges they've faced, and write case studies for health management training programs. Can't be too hard, right?

When I arrived in Cape Town to join the two students working on South Africa, I found they had already faced some challenges of their own.  From a feverish journey across the Atlantic to a twisted ankle on arrival, these two had already shown that the challenges of international travel wouldn't stop them from moving forward.  The students had already met with faculty at the Graduate School of Business of the University of Cape Town and had interviewed management at a local private hospital about their expansion plans.  Some interesting case study ideas were already starting to surface.  During the two days that I spent with them, we went on rounds with the head of surgery at Somerset Hospital, a large public hospital, and learned about the decentralization going on throughout South Africa's public medical facilities. We heard familiar stories of talented doctors being promoted to management positions without any training and saw innovative ideas on how to make scarce resources go further put into practice.

In Accra, I had the fortune to arrive prior to the three students working on Ghana, so I hoped I might help them get off to a smooth start. There was some concern that we hadn't confirmed any organizations willing to act as case protagonists by the time they arrived. But, as can happen in Ghana, once we were on the ground we found ourselves with more protagonists than the team had time to interview.  During my short stay in Accra, I sat in on interviews with a small, local NGO delivering basic public health information to rural populations; a large governmental agency overseeing HIV/AIDS activities across the country; and an innovative international NGO using mobile technology to provide timely health information to expecting mothers while providing nurses and midwives the ability to register and track their patients. We learned about systemic bottlenecks, the tension between stringent reporting and the overstretched capacities of small organizations, and the difficulties of avoiding mission creep.

Throughout my week with the student team, they proved themselves time again to be resourceful, inquisitive, and flexible; and most importantly, proved they could go with the flow and handle whatever challenges the project threw their way.  I really enjoyed working with this fantastic team and can't wait to see the case studies that these MBA students produce. If you're interested in receiving copes of the cases when they're complete, please contact me at  We will be making these publicly available for those who might want to use them in their courses.

Nora Brown is the Chief Operating Officer of GBSN.

Tags:  case studies 

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