How my MBA fellowship prepared me for an NGO | TopMBA.com

How my MBA fellowship prepared me for an NGO

By Niamh O

Updated August 31, 2021 Updated August 31, 2021

“My vision is that I will be able to help connect impressive people to an impressive company and be able to make a truly positive impact,” says Samantha Roberts. 

As part of the MBA programme at ESMT Berlin, graduates can participate in the Responsible Leaders Fellowship which involves gaining real-world business experience in Asia or Africa to help a local company.

Samantha Roberts chose to work at XOCO, which was founded in response to the magnifying impact COVID-19 is having on inequality, as the crisis is pushing many girls into sexual exploitation.  

XOCO’s goal is to empower adolescent girls in Latin America, Africa and Asia to escape sexual exploitation and to train them for the digital jobs of the future. XOCO is developing an innovative digital education model in partnership with local grassroots organisations and world-class companies, to equip at-risk girls with the skillset of the future.

TopMBA spoke with Samantha to find out what it’s like working remotely for an NGO start-up and how her MBA helped her prepare for the experience.

How the Responsible Leaders Fellowship prepares students 

From the get-go at ESMT Berlin, Samantha says she was working in culturally diverse teams, which was a new experience for her – a skillset she says is incredibly valuable and often overlooked.

Samantha joined the existing global XOCO team smoothly and understood the communication style of her teammates very quickly. She said: “As we developed different education models for XOCO, I was able to leverage my experiences from the Innovation & Entrepreneurship track and helped XOCO create a customer persona and define our target markets.”

Why did you choose ESMT Berlin?  

Samantha chose ESMT for many reasons. She knew she wanted to attend an MBA programme in a major European city where she would want to continue living in after the programme.

She said: “I visited Berlin before and fell in love with the culture and atmosphere of the city, so choosing Berlin was the easy part.

“As for ESMT, I valued the diverse community, smaller class size and the Innovation and Entrepreneurship specialisation track, as I had a vision of working in a start-up after graduation.”

Why XOCO? 

Samantha chose XOCO as once she completed her MBA, she wanted to align herself with a start-up organisation that was innovative in its approach.

She said: “When I was learning about XOCO for the first time, I was impressed by their long-term vision for confronting systematic inequalities.”

Samantha says XOCO is important as more than 130 million girls worldwide were out of school even before COVID-19 hit, and over 11 million girls may not go back to school even after the pandemic.

She said: “This crisis has exacerbated the education and digital divide, magnified inequality like never before and put millions of girls at risk of sexual exploitation.”

By the end of her fellowship, XOCO had achieved an extremely significant milestone by opening its first shelter in Cúcuta, Colombia.

Samantha said: “The first group of Venezuelan refugee girls and their babies have moved in and, once they are settled in, they will begin our digital education programme.

“It was incredibly rewarding to see the culmination of team XOCO’s hard work around fundraising and model development all come together to help these at-risk girls. This hard work will continue to help additional girls as we open subsequent shelters.”

Encouraging girls to dream big 

XOCO isn’t a bootcamp that focuses narrowly on one topic such as coding, for example. Instead, XOCO takes a more horizontal approach on purpose. Because of their situations, often these girls haven’t actively thought about high-skilled alternatives, or considered opportunities beyond what’s in front of them.

Samantha said: “XOCO’s approach is to equip girls with digital skills that are essential in any modern, high-skilled job.

“Simultaneously, we are showing girls the spectrum of opportunities in the digital economy; helping them figure out their passion and the path they want to choose.”

The girls are then connected with more specialised programmes. Samantha said: “If they are interested in entrepreneurship, XOCO can help girls gain the skills to take their start-up or enterprise from an informal microbusiness, helping leverage technology and digital innovation in entrepreneurship, to establish a more successful and profitable business.”

“The beauty of digital jobs is that the girls can work for local company in their neighbourhood or city, or they can work for an international company remotely and have a decently paid job with benefits.

“Our programme is digital so the girls will already have experience working remotely on an international team, which is a skillset within itself.”

Working alongside a charity organisation 

Samantha enjoyed her time with XOCO and plans to continue supporting the organisation even after the fellowship.

She found her team inspiring and says they had an excellent time working and learning from everyone.

She said: “Quite regularly, a team member would throw out an idea or discuss a roadblock on their current project, and it was amazing to see all of us brainstorm together to quickly solve a problem on the spot or build upon an idea and watch it come to life.

“I really appreciated this ’all hands on deck’ mentality of the team, where if something needed to be done, there was always someone willing to jump in and collaborate with you. This is the type of culture I will be looking for as I move to the next stage of my career.”

Learning with a charity 

Samantha says her greatest takeaway from working with XOCO was learning how truly vulnerable those girls are.

She said: “You can read facts and statistics all day and think you understand the situation, but it never paints a clear enough picture of reality.”

One situation during her fellowship really stuck with Samantha. XOCO put together a webinar titled, ‘Becoming the Statistic: Girls of the Global South’ where girls discussed their current situation and goals via video interviews.

Samantha said: “We spoke to a very sweet girl in Cúcuta, Colombia who included a brief tour of her neighbourhood.

“Just days after she shot this video, a storm destroyed her home and most of her neighbourhood. Instead of focusing on her education and achieving her goals, suddenly she was unsure if she had a roof over her head that night. It really revealed the multifaceted crisis that these girls face every day.” 

Samantha’s biggest hope is to see XOCO’s Leapfrogging Academy grow beyond the pilots in Colombia and Ecuador and reach other areas in Latin America.

She said: “Once established, my hope is to see XOCO Leapfrogging Academy grow to across the Global South. I also hope to see XOCO’s global accelerator programme, which is focused on helping a wider reach of adolescent girls, grow to multiple cohorts a year.” 

Looking to the future

Now Samantha has finished her fellowship, she is beginning to look for full-time career opportunities in Berlin; her goal to work with a company whose mission she is passionate about.

She said “I envision working at a start-up or scale-up where I can help build a future. After reflecting on my skillset and enthusiasm for communication and relationship management, I have decided to shift my career from finance into technical recruiting.

“My vision is that I will be able to help connect impressive people to an impressive company and be able to make a truly positive impact.”  

This article was originally published in August 2021 .

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Written by

Niamh is Deputy Head of Content at QS (TopMBA.com; topuniversities.com), creating and editing content for an international student audience. Having gained her journalism qualification at the Press Association, London and since written for different international publications, she's now enjoying telling the stories of students, alumni, faculty, entrepreneurs and organizations from across the globe.  

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