MBA Project Creates New Social Venture in Tunisia
By Abena Foreman-Trice
What began as a student-led project at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business has turned into a startup.
In the fall of 2012, Darden students who took the Global Field Experiences (GFEs) elective collaborated with Executive MBA students from the Mediterranean School of Business (MSB) to form a company devoted to the needs of Tunisian citizens affected by the growing incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s Family Assistance will offer in-home daily care, nurse and caregiver training, and memory-stimulating products for patients. The business will begin providing care in the African nation in December.
This is the first time that a Darden Global Field Experiences course has generated a company.
“Global Field Experiences are an opportunity for Darden students to advance deep learning on what it takes to start, grow and lead organizations around the world while putting what they have already learned in their Darden MBA into practice,” said Marc Johnson, executive director of Darden’s Center for Global Initiatives, which coordinates the elective’s experiences. “This is the perfect example of the kind of impact that our students can have and are looking for in pursuing these projects.”
SPURRING A MISSION
A group of students at MSB reached out to Darden with a request: Help them explore the creation of a social enterprise to help families in Tunisia deal with the difficult impacts of Alzheimer’s, a disease projected to affect 60,000 Tunisians by 2025.
In response, participating Second Year students formed a GFE project in which they conducted background research on Alzheimer’s in Tunisia, examined the needs of families affected by the disease and helped to write a business plan for an organization to serve Alzheimer’s patients. Together, the student teams from both schools developed plans to operate, market and finance a company.
Two years later, Alzheimer’s Family Assistance was born.
Dr. Afef Hammami — now a graduate of MSB — is founder of Alzheimer’s Family Assistance. She recently visited the U.S. after her team successfully presented a business plan for the company to her professors. In addition to gathering business insights from Darden faculty and staff members, she also convened with geriatric care providers and administrators with the Alzheimer’s Association, the world’s leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care.
“The disease is horrible,” said Hammami. “It’s an irreversible degeneration of the brain that can lead to death, and Tunisian families don’t know what to do for their loved ones who have this disease.”
“Today people with dementia diseases in Tunisia are only able to go to psychiatric hospitals or stay at home with their families,” said Luiz Velloso (MBA ’13), a Darden alumnus who was part of the project team and attended the business plan presentation at MSB. “Alzheimer’s Family Assistance will provide appropriate care through assisted living facilities for Alzheimer’s patients, as well as training for patients’ families to help them cope.”
Along with Velloso, Michelle de Arruda (MBA ’13), Hillary Lewis (MBA ’13) and Charlie Lin (MBA ’13) comprised the Darden team. Darden Professor Peter Rodriguez, senior associate dean for degree programs, served as faculty leader for their project.
LEADS TO POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC CHANGE IN TUNISIA
In December 2010, the world closely watched Tunisia, where the first Arab Spring uprising developed. Anger over rampant unemployment helped fuel protests.
Hammami believes Tunisia’s successful transition to a new government opened the door for opportunities like hers.
“Three years ago we experienced the revolution and we fired dictators,” said Hammami. “With democracy taking hold in Tunisia, entrepreneurship and the creation of startup companies can now flourish.”
Hammami also noted that Tunisia is close to many European countries and has good relationships with other nations in the Middle East. She believes that business models with social missions, like hers, will take root and spread throughout the region.
THE HISTORY OF GLOBAL FIELD EXPERIENCES
GFEs began in 2012 in response to students and other Darden stakeholders who requested more experiential, global opportunities in the School’s MBA program. Since its inception, several GFEs have taken place in Africa.
- Darden students teamed up with students from MSB for a second time to develop business plans for a social enterprise called INASanté — a health care services accreditation agency.
- In Thohoyandou, South Africa, students consulted leaders at the University of Venda on the development of a third income stream to help the university diversify its support and increase capacity.
- In Zambia, Darden students helped the Buffalo Bicycle Company enhance its financial model, raise new capital and seek new investors.
- In Tanzania, students worked with the World Bank on ways to spur economic development through “microwork” — small, Internet-based jobs completed by many different people on a single large project.
In addition, interest in socially responsible organizations is on the rise among Darden’s students. Global Field Experiences help meet their focus on creating good in the world through business.
“Global Field Experiences bring the opportunity to not only learn more about a new country, culture and business context, but also to help organizations on a path to success at making positive difference in the lives of people around the world,” said Johnson.
Such is the goal of Alzheimer’s Family Assistance.
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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Darden School of Business
University of Virginia