Originally posted by Jordan Fujiwara.
It’s always fun to talk about Katie Gallagher’s Corporate Residency, because she was rockin’ it out in South Africa for eight months. While the rest of us were spread liberally around Canada, she decided to follow her ambitions and take on a challenge that most people would probably consider to be a teensy bit outside that good ol’ comfort zone. Let’s learn a bit about her before we get into the adventure. Katie went to Bishop’s University for a BBA in Finance (and Sociology Minor). She’s always been a bit of a traveller, with no one town she really calls home. Her family lives in Florida, she grew up in Ontario, she’s lived in Montreal and went to high school in Indiana.
JoAnne Akerboom energetically introduced Katie to the Corporate Residency MBA during an info session at Bishop’s. Facing a mediocre position with a private equity firm upon receiving the BBA, Katie applied to our program and was happily accepted. “I really love the program; it’s a perfect fit for me, especially coming from Bishop’s where there are only 2000 students. I’m used to having the close relationships with peers and the one-on-one interaction with the profs,” she says. “I also really like the option to do self-directed courses in the second year. To me that’s what doing a Master’s is all about: going out there, finding a subject I’m interested and going into the community and actually producing something.”
Come late 2009, Katie found herself searching for a placement. “When I was looking for a residency, I saw that microfinance looked like a successful approach to alleviating poverty within communities,” she says. JoAnne Akerboom once again came to the fore: she had worked on the start-up phase of an African company called The Business Place Network and was in contact with the founder. At the time, The Business Place was understaffed and taking on some new developments (including microfinance). The timing was perfect. Arranging to go to work in South Africa? Not so much. “It was the most stressful experience of my life!” laughs Katie. “I was on the phone every day with the Embassy trying to work out my visa. My boss was writing all sorts of letters, I was trying to pack, I had like six needles… I finally got my visa on the day before I was supposed to leave!” While the preparation was hectic, the flight was smooth (Halifax – London – Cape Town). While en route, Katie remembers looking out her window at night and seeing strange sparks. “I thought the engine was on fire! But I later found out that it was a civil war happening in Nigeria. And that was my first introduction to Africa.” She also saw a herd of elephants from 25,000 feet or so, so that probably made up for it. The descent into Cape Town was also fraught with visual splendour.
Once there, Katie devoted herself to learning as much as she could as quick as she could (on advice from the company’s founder). She went to many seminars and conferences while The Business Place got ready to roll out a new membership-based service as well as the microfinance business piece that Katie was initially attracted to. The company itself chiefly catered to new or struggling entrepreneurs. It provided consulting and some funding. Unfortunately the system was fragmented and disorganized when Katie arrived. There was little direction and some management restructuring occurred soon after her arrival. Then it was determined that the microfinance business would need to be put on hold so they could focus on building the membership program. “It was hard on me, but I think I was the one in the end who suggested we shelve the microfinance.” The Business Place was simply not ready to take on such a project. Instead, Katie helped champion an effort to better educate the consultants that were working for the company. In doing so, she was able to travel to some of the other African offices (e.g. Johannesburg, and one in Botswana). They built a six-step, 14-component approach that could be taught to the consultants and in turn taught to the clients. By the time Katie returned to Canada, The Business Place’s membership program was up and running, plus they had attracted a microfinance partner that will be able to help them revisit that original plan. It’s safe to say Katie was able to make a tremendous impact on the business.
“My dream job would be to work for the World Bank or the UN in a development program, I’d like to be able to contribute to the macro impact. While it’s great to be able to do things at the micro level, you first need the macro support from the government and private sectors. For now, I’d like to try my hand at consulting and investment banking.”
There’s a lot more to this story (e.g. Shark Cage Diving, the World Cup, granola bars), but we are out of space. You’ll have to ask her about it yourselves, I guess! See you next Thursday!