Misha Nasrollahzadeh, WG’20, recalls how a Global Modular Course in Ethiopia with her healthcare management class helped broaden her perspective on healthcare and innovation.

Over spring break, a group of Wharton undergrads, MBAs, and Executive MBA students spent five days learning about Ethiopian culture, healthcare, and entrepreneurship as part of a Global Modular Course led by Prof. Ezekiel Emanuel and Prof. Heather Schofield.

Global Modular Courses (GMC) offer students hands-on experience in another country.

“Students are able to see many of the issues that we discuss in the classroom before the trip, in action while in Ethiopia. For example, driving for hours on bumpy dirt roads to reach rural health clinics helped bring the discussions around the importance of infrastructure to life in a way that can be hard to do in a traditional classroom,” explained Prof. Schofield.

Ethiopia was chosen as a destination this year because of its unique history and some of the challenges that it shares with other developing countries.

“The country has a rich history, a large and rapidly growing population, and low but improving literacy and health,” said Schofield. The government is evolving quickly and working aggressively to improve the lives of its citizens but faces challenging geopolitical circumstances. In short, a GMC in Ethiopia offers students the chance to see a very dynamic country at an interesting time in its growth trajectory.

(Left to right) Sophia Yang (W’20), John Wong (WG’20, EMBA), Jessica Loeb (WG’20), Roberra Aklilu (WG’20), and Misha Nasrollahzadeh (WG’20) with students from a local Ethiopian school.

Healthcare Management major Misha Nasrollahzadeh, WG’20, went to Ethiopia with prior experience working in healthcare technology in Silicon Valley. She shared some of the insights she gained from the trip and how the experience has given her a broader perspective on American healthcare.

Lessons From Another Healthcare System

In Silicon Valley, Misha worked on Castlight Health, an app designed to help users navigate their healthcare benefits in the U.S.

“We were building a product that we were hoping that people around the country would use, no matter what. We weren’t really in touch with the various types of people that might be using our app,” said Misha.

“What I saw as the biggest eye-opener is that [Ethipoia] is one of the countries at the forefront of a new model called ‘community health workers.’ They essentially take leaders from each community or village and they become the person that serves the entire community’s healthcare needs. How great would it be if you could disseminate a product, a service, whatever it might be, with someone from that community, and actually educate people, call on them, and figure out their specific needs?”

The trip was also humbling. “We’re in the middle of a narrative in the U.S. of the rising cost of healthcare, and how the sick are becoming sicker.” After visiting Ethiopia, her perspective shifted. “You realize what access to modern technology, medication, sanitation, public health-related things that we have that has really put a lot of things that developing countries are facing.

An Immersive Experience

Students had the opportunity to explore the Ethiopian culture and business environment beyond healthcare.

“We visited a community health clinic and did a walking tour to the homes of two individuals that lived in the village. That was the highlight of my whole trip — being welcomed into somebody’s home and seeing how they lived. They had a makeshift kitchen that was made out of just mud and sand that they were using to make their traditional bread, and they were really proud of what they had built.”

Another memorable stop was at the largest rose farm in Africa, which operates its own hospital and one of the top schools in the country.

“It was really cool because it was a whole community built around it,” Misha said. “We saw the floral farm and we walked over to the school, and it was just a sea of thousands of kids running up to us, screaming and trying to say hi, practicing their English, singing songs for us. We just really fell in love with the energy of these kids, being able to have fun with them a little bit, and see the school.”

Misha could see how concepts from some of her Wharton classes were being put into practice.

“I’m in MGMT 611, which is about managing established enterprises, and one of the modules of that course is talking about global strategy. One of the big discussions on the trip was around Ethiopia’s partnerships outside the country, so China and the investments that China has made in Ethiopia in infrastructure and development were a big theme in our discussions. It was interesting to see how China took one approach in the sense that they are trying to adapt to the Ethiopian culture, and how Mandarin has become something that the Ethiopian youth are learning to speak.”

The students on the trip visited shoe and garment factories to learn about Ethiopia’s manufacturing industry.

Witnessing a Transformation

This year, MBA students experienced a transformed Ethiopia under its new prime minister and when politics at large have been shifting towards more progressive ideas.

“Once we got there, we realized that healthcare was just one part of the big story of the transformation that’s going on with Ethiopia right now. I was surprised to learn about the political shift that had taken place over the last ten months that has opened up so much opportunity for economic growth and global partnerships. And then, of course, what that means for the healthcare industry there,” Misha said.

Still, while the country is experiencing profound change, Ethiopia’s pride in its long history remains.

“It was my impression walking away at the end of the trip that Ethiopia was this country with a very proud, rich heritage — the start of civilization was there and that’s still something they are very proud to talk about today. But [it’s] one that’s still in the middle of writing its story, so they’re still taking advantage of some of the timing opportunities to progress the country forward and put themselves on the map.”

All photos courtesy of Roberra Aklilu, WG’20.

— Elis Pill, C’19

Posted: June 12, 2019

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