Four cities, 12 days, a $20,000 target


The "hot cities tour" is the shortest course offered by McGill University's Desautels Faculty of Management, but surely ranks among the most intense and rewarding.

On Feb. 16, about 30 undergraduate and MBA students who were selected by an independent panel head to South Africa to meet top business, government and community leaders in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.

Course professor Karl Moore, who arranges access to leading officials, designed the course to run 12 days - of which 10 are on the road. Students complete academic assignments before leaving, throw themselves into the whirlwind sessions while there and wrap up the course with a major "reflection" paper to demonstrate what they have learned from their experience.

For the second year in a row, the students are adding a philanthropic dimension.

Using social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, students will post daily videos and blogs on their website ( to raise $20,000 in 10 days for the Ubuntu Education Fund, a non-profit organization in Port Elizabeth that provides health and educational support to the orphaned and vulnerable children there.

If the fundraising target seems a tall order, think again.

On their "hot cities tour" of India last year, Desautels students worked with the K.C. Mahindra foundation's Nanhi Kali project to raise $18,000 in 10 days - well above the initial target of $10,000 - to help 180 Indian girls improve their education prospects.

"We hear a lot about corporate responsibility in the classroom and how it helps a company think more globally, so why not integrate this into the program," says MBA student Melanie Walsh, who dreamed up the idea last year and is an organizer again this year.

Fellow student Nisha Shankar says she and others learned lessons from last year's hastily-arranged initiative, including how to set up an organizing committee without silos. This year, she says, "We do everything together and make sure everyone shares the responsibility." Also this year, students hope to present the website in several languages - English, French, Hindi and German - to reach more donors.

The student effort marks a generational change in thinking, observes Prof. Moore.

"My generation flew into Africa on business class, gave a lecture on free markets and 'How you should be like us' and flew home," he says. "[Today's students] fly in the back of the plane with a knapsack and on their arrival roll up their sleeves and say 'How can we help?'"

Read full article: The Globe and Mail, February 11, 2012