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A Summer in Singapore

After spending two weeks in Peru with a group of HBS classmates and my family, I embarked into what would be my home for the rest of the summer: Singapore. The secret of how a small island the size of Boston with no natural resources (even the water is imported from Malaysia!) has been transformed into the world’s fourth wealthiest country (if we measure “wealth” as income per capita) is still a mystery for many countries that seek development. The spirit of excellence in the country is not less true for its organizations. I spent my summer working for The National Kidney Foundation of Singapore (NKFS), the largest non-profit organization in Singapore and largest dialysis provider in the world.
After I accepted my summer offer, I must admit I was kind of apprehensive. There were several questions floating in my mind. Would I “fit” in the Asian culture and working style? Would I enjoy and learn something working in a non-profit environment? Only after a few days of working at NKFS, my fears were quickly gone. The experience was not only enjoyable, but also transformed completely my mindset about how to run a not-for-profit effectively and the importance of strong leadership, management skills and effective fundraising techniques to make not-profits successful organizations.

The NKFS mission is to save lives by providing adequate and inexpensive treatment for patients that suffer from kidney failure. Currently the NKFS saves lives of approximately 2,200 Singaporeans with kidney failure at 20 of its state of the art dialysis centers. Through various prevention programs, more than 650,000 people have benefited from this initiative to date. Supported wholly by public donations, the NKFS has been able to work towards building a strong and successful healthcare program based on a novel system of funding through a structured means of obtaining charitable donations whereby one out of every two people have donated to the NKFS. Today, the NKFS raises more money per capita than any other non- profit in the world, from a loyal donor base of 2.1 million who are committed to the cause of the organization.

Although the NKFS is already a success in fundraising, they believed they were still leaving money on the table, and by using a new strategy and technology, they could improve. That was the challenge I faced during my summer: to propose and implement new mechanisms by which the NKFS could increase the already overwhelming amount of donations they receive. The project meant working closely with senior management to develop a new strategy and recommendation for implementation. Specifically, I worked in developing a new way for the NKFS to communicate more emotionally with its current and potential base donor-base, using the Internet through streaming media marketing. At the end of my summer internship, I delivered a presentation to the four hundred employees of the NKFS about my findings and ran a pilot test of a streaming media marketing campaign to be immediately implemented. I never realized how much marketing I had learned at HBS until the day I delivered that project. Thanks, Rajiv Lal!
Besides our work, working in Singapore and being exposed to Asia was a wonderful experience. Singapore is really a cosmopolitan city, combining Asian traditions with western modernity. Extensive traveling through the region was also a big plus. Being located at the center of Southeast Asia, Singapore proved convenient and relatively inexpensive traveling. Weekends in Hong Kong, Thailand, or Bali were pretty affordable when compared to domestic traveling in the US. In China, I was treated with an imperial Chinese banquet by my good friend Shao Yue (OF) in one of Beijing’s finest and oldest restaurants. Also present were Ronan McArdle (OF) with his dad and younger brother, showing their appreciation for Chinese cuisine. It appears that the “Frog” spirit at the dinner was contagious, as my traveling companion, Carlos de la Fuente, a member of the Class of 2003, ended up in the garden deck of Section NF.
Members of the HBS community were not absent during the summer in Singapore. Marj Lao (OA) gave herself a break from the McKinsey offices and joined me for dinner one evening. She actually was a little shocked when I took her to a Peruvian (?????) restaurant in downtown Singapore and ordered Pisco Sours for her. James “Rusty” Dail’s (OJ), complete command of Singapore’s nightlife scene was definitely an asset for my experience. Salvador Biguria (OB) also worked in Singapore during the summer in the tech industry. We often hung out with the Latin community and international crowd, which was larger and more fun than we expected.
A message to all the RCs: Regardless of your long-term career plans, I would suggest you consider working for a non-profit during the summer. This is probably the last time in your lives you will get to do an internship, so it is a great opportunity to do something different, and allows you to realize how the skills you have learned at HBS are so valuable and can make a real difference in organizations. Compared to the past jobs I have had in for-profit professional service firms, this experience gave me a much greater opportunity to lead and manage a large project by myself. If you decide to work in the non-profit sector, take advantage of the extensive network of contacts of organizations that the Initiative for Social Enterprise has developed to find the right organization for you.

Since 1982 the HBS Non-profit and Public Management Summer Fellowship has provided financial support to current MBA students who choose to work in non-profit and public sector organizations during the summer. This summer, forty-eight students-a record number for the program-participated in the program.

Sponsored by the HBS Initiative on Social Enterprise and the Social Enterprise Club, the Fellowship is funded by the School and alumni donors. The program has three principal goals:

 To enable students to take jobs in non-profit and public enterprises where their HBS training will provide significant benefits to the organization and the community it serves

 To expose students to the rewards and challenges of public and non-profit management

 To enrich the HBS community and the quality of the MBA education by increasing the number of students with experience in the non-profit and public sectors.

For more information, contact Margot Dushin, HBS Initiative on Social Enterprise, mdushin@hbs.edu.

December 3, 2001
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