There’s not much Stanford Seed intern Mai Tran loves more than problem-solving, especially when the challenge is outside her comfort zone.
That was the situation Mai faced on a recent internship in Nigeria, where her talents and adaptability were put to the test at a company working to bring critical health care to some of the country’s poorest residents.
“My skill set here in America fits a puzzle, and it’s the same thing in Nigeria, but there, my skill set doesn’t produce the same results,” she explained. “It’s a different puzzle, and you realize very quickly how useless your skills are. You have to use your own intuition and basic common sense. And when the piece is not fitting with the puzzle, you realize how insignificant you are, which is a phenomenal, amazing thing to realize. I think it’s great.”
Following some international travel and an earlier internship at a nongovernmental agency in Ghana, Mai applied to become a 2016 Seed intern, joining the ranks of Stanford students selected to undertake projects at companies participating in the Seed Transformation Program. The program, which is housed under Stanford Graduate School of Business, offers high-potential leaders based in developing economies a chance to assess their company’s vision, redefine strategies, and make changes toward exponential growth that will create new jobs in their region. Stanford Seed East Africa, based in Kenya, and Stanford Seed West Africa, based in Ghana, eventually will be expanded to include Seed programs in developing economies throughout the world.
She was matched with ADCEM Pharmaceuticals LTD, a Nigeria-based health care company whose core business is providing equipment and services for patients receiving hemodialysis for chronic kidney failure. Her role was to undertake research and market analysis of the current kidney treatment available in the region, and to help create a marketing strategy for the introduction of a treatment called peritoneal dialysis to Nigeria. Unlike hemodialysis, commonly used in the U.S. and other Western countries, peritoneal dialysis offers patients in developing economies a successful treatment that can be done at home at less cost.
“The project was very interesting to me,” Mai said. “Actually, all the projects were interesting to me.”
Mai started her market research, studying the supply chain, how to place products into the market, and the product’s anticipated effect on patients.
“Ultimately, that was all delivered, but in between we were questioning the fundamental numbers we were looking at; where are these patients, and how many are there? We went and talked to a lot of health care providers and met potential outside partners; we met with representatives of the International Financial Corporation, other agencies, the Clinton Health Initiative. We met with partners I didn’t anticipate having communication with. It definitely helped open more doors and alternatives that we ended up considering. It helped shape the project.”
Working closely with ADCEM’s core team, Mai spent some days on research and others in conversation with potential partners and others.
“It was like I was running a startup or my own project,” she said. “Every day I learned something new and had to adapt, and every day I’d do something with that knowledge. It was constant iteration and moving.”
As she worked on research and market analysis for ADCEM, Mai said she focused on the value the work would provide for patients, along with the sharing of ideas between herself and her African colleagues.
“The most important and long-lasting impact is our working relationship with each other, and our ability to expand our vision and the way we think,” she said.
After completing her degree, Mai said she hopes to continue finding projects that challenge her problem-solving skills. Future Seed Interns should welcome that same opportunity, she said.
“Focus on the fact that you’re coming there to solve a problem,” she said. “You’ll be stimulated, challenged, and once you’re open to that, you’ll get a lot out of it.
“I think I did what I was supposed to do,” she added. “But what I got out of it was unexpected.”
Enjoy Mai Tran’s story? Read about other Seed Interns.
Check out photos from the Seed Intern’s Stanford Business Instagram Takeover.
Interested in becoming a Stanford Seed Intern? Learn how to apply.