Tuesday, June 1, 2010

2010 Cambodia/Thailand Service Learning Trip: Human Capital and Economic Development: Taking No as a Question

Craig Porter, MBA Class of 2011

Each year, MBA student trips offer a brief but intensive learning experience in parts of the world of interest to Business School students. Alumni or classmates who have previously worked or studied in the countries involved may help students arrange meetings with leaders of major corporations and nonprofit agencies, as well as governmental leaders. Here are some observations from trip participants.

STANFORD GRADUATE SCHOOL OF BUSINESS —Is there hope? You ask yourself this question multiple times while in Cambodia and Thailand. Cambodia was ravaged by genocide less than 40 years ago; more than 20% of the country's population was murdered and an entire generation was lost. Today, Thailand has a multibillion-dollar sex-tourism industry, which impacts hundreds of thousands of lives every year. As an outsider, the problems these two countries face seemed insurmountable.

Fortunately, hundreds of organizations in both nations believe there still is hope. During a spring 2010 service learning trip, Stanford Graduate School of Business students met with 10 of these groups that are seeking to create change. Here are a few of their stories.

Documentation Center of Cambodia: Youk Chhang is a genocide survivor, was named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in 2007, and is the founder of DC-Cam, a nonprofit group leading efforts to collect and organize data about the atrocities of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. He has spent the last 15 years documenting the genocide and leading efforts to bring charges against those responsible for murdering almost 2 million Cambodians in the late 1970s. Chhang believes: "Cambodia is like broken glass. … Without justice, we cannot put the pieces together." He has hope that Cambodia can put the pieces together, and his work is an inspiration to us all.

The Population and Community Development Association: Mechai Viravaidya started this organization as a social venture in 1973 to help with the growing population problems in Thailand. Today, it has grown to a permanent staff of over 800 and volunteer staff of over 12,000. Mechai's efforts have led to a decrease in birth rates and a reduction in the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases, helping to improve the overall quality of life for hundreds of thousands of Thailand's rural poor. During our discussion, he challenged each of us to "do something" with our MBA degrees to change the world.

Through his organization we observed sex tourism firsthand, spending an evening on the streets of the coastal city of Pattaya handing out condoms to the sex workers. We saw the extent of the problem, and many of us experienced a mixture of complete disgust and overwhelming sadness.

Hagar International: On a more upbeat note, we also spent an afternoon working with Hagar International, a Christian-based organization aimed at providing jobs for women who have escaped the sex trade. We discussed growth opportunities, analyzed risks, and provided recommendations. A highlight for many of us was being told that our suggestions were exactly the same as those made only a few months earlier by a team of McKinsey consultants. (Reaching those conclusions took us 90 minutes; it took the McKinsey team six weeks.)

With a couple of months of reflection, we are even more amazed at the work being done by the organizations we visited. Yes, these two Asian countries have major problems. But, as long as there are people like Youk Chhang and Mechai Viravaidya, there is hope for a better tomorrow.