MBAs Without Borders: Putting Business To Work for NGOs


MBAs Without Borders, a project of CDC Development Solutions, is a non-profit organization that connects experienced volunteer businessmen and women with NGOs and social enterprises in the developing world to share expertise.

What They Do

MBAs Without Borders focuses on projects in five main areas – agriculture, health, finance, income-generation, and the environment – and has sent volunteers to more than 20 countries, including Cambodia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Pakistan, Poland, and Haiti. Volunteer assignments typically last anywhere from two weeks to more than a year. Though the assignments are unpaid, volunteers do receive free air fare, health insurance, and other benefits, as well as a stipend to cover living expenses. MBAs Without Borders uses a cost-sharing program with the host organization in order to reduce costs for both MBAs Without Borders itself and the NGO employing the volunteer.

Interested MBAs must apply for volunteer positions as they would for any other job, and the competition for some can be intense – as many as 100 applicants for a single position. Successful applicants must have an MBA, at least three years of work experience, experience living or working overseas, and fluency in at least one foreign language.

Sample Projects

MBAs Without Borders volunteer Omar Yacub took an assignment in Nigeria, working with Vestergaard Frandsen, a Swiss company that needed helping marketing its new and improved mosquito nets. A child dies of malaria every 30 seconds in Nigeria alone, and sleeping under mosquito nets can reduce infection rates by up to 90%, but many families do not use the nets because they have a reputation for being fragile and ultimately ineffective. Many people also consider them primitive and just plain ugly. Vestergaard Frandsen’s nets were more durable and longer-lasting than their competitors’ nets, but they suffered from the same associations and unattractive appearance. Yacub helped the company overcome these consumer associations by creating more attractive packaging to catch customer’s attention and adding brightly colored nets in addition to the traditional plain white to fit local tastes better. He also took advantage of Nigeria’s booming film and television industry – “Nollywood” is now the third largest film industry in the world, after the US and India – and purchased spots in popular Nigerian soap operas and movies – product placement!

Blake Dinkin went to Rwanda to help Dancing Pots, an organization that aimed to help the impoverished indigenous Batwa people create a sustainable livelihood through crafts. In an effort to cut costs and lower the program’s environmental impact in the already heavily deforested region, Dinkin helped develop a system for using charcoal briquettes made from coffee bean parchment, instead of wood, to fire the pots, cutting costs by 220% and reducing pressure on Rwanda’s remaining forests.

Jon Ven Johnson went to Laos, where he did financial consulting for a social enterprise called Digital Divide Data that trains poor and disadvantaged youth in Laos and Cambodia to perform digital services for companies in North America, Europe, and Asia, in order to help the rapidly growing organization improve its accounting and financial reporting procedures.

How You Can Help

If you meet the requirements for an MBA Without Borders volunteer, consider applying for one of their current projects.

If you don’t meet the requirements, or can’t make the commitment at the present time, you can still help by making a donation or helping spread the word about the organization’s work among business friends and colleagues. You can also help spread the word by joining MBAs Without Borders’s Facebook group, LinkedIn group, or Ning social network.

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