By Sunita Chambore, Experiential Learning Manager
Project Aasha, a student-led initiative, creates social impact in India through pro-bono consulting projects. Sunita Chambore, Experiential Learning Manager, posed some questions to this year’s co-leaders, Uyen Pham (MiM2021) and Sebastian Ingemann (MFA2021). They share their experience of being on an Early Careers programme at LBS and having the opportunity to practice vital leadership skills.
Why did you decide to come to LBS?
Having always stayed in Vietnam after graduating with my Bachelor’s, I felt the need to go abroad to learn about different cultures and sharpen my skills in business studies. So LBS was a no-brainer: a world-renowned business school with a balanced combination of academics and practice and an incredibly diverse cohort. And the school certainly lived up to my expectations.
Following my Bachelor’s, I had the opportunity to work both in consulting and private equity, where I learned a ton. I wanted to supplement some of these practical learnings with a more robust theoretical foundation in finance. LBS was a top-notch place to do this due to both the outstanding faculty and the proximity to the City.
During my Bachelor’s, I had the opportunity to study in Copenhagen, Hong Kong, and the US, which I enjoyed as I got to work with people from many different cultures. It was vital for me to be in a similar environment when studying for my Master’s, so the very diverse and international student body at LBS was a big selling point.
Why did you apply to lead Project Aasha?
First of all, I have always wanted to create a sustainable impact on society. I always ask myself: “Until the day I die, what will I have done for society?” – that is how I define my infinite game.
And secondly, Project Aasha is an excellent opportunity to learn about project management and practice leadership. There is no second chance in life to run a social project with my peers and take advantage of the network from alumni, LBS faculty, and the Wheeler Institute to strengthen project performance. Making friends, especially in social distancing circumstances, is another reason for applying.
For most students that were a part of Project Aasha – including me – there were two motivators: To learn and to help. I already have a relatively analytical background but still have plenty to learn when leading and organising.
Aasha was a “risk-free” way to get exposure to a leadership position, and even if it was difficult at times, I learned some valuable lessons along the way and gained more confidence in my abilities.
Furthermore, I think Aasha is a great way to give back. As students at LBS, we are in quite a privileged position, and it has been nice to use some of the skills we acquired to provide some (small but still significant) positive change in Bangalore.
What was it like co-leading?
It’s like playing seesaw. You have to stay in sync, trust each other, and do your part – otherwise, it wouldn’t work. Overall, I am honestly thankful that I get to know Sebastian on this project, not only as a co-lead but also as a friend and even a mentor at some point.
It was fun! Uyen and I complement each other well because I have more of a classic analytical background while she has actual hands-on experience in social impact. I think she was very good at seeing the big picture while I may have had my head buried in spreadsheets or PowerPoint. I believe the experience I brought gave the student teams an excellent framework to conduct their projects.
What was the most challenging part of leading a team of your peers?
To be fair, with a cohort as open-minded, collaborative, and humble as LBS, I didn’t find it challenging to work with or lead my peers in any activity so far. But if I have to pick one such challenge within Project Aasha, it would be the recruiting part since we had to interview and judge others while we’re no more senior than them.
It was probably knowing when to step in and support and when to let the student teams figure out the issues themselves. LBS is full of really talented, passionate, and dedicated people; the projects mostly ran themselves. It was always a balance between giving the teams enough leash to be challenged and making sure to take a more active role when needed.
Did you learn anything about yourself as a leader?
On the positive side, the role helped me realise my potential and confidence to lead and believe in myself. But what’s even more valuable is that I learned how to delegate more instead of dedicating myself to a task. And, of course, becoming more aware of my negativities and how I could improve.
I think most people have this idea of leadership as someone who drives processes, but leading Project Aasha was much more about sparring and mentoring. The teams were competent, so as a leader, it was much more about being an extra pair of eyes on their work and sometimes about playing the devil’s advocate. This was a much more fun way to lead people, and I hope I can do something similar in a professional capacity one day.
Has any learning in the classroom helped you with managing this Project?
The modules that focus on soft skill development, such as Performing in Organisations, certainly helped us communicate with others. Also, interestingly, the Marketing modules in the MiM programme bolstered our survey skills, which was helpful throughout the project.
Group work is an integral part of LBS: Almost every course has a significant element of group work. When you work in groups of different people so often, you are bound to figure out what makes groups work and what does not – and those learnings I took with me when managing the project. On a more practical basis, I also had the opportunity to take a course on Emerging Markets at LBS which gave me much better insight into India on a political and economic level.
Do you have any advice for the students that will lead on this project after you?
The best starting point for the project is to consult with your predecessors. Also, initial screening is essential for recruiting, not only for the project members but also for the changemakers and mentors. And always reflect on yourself – what you’ve learnt, whether you’re still learning, and are you and everyone still having fun doing it.
Make sure to leverage your own and LBS’ network as much as possible. It is much easier to reach out to professionals to schedule interviews for research and projects as a student, as you are not viewed as competition.
There is also a lot of power in the LBS network through both the student body, faculty and other people related to LBS. For instance, one of the teams had interviews with several of the Indian MBA students who have been involved in family businesses and were able to provide unique insights to their clients.
What has been the highlight of your time at LBS?
I could not point to any specific highlight because I will treasure so many wonderful memories, including leading on Project Aasha. Being at LBS, I naturally made friends from all over the world. I gained new knowledge through classes and webinars. I tried Improv Acting and practised for a musical.
I rolled up my sleeves in practical projects such as LondonLab (a pro bono consulting gig for MiMs) and the virtual Cape Town GIFT (where I “experienced” local life and solved a business problem for a social enterprise). Most importantly, I learned more about myself. I could not ask for a better experience, especially during the pandemic.
I honestly have to say my highlight is to have been able to lead Project Aasha for this year. It was so inspiring to see the passion and talent of my peers who participated in the project. It was rewarding to see how people developed over the projects, and I was so impressed when I saw the final presentations.
Likewise, I liked getting to know the organisations and changemakers we worked with because they were as passionate and dedicated as the student participants. It was so fun to be a part of the project this year, and I look forward to seeing how the project will develop in the future.
To find out more about participating in Project Aasha, please contact email@example.com