Meeting a humanitarian financing need: How four MBA students are sharing their knowledge with the British Red Cross

This year, 143 MBA2021 students delivered 32 LondonCAP projects for clients virtually. Here, we speak to one team about how they tackled humanitarian funding challenges and delivered valuable innovative financing (IF) insights to the British Red Cross.

As countless MBA students will tell you, being part of LondonCAP is something special: it affords the chance to help a London business solve one of its biggest challenges. Projects are offered across a range of sectors and industries, with students given the opportunity to share their insights with highly experienced leaders while developing some of the softer skills needed to thrive in business.

This year, four students delivered a virtual LondonCAP project to the British Red Cross, a charity that helps people in crisis, both in the UK and overseas. So, without further ado, let’s meet the LondonCAP British Red Cross team.

Rob Smith MBA2021 began his career in strategy consulting in London, before moving to Nairobi to work in the strategy team of an agriculture company operating across East Africa. After three years in Kenya, he applied for the MBA programme. He’s now exploring a number of career opportunities, but is particularly interested in an emerging markets investments role.

Originally from Brazil, Gabriela Thomazoni MBA2021 graduated with a degree in economics and has worked in finance ever since. Over the past six years, she has worked in investment management, with a focus on the distribution of mutual and hedge funds for institutional clients.

After graduating from the University of Indonesia, Tiffanie Sutanto MBA2021 began her career with a Singapore-based private equity company. She later moved into a consulting role with McKinsey & Company, where she specialised in the financial services industry and worked with clients across South East Asia.

Originally from Saudi Arabia, Abdullah AlAbdullatif MBA2021 worked as a business development manager for the deputy minister in Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Commerce and Investment. There, he analysed development and improvement opportunities and transformed them into viable ways of improving Saudi Arabia’s global chances to compete as a lucrative business destination in line with the government’s ambitious 2030 vision.

Rob, tell us more about LondonCAP.

Rob: LondonCAP offers students a very different kind of learning experience – a unique opportunity to work for three months in LBS teams for a real client. You learn how to handle client relationships and how to work with team members. Ultimately, I knew that in five years’ time, I’d look back and be able to remember details of my LondonCAP experience.

The project with British Red Cross meets a growing humanitarian need around financing.

Rob: Yes, according to the UN, close to 200 million people worldwide will require humanitarian assistance during 2020, and that was before the impact of COVID-19 was fully assessed. Meanwhile, funding for humanitarian causes is relatively stagnant – the funding gap is estimated to be approximately $16 billion per annum. British Red Cross (BRC) is positioning itself as a thought-leader in the area of innovative financing (IF) and is seeking ways to mobilise more private sector, non-traditional sources of capital to be deployed for humanitarian causes. A key challenge is in optimising cross-sector collaboration – bridging the ‘cultural distance’ between humanitarian actors and the private sector, and ultimately getting more IF deals done. Our challenge was to identify ways in which they could improve sector collaboration, and specifically how they could benefit from the formation and optimisation of a formal industry coalition body. We analysed current collaboration efforts, best practices, and then provided recommendations on the steps BRC could take.

So why was the work for BRC so important?

Gabriela: BRC, as an important humanitarian actor, has a global footprint and a strong brand, and has the ability to take humanitarian innovative finance to a higher level of adoption. This work was important because it helps BRC build a strong coalition/ forum to develop this new funding opportunity.

What was your LondonCAP/British Red Cross highlight?

Rob: Definitely our final presentation! BRC invited us to present to a coalition of 25 senior actors working in the innovative finance for humanitarian causes sector. The final presentation took place during lockdown, so we ended up giving our recommendations to C-suite executives from some of the world’s largest banks, insurance companies, multilateral organisations and humanitarian actors virtually. It was fantastic to engage with such senior individuals, and to influence and impact how they think about collaboration in this sector.

Were there any challenges involved with delivering the final presentation virtually?

Tiffanie Sutanto: It was certainly daunting. One benefit of the virtual format was being able to have a presentation script, which ensured quality of content delivery. But not being able to receive real-time feedback was a challenge – no nods or frowns to indicate how well the message was being received!

What were your recommendations to British Red Cross?

Rob: Right now, organisations are often reluctant to commit resources to the space because there’s no proven, long track-record of IF deals being struck for humanitarian causes. One of our recommendations was around how BRC’s official coalition of stakeholders could help the entire ecosystem identify the highest potential high-level investment themes, considering both relative humanitarian needs and financing feasibility. This is critical to allocating resources to the highest potential opportunities, striking deals to develop a stronger evidence base and ultimately enabling the sector to enter a virtuous cycle of growth that will be capable of mobilising greater private sector capital for humanitarian needs.

Gabriela: Most industry experts recognise that coalitions have a high potential to influence the humanitarian spectrum as they bring stakeholders together and have a strong political power. The issue we identified is that many of these coalitions become forums for high-level discussion, and, although this is important, they also need to be more action-oriented. This is why our recommendations to IFR focused on creating a framework for them to be more of a hands-on coalition.

Tiffanie: It’s important to recognise the ecosystem involved in the innovative finance agenda, including high-level coalitions, market infrastructure building actors, and technical experts / transaction teams. It’s essential to empower each key actor to drive forward execution and address the growing humanitarian needs.

What did you learn from the experience?

Gabriela: Working with BRC was hugely fulfilling on a personal level. We interacted with important actors in the humanitarian innovative finance spectrum and learnt how the private sector can contribute to the development of humanitarian initiatives. The tools we used to conduct the project are applicable on any project we work on in the future.

Tiffanie: Innovative financing in the humanitarian sector was new to me. This project gave me the opportunity to immerse myself in the humanitarian system; it helped me understand the overall landscape of the humanitarian space, the stakeholders around the table, and the dynamics between these stakeholders.

Abdullah: I’m interested in pursuing a consulting career, so it was a perfect opportunity to learn on the job, develop my soft skills and get support from faculty along the way.

What advice would you give other students considering LondonCAP?

Abdullah: It’s essential to reflect on what you want from your degree and which skills you’re looking to acquire. If, like me, you’re someone who’s considering a career in consulting and want to develop those soft skills you don’t always learn in the classroom, LondonCAP is definitely for you.

Learn more about where the MBA experience could take you.

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