Team UniRazak (Lina Maria Cordozo, Ryan Jung, Vivek Murali, and Tara Wright) is in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia helping their client Universiti Tun Abdul Razak (UniRazak), a boutique university, integrate experiential learning into their curriculum.
The opportunities to engage in experiential learning at Haas are abound – from academic-year internships with world-class companies in the Bay Area to our own International Business Development program. We take this for granted – in much of the world the concept of action learning is still distant. Enter team UniRazak – responsible for crafting recommendations that would help its MBA students link theory with practice, toward the development of next generation Malaysian business leaders.
During our first week, we were eager to sit-in on classes and meet with full-time MBA students, faculty members, and professionals from the KL business community so as to better understand why Malaysian MBA graduates weren’t landing the jobs they vied for in a growing economy. One of the first classes we observed at UniRazak was Strategy in which Professor Garry Clayton led students through a case discussion on Air Asia and asked them to decide whether or not to invest in the company and to justify their decision. The answers we heard in classes along with subsequent interviews we conducted with students and faculty helped us develop our findings – the students we met were bright and enthusiastic learners, but they lacked confidence in their English speaking ability and were hesitant to challenge their professor and take a stance. We were confident that both curricular and pedagogical changes could help students find their voice and remove the overwhelming weight of inertia.
By week two, we began hosting workshops with students to better understand their willingness to use pedagogies that may be outside of their comfort zone. For example, we asked one group of students to give impromptu speeches to their classmates and receive feedback. Based on our observations to date, we had expected some reluctance from students, but to our surprise they were willing to challenge themselves and take expressive risks. Simultaneously, we also began meeting with business executives from top Malaysian organizations to better understand their hiring needs and perception of the MBA skillset. Our feedback was that local graduates were lacking the self-confidence and creativity necessary to influence colleagues and address senior management. Equipped with this knowledge, our team began converging on recommendations that would restructure and revamp the UniRazak MBA curriculum in such a way that it front-loaded emphasis on soft-skills (English speaking ability, teamwork, decision making) that would serve as a foundation for technical skills developed in later coursework. The centerpiece of our recommendations was the integration of a so-called Leadership Lab which would provide students with a forum to practice presentations and give feedback to their peers. Over time, students would develop confidence and a sense of individuality necessary for reflective business leaders. At Haas, we took part in a similar course, Leadership Communications taught by Cort Worthington, and recognized the transformative impact it had on several of the non-native English speakers in our own class.
As we approached our final presentation, we worked late into the night to craft a pitch that would provide our client with both immediate and medium term steps allowing UniRazak to develop next generation business leaders. Our clients were impressed with our comprehensive analysis and the conviction with which we spoke – and if nothing else they loved our Powerpoint slide animations. Our final presentation was a success and clearly a call to action for some members of the audience.
Upon our arrival, we were pleased to learn that we would be staying across the street from UniRazak’s campus. What we didn’t realize was that this was the most treacherous 500-foot commute we could have ever imagined. Each morning felt like we were escaping death, dodging and weaving past speeding cars and motorbikes. It was as if the autobahn stood between our hotel and office. Yet this was somewhat representative of KL, an emerging megacity with fledgling infrastructure and rule of law. Our own team member, Lina, a Columbian national, witnessed the layers of bureaucracy that exists in Southeast Asia firsthand. Despite months of assurance that her visa would be approved, she was stranded in Singapore for 1.5 weeks riddled with paperwork and arbitrary delays. She described her experience dealing with immigration issues in Singapore and Malaysia like a DMV on steroids. As we began to realize that Lina would not be able to make it to Malaysia in advance of our first weekend, we booked a trip Singapore to accompany our teammate for a fun-filled weekend.
Over our three weeks we marveled at Malaysia’s global cuisine representative of its ethnically diverse populace of Malays, Chinese, and Indians. Many of the dishes we tried were a fusion of various regional cuisines such as Roti Canai and Malaysian Satay. Amongst our most eventful nights was a trip into KL’s bustling Chinatown with our client. There we learned that no dinner is complete without a visit from a Buddhist monk or a bootleg DVD salesman. When we weren’t stuffing our faces with delicious food we staved off the scorching summer heat with a daily bubble tea.
We also found that there is much to offer in Malaysia beyond the bustling city life in Kuala Lumpur. Having heard much of Malaysia’s tremendous biodiversity, we took a thirty-minute trip outside the city to hike the so-called Dragonback Trail in Bukit Kutu and enjoy its breathtaking views. On another occasion, we traveled to Shah-Alam to see The Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Mosque (or The Blue Mosque) and learn more about the faith that binds over 60% of the country’s populace.
An Amazing Three Weeks
We are so grateful for an incredible project with UniRazak, which we believe has an incredibly bright future under its current leadership. Most of all, we can’t express enough gratitude to the sixteen students who shared their amazing stories with us. We look forward to maintaining our friendships with them and keeping up with their future endeavors. To our Malaysian friends, we say terima kasih!