Bringing light to rural Zanzibar in ESMT Berlin’s Social Impact Project

The Social Impact Project at ESMT Berlin has had a profound effect on Turkish student Ekin Su Matkap. We spoke to her to learn about her background, her experiences during her master's studies at ESMT Berlin, and how the program’s social impact project has changed her outlook on life.

In short

Ekin’s story: From Bayes to Berlin

Turkish student Ekin Su Matkap was planning on staying in London. She had completed an undergraduate degree at the city’s Bayes Business School, and was hoping to study a master’s degree at the same school. But, in the wake of Brexit, studying in the UK for a student from outside the EU suddenly became complicated. Instead, she started looking for a city that could mirror London’s international appeal – and found Berlin.

“Berlin is a fantastic city – very dynamic, very lively, lots of interesting people to meet,” she explains to MBAGRADSCHOOLS. “I wanted the environment to be as international as possible to match London, and I would say I definitely found that important.” (00:56)

Fittingly for such an international city, ESMT Berlin is the self-styled “most international business school in Germany.” Ekin decided to pursue its Master in Management (MIM) program, which has an international student ratio of 82% – making it the most international program of its kind in Germany. ESMT also has partnerships with fellow business schools all over the world, giving students the opportunity to expand their studies with a module abroad. Ekin told us a little more about those opportunities:

“There are a lot of exchange possibilities for students to take on, both in Europe and beyond. A lot of my friends from the cohort went to the USA for example, some went to Denmark and others went elsewhere. There were a lot of options.” (01:23)

How ESMT Berlin’s guiding principles influence its programs

Having been founded by a group of leading German corporations, the programs at ESMT Berlin were designed with businesses in mind. This means they are focused more on the practical side of learning, something that was immediately obvious to Ekin.

“One of the things that’s very clear about ESMT Berlin is that it’s a very practical school. It’s not just about learning theories of business, but actually goes beyond that. It’s a school that was founded by businesses, and you can see it in every step of the program. You get a lot of hands-on experience, which is highly valued,” she says. (02:30)

As well as this focus on practical learning, generating a positive social impact is another one of the school’s core principles. Rather than simply producing businesspeople, the school aims to develop entrepreneurial leaders whose actions positively impact underprivileged communities. The school’s Social Impact Project, which forms part of the Master in Management (MIM) and the Master in Global Management (MGM) curricula, helps them achieve that objective.

“Outside of the course we have the SIP [Social Impact Project] in the curriculum,” Ekin explains. “It is a module in the second year of the program that we can do remotely or in-person. We work with an NGO or not-for-profit providing pro-bono consulting for a month. It takes place in exciting locations and touches some really valuable projects that you wouldn’t be aware of if you decided to stay in Berlin.” (01:39)

An example of a Social Impact Project: Bringing light to Zanzibar’s rural areas

What does a Social Impact Project actually look like? At ESMT Berlin, each project is carefully constructed from the ground up. Students first form small groups to define the key characteristics of their ideal project. Then, they start to dig a little deeper.

“We have to come up with the project objectives, deliverables, and of course, what kind of social impact we’re hoping to have during the project,” says Ekin. “We’re then assigned a graduate of the program to let us know how viable our plan is, and we also receive additional support from the university.” (10:20)

Once the plan is in place and objectives defined, it’s time to get down to specifics. In Ekin’s case, Ekin and three of her classmates defined a project that would be carried out in collaboration with Barefoot College Zanzibar

“We’re working with an organization that provides illiterate and semi-literate rural women with solar engineering, education, and training,” she says. “They’re helping these women to light up the villages they come from with electricity. This is to improve safety and help people study at night. This is the organization’s way of providing business development, women empowerment, and community engagement.” (06:29)

The Social Impact Project is, of course, a chance for students to both travel abroad and support a social cause. Students go into the project with clearly defined objectives and ideas about what constitutes success. To achieve their goals, they must apply everything they’ve learned in the program up until that point. Then, after the project, they go back and analyze whether their project has indeed generated a social impact.

“We’re expected to apply all of the knowledge we’ve gained since the start of the program,” says Ekin. “It goes back towards having a more international application, a more social application of the teachings of the university…once we’re done, we have to go back to Berlin and do a presentation of how the project went and the learnings we took from it.” (11:12)

What did Ekin learn from ESMT Berlin’s social impact project?

For Ekin, the project has come full circle to the guiding principles of ESMT Berlin. It has taught her a range of practical skills that she can apply in both her career and personal life – something that ESMT preaches from the start.

“I think this project has contributed to my ability to ask the right questions,” she reveals. “I’ve learned about the need to dig deeper into the requirements – moving from the obvious to the hidden. I’ve learned not to take things at face value and find out the reasons behind the relationships between things.” (17:15)

As much as Ekin has hoped to make a positive impact on society, the project has also made a positive impact on her as a person. It has been a mutually beneficial project that she says has been life-changing.

“I would dare to say the SIP is probably one of the most significant experiences in our life, mainly because we’re leaving our comfort zone. I’m currently in Zanzibar, Tanzania, and it’s a completely different environment here. When you change location like this, you also switch mindset and start to see things from a different perspective. I think this is the most valuable part of the project,” she says. (04:23)

Ekin’s experiences in Zanzibar had a positive impact on her, but the most important thing is that the local community saw an even greater benefit. And that’s really the true measure of success of a social impact project.

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