IE University’s Master in Finance offers students an experiential learning trip in Ghana where they can apply what they’re learning in a meaningful, real-world context, build their professional profiles and see the powerful impact of social entrepreneurship for themselves.
At IE University, the extracurricular opportunities that allow students to take their learning beyond the classroom are as critical an element of the programs as the courses themselves. In the Master in Finance, students have the option to visit leading companies in New York, explore the inner workings of London’s financial district, and visit social entrepreneurship initiatives in Ghana.
The Ghanaian trip is a collaboration with local financial NGOs through the Microfinance Technical Assistance Project. The project aims to help those NGOs to improve, grow and succeed within the particularities of the Ghanaian financial landscape, and provides an outstanding practical lesson for Master in Finance students.
The week-long trip has them “on the ground” to better understand the dynamics of these types of organizations and social entrepreneurship more generally.
Though they are all financial NGOs with a focus on microfinance, project partner organizations have a range of goals and needs. This means that past students have had the chance to engage with numerous topics, tools, and resources in the quest to provide the most valuable insights to partner organizations and add relevant additional elements to their own CVs.
Experiences on the ground
We spoke to IE Master in Finance students Fernando Miranda and Alessio Montella about their Ghanaian experiences. They told us that, prior to landing in the country for in-person contact with the organizations and their clients, students conduct thorough research into the organizations’ needs and aims.
Equipped with this background information, students hit the ground running once they land in Ghana, analyzing the macroeconomic environment and the organizations’ internal processes, financial viability, risk management processes, product offerings and business plans.
Fernando noted that his team spent a total of four days meeting with organization staff and clients, gaining deeper insight into how they work and how microfinance loans are being used.
All of this fieldwork allows for a complex understanding of the factors at play in each organization’s specific context.
Putting what you know to work
Both Fernandeo and Alessio remarked that going to Ghana was the culmination of the year-long, life-changing experience that is the Master in Finance. “Having the opportunity to go to a developing country such as Ghana with the objective of using our newly acquired knowledge to serve as many people as possible is extremely fulfilling,” said Alessio. Fernando meanwhile was enthusiastic about the experience as a means of rounding out the theoretical knowledge he has gained at IE University’s Madrid campus with practical experience.
Having the opportunity to go to a developing country such as Ghana with the objective of using our newly acquired nowledge to serve as many people as possible is extremely fulfilling. It is touching to have the chance to make a difference even before ending your studies and beginning your career. Alessio Montella
Speaking of the Madrid campus, Fernando observed that students are lucky to study in this location, but, as he noted, “This is not the reality for a large portion of the world.” He described working with individuals in contexts with fewer resources and a very different financial infrastructure as “extremely inspiring,” adding, “It shows how finance is able to have an impact even in extreme cases, and can educate people on how to increase their livelihood to the best of their abilities.”
This trip complemented the Master in Finance in that you step out of your bubble and see how much the world still has to improve for a lot of people and what tools you have at your disposal. Fernando Miranda
An opportunity for mutual teaching and learning
The main purpose of the program in Ghana is for students to apply the knowledge they have gained through the Master in Finance training to develop valuable financial reports. Their insights and recommendations can be used by partner organizations to improve their practices and boost growth.
However, the greatest positive outcome from the program for the students is the impact this experience has on everyone involved.
While students are invited to put their skills and knowledge to the test, they also come away from the program with a new awareness of the world, the challenges we face, and how simple it can be to find happiness even in unexpected places with few material comforts.
The greatest lessons
Both Fernando and Alessio admired the good humor and eagerness to learn on the part of their new Ghanaian friends. Fernando certainly took a lot from what he saw and learned, commenting, “I learned that providing people with education and opportunity goes a long way in helping them develop, especially the education part.” He pointed out that several clients mentioned that their favorite part of the initiative is the lessons each microfinance organization offers every time they deliver money to the clients. This is an opportunity for everybody to learn.
We had to use our economic acumen in analyzing the environment, our accounting and modeling skills to understand the institution’s financial performance and develop sound recommendations, as well as our general quantitative skills to evaluate the appropriateness of the institution’s product offerings. Alessio Montella
Alessio admitted that his perspective also shifted in response to what he saw about how his Ghanaian counterparts approached life and found happiness with little material wealth. He acknowledged that many people live with unnecessary stress and anger because they have become accustomed to taking things for granted. For Alessio, this was a timely reminder that stepping back and breathing can remind us to be grateful for everything we have.
Learning opportunities are everywhere in the Ghanaian trip, and Fernando encourages future participants to make the most of their time in this “lively and beautiful country.” Students will not have to look far: “Talk to people, try the food, go to local bars and restaurants and make an effort to learn as much as you can,” he urged.
Absorbing the country through these personal interactions will enrich students’ experiences as well as help them forge connections with their classmates and local people.
Lessons like these will last for a lifetime, and offer a valuable and worthwhile addition to every participant’s professional profile. As Alessio reflected, the trip to Ghana taught him the enormous impact that such initiatives can have. And from a personal point of view, he’ll forever appreciate the great value in helping—and remember to always offer it where it’s needed.