The Road Less Traveled
After graduating from the Kelley School of Business in 2007, Khary Dickerson’s former MBA colleagues adjusted to new jobs, new cities, and new paychecks, while Dickerson adjusted to life in Africa. He spent 15 months, from 2007 to 2008 in the Sudan as an international business consultant with the MBA Enterprise Corps.
"My summer MBA internship was a great experience and the people I worked with were extremely nice, but I felt the material items that a corporate salary would provide me would not fulfill me,” Dickerson explains. "I knew about the MBA Enterprise Corps program and made my decision. I was never really concerned about going to any region of Africa—I knew with prayer and preparation, I would be ok.”
"Another reason to go to Sudan was to try and replicate the support given to me by family and church,” Dickerson said. "I wanted to give that support and encouragement to others. And the most valuable assets I had to give were my time, MBA skill set, and passion.”
A Variety of Roles
Sudan’s harsh environment led to a high attrition rate among other expatriate staff, so Dickerson found opportunities to attain a wide array of experiences. "People must understand in many non-governmental organizations, you will serve in a number of different roles, no matter your title. Because of the non-structured conditions, you will have non-structured responsibilities. You may serve as program manager, grant manager, procurement officer, human resource manager, and class facilitator.”
Among Dickerson’s many accomplishments with the MBA Enterprise Corps, he secured funding from a non-governmental organization for the establishment of a plastic recycling collection site for a local business. This involved directing a team of business professionals on the assessment, design, and presentation of a feasibility study, resulting in approval of a pilot program and co-authorship of the final report to the US Agency for International Development.
He also established strategic partnerships between a Sudanese farming cooperative, and a large hotelier in the city of Wau as well as a food wholesaler that supplied the United Nations compound in the city. These two partnerships represented, respectively, 200% and 300% increases in monthly food orders.
'Best Experience of My Life'
"This consulting experience has been the best experience of my life, so far,” Dickerson observes. Despite common conceptions of life in sub-Saharan Africa, it wasn’t all danger and sacrifice though. "I would like to make clear that I wasn’t suffering while I was in Sudan. In a 15 month period, I visited 5 different countries on 5 different vacations,” Dickerson says. "My mom would always call and be worried, but I would always tell her my life was much easier than hers. Every day, my room and clothes were cleaned and my food was cooked."
But being abroad also deepened Dickerson’s appreciation of life in the United States. "This experience has given me a much stronger appreciation for America, its opportunities and especially American culture. I have always taken for granted America’s movies, music, diversity, and our outgoing demeanor,” he notes.
In the current job market, many MBA students are considering careers in areas that they might not have considered when the finance and consulting industries were booming. Dickerson thinks that this is a great opportunity both for MBAs and for non-governmental organizations because of their training to maximize the potential of any given set of circumstances, no matter how challenging.
Dickerson advises MBAs working in international NGOs that assistance from his Sudanese colleagues was vital to successful projects. "In settings like the MBA Enterprise Corps, the MBA professional’s contributions are made possible only because of the assistance of their in-country colleagues.”
My Kelley Experience
As a Kelley MBA student, Dickerson majored in marketing. His extracurricular activities included serving as president of the Black MBA Association, and joining the Marketing Club and Toastmasters (winning the 2006-07 Toastmaster Speech competition). He was also a graduate assistant for the Kelley chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants, an association for undergraduate students.
Dickerson says he applied to Kelley mainly for two reasons: Indiana University’s strong historical reputation as a pioneer of diversity—it was one of the few universities many African-Americans from the South were able to attend during the Civil Rights Era—and the fact that it was one of the first universities to join The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management (CGSM) and therefore has one of the largest pools of CGSM alumni. "I accepted the offer to attend IU without even visiting the campus,” Dickerson says.
"I had so many great experiences at Kelley, but three that stand out for me were serving as president of the Black MBA Association, a Hurricane Katrina clean-up project in New Orleans, and opportunities for international travel,” Dickerson says. Since traveling to Germany as part of a Kelley foreign-exchange program in 2006, Dickerson has visited Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Brazil, Thailand, Luxemburg, and Amsterdam.
At Kelley, Dickerson was also impressed by the camaraderie between students and school staff. "The professors are nationally recognized and deservingly so, but if there were a ranking to recognize the support and work ethic of the staff, then IU’s staff would surely rank number one,” he observes.
Dickerson is currently working as a consultant for an economic development organization and studying Arabic. He hopes to obtain full-time employment in the near future with an international development organization.