Myself- Benjamin Rhatigan- and my three teammates, Genevieve Torok, Nazih Hagar, and David Tick, left the Dubai airport in a cab and headed for downtown, after a long flight from Barcelona and a stopover in London. It was early morning and hazy out, and the buildings lining Sheikh Zayed Road, all modern glass and steel, rose out of the desert like alien structures from the movie “The Fifth Element.” None of us had ever been before, and we were really excited as first-year MBAs to have the opportunity to explore the city as well as present our project in front of the CEOs of organizations that were trying to effect real change in the world.
We had been preparing for two months for the HULT Global Case Competition, working to find a solution that would provide solar lighting to 1,000,000 off-grid households in rural east Africa, by the end of 2013. This was no small challenge, and we had spent many nights and weekends in my living room, Skyping with aid workers and entrepreneurs in Africa, researching options, talking with ESADE professors, building financial models, and starting again from scratch when we recognized that we were going down the wrong path.
We didn’t win the competition, unfortunately, but we had a great experience overall. Many of the presentations and solutions were truly excellent, and we really enjoyed meeting the other teams and the competition hosts, who ran a very smooth, well-structured event. We were also able to get great face-time with the CEOs and other leaders of the various NGOs that were represented. Hearing about their challenges solving problems of energy, housing, and education for underserved populations was really inspiring.
The four of us were really sad to leave Dubai, but couldn’t believe how much we had packed into five short days. We had seen the world’s tallest building, an enormous fountain that choreographed water jets to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” bounced through massive desert dunes in jeeps, networked with great people, but most of all worked really hard on a project we believed in. We’ll be back!