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The Importance of an Internship in an Emerging Economy

By Sahana Jose at 2:23 PM on | Comments (0)

Cawley Andrew Bernard-Thompson, InStep Intern from ESADE Business School,  gives his perspective of the Importance of an Internship in an Emerging Economy. During his stay with Infosys, he worked on a project with the Corporate Planning team.

People often ask me why I travel so much, why I study in Europe, why I work in places like Japan, Korea and India.  "Isn't it just so...different?", they ask with more than a hint of suspicion.  Well, yes, and that's largely the point.  The world has a lot to offer, and if you insulate yourself from new experiences, you miss out on a lot of learning opportunities. 

Travel alone will do wonders for your personal development, but travel within an emerging market pushes you a bit further.  Nothing can be taken for granted, everything has to be carefully planned ahead, and sometimes even the best planning can't prepare you for what's in store.  New solutions have to be devised on the spot, often with limited resources and severe constraints.   Discipline, adaptability, resourcefulness... these are qualities that will serve you well in life and in work, and wouldn't you know it, they top the list of qualities recruiters often cite as most desirable among candidates.  These can't be learned from a book, they have to be developed through experience, and the InStep Program at Infosys is one such great opportunity for a student.

Working in an emerging economy has its challenges, but the rewards are even greater.  A hot topic in business, as everyone marvels at the growth potential but key to capturing some of that growth, is understanding local markets.  Multinationals can no longer get by just exporting products; they have to start developing products with other markets in mind. This is the core concept of "reverse innovation", wherein products are developed as low-cost solutions in emerging markets, tested locally, then upgraded and repackaged for sale in developed countries (think the low-cost equipment GE Healthcare developed for sale in India, and was then able to market in the U.S.)

Having the opportunity to work in a developing country gives you significant insights into how people live, what motivates them, what frustrates them.  These insights are vital to process and product redesign, and you learn how to identify opportunities, mitigate risks, and generally expand operations beyond your conventional perspective.  Understanding the how and why of a culture, the basic psychology and motivation behind common processes is an invaluable experience for the future where you have to work in cross-cultural teams, and make no mistake: globalization and the disappearance of former boundaries are driving work inevitably in a more cross-cultural direction.  This is a skill you can't afford to miss out on.

Vijay Govindarajan of Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business elaborates on the challenge in his article, A Reverse-Innovation Playbook (Harvard Business Review, April 2012).  "When a multinational corporation learns to generate successful innovations in emerging markets and then exports that knowledge and those innovations to the developed world, new business possibilities suddenly burst forth. The limits imposed by its traditional operations become surmountable, and the company can rethink all its products and attack new markets in search of growth.  But few companies experience this kind of renaissance, because reverse innovation--developing ideas in an emerging market and coaxing them to flow uphill to Western markets--poses immense challenges. It requires a company to overcome its dominant logic, the institutionalized thinking that guides its actions."

That institutionalized thinking isn't just limited within the company, it's cultural as well. We're prone to all manner of biases if we never learn to change our perspective, and this is why I advocate so strongly for people to take every opportunity to try something new.  We spend a good deal of time in the MBA analyzing cultural differences, studying Geert Hofstede's cultural dimensions for example, or Pankaj Ghemawat's CAGE framework.  These are fascinating ways to understand the distance between cultures, and what that means for your business, but why limit yourself to just reading out of a book?  Get out there and experience it for yourself.  Apply what you've learned and take some deeper meaning to heart. 

I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes on travel, by Henry Miller, "One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things."  With the right mindset, every trip and every project becomes a learning opportunity, and so I appreciate the chance to spend my summer here at Infosys in Bangalore, learning alongside the best.

Cawley Thompson_India faces & places_Hampi Welcome.jpg

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