Students Stepping Up

From Ethiopia to Vietnam, WDI graduate student teams go the distance

Student Opportunties

BA 685: International Center for Rehabilitation in Kumasi, Ghana.
Distributed Fertilizer New Product Commercialization, Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa; Kampala, Uganda.
BA: 685 Poovanthi (LiveWell) in Chennai, India
MAP: Poornatha in Madurai, India.
MAP: International Clinical Laboratories, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
MAP: Boston Medical / Busoga Health Forum in Kampala, Uganda.
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This spring, the William Davidson Institute supported 13 partner projects in nine countries  involving more than 75 University of Michigan graduate students as part of their MBA degree program.

WDI organized a total of nine multidisciplinary action projects (MAPs) with partners in India, Ethiopia, Ghana, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda and Vietnam. The MAP experience at U-M’s Ross School of Business is designed to help part-time, full-time and online students hone their analytical, project management and leadership skills while helping to solve real business challenges at participating companies and nonprofit organizations.

Four other projects as part of the WDI-supported graduate MBA course, BA 685: Healthcare Delivery in Emerging Markets, took place in the Dominican Republic, Ghana, India and Kenya.  WDI also supported 12 students traveling to Nigeria and Ghana to conduct due diligence on companies under consideration by the International Investment Fund, as well as an independent study for one student.

Learn more about the projects and their objectives below.


TIP Global Health, Kigali and Ruli, Rwanda.
Objective: Conduct a financial analysis of the current digital health platform used to support healthcare providers in Rwanda, and develop a recommendation for pricing to implement and support the platform for other government health systems.

Boston Medical / Busoga Health Forum, Kampala, Uganda.
Objective: Working with an imaging business in Ethiopia and partners in Uganda, a team conducted market analysis and market entry strategy to extend the imaging services into Uganda.

PowerTrust, Accra, Tamale and Sunyani, Ghana.
Objective: Identify and develop a systematic way to capture, validate and communicate the value of distributed renewable energy credits (DRECs) in Ghana.

International Clinical Laboratories, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Objective: A feasibility study for developing manufacturing and supply hubs for clinical laboratory inputs in Addis Ababa Ethiopia for diagnostics laboratories located throughout Africa.

Distributed Fertilizer New Product Commercialization, Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa; Kampala, Uganda.
Objective: Develop a comprehensive market analysis and market entry strategy for a technology that allows for production of fertilizer at a smaller scale and lower energy cost in South Africa and Rwanda. The technology would significantly reduce the supply chain risks and potentially the costs to farmers and co-ops in these markets.

Poornatha Madurai, India.
Objective: Develop a plan to increase Poornatha’s business-to-consumer model complete with specific offerings tailored to consumers.

Solagron, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Objective: Conduct market analysis and develop a market entry strategy for high-protein, spirulina-based products by Solagron.

Two additional projects at Kisii Eye Hospital and a partner in the Michigan Academy of Development Entrepreneurs in Vietnam are planned for summer 2023.

BA 685

Clínica de Familia La Romana, Romana, Dominican Republic. 
Objective: Develop a financial model for adding GI services to the existing operations at the clinic.

International Center for Rehabilitation, Kumasi, Ghana.  
Objective: Develop recommendations for improving the efficiency of the clinic and doubling the capacity of the existing rehabilitation clinic.

Kisii Hospital Vision Center, Kisii, Kenya
Objective: To develop a protocol for establishing vision centers around Kisii and develop recommendations for potential new locations.

Poovanthi (LiveWell): Chennai, India
Poovanthi was established over 10 years ago and has expanded to 100 beds at its original facility outside of Madurai and 30 beds at a recently opened facility in Chennai. This team’s objective was to develop a five-year strategic plan to support Poovanthi’s expansion plans.

Learn more about WDI Student Opportunities.

U-M Business students explore a laboratory as part of a WDI-sponsored project in Uganda with partner Busoga Health Forum (BHF). BHF’s goal is improving health in the Busoga region by developing new services and products. The U-M team provided a market assessment and recommendations for developing a diabetes product.


This select group of dedicated students has closed out another year of successful international student work — making an impact on campus and abroad

When faced with the task of choosing her MBA project, Alexis Kenworthy, a dual-degree graduate student, knew she could rely on the William Davidson Institute (WDI). She’d already connected with the Institute to work on the International Investment Fund project, and she’d been prioritizing international work since before her time at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

“WDI provides opportunities that I didn’t see exist in the traditional classroom setting. Business is becoming so international, and WDI is on the forefront of that,” said Kenworthy, who participated in two WDI-sponsored projects.

As Kenworthy noted, substantial real-world experiences elevate a business education, and each year students at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business integrate these critical pieces of the academic puzzle. MBA students are asked to complete Multidisciplinary Action Projects (MAPs) in their first year, internships between their first and second years, and practical courses founded in action-based learning. Students looking to make an international impact through these requirements needn’t look far. WDI has supported global connections for more than 1,700 students through internships, courses and MAPs,  in more than 60 countries since the Institute was founded thirty years ago. And this year was no different.

Twenty graduate students pursuing their MBA at Ross participated in WDI-supported MAPs in 2022, helping advance the work of WDI partner organizations in Ghana, India, Uganda and Ukraine (virtually).

WDI offers projects, internships, and coursework that bridge academia and business — and a dedicated group of students who have completed at least two of these opportunities and demonstrated a commitment to addressing business challenges in low- and middle-income countries can attain a special designation: Davidson Field Scholars.

This select group of U-M graduate students actively engage with WDI and commit themselves to working with international partner organizations. For the 2021-2022 academic year WDI hosted five graduate students as scholars.

Kenworthy signed up and dug into her project — one that eventually allowed her to become a Davidson Field Scholar. In 2021, Kenworthy worked with a team of students to consult Private Equity Support, an organization in Kenya that assists small businesses in gaining seed funding, in boosting business efficiencies. She and her team analyzed organizational processes to find ways to streamline resources and improve reach. After working closely with the business, the team made recommendations on adopting automated procedures, eliminating unnecessary meetings, and decreasing labor-intensive efforts.

Kenworthy also recommended that the group tap into WDI’s extensive network. These connections serve students, professionals, and organizations, and that was the case for both Kenworthy and Private Equity Support. Through the network, the consulting team was able to find guidance on managing related business challenges, and Private Equity Support was able to find partners that have walked a similar path.

It’s an experience she said she never could have had without WDI’s guidance. “There’s so much to learn, and WDI can help provide that,” Kenworthy added.


Kenworthy’s desire to stretch her international business experience is common among the scholars. Isabel Randolph, a recent MBA graduate, felt a similar pull.

She first connected with WDI for her own MAP, working to assess a potential project for a fortified-foods producer and health company in Rwanda. She turned back to WDI for her summer internship and found a Michigan Academy for Developing Entrepreneurs (MADE) role. WDI is a founding partner of MADE, along with Poornatha Foundation in India and the Zell Lurie Institute at Ross. MADE was established to support small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in low- and middle-income countries through local Entrepreneur Development Organizations (EDOs). It connects the resources of the U-M with EDOs in the field and provides additional support.

For her project, Randolph worked to connect an Indian online-training company, Poornatha, with Senegal’s Institut Africain de Management (IAM), a private business school, with the goal of growing the reach and impact of their online training programs. Her team took an extensive training curriculum from Poornatha and developed a path for implementation at IAM.

The efforts were a success. IAM launched the updated training modules and has plans to continue the collaboration. “I was very excited to hear that,” Randolph said. “On these projects, sometimes with small businesses that have big impacts, there’s only so much they can do in a day. It’s really exciting to see the pilot come to fruition, see through the whole process, and hear about the potential for future collaboration.”


There was something else special about Randolph’s project: She was the one responsible for the entire outcome. “A lot of what we do at Ross is very collaborative. You’re usually with a team, which is like my work experience. It’s important, but one thing I liked about this experience is it was basically me. I wasn’t on a team. I was working with client counterparts, but I was leading the project.” This sentiment — that students can drive real impact in the business world — is at the core of WDI’s Davidson Field Scholars programming.

For Randolph, taking on the WDI-supported project between her first and second MBA year and becoming a Davidson Field Scholar was perfect timing. She was able to step back from her coursework and apply the skills she’d been learning to the real world. She could see the reason she was completing assignments and spending time in the classroom.

“This is why we’re here in school,” she explained. “It was an awesome touchpoint right in the middle of my MBA experience. To get a chance to really use those skills, apply them, and build that confidence is a direct application of what I am learning in class.”

The project involved a high level evaluation of future geographic markets for BLP Industry artificial intelligence technology as it applies to renewable energy portfolios (namely wind and solar). Having identified Brazil as a high-potential market, a market entry strategy has been started.

U-M Student Opportunities

Note: WDI supports student learning experiences in a wide variety of projects in low- and middle-income countries. When it comes to developing and investing in small businesses in those regions, WDI projects occasionally intersect with one another. That was the case for Lawrence Chen, who earned his MBA from the Ross Business School at the University of Michigan in 2020. During his Ross MBA program’s Multidisciplinary Action Project (MAP), Chen worked with Poornatha Partnering Entrepreneurs LLP, a small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) accelerator in Madurai, India – where he developed a growth strategy for the organization. Chen also led financial vehicles research for the International Investment Fund (IIF), a first ever student fund investment fund and MBA-level course, supported by WDI. The team’s assignment focused on a potential investment into one of SMEs in Poornatha’s accelerator program. 

Poornatha is the India affiliate of the Michigan Academy for Developing Entrepreneurs (MADE).  MADE was founded in 2017 by WDI, the Zell-Lurie Institute at the University of Michigan and Poornatha. MADE provides Entrepreneurship Development Organizations (EDOs) in emerging economies a repeatable, scalable, transferable and profitable service platform to develop entrepreneurs in their home countries. 

Additionally, Chen earned the distinction as a Davidson Field Scholar, thanks to his leadership in multiple WDI student projects and affiliated university courses. He provided consulting services to the nonprofit pediatric orthopedic hospital, CURE International in Ethiopia through the WDI-sponsored course, BA685: Healthcare Delivery in Emerging Markets.

In the following blog, Chen shares his experiences working with both the IIF and Poornatha, and what he learned in helping to put together IIF’s first investment deal.  

University of Michigan’s International Investment Fund (IIF) was founded to find sustainable ways to fill the financing gap for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in emerging markets. WDI’s strong partnership with Poornatha, an SME accelerator program in Madurai, led us to identify India as the fund’s first target country. With an SME financing gap of roughly $337 billion in South Asia alone, India was a perfect place to attempt to innovate within the SME investing landscape. 

During the last semester of my Ross MBA program, I had the opportunity to lead a team of students to Madurai to conduct due diligence on a potential investment opportunity for IIF. This included research on the company’s management team, financial valuation, market, legal and strategic plan. Additionally, we worked with Michigan Law School’s International Transactions Clinic to draft the University’s first international equity term sheet, a document that will be a springboard for any future deals that IIF leads.

Participants of WDI MAP IIF Fund project hold Ross and WDI flags on location

Students involved in the International Investment Fund and MADE. (Image taken prior to COVID-19 outbreak).

Although we decided to initiate investment discussions with our target company, COVID-19 forced us to hold on final negotiations until after the pandemic. Nevertheless, through this project, I learned three valuable lessons that I hope will contribute to the international SME investments discussion:

  1. Equity investments can be a very touchy subject among SME entrepreneurs in emerging markets. Many of these entrepreneurs are owners of family businesses and want to keep the company within the family for generations to come. So, it is an incredibly personal decision to sell ownership stake in their company. However, equity investments are also necessary for growth since debt in emerging markets can be extremely expensive and can easily lead to insolvency if not kept in check. The most extreme example I heard was from one entrepreneur in Salem, Tamil Nadu, who said that it was not uncommon for business owners in the area to finance debt at a 200% interest rate.

    However, it can be difficult for investors to see value in equity investments in emerging market SMEs since these companies are unlikely to IPO or be acquired. So, an equity investor would only realize returns through dividends.

    Given these considerations, IIF decided that a preferred equity vehicle with a 5-year clawback agreement was the best way to enable the owners to keep the company in the long-term, while generating returns for the fund.

  2. As infrastructure and regulations in second-tier cities mature, large national and multinational competitors will naturally see more opportunities to enter. For local SME companies to thrive in a more formalized market, they must become competitive before the region matures.

    This is a delicate balance for investors to consider. Accelerated formalization means that investors must account for and anticipate significant competitive risk from larger players. Conversely, low formalization can allow for more illicit activities from players who take advantage of a more unstructured system. This makes legally-compliant companies, such as our target, less competitive in the market.

  3. While the relationship between suppliers and customers is extremely transactional in developed countries, this is not true in many emerging markets. It was difficult for our target company to furnish even a single contract for us to evaluate. In Madurai, we found that cultivating strong personal relationships with the people and companies you do business with is critical. When we suggested using contracts to keep better track of accounts receivables, our target’s founders told us that contracts often signal distrust, which can sour a business relationship.

So, the last and perhaps most important lesson I learned was to not assume that best practices in developed countries are applicable for emerging countries. The idea that trust is the most fundamental currency is something I believe we all need to be reminded of more frequently.

I strongly believe that if IIF, WDI, and Poornatha can pioneer successful MSME equity investments in Madurai, we can not only help grow a small handful of companies, but inspire more funds to invest in this severely underfunded sector. I am excited to see what unfolds in the future and am honored to have played a small part in it.

Lawrence Chen

Lawrence Chen is earned his MBA from the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan in 2020. 

Announcing New Labor Practices Group

Research shows improving worker’s lives in small ways can have big bottom line impact

Happy workers, with their basic needs met, will be more productive workers. More productive workers contribute positively to the bottom line. It sounds like common sense, but proving this with hard data has not always been the norm.

Achyuta Adhvaryu is doing just that. Adhvaryu, associate professor of Business Economics and Public Policy at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, and his work with Good Business Lab (GBL) are proving the hypothesis that small improvements in worker happiness have a positive return on investment for companies.

Adhvaryu’s work has found its place with the William Davidson Institute’s consulting services, in the newly formed Labor Practices group. The new practice area will add value to the work happening across WDI, and will enhance learning opportunities at Michigan Ross and U-M, while demonstrating that good labor practices are an important tool of commercial success.

Adhvaryu, along with the team at GBL, test innovative workplace policies via large-scale randomized control trials in real business environments, to quantify the impact of employee-oriented investments. To date, GBL’s work has focused primarily on four areas: a holistic view of physical and mental health; skills training programs; worker voice; and, hiring and selection. This work has shown that even small investments in workers’ happiness and well-being can sometimes have a significant impact.

“It’s important to understand the impact poverty has on everyday life and how if you eliminate or mitigate those barriers that hold people back you can unleash their potential,” said Adhvaryu. “Our work is bringing a unique understanding of worker well-being, backed by rigorous data and impact evaluation methodology, to the discussion.”

Business metrics surrounding return on investment and attention to a profitable bottom line are commonplace when implementing new procedures and investing in capital intensive equipment. The practical output of Adhvaryu’s research has led to the development of a portfolio of programs and workplace policies based on evidence demonstrating that worker well-being through specific policies produces a positive return on investment when implemented properly.

As an example, GBL recently completed an innovative worker voice project at Shahi Exports, the largest garment manufacturer in India and one of the largest in the world. The study was completed with support from Michigan Ross students, WDI and financial assistance from Humanity United. The result was Inache, a new, mobile-based technology that empowers workers to communicate anonymously to share concerns and problems, and report grievances with their employer. The low-cost, easy-to-use technology solution came about after two randomized controlled trials conducted at Shahi facilities, both demonstrating a 3-4% reduction in absenteeism with the use of similar tools.

“Often workers don’t communicate grievances due to fear of repercussions. We conducted three trials in which we provided workers with the right kind of voice and a solution that was easy to access,” said Adhvaryu.

Achyuta Adhvaryu

Often workers don’t communicate grievances due to fear of repercussions. We conducted three trials in which we provided workers with the right kind of voice and a solution that was easy to access.

The insights from those trials enabled the GBL team to develop, test and implement Inache. The technology, which GBL built from scratch is rooted in principles of human-centered design. The low-cost solution also helps to bridge important usage barriers, such as low technological literacy rates among workers.

“Inache was rigorously designed after intensively studying different opportunities for communication, and determining what would be most effective for both employees and the employers,” said Adhvaryu. “WDI-Ross student team then helped to develop a market entry strategy for the product.”

Michigan Ross students took part in this process through the Multidisciplinary Action Project (MAP) course. MAP is Ross’s flagship action-based learning course, in which MBA students consult with organizations to solve real-world problems under guidance from faculty advisors at the business school. Each project requires analytical rigor, critical thinking and teamwork. The Ross MAP team benefited from the support of faculty advisors Adhvaryu and Paul Clyde, WDI president and Michigan Ross professor, as well as WDI and GBL. This collaboration will pave the way for more opportunities for Ross students to work together with WDI and GBL.

“The work that Ach is doing examines what holds people back from growing their income and improving their well-being,” said Clyde. “Ach and his team have developed programs that use randomized controlled trials to show that improving worker well-being can and does positively impact employers in ways that can affect the bottom line.”

The continued research potential and the practical applications of Adhvaryu’s work and GBL will continue to bring benefits to Ross and WDI. The collaboration is another offering for Ross MAP student teams, as well as a new consulting strength for WDI and its partners.

“There are great opportunities for students to get involved during their education U-M, working with firms to solve their real-world problems,” said Clyde. “That’s what this is focused on – any tools that improve labor practices will increase the probability of commercial success and thus are very much in line with what we do at WDI.”

WDI has a focus on the development of business models and practices that come out of real research and improve the ability of a company to operate profitably. Profitable companies will employ people and provide goods and services that consumers value, thereby providing social value. The mission of WDI aligns with the work that Ach and GBL are doing to achieve this.”

GBL and WDI have found a way, using hard evidence that is rigorously sourced from academic studies, to change the culture around workplace programing for workers and help to make it a key part of a firm’s investment strategy. The end goal is to convince companies that if they incorporate key principles of good labor practices in their business operations, they can impact productivity and show a positive effect on profits and their bottom line in addition to meaningfully improving their workers’ well-being.

Women workers outside of a Shahi Exports garment facility in Delhi. Image credit: Nayantara Parikh
Women workers outside of a Shahi Exports garment facility in Delhi. Image credit: Nayantara Parikh

Lead Photo: Workers in a Shahi Exports shop floor in Bangalore, India. Image credit: Nayantara Parikh

Good Business Lab (GBL) is a lab that uses research to find common ground between worker well-being and good business practices. This project focused on the go-to-market strategy for two tools GBL has developed, Pratibha and STITCH (Supervisors’ Transformation Into Change Holders) are training and assessment tools designed to help transform frontline workers to supervisors. The project provided a complete market analysis and recommendations on contracting and pricing strategies.

This primer provides a comprehensive but non-technical overview of the distinct health information systems (HIS) that all together support health care delivery in low-resource settings. It opens with a historical account and landscape assessment and describes the urgent need to build a lean rigorous HIS that integrates these different components. Subsequent sections describe the individual systems that: i) track individual patient and health care provider information; ii) directly document care delivery; iii) provide public and population health data; iv) support facilities’ and community health workers’ administrative and financial functions; and v) coordinate logistics and health commodities supply chains. A separate section describes imported data, including “master data” and manufactured (e.g., “meta”) data. The primer closes with recommendations for principled HIS stewardship.

An information session for students interested in enrolling in BA685: Healthcare Delivery in Emerging Markets will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 28 at the Ross School of Business, Blau Hall Room 1210. The class is offered by Michigan Ross and is organized and primarily funded by WDI. 

The class is comprised mostly of second-year MBA students, but is open to all graduate students. It provides students with on-the-ground experience in a foreign country while also contributing to the success of partner health clinics and hospitals. The class also is designed to increase participants’ international leadership capabilities and enhance their awareness of diverse business issues within the current global landscape. It is taught by WDI President Paul Clyde.

The course responds to the increasing need from future employers that managers have international business perspectives to augment their business and management knowledge. During the first part of the term, students learn about healthcare in emerging markets through lectures, guest speakers and case discussions. Students are then divided into five teams and prepared for visits to their selected country, traveling to those destinations in late February and early March.

Last year, student teams worked in Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Peru and Rwanda. 

Government health ministries in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) have historically struggled to adequately fund healthcare services for their citizens. But as these countries transition away from donor funding over the next two decades, many will need to find new domestic revenue streams to finance these services. A new WDI white paper explores the impact of raising additional government revenue through increased tax rates on “bads,” such as tobacco, alcohol and sugary drinks.  

The paper, “Revenue Estimates from Taxing ‘Bads’ in 16 Low- and Middle-Income Countries,” estimates the additional revenue generated in 2016 had higher excise tax rates been imposed on tobacco, alcohol and sugary drinks and then compares this revenue to select national economic indicators. The analysis included 16 low- and middle-income countries: Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Moldova, Myanmar, Niger, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tajikistan, Tanzania and Togo. 

Ben Davis

Ben Davis

“The key finding is that increased excise tax rates that result in only a modest increase in retail price can still generate an important amount of additional revenue relative to current health expenditure,” said Ben Davis, a research manager with WDI’s Healthcare sector.  Davis wrote the paper with Pascale Leroueil, vice president of WDI’s Healthcare sector, and William Savedoff, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. 

The simulations showed that in 14 of the 16 countries, a tax increasing retail price by 17% could generate additional revenue that is more than 50% of the amount these governments currently spend from their own budgets on healthcare.  For 7 of the 16 countries, additional revenue is more than 100% of that amount. 

Davis emphasized that the study has limitations. For example, estimates do not account for income and cross-substitution effects (or when consumers switch to cheaper alternatives when a product’s price rises), and they are not adjusted based on historical experience in raising tax revenues.  

While the results of the current study are broadly aligned with those recently produced by the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Task Force on Fiscal Policy for Health, there is a slight difference in methodology. The method used by Davis and his fellow authors allowed them to incorporate several different data sources and calculation methods in the final revenue estimates.  Input data were obtained from public databases, journal articles, and LMIC government websites and then used in either a “bottom up” or a “top down” calculation. The “Bottom up” calculation begins with data showing how often individuals consume tobacco, alcohol and sugary drinks while the “top down” calculation begins with the amount of money actually collected by LMIC governments that taxed these products.  

Davis said these estimates could act as a starting point for a discussion between global donor organizations and country governments. “A government stakeholder might say, ‘These results are interesting.  An increased excise tax on these products might be worth considering. Let’s do a deeper analysis to make sure these numbers reflect reality when we take into account all of the factors that couldn’t be captured in the initial study.’” 

“This paper is a small part of a larger conversation about domestic revenue mobilization and healthcare financing in low- and middle-income countries,” Davis said. “It is a building block.”


This white paper is a modest contribution to the existing body of knowledge on potential revenue benefits from taxation of “bads” in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).  We seek to provide orders-of-magnitude responses to the questions, “For 16 LMICs, what amount of additional government revenue could have been generated in 2016 if higher excise tax rates had been imposed on tobacco, alcohol, and sugar-sweetened beverages?”, and “How does this additional government revenue compare to select national economic indicators?”.

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