Development Sector Career Began With WDI Internship
Tuesday, October 15, 2019
Note: This is one in an ongoing series of articles profiling past WDI interns and Multidisciplinary Action Project (MAP) team members and their career paths. Additional profiles in the series may be found here.
Puneet Goenka always wanted a career in which he could improve people’s lives.
As an undergrad at the University of Michigan, he studied cell biology with an eye on the medical profession. Then he heard a talk by Partners In Health Co-founder Dr. Paul Farmer who said even though life-saving drugs were readily available around the globe, it might take years to get them to those in need. Goenka said he realized just researching a life-saving drug wasn’t enough.
After graduation, he worked for a manufacturing company in Chicago on its health, safety and sustainability team. He later moved to India for a consulting job and then founded a start-up enterprise. Throughout all these career changes, Goenka became more determined to work in the development sector.
While I knew it would serve as a useful resource, I did not realize just how helpful the Institute would be until I got to Ross and started interacting with the staff and professors associated with WDI.
—Puneet Goenka, Senior Consultant FSG
He chose U-M’s Ross School of Business for his MBA studies in part because of WDI’s student-focused programs. One of those programs, the WDI Global Impact Internship program, would help Goenka “cement his commitment” to a life working in the development sector. And when he was looking at graduate schools, WDI’s programs struck him as a great resource for MBA students.
“While I knew it would serve as a useful resource, I did not realize just how helpful the Institute would be until I got to Ross and started interacting with the staff and professors associated with WDI,” he said.
While at Ross, Goenka said that an off-campus internship search—more typical in the development sector—was challenging at first, but connections and resources provided by WDI made things easier for him, especially the summer internships offered by WDI.
“…That itself was a huge help for someone who was navigating the development sector for the first time,” he said. “I remember having a hard time narrowing down exactly which internship projects I wanted to apply to because each one was exciting. Finally, I decided to apply to projects that would allow me to work in the healthcare space—something I had wanted to do growing up but never really got the chance to—in a country that I had no prior experience in.”
Goenka worked with the Seattle-based global health nonprofit PATH to develop a market entry strategy for a low-cost medical device in three countries—South Africa, Ghana and Uganda. For his internship, Goenka researched the regulatory environment, mapped the current landscape of comparable products, studied customer needs and usage patterns, estimated demand and recommended context-appropriate pricing.
Goenka said never having worked in those three countries and never with medical devices made him both “nervous and excited.” But he learned a lot, he said. He developed a financial model by himself for the first time: “a skillset that continues to be useful to this day.” He also learned how to navigate the different business cultures in each country.
For instance, Ghana’s business culture was “relationship-based,” where simply being polite and friendly opened doors to get interviews with relevant stakeholders at national hospitals. Uganda was more process-driven, he said, and required formal letters in order to meet with officials. Goenka would later be sent to Uganda for his current job and said his experience there as an intern gave him more confidence in conducting research this time around.
“The internship with PATH cemented my commitment to developing a full-time career in the development sector,” he said. “The work was challenging; I was working alongside driven and smart colleagues and the impact potential of the work was high. These were all important factors for me and I saw them coming alive while at PATH, which gave me confidence that I would enjoy working in the development sector.”
Goenka now leads case teams as a senior consultant for FSG in India. FSG is a consulting company that finds business solutions to social challenges. After working on an early education project for nearly two years, he is currently working on a project in Uganda to provide households with better sanitation facilities. But instead of just building and providing toilets for free, his project looks to stimulate the market so households can invest in and buy their own toilets, and the private sector is better equipped to provide customer-appropriate toilets.
“This work is a perfect way for me to blend my business training and experience with my interest in the development sector,” he said.
For now, Goenka is content working and living in India, but is open to moving elsewhere if the right opportunity came along.
“I’ve been fortunate to have worked in the U.S., India, and a little in South Africa, Ghana, and Uganda—thanks to PATH and WDI—and that makes me feel better equipped to work in new and unfamiliar geographies and contexts,” he said. “However, irrespective of geography and sector, I am quite sure that I will continue to work in the development sector, trying to improve people’s lives.”