13 Dec 2023

Summit Unites HBS Global Initiative Staff


By Shona Simkin

Fifteen years ago, three years into her role as a researcher at the Europe Research Center in Paris, Elena Corsi visited the Harvard Business School (HBS) campus for the first time. She was one of about a dozen HBS staff members convening in Boston for the first Global Initiative Staff Summit. Corsi returned to campus this fall for the fourth summit, this time surrounded by nearly 70 colleagues.

Since the first research center outside the US opened in 1999 in Hong Kong, the HBS Global Initiative has grown to nine centers with 18 locations around the world. From their desks in Mumbai, Montevideo, Nairobi, Tokyo, Istanbul, and beyond, these researchers and administrators continue to build and support HBS’s expertise in global business practice and innovation. A typical day for a Global Research Center staff member might include connecting a professor with a local business or government leader for a potential case, organizing an admissions outreach event, leading a site visit for an upcoming MBA global field immersion, or conducting background research for a case. Global Initiative staff are crucial, yet often isolated, members of the HBS community.

Every five years the School brings all Global Initiative staff members together for a week of camaraderie, development, connecting, and immersion in the heart of the HBS experience.

“The School makes a big investment in bringing all of our staff here for this weeklong program,” said Victoria Winston, executive director of the Global Initiative. “We want them to learn—from campus colleagues and from one another. We want them to get to know each other better and share best practices. But we also want them to remember that despite their distance from campus, they are an important part of the HBS community.”

“It feels a bit lonely, doing what we do,” said Corsi. “The case method is not used in many places outside of the US, so friends and people we meet don’t understand our work. Then we come here and we have 2,000 people who know exactly what we are doing and we see colleagues who have the same problems and share the same passions. It’s really important to see the work that happens here, to see professors outside of their case visits, and those who we deal with often, like Case Services and Baker Library.”

This year’s summit, the largest yet, featured a case discussion with Professor Rem Koning; a School update from Angela Crispi, executive dean for administration; panels with faculty and staff about case writing, teaching, and career development; community-building events such as a cooking class and small dinners, as well as campus tours; and presentations to the HBS community about their region and activities.

Professor Debora Spar, senior associate dean for Business and Global Society, welcomed the group at their first meeting and gave an historical overview of the expansion of the School’s international reach.

“You all are doing not only an incredible amount of work, but an incredible amount of really good work. The number one criticism from faculty is that they can’t get in the queue. They want more of your time, more of your expertise,” said Spar. “We’re covering the world—we have cases in Kenya, in Uruguay—we have an ability to see how the world is moving. If things start getting interesting in Nigeria or Morocco, we can jump on that quickly. You all have become our eyes and ears on the ground, telling us what’s interesting around, say, climate change in Morocco—you send us that information so that we have the ability to respond.”

The “What Makes a Great Case?” panel brought together Professors Rohit Deshpande, Tom Eisenmann, Tsedal Neeley, and Jan Rivkin for a discussion about their most popular cases. Teaching notes, a central tension or twist to the story, and the case’s applicability to several different disciplines were among the qualities they felt led to both an engaging class and to their best-selling status. All panelists noted the vital role of their partnership with Global Initiative researchers. “You allow a school with 40 acres in Boston to cover the world, and that’s incredible,” said Rivkin.

In the middle of the week, the broader HBS community attended a series of presentations from each research center, in which staff members detailed their roles and recent projects and events. They also shared what makes business in their region compelling. Hundreds of HBS community members signed up to join in on the fun, complete with globally themed snacks.

For Tafadzwa Choruma, administrative research and program assistant at the Africa Research Center in Johannesburg for nearly five years, the summit offered many firsts: her first time in the US, first time at HBS, and her first classroom case discussion. “Being on campus and seeing how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together is really special,” said Choruma. “Seeing how every part works to bring the bigger picture and vision of the business school together is amazing. I knew we supported MBA classes, but as I attended sessions and spent time with the team I learned more about our center’s role on the continent and in bringing it back to HBS. It all made more sense. And participating in a case being taught—I’ve seen them online, but it’s nothing like the real deal. I felt like, ‘Yeah, I’m home.’”

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