Cornell University

SMART and SGE Immersion

CIPA offers several MPA program-specific opportunities for you to gain hands-on, real-world public engagement experience including Internships, the Capstone Program, and the Public Service Exchange program. 

Two other programs on campus offer engagement opportunities that are popular with our Fellows: 

Registration in these programs is not guaranteed.  Students must apply and be accepted into each.  Projects/Clients for each program vary from year to year, but each consistently features opportunities that match with the public policy interests of our Fellows.  

SMART Program - offered by the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture, and Development (CIIFAD)

CIIFAD's Student Multidisciplinary Applied Research Team (SMART) Program brings together teams of students and faculty from diverse disciplines and pairs them with firms, organizations, or community groups located in developing countries. The teams work on well-defined assignments that challenge students to apply the knowledge and skills learned in the classroom in real world settings. SMART assignments vary from team to team, as does the length of engagement. For example, past teams have assisted promising new companies to develop strategic business plans, worked with an international NGO to pilot IT training in four African countries and collaborated with grassroots development professionals to enhance learning outcomes for farmer groups seeking to increase family food security. Teams work on location with the company or partner group for at least two weeks and sometimes up to eight weeks, depending on the type of engagement planned and the university academic calendar. 

The CIIFAD SMART Program is designed to help Cornell's students span the gap between knowing and doing. It facilitates experiential learning opportunities that strengthen students' ability to develop innovative approaches to complex problems surrounding markets, food, agriculture, and development. By learning to collaborate on real-world issues, SMART students gain valuable personal experience, make significant contributions that are valued by the company or organization they partner with and raise Cornell's profile as a University that is strongly committed to global engagement for positive change. 

SMART projects are advertised widely across campus in early September each year and applications are typically due in mid-October.  Students identify up to three programs of interest and apply online; decisions are announced by the beginning of November.  Accepted students must attend three pre-departure meetings in the fall semester which cover security, research methodologies, and cultural expectations.  Projects last from two-to-three weeks and take place over winter break, during the first weeks of the new year.  Students cover the cost of their air fare, immunizations and visas (if applicable) and any personal, non-program related expenses.  SMART covers all in-country program related costs (e.g., housing, food, required travel, project-related supplies).  Students must be on campus in the spring semester and must enroll for three credits in the seven week course AEM 4421:  Research and Strategy in Emerging Markets, taught by Professor Ralph Christy, to complete work done on site. Most teams produce case studies but other options are possible at the discretion of the individual project faculty.  Coursework for AEM 4421 is completed by Spring Break.  


Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise (SGE) Immersion Program - offered through the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management 

The SGE Immersion provides students with breadth and depth of knowledge related to the broad impact social and environmental issues present to firms across numerous industries. Students work on multidisciplinary teams to apply this knowledge to sponsored projects that challenge them to solve real problems currently faced by companies in the marketplace. There are high expectations to provide practical, operational solutions. The projects require competency in all management areas, including economics, finance, accounting, and operations. Projects include: sustainable technology commercialization strategies, BOP market analysis and feasibility studies, and sustainable enterprise strategic venture plans. Project sponsors range from MNCs to NGOs to startups both domestically and internationally.  

The SGE Immersion is available to first year, full-time and Accelerated MBA students as well as a limited number of graduate students from other disciplines at Cornell, including CIPA Fellows.  Non-Johnson students apply for the program in the fall semester.  Applications are due in early October and consist of a résumé, a written letter of interest and a recommendation.  Finalists will be invited for an interview.  The program begins in early January prior to the regular semester and continues throughout the second semester.  The SGE immersion also includes two mandatory treks during the semester, one to New York City and the other to Washington, DC.  Students are responsible for any costs involved with the treks.  Any travel related to sponsored projects will be covered by the sponsoring organization.  The final deliverable is a presentation and written report.  Upon admission to the program students will automatically be enrolled for the program for a total of 5 credits. 

Non-Johnson students should contact the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise directly for details about the application process.

Recent SMART Program Reflections by CIPA Fellows 

Lila Cardell
Location: Village of Na Ngoi, Sahkon Nakon province, Thailand
Organization: The GABA Rice Project Group, a project of King Mongkut's University of Technology Thornburi and the Thai Royal Project Foundation. SMART_LMC

The GABA Rice Project Group, formed in 2007, currently consists of 68 members, 12 of which process the GABA rice. GABA rice is rice that has been germinated through    a process of soaking the rice and germinating it in bags. Germinating the rice produces Gamma-aminobutyric acid, improving health benefits and making it more suitable for sale in higher end markets. However, the current production process in this community is not very profitable. A preliminary survey of the group showed that this is due to a lack of access to markets, process inefficiency, and a lack of certification in Good Management Practices (GMP) and other labels. A team of 8 Cornell students and 8 KMUTT students went to Na   Ngoi to work with the group to assess the current processing, certification, and marketing conditions as well as develop a design for a central processing facility.

My primary objective for participating in the SMART program was to gain experience in international development, specifically with small farmer economic development programs. I thought that SMART would be an ideal opportunity to apply my private and nonprofit experience to have an impact on an international level as well as a chance to network with other students and leaders in the international development community. I was interested in the GABA Rice project as the goal was to provide specific deliverables on site instead of a case study. I was originally drafted onto the GABA Rice Project team to develop a business plan for the central rice processing facility. However, the plan quickly changed upon arrival as we did not have sufficient information or time to provide deliverables on-site and instead I began documenting the production process through interviews, direct observation and re-performance. The experience demonstrated the unpredictability of international development projects and the flexibility and broad skills base required of international development workers. I really enjoyed spending time with the 12 women of the GABA Rice project who work tirelessly to support the GABA Rice initiative, and opened their hearts and homes to our SMART/KMUTT team.  

Valeria Farinaro
Location: Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa  
Organization: La Grazia Olives   

Our team carried out a business and marketing strategy for a micro-agriculture business, La Grazia Olives. La Grazia Olives is a family owned olive oil producer located in the Tulbagh area of the Western Cape. The Company is seeking to penetrate the South African market through the implementation of a marketing plan. Specifically, the SMART team assisted the company in performing a benchmark analysis of the extra virgin olive oil in South Africa. On the basis of the Company's initial assessment and the benchmark analysis, the team made a number of recommendations that are currently been considered and applied by La Grazia.    

I chose the SMART project in South Africa because of its alignment with my professional goals. For the past four years, I have been working for an International Development Bank where I gained relevant experience in implementing microfinance and mobile banking projects in Latin America and the Caribbean region. My professional exposure to small and medium businesses allowed me to learn about some of the daily challenges low-income entrepreneurs face in running their business. However, because I am interested in small business development, I wanted to experience those challenges in person, as if I were a micro entrepreneur. The experience in South Africa helped me apply in-class theoretical knowledge to the real life business environment. Thanks to the full immersion in the local cultural and business environment, the SMART project helped me develop a better understanding of strategic planning in an emerging market context and, to experience how small-sized enterprises growth can ultimately have an impact on local communities. Moreover, I was able to learn from peers with various backgrounds across Cornell. This multi-disciplinary aspect of the SMART experience is a key takeaway for those who are interested in working in Sustainable Global development practices.     

Matthew Williger
Location: Kampala and the West Nile region, Uganda  
Organization: Bee Natural Uganda Ltd.   

Our project is working with Bee Natural Uganda Ltd. to develop a strategic case study examining their evolution and current situation as a regional producer of honey and bee products that is continuing to develop and expand. Bee Natural Uganda is an important sustainable business model with strong downstream impact on rural areas as well as a positive upstream impact when BNU's products head towards retail outlets.    

SMART, and in particular this project in Uganda, fit perfectly into my academic and professional goals. As an ID concentration, experience often trumps all else in the job market. This was an opportunity to apply classroom knowledge to on the ground challenges and employers look for that. Most importantly, though, SMART allowed me to consult for and potentially publish a case study about a company that connects rural farmers to the market. It is precisely this kind of entrepreneurship that can foster economic development and provide livelihoods to otherwise impoverished people living in areas like the West Nile region of Uganda. Uganda is a beautiful country that has faced and will continue to face trying times. It will be imperative for policy makers to understand the interconnectedness of the challenges they are confronted with. My experience in Uganda helped further my understanding of the trade-offs that are often present-both in business and in policy making-and the win-win situations that we must strive for.    

Elena Bussiere
Location: Uganda (in the cities of Kampala and Arua)  
Organization: Bee Natural Uganda Ltd.   

We gathered information on Bee Natural Uganda, a woman-owned company that produces honey and other bee products.  The primary purpose of our project was to produce a case study and in the course of our research we visited offices, a factory, supermarkets, informal markets, apiaries, and farmhouses.   

The SMART Uganda program was an excellent opportunity to expand on my personal and professional interests.  My CIPA concentration is in International Development and I am particularly fascinated by the intersection of the environment, economic development, and agriculture.  Learning about Bee Natural Uganda allowed me to explore a long-held interest in rural development in sub-Saharan Africa.  With this experience came a strong reminder that the problems rural producers face are often both multi-faceted and persistent.  My previous experiences in international development had involved interacting with primarily governmental and nongovernmental organizations.  Thus, working with Bee Natural provided entirely new insights into both the challenges faced by emerging businesses in developing countries and the role that small and medium-sized enterprises such as Bee Natural Uganda can play in economic development.  Ultimately the experience leaves me grateful for all that I have learned from those around me: my SMART colleagues and the many dedicated, knowledgeable people we met over the course of our project.      

Alicia Freedman
Location: University Putra Malaysia in Serdang, Selangor, Malaysia.  
Organization: Cancer Resource and Education (CaRE)   

SMART Malaysia worked with the Cancer Resource and Education center (CaRE) at Universitiy Putra Malaysia in the Kuala Lumpur area. The purpose of this project was to give Cornell students consulting experience, increase cultural awareness among students, contribute to the success of an organization through research and deliverables, and create connections with Cornell and organizations abroad. CaRE and SMART Malaysia defined three objectives for the team: to build the capacities of CaRE staff in the areas of Marketing and Grant-Writing, facilitate a workshop for local stakeholders on cancer healing and treatment, and evaluate the CaRE 2013 Workplan.   

Co-leading the SMART Malaysia trip and course has enhanced my skills as a leader, facilitator, teacher and consultant. It also gave me the opportunity to practice speaking Bahasa Malaysia, which builds on my studies of Bahasa Indonesia at Cornell. This international development experience helped me to gauge my own capacity in areas of health education, social marketing, and fundraising, which are all elements of my future career path. With one semester left in my Masters in Public Administration, I can now focus even more on the vital areas where I can improve before returning to the working world. I am grateful for the opportunity to work on a rich team of CIPA students and Cornell faculty and to work on a project that is linked with building healing support communities and lessening the suffering of those affected by cancer.    

Sarah Evans
Location: University Putra Malaysia in Serdang, Selangor, Malaysia.  
Organization: Cancer Resource and Education (CaRE)   

Our project focused on strategic fundraising. We developed and facilitated 1) a Marketing Workshop for staff to coordinate and increase consistency among CaRE's online and print materials; and 2) a Grant Writing Workshop that covered how to find funding, approach funders, and elements of a grant template. Our team provided funding and marketing materials, and participating staff created marketing plans and program implementation plans relevant to their specific projects. SMART Malaysia is also reviewing and commenting on CaRE's 2013 Workplan. SMART Malaysia members also helped facilitate a discussion session during a professional development workshop for nurses, which focused on cancer healing and support.   

As a nonprofit management student, working with CaRE in Malaysia gave me an invaluable comparative perspective on fundraising and management strategies across cultures. Adapting my knowledge of grant writing and fundraising to be relevant to the Malaysian context helped me better understand material I thought I already knew, and gave me unique international consulting experience in my area of study. Perhaps most importantly, working with a new team and in a new cultural context under an ambitious timeline helped me to become more flexible and self-aware about my work style.    

Maria Yang
Location: University Putra Malaysia in Serdang, Selangor, Malaysia.  
Organization: Cancer Resource and Education (CaRE)   

We worked with the Cancer Resource and Education Center (CaRE). Our project focused on designing and presenting two professional development workshops for the staff members at CaRE. Our first workshop focused on marketing and branding, which entails how to develop powerful messages, how to brand the organization, how to utilize social media to get the message out to the general community, and creating a marketing implementation plan.  The second workshop was focused on grant writing. In this workshop, we trained the staff members on how to search different avenues for grants such as international databases and directories.  We also trained them on how to approach funders focusing on their elevator speech and provided the staff members with a grant proposal template to start their own grants. Along with the workshops, our team provided feedback on the organization's yearly work plan.    

The SMART Project in Malaysia was a perfect fit for my professional goals. I am interested in the sustainability of non-profit organizations and assisting in this realm through identifying potential funders and strategic partnerships, designing fundable programs, and developing evaluation plans to document program impacts. The SMART Project in Malaysia allowed me to tap into my interests and skills and apply what I learned in class to the organization.  The project gave me the opportunity to hone my non-profit consulting skills, which I hope to apply in my professional career.  From this experience, I learned a great deal on challenges that non-profit organizations in other countries face, particularly cultural barriers. For example, volunteerism is not commonly practiced in Malaysia, so it was interesting to look at how CaRE can encourage more volunteers to participate within the organization.    

Jennifer Shin
Location: University Putra Malaysia in Serdang, Selangor, Malaysia.  
Organization Profile: The Cancer Resource and Education (CaRE) Center of Excellence is a breast cancer education program for and by Malaysians supported by Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) and Cornell University. The project was founded by two friends, both of whom are cancer survivors, to fulfill a need for breast cancer education that was both culturally and linguistically appropriate for Malaysian cancer patients, their families, and local health care providers. CaRE translates health education materials from English to Malay, supports continuing education programs for health care professionals, provides counseling services, hosts support groups, and provides public awareness programs.    

In May 2012, the program formally became the CaRE Center of Excellence, under the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Extension at UPM, with a fully funded budget as well as grants and contracts from government, nongovernmental organizations, and businesses.   

CaRE and SMART Malaysia defined three objectives for the team: to build the capacity of CaRE staff in marketing and grant writing, facilitate a workshop for local stakeholders on cancer healing and treatment, and evaluate the CaRE 2013 work plan. CaRE co-founder and Cornell Professor Emerita Rosemary Caffarella and Cornell Institute for Public Affairs (CIPA) fellow Alicia Freedman led this project. Members of this team included CIPA fellows Jenny Shin, Sarah Evans, and Maria Yang.   

I left a snow-blanketed Ithaca for the languorous humidity of Malaysia on New Year's Day. We arrived in Kuala Lumpur, hungry and flipped on time. As soon as we began to adjust to the docile evening heat outside the airport, we immediately jumped into an air-conditioned car on the hunt for some fried rice or noodles on the way to our temporary home. We found a 24-hour mamak stall (Tamil Muslim food establishment) buzzing and flickering with fluorescent lights with groups of men and students smoking kretek and catching up. I immediately felt at ease; this is what I missed most about Southeast Asia. Life happens on the street and you are forced to confront all of it: the Tamil family tirelessly running a 24-hour joint, neighborhood Malays drinking teh tarik at midnight, emaciated cats without tails meowing for scraps, the smell of sewage then curry alternately wafting over your table. And despite the country's continuing ethnic tensions and political frictions, all Malaysians can agree on one thing: the food is excellent.   

Initially, our team planned to work with Cornell alumni in Malaysia to create a fundraising plan for the Cancer Resource and Education Center (CaRE). Unfortunately, that plan fell through and we needed to quickly focus our energies elsewhere that would be productive and beneficial to the organization. After many discussions with CaRE's director Dr. Othman and staff, we decided to conduct two workshops on grant writing and marketing. CaRE's generous funding from Boeing would soon come to an end and the organization did not yet know from where the next stream of money would flow in. Additionally, CaRE launched multiple marketing platforms including two blogs, a Facebook page, and a website but did not yet have a comprehensive marketing plan. Both workshops engaged the staff through brainstorm and feedback sessions that proved to be dynamic and productive.   

In the very short period of two weeks, it is near impossible to familiarize yourself with an organization and provide constructive recommendations as is expected in a traditional consulting relationship. However, we found that engaging the staff in the process of developing those recommendations was crucial to understanding the organization's strengths and weaknesses as well as the full capacity of its staff. In an academic setting, information is restricted to case studies and research; one can only hypothesize and pose questions. While working with CaRE, the very cooperative and generous staff provided the team with real-time information that allowed us to learn in an everyday social and cultural context and to be nimble and creative in our recommendations.   

As a group of driven students who knew we had two weeks to produce meaningful work for the organization, it would have been easy to put our heads down and simply work. However, every personal story from CaRE's founders, staff, and program participants informed why the organization's work was so important. Breast cancer survivors Professor Rosemary Caffarella and Professor Mazanah founded CaRE in order to provide information on cancer treatment and care in Malaysia, where cancer continues to carry a stigma. Every time a staff member or CaRE program participant shared a personal story about how cancer affected their lives was a special moment. It was also humbling each time we saw Professor Mazanah walk through the office doors as she was going through chemo treatment at the time; her dedication was extraordinary.   

Opportunities to work overseas always reaffirm my excitement for learning. I welcome the humbling experience of being proven wrong and forced to rethink my position. I appreciate the moments where you realize that despite myriad cultural differences, people are also very much the same. And I delight in the moment where those cultural similarities and differences working in counterpoint yield learning and awareness.

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