As part of the University of Michigan’s Global Entrepreneurship Week, the Emerging Markets Club was delighted to be asked to organize a book club to discuss The Blue Sweater, which brought together students from across the campus to discuss issues raised in the book with Jacqueline Novogratz.
The event, held on November 19th, was marketed across campus to both graduate and undergraduate students as a unique opportunity to interact with Jacqueline in an intimate setting and take part in a substantive conversation with her about the book. As such we limited the registration for the event to 30 people.
The event was structured in two parts. First, we held small group discussions for an hour in groups of 8-10 people during which each group formulated 3-4 questions that delved deeper into specific topics. Next, we had a30 minute discussion with Jacqueline based on the questions generated by the small groups.
If you want to plan a similar event, but don’t have the benefit of Jacqueline’s insights, I would suggest formulating the output of the groups into a short presentation (4-5 mins) given by one member of the group. Depending on the size of the audience it may also be possible to discuss one or two key questions or discussion points raised by the groups.
We appointed a facilitator to ensure that the group discussions were both effective and inclusive and that the groups focused on developing questions that were concise and that would make for an interesting discussion later on with Jacqueline and the wider group…questions that couldn’t necessarily be answered just by reading the book.
Since we had a relatively short period for the group discussions, it was beneficial to have the facilitators be ready with a list of questions that would act as a starting point to prompt the discussion; however the facilitators didn’t feel compelled to use these if they weren’t needed. For larger events, allocating specific themes to each group might also help avoid any overlap or repetition in the discussions.
The discussion groups chatted about the book for an hour and used flip charts to record their thoughts. During the last 15 minutes, the facilitators focused on finalizing questions and assigned each question to a member of the group to ask. Some of the questions addressed specific topics in the book while others developed from participants sharing their own experiences within the group. We found it particularly useful to have a single facilitator roam between the groups to get an understanding of the scope of the conversations and questions being developed.
Discussion with Jacqueline
Each group had written their questions on a flip chart and these were placed around the room for the discussion with Jacqueline. This segment was run by the roaming facilitator who selected group members and questions based on the flow of the conversation, which loosely progressed from issues of Jacqueline’s individual motivation and experiences to questions about Acumen Fund and issues regarding the institutions it interacts with.
Alternatively, for groups that don’t have Jacqueline present to take part, the roaming facilitator would invite each group to present a summary of their discussions and, if appropriate, facilitate audience response on key questions or issues raised by the groups. Given the time constraints, it wasn’t possible to do this as part of our event, however, it would have been very valuable to gain wider views on some of the issues discussed, especially given the diverse experiences and backgrounds represented in the audience.
We plan to use the success of this event to continue to engage students on campus in substantive conversations about topics in emerging markets, as feedback suggests that there are too few outlets for this type of interaction and that students appreciate the opportunity to discuss these issues with their peers and to benefit from each other’s experience.
Colm Fay is a second year MBA student at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and is Vice President of Academic and Educational Development for the school’s Emerging Markets Club.