Looking back at India


Having had some time to reflect on our busy week full of guest speakers, coaching, immersion into Indian culture and sightseeing I think I speak for all of us when I say how grateful we are to have been given this extremely unique opportunity. Our week abroad triggered introspection for each of us to think about our purpose, what leadership means to us and how our current life and routines may not be fulfilling our purpose. A few broad takeaways I was left with and will continue to focus on when thinking about my purpose or going about my normal days are the following:

“Detachment from Outcomes” – So often in life we are so focused on the end goal and a successful outcome that we lose sight of how important the journey and quality of work to get there is.

“Time is the most valuable resource” – As Kiran Bedi said when asked about her plans for the future – TIME is our most valuable resource and how we choose to spend our time is extremely important so living in the moment and serving your daily purpose rather then dwelling on the future or past is extremely important.

“Open Source thinking” – As Rajeev explained as we move into changing times of proliferation of communication we need to start changing the way we think about setting goals, reviewing performance and setting organizational direction. We should always be thinking about the 80/20 rule and that not everyone is meant to be the 20% of top performers so we should stop setting trying to get them to be.

“Life is 10% what you are dealt and 90% how you deal with it” – After hearing from Navin Gulia this point resonated with all of us. After becoming paralyzed in an accident, he used this experience to as the starting point for what he would do with the rest of his life and how he would use this experience to change his purpose and the world. We can use Navin as a role model when we face adversity or different outcomes then we have expected in life.

“Importance of being centered and present” – After hearing from the monk and Kiran Bedi the importance of being centered and in the moment, was a key takeaway. While we can spend all of our time planning out our days and what we hope the outcomes will be there is nothing more important that being centered and in touch with one’s self.

“We don’t make tradeoffs we make choices” – When we asked Kirin about tradeoffs she had made between her career and her family life. She responded by telling us rather than making tradeoffs we make choices that are best for that time and that is all we can do and what we should be committed to.

The best part about GIP India is rather than just learning leadership concepts to apply in our lives going forward in a classroom these concepts became extremely tangible and real by meeting with great leaders and immersing ourselves in India’s rich history of leadership.

The trip would not have been possible without all of Professor Wadhwa and our TA Prateek Jain’s hard work in planning and executing on every aspect of the trip. Between navigating Delhi traffic, keeping us safe and mindful, inviting us to hear close connections speak and always having the ability to roll with the punches we were extremely thankful for all the hard work that went into this week.

India was eye opening, extremely welcoming and hospitable and I would highly recommend this trip to anyone looking for self-reflection, new perspectives on leadership and those looking to feel connected with an amazing part of the world.

-Sarah Spear ’18


CBS vs. Bollywood


Our last two days in Delhi were action packed from Bollywood dance lessons, coaching our AbsoluteData counterparts, hearing from Dr. Debroy a key advisor to Prime Minister Narendra Modi at NITI Aayog and visiting the Taj Mahal in Agra.

On our final class day we spent the morning meeting with our AbsoluteData Coachees first in groups and then one on one to provide them with the feedback we had put together through combining what they felt they needed advice on with things we had observed in our observation sessions. We had spent the evening before compiling feedback and ensuring we could give our coaches concrete examples of concepts, develop deliverables and were confidence enough to talk through each of the concepts we would provide them with to use going forward. At the end of the coaching session each of the AbsoluteData participants had the opportunity to stand in front of the room and tell everyone what their key takeaway from the program was and what actions they were going to take going forward followed by each CBS student having the opportunity to share what we had taken away from the experience. The experience was extremely rewarding, especially to see how much an outside perspective had helped our AbsoluteData counterparts by us being a sounding board for advice.

I think I speak for all the CBS students when I say we had felt we took as much away from the experience as our coachees did and were happy to see that even though we live in very different countries the challenges in the workplace were very similar and that we could all use the techniques going forward. This opportunity to coach others was extremely rewarding and I know many of us will keep in touch with our coaches and check in to see how they are doing.

After our coaching sessions we headed to NITI Aayog (The National Institute for Transforming India) which was formed via a resolution of the Union Cabinet in 2015. NITI Aayog is the premier policy “think tank” of the Government of India providing both directional and policy inputs. Our meeting had been arranged by our wonderful TA Prateek Jain and we heard from Dr. Debroy who is a senior advisor to the India Government. This meeting gave us insight into the history of politics In India, the current political climate, how change is implemented in India and how we should think about the priorities and struggles for the economy going forward.

After our action-packed day we headed to a local Bollywood dance class where for two hours we learned three traditional Bollywood routines. Scroll down for some of the pictures of our sheer Bollywood talent. Despite having a 7 am departure for the Taj Mahal the next morning, a few of us took the opportunity to check out Delhi’s night life as we met up with a few of the Women’s entrepreneur panelists from our session yesterday to show us around Delhi.

On our final day we embarked on the 4-hour bus ride to see the Taj and got to see some of the rural India countryside on the way. We had an amazing guide that gave us the entire history of the structure before arriving so when we got to the Taj we knew the full history of the building, structure and meaning behind it.

One word to describe the Taj –- BREATHTAKING —see pictures attached!!

-Sarah Spear ‘18










Life & Leadership in India


Today we started off our day with an hour yoga session by the pool at the Taj followed by our first speaker Ashish Gupta. Ashish is the founder of a prestigious university in Delhi called Ashoka University that gives local students the opportunity to attend university no matter what their socioeconomic status providing 70% of student’s scholarships. He talked about his key learnings on his leadership journey that he hoped would help us on our own journeys. His six key learnings were:

  1. Not everyone is meant to be an entrepreneur – be true to yourself and do things for the right reasons. He explained most of the people who he had met in Delhi who wanted to start companies wanted to either to get rich or started their companies because other people were doing it, not because they wanted to change the world or were extremely passionate about the cause. Wanting to be an entrepreneur for the right reason is a key building block for success.
  2. Timing is critical – he explained how mindful one should be about timing and not being impatient when starting something new.
  3. Detachment to outcomes  – This was a common theme we heard from multiple speakers throughout the week. He talked about how most successful leaders are detached from outcomes and are relentlessly focused on the input or work, not the result.
  4. The only resource we have is time – life is a marathon and not a sprint, so it is extremely important to use your time wisely
  5. Profitability before scalability – Ashish talked about how he sees most startups make the mistake of trying to scale before they are profitable and the important of being profitable first.
  6. Having a collaborative mindset vs. controlling – He explained how failure often makes one humble and how there is a place for both mindsets in your leadership journey.

After hearing from Ashish, we headed to the IPL (Institute of Personal Leadership) office where Professor Wadhwa hosted us for an amazing local lunch before heading to meet out coaches at AbsoluteData. The AbsoluteData coaching program is a partnership that pairs each CBS student with a coachee from the company to give CBS students an opportunity to provide one-on-one coaching to our partners. Most of us have received quite a bit of feedback over the course of our careers or time at CBS but have had very limited opportunities to provide feedback and coach others. The program included first having an initial call with our coaches to hear more about their careers and goals, then spending a half day observing our coaches in action and interacting in the workplace, and on Friday we will provide our coachee with feedback that we had taken time to put together today. Feedback includes topics such as the science of motivation, strategic influencing, giving effective feedback, coaching and finally mastering difficult conversations. Today we went to the AbsoluteData offices and observed our coaches interact with clients and with each other to better evaluate areas we could help them with. In the evening we went to Ciber City a beautiful outdoor mall to enjoy dinner and drinks on an outdoor patio.

Looking forward to sharing more of our coaching journey tomorrow,

-Sarah Spear ’18



Our amazing TA Prateek Jain at the AbsoluteData Offices



Learning local Dance moves in class
Orissi Dance Performance


AbsoluteData Office for our day of field work



Challo Challo! Let’s Go!


Today our saying of the day in India was challo challo which is an extremely fitting phrase to describe Delhi and the busyness of the city. The phrase means “lets go!” and go we have gone. Our first few days have been action packed – we learned quickly that getting around Delhi can take hours given the city congestion so we have been lucky enough to have quite a few of our guest speakers come to the lovely Taj hotel we are staying at. This morning we heard from Kiran Bedi, one of the boldest women I have ever heard speak. Kiran was the first women to join the police force in India because she cared so deeply about standing up for justice and because she wanted to prove that women can do anything men can do.

Her commitment to justice was so strong that it prevailed even if it meant going against the usual Indian way of allowing government officials and important people to rise above the law. She was famous for giving the prime minister’s car a ticket and was subsequently outlawed to the worst postings in her job (a jail) which she was able to turn into positives. Her self-confidence, relentless commitment to justice, and bravery in the police force have made her a famous leader in India and advocate for woman’s equality. In today’s session we got to hear stories about her life told by her and ask her questions about her leadership journey that will help us guide our own journeys. We found her confidence entertaining, inspiring and most of all it left us with a lot to think about with respect to how to be a leader.

After hearing from Kiran, we headed to the American school in Delhi that Professor Wadhwa’s daughter attends to participate in the MAD (Make a Difference) program that was established to help the nearby slums gain access to education. The MAD program was founded on the principle that there are three ways people escape poverty: 1.) Access to clean water 2.) Learn English 3.) Access to sanitation. The slums near the school originally developed because the families had been brought in to build the school and once the project was completed they formed slums next to the school. The slums have no access to running water and sanitation, so the school developed an educational program with 8 levels that allows the kids to learn English by attending the school one day and have the American School kids come to their homes on the other day. When we got to the slums we each brought a book for the kids and we spent the hour reading to them, playing games and seeing how they live. The American School MAD program was eye opening and an incredibly rewarding opportunity. I think I speak for all CBS students when I say this was the highlight of our trip so far!

Our schedule has been action packed with full days and evening trips to the local markets. Waking up early tomorrow for some morning Yoga…

Namaste from India!





After a quick two days in the classroom with Professor Wadhwa getting us ready for the journey to India I think I speak for all of us when I say WE CAN’T WAIT! This week 36 of us will meet in Delhi and get ready to fully embrace Indian culture, history, commerce, food and our personal leadership journey. This is my second opportunity to blog for one of the GIP trips and although this will be my third GIP trip we have been reassured India will be like no other trip. First off let’s talk about how Delhi is like no other city we have ever visited! Delhi is a symbol of India’s opulent past and thriving present, in the city of New Delhi both the ancient and modern city seamlessly blend together. A few fun facts:

  1. Delhi vs. New Delhi – There is actually a difference between the two places – New Delhi, which is India’s capital, is a territory in Delhi. New Delhi is the seat of the Government of India.
  2. Population & Pollution – Delhi has been credited as the sixth most populated metropolis in the world. In May 2014, New Delhi was announced as the most polluted city in the world by the World Health Organization.
  3. Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor – 24 smart cities, 2 power plants, 6 airports, 23 industrial hubs, 2 ports and a six -lane expressway stretching 15,00 kilometers. After its completion, it will be the world’s largest infrastructural project. Starting from New Delhi and ending in Maharashtra, the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor has been inspired by Japan’s Tokyo-Osaka industrial corridor.
  4. Second best metro in the world – In a survey conducted The Delhi Metro has emerged as the second most popular network in the world.

Before we arrive in Delhi a few of us lucky CBS students have decided to take the week before to explore other regions on India – Jodhpur, Udaipur and Jaipur. We caught the end of the Holi celebrations and I have attached a few pictures from our pre-trip. This week we are looking forward to sightseeing in Delhi, a TATA Communications company visit, participating in American Embassy School Program, working with our paired coachee’s from AbsoluteData, visiting the Gandhi Museum and meeting NITI Aayog. The trip will be a perfect mix of learning hands on leadership techniques and getting our hands dirty (literally!) in Delhi. Looking Very forward to telling you about our adventures that lie ahead.

-Sarah Spear ‘18


Looking back on it – WHY CBS!


tunis4Reflecting on the week we spent in Tunisia I think I speak for all of the CBS students who participated when I say how lucky we were and how amazing the experience was to help our local Tunisian students with their final pitch in the Open-Start-Up Competition finals. This was the first year CBS students got to engage in this activity and the amount we learned from working, chatting and dining with our teammates added a very personal and extremely enjoyable dimension to the trip. We left feeling we had made an impact on our local teammates and more importantly had made friends that we have continued to stay in touch with. It was so interesting to hear the next generations views on the Arab Spring and the Tunisian revolution. We left feeling both extremely optimistic about the changes that had taken place in the country as well as empathetic of the harsh reality the next generation faces. When we asked the students what their dream job would be – a question most of us were asked as kids most of them answered “work in government” and when we asked why that they responded, “that’s the best job you can get here”. While working in government is a great job we were disheartened to hear this seemed like the only option.

Throughout my conversations with locals I did not hear mention at all of the 2015 terror attacks and felt that the Country had moved past them with recent media coverage (Bloomberg) of the country being mostly positive and suggesting that Tunisia will be a top tourist destination in the coming years (https://africanmanager.com/site_eng/tunisia-features-among-bloombergs-22-flagship-tourist-destinations-in-2018/?v=947d7d61cd9a). Reading the blog post summarizing last years trip (2017) I could not help but to feel the country had significantly changed or at least we were given a very different perspective given our close interaction with younger locals.

Major themes touched on by investors and private equity firms were the challenges that continue to arise with currency fluctuations, political uncertainty, and focusing on investing in companies that hedge risk by having a higher percentage of sales as exports. We were extremely impressed when hearing the Tunisian ministry of education and US Ambassador in Tunisia speak about their extremely optimistic views on the education system and the progress Tunisia had made in recent years.

A huge thank you to Professor Jedidi and our TA Fuad Yaghnam for making this entire trip a seamless operation and making sure we were getting 110% out of every experience.

-Sarah Spear ‘18


Tunisia Open-Start-Up Grand Finale

T5Today was the much-anticipated final pitch competition for the startup pitch competition that we had been collaborating with the Tunisian students with over the last two months. From skype and facebook meetings to virtually meet each other, to building the products, and watching our Tunisian students rehearse  ten times we were all feeling extremely exciting and nervous for the finals. SIX teams total had made the finals and startup ideas ranged from room sensors that would let you know if an elderly person had fallen, relaxing and stress reliving steering wheels for drivers to prevent accidents to a device that turns fire into energy that would allow rural areas in Africa to have access to electricity. Each team was composted of four CBS students and 4-6 Tunisian students. In attendance for the finals was the Tunisian ministry of education, AfricInvest, the US ambassador in Tunisia and Columbia Business School representatives from both the business school and engineering school. The prize for winning this competition was flights and hotel paid for to New York City for the Tunisian team to pitch their business idea at the final pitch competition at CBS in April. For most of the students winning this competition would mean their first opportunity ever to be on a plane and leave Tunisia.

There was nothing more inspiring and nerve racking then watching the judges announce the winners and all of the Tunisian students sitting on the edge of there chairs. My team ended up winning the competition with the idea of turning fire into electricity with thermal engines and there was nothing more rewarding than seeing their hard work over pay off and the smiles on there faces. We asked our teammates what they wanted to do in NYC the responses we got were: go to Walmart, go to the coffee shop with “the girl” (Starbucks) and go to a basketball game – we all had a good laugh and will make sure these Tunisian NYC dreams come true! The opportunity to help the local teams and collaborate in the competition for the first year ever was an extremely rewarding experience that was the peak of the trip! I am excited to see what continues to come out of this collaboration and we can’t wait for our Tunisian friends to land in NYC in April!

-Sarah Spear ‘18


Tunisia – An Olive Oil Heaven!

Fun fact: Tunisia is in the top 5 largest olive oil producing counties in the world next to Spain, Greece, Italy and Turkey! Today we visited les Moulins Mahjoub an olive oil press run by the Tunisian Mahjoub family in their olive grove. When we arrived at the processing plant we were all surprised at how incredibly manual the entire process of producing extra virgin olive oil was and few of us had any idea of the scale of the operation. Les Moulins Mahjoub is an extremely unique producer as it combines local and timeless craftmanship and the modernity of production standards to create an extremely high quality and high-end product that I must say tasted phenomenal! The olive oil is sold both domestically and across counties in the Middle East, Europe and in the US – we were all surprised and excited to hear that they distribute at a few of our local NYC spots – Dean & Deluca, Whole Foods and have a special relationship with Le Pain Quotidien. We got to tour the processing plant, the olive fields, as well as the packaging plant and then enjoy an amazing lunch made with all the ingredients fresh from the farm. The tour started with the processing plan where we saw the olives being crushed, sorted, and squeezed into baskets to press the olive oil out. After that we wondered out into the olive tree field where groups of 4-5 women were singing and climbing ladders to pick the olives off the trees and have them fall into a net where they were collected and then placed into baskets. We were extremely lucky this year as the weather was 20 degrees celsius and sunny and we were wearing t-shirts and shorts as Professor Jedidi said that in previous years it had been raining and they were unable to visit the fields. The women picking the olives were extremely warm and welcoming and we learned shortly after work on the farm all year even though the picking is only seasonal from October – January.

We were extremely surprised to hear that the majority of Tunisian olive oil is sent to Europe for anonymous blending and to be rebranded. Although last year marked a decline in olive oil production (https://www.oliveoiltimes.com/olive-oil-business/tunisian-olive-oil-production-55-percent/54746) the Mahjoub family seemed optimistic about 2018 production.

CBS students are now educated consumers of olive oil as we know that while many olive oil producers make “extra virgin olive oil” only a few actually don’t mix the oil with water, use manual presses and pick by hand which makes all the difference in taste!

Tonight, we are off to Professor Jedidi favorite dinner and drinks spot that we have been hearing about for the six weeks leading up to the trip! We are looking forward to a live band, Magon (the best Tunisian red wine) and of course an amazing meal after our olive oil filled day.

-Sarah Spear ‘18


First few days in Tunis!

tunis3Our first few days in Tunis have been action packed and the perfect mix of discovering the city by foot and beginning to understand the political and financial landscape through our meetings with AfricInvest, IACE, African Development Bank and our local Tunisian teammates.

We arrived at the hotel on Sunday and had the opportunity to visit the Tunis city center also known as the ancient city of Carthage (meaning “new city”) on the Eastern side of Lake Tunis. The city was first developed from a Phoneician colony during the first millennium BC and was later destroyed by the Roman Republic in the Third Punic War in 14 BC and again redeveloped by the Roman Carthage which became the “Royal Empire” in Africa. Excavations on the lost city were performed mostly by French archaeologists in the 1920’s and attracted quite a bit of attention because of the evidence that was found of child sacrifice. Our tour guide (who will be with us for the week!) explained that many of the statue heads were missing because people had stolen them, and it was later discovered that many of them were actually found in the houses of royalty.

After our tour of the ancient city we headed to Sidi Bou Said – which could be mistaken for Mykonos  or Santorini in most of the pictures we took. The city was absolutely beautiful and is known for being a town of artists that is all blue and white! The town is a labyrinth of winding streets, beautiful blue doors and hidden gardens with a background of the beautiful Mediterranean sun.

On day two we spent the morning with one of the biggest private equity firms in Africa called AfricInvest which has over $1.1Bn USD of capital deployed over 16 funds in Africa. We got to hear first from FIVE the fund that the PE firm is currently investing out of, the Venture Fund, and the Innovation Fund, as well as from three entrepreneurs who explained their journeys and challenges of starting new businesses in Africa. They explained the importance of having an open-ended fund which focuses on long tenured investments so that the businesses they were investing in felt continually supported. We were all quite proud to hear that AfricInvest had just hired a CBS student full time and that this would be there 5th CBS hire!

That evening we met up with our local Tunisian team members to finalize our pitch presentations and help them to prepare for the final presentations on Friday. For most of our Tunisian teammates winning this competition would mean it would be there first trip EVER out of Tunisia and to the United States which is the prize for winning! After a few hours of preparing for the pitch our team members welcomed us in their homes for a local Tunisian dinner with their families. Professor Jedidi had told us that we would really get to experience the warmth of the Tunisian culture and indeed we could not have felt more welcomed after an amazing meal and the families wanting to take many pictures with us as well as giving us gifts.

See attached for quite a few photos of our first few days on the ground in Tunis!

-Sarah Spear ‘18



Ready, Set, Tunisia here we come!


tunisThere is no better way to kick off 2018 than with the opportunity to travel with 28 of my classmates to TUNISIA! Over the past two and half months spent in the classroom learning about Tunisia, Professor Jedidi has provided us with a thorough overview of the history, culture, economy, language, a few prominent companies and case studies so we are well versed on Tunisia coming into the trip. For the first year ever, the trips focus has shifted more to learning about startup methodology in Tunisia and specifically we have been given the exciting opportunity to work with the six finalist university teams that were selected out of sixteen teams in the National Open Startup competition. Our project over the seven days spent in Tunisia will be to partner with our team members and help them develop and pitch their startup ideas to present their ideas once again at the final round of the competition on January 19th!

I am writing this blog post from Marrakech as a few of us lucky CBS students have spent a few days enjoying Morocco before the Tunisia trip starts. As we are about to spend 7 days immersed in the country it is important to take a quick look at a few of the highlights that made the news from Tunisia 2017!

Tunisia in the news in 2017:

  • The number of tourists boasted a record figure of 7,051,813 in 2017, a 2% rise in comparison with 2016! The UK, the Netherlands, Poland and Belgium lifted their advisory against travel to Tunisia in the aftermath of June 2015 terrorist
  • December 2017 marked seven years since a wave of protests erupted across the Middle East and North Africa in what came to be known as the Arab Spring. Tunisia, the country where the uprisings began, has been saluted as the revolution’s success story for managing a relatively peaceful transition from an authoritarian regime to a functioning democracy!  This article provides a great overview of both the successes and challenges that remain in Tunisia post Arab Spring: https://www.thecipherbrief.com/arab-spring-anniversary-tunisia-really-success-story
  • Tunisia’s external debt jumped to about 46.8 trillion dinars (18.72 trillion U.S. dollars) as of November 2017, accounting for 48.35 percent of the GDP
  • Tunisia announced the second increase in fuel prices in six months, raising the price of petrol by 2.85 percent as the government tries to rein in the budget deficit.
  • Export volume accounted for one third of Tunisia’s GDP in 2017, which achieved growth of 4.1%.
  • Tunisia was featured among Bloomberg’s 22 flagship tourist destinations in 2018, published Tuesday, January 2nd.
  • In 2018 on May 6th, Tunisia will hold long-delayed municipal elections, the first such vote since the 2011 uprising unseated autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. Activists hope the elections will give a new push for the North African country’s democratic transition by giving more power to local councils.

Over the next seven days we will have an action-packed itinerary with tours through Medina and Moulins Mahjoub (70-year-old family owned olive oil producer) visits with the African Development Bank, ENDA Inter Arab, Vermeg, IACE and working with our Tunisian team members before the startup competition finals.

I look forward to sharing every part of the TUNISIA 2018 trip with you!

-Sarah Spear ‘18