This was the issue facing Alvaro Barrios ’18 and his team: while renewable energy options are growing in popularity and availability among more affluent consumers, ensuring that broad access to clean energy solutions also includes low-to-moderate-income market segments has been a challenge. The team’s client, NY Green Bank, wanted to increase deployment of clean energy by exploring financing structures that support greater access across income brackets.
The team considered a series of questions: What are the barriers to providing clean energy options to low- and moderate-income communities? What could make green technology more accessible? How do you entice both those customers and commercial financiers into this segment of the clean energy market?
“We have so much information in front of us, but the key is finding the best way to pull it all together,” Barrios says. “We have been working in two big workstreams,” assembling information about energy policies in New York State and the rest of the United States, and examining green energy markets.
Barrios’ team was one of several in the Master of Advanced Management program’s Global Leadership Practicum. The course pairs students with companies and other organizations to work on semester-long projects. Students take on the role of consultant, with deliverables set by their clients—for example, performing research, modeling, and analysis as they consider challenges in marketing, finance, operations, and other functional areas. The practicum is one of three core courses that together comprise 20% of the Master of Advanced Management’s year-long course of study.
Bo Hopkins ’86, a lecturer at Yale SOM who teaches in the practicum, says that the work requires students to exercise skills that they learned as MBA students (MAMs are graduates of graduate management programs in the Global Network for Advanced Management) while learning how to adapt to ambiguity in the problems presented by clients. “They’re coming in to work on projects in a very narrow window of time, with virtually no reference point and with teams they’re just getting to know,” Hopkins says. “They’re learning in real time and seeing how problem framing is just as important as problem solving.”
The teams must contend with other obstacles, as well. Some of the projects are confidential, requiring students to travel to work with proprietary datasets kept only on the company’s campus. About a quarter of the projects are international, with some teams working virtually with clients in London and Toronto.
A key component is understanding the customer, Hopkins says. Students start by getting to know key stakeholders both inside and outside of the company.
“Students aren’t just jumping in and immediately understanding why an organization has a problem. They’re building relationships. They’re understanding the frameworks of a particular organization, learning how to have the right conversations, and building a coherent language where everyone is on the same page,” Hopkins says.
Many of the projects connect students with MAM alumni, some of whom have worked on their own practicum teams as students. The involvement of alumni gives current MAMs a chance to build their personal networks and bond with alumni over a shared experience, Hopkins says.
In one case, a practicum gave students a chance to continue the work that previous MAMs had started and deepen the MAM program’s relationship with an organization. The NY Green Bank team partnered with MAM alumni Caleb Thompson ’17 and Niall Randles ’16, both of whom joined the bank full time after working with the agency on their own practicum projects.
“The MAM well prepared me to understand and navigate the complexities of efforts to promote the clean energy transformation within the state of New York,” Thompson says. “The practicum was a great experience to learn much more about NY Green Bank and their objectives.”
Now the newest group of MAM students are contributing to the bank’s efforts, he adds: “The MAM practicum has served as a fantastic platform to engage with fresh thinking from current Yale students and the university’s resources to tackle some of our toughest problems.”
Working with Thompson and Randles helped team member Guido Fucci ’18 to get a better sense of the bank’s needs as the team prepared its final presentation.
“There’s a connection we have, and you can see that they care about the end result,” Fucci says. “They’re always checking in on the status of different parts via email and sometimes on the phone. We can get in touch with them any time we need them.”
These connections are quintessentially Yale, Hopkins says, a tradition that binds students past and present across the university: “There’s something about Yale that goes beyond developing just a network. Teams form and develop but working on something like this is a reason to be drawn and connected back to campus. It’s helping to bring people together through a shared experience.”