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‘You come in as someone that wants to save the world’

Seeking a career with a conscience lead Valerio Parisi onto a one-way flight to Tanzania, where cultural and business differences challenge his leadership

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As a corporate consultant, Valerio Parisi found his work challenging and engaging, but he felt it lacked a higher level of meaning.

“What was missing was the purpose of things, so for me making a bank more money than it already was, or cutting down personnel on a mining site is not the sexiest job I could ever dream of,” he says.

Parisi had worked for a major consulting firm and also for an aerospace business, but says he started to investigate opportunities with a social conscience, and through his network of contacts heard about a role that would change his life.

He soon uprooted from Australia to move to Tanzania, and is now the program manager of the Touch Foundation, which is an arm of global consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

“It is a small foundation, probably about 15 people, about half of them ex-consultants with a professional mindset applied to the NGO.”

His role is to lead change in the public health sector of Tanzania, through building hospitals, increasing services, and instilling strategic management skills into the leadership staff.

Each day he deals with doctors, specialists and sponsorship stakeholders to improve the quality of medical care that people in the region receive.

The culture of business in Tanzania has taken a lot of adjustment, Parisi explains.

“From the business side of things, that is the biggest challenge…getting to understand how people work here, and their business ethics, and what are the things that drive them in their everyday life, that is the challenge.

“Coming from consulting when you are always at 150% and you are really active, you find here a wall when you try to put in that kind of speed, so you have to slow down and understand what people are thinking, how they do things here and how to get things done.”

A key challenge that has required savvy leadership skills has been the putting in place best practice when it comes to finances.

“One of the things that you learn here is that the financial review of business is much more related to the personal finance view of things,” he says. “So there is not a great culture of savings, for example at a family level, so people tend to spend what they have and not really think about the long term situation. That is not really the best way to run a business.”

Parisi studied an MBA at AGSM UNSW Business School, and is embracing many of the skills he learned about leadership throughout the course to navigate all of these cultural differences.

“The skills are in the managing side of things…finding out how individuals are motivated to do their work – because mostly they have the skills to do their work,” he says. “But they may not have the motivation or the leadership that pushes them in the right direction.”

One way of developing skills in the local teams is to enact case study scenarios.

“We bring in specialists from the US or Europe to teach continuous professional development models for higher and middle management from hospitals, all in one room. We workshop and put them in charge of live case studies and situations to push them to think now, instead of the next day or the next week, about the long term implications of any expense or any investment. It is successful but a very long and patient process,” he says.

From a personal point of view, he couldn’t be more thrilled with the opportunity that the experience has afforded.

“I am in the second biggest city of Tanzania, Lake Victoria, with beautiful surroundings, two hours away from the Serengeti where you can see giraffes and lions and zebras. When you go to the market to buy food you don’t go to the supermarket you go to the local market…there are very pleasant people.”

The experience is pushing him to grow in many ways, which he finds rewarding.

“I discovered that at the beginning you come in as someone that wants to save the world, but then you realise that your everyday job is embedded in this environment. It is unsettling in the beginning, but actually very gratifying, as you are part of something and you are not an outsider anymore and the culture here really helps you feel included.”

Written by: Melinda Oliver

If you’re interested in more information on the AGSM MBA (Executive), visit here.

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