All posts by alexandrianewman

Lessons Learned from Ekumfi Ebiram

ghana childOver winter break, I went on a Texas Global Business and Microfinance Brigade to Ghana with other UT students. While there, we worked in a village called Ekumfi Ebiram promoting financial literacy and helping business owners grow their business through savings and loans (for more information see my former post Akwaaba! and check out my personal blog as write and post the details from my trip). Returning to McCombs for my final semester, I brought back several lessons from my adventure.


Educational/Professional Takeaways

The first and biggest benefit of this opportunity was that it really tested my understanding of basic business concepts. When teaching people the purpose and importance of saving, describing what interest was and how it worked, and explaining the role of a guarantor of a loan, etc., there were times I had to really dig deep and think about how I could explain this to someone who had no former experience with these sorts of financial terms. When I was asked to explain interest, for example, my automatic mental response was “time value of money”. I had to really step back and find a way to explain clearly the concept of interest. Other members of the microfinance brigade had to tap into their knowledge and explain things like what savings are, what a loan is, how to analyze risks, rewards of a business plan, and explaining how to maintain a ledger.

Being welcomed to Ebiram by the kids
Being welcomed to Ebiram by the kids

The next benefit was gaining experience in working across cultural boundaries. English is the main language of Ghana, and children learn English in school. However, must of the adults we worked with weren’t proficient in speaking English because there aren’t many opportunities to practice outside of school. We worked with families through interpreters. The interpreters also aided in explaining the cultural significance of things the families would tell us, because there is nothing similar to it in the US. Another cultural difference we encountered was the need to avoid gestures and body language that would be construed as offensive while working with the families. For example, in Ghanaian culture it is insulting to show others the bottoms of your feet. This meant that crossing your legs was a big “no-no”, which was really difficult to remember because it was second nature to most of us.

Our microfinance work also taught us how to ask effective questions in order to gain an understanding of the primary businesses and industries of the families of the village and provide the best advice to grow their businesses.  Most families didn’t consider the activities they engaged in as “work”, and were engaged in a number of things. They also had one main source of income, in addition to farming and making charcoal for their families. Putting my cost accounting classes to good use, we crunched the numbers we gathered about each family’s business and came up with a savings plan for them to reach their financial goals.

Personal Takeaways

Hook 'em Horns!
Hook ‘em Horns!

I have had the opportunity to visit a number of countries this year, and never have I been to a place where I was so welcomed, accepted, and appreciated outside of my family. Ekumfi Ebiram is probably the most beautiful place I have ever been, not because of its physical characteristics, but because of the beauty of the people’s culture and hearts. I found the community we worked in to be very courageous as a whole. After all, they regularly welcome in cycles of college students, who have little to no understanding of their culture, with open arms and eagerness. They let us into their homes where we poke around their personal lives and analyze their private decisions all because they hope to better their lives and the lives of their children.

This trip resulted in my becoming very appreciative of a lot of things I typically take for granted. At a superficial level, I will now appreciate toilets, full-sized showers, air conditioning, lattes, pizza, and internet access. But on a more meaningful level, I am so very appreciative that I was able to pursue my education to the full extent I wanted to. Most individuals in Ghana do not continue education past the junior high level because high school is not subsidized by the government and most families can’t afford to send their kids. The government also has no educational loan system in place, so without the money there is no chance an individual can use education to break out of the circle of poverty. Knowing millions of people go without them every day, I am also grateful for the opportunity to have access to things like healthcare, clean water, a bed, food, and all the things we take for granted.

Points to Ponder from MPA Council Ethics Week

MPA Council had its second annual ethics week on October 21st through 25th in conjunction with the university wide Integrity-UT week. During this week, MPA Council hosted multiple events, including a screening of the movie Wall Street, an ethics lecture led by Professor Robert Prentice, and an ethics discussion for students.

My personal favorite event was Professor Prentice’s lecture, and the points he brought up will stay with me for some time to come and hopefully will lead me to make ethical decisions in my career.

He opened the lecture by pointing out that, as individuals, we tend to think we are one person who acts a certain way based on our original personalities. However, research shows that our decisions are heavily influenced by our environments and these environments can even change our personalities.

Money especially can have a huge impact on the decisions we make. Professor Prentice showed multiple academic researches that showed people behaved much more selfishly and minimized the concerns of other people in their decision when prompted with money.

Morality is something we consider when dealing with other people, and as money takes us farther away from the consequences to others, we are less likely to make ethical decisions.

Other things can also influence our decision making, such as the colors present in our immediate environment and the actions of others around us.

To learn more about Professor Prentice work in business ethics, you can check out his work and the perspective of ethics from McCombs students through Ethics Unwrapped.


Recruiting Pep Talk

Be prepared- It is nerve racking coming into an event trying to make a good impression on an employer. Being prepared will ease your fears, and let you focus on what you are there to do. Being prepared goes farther beyond company research, being prepared means also know your own schedule and accommodating your recruiting events so you are not stressed about how much study time you are missing out on. Being prepared also means being sure on what the dress code is, where the event is, and how you plan on getting there, so you can show up on time and ready. Unfortunately, in both accounting and recruiting, the devil is in the details, and taking the time to account for them will help you not sweat the small stuff.

Be inquisitive- Ask lots of questions at these events. You have questions, and they have answers, so be sure to ask away. Asking questions about the work you are going to see as first year staff, advancement opportunities, training and mentorship programs, etc., shows you are serious about pursuing a career with the company.

Be eager- Every year, I see students at events for a firm they have firmly decided to not accept an offer that are completely disengaged and are making no attempt at hiding this decision. Even if you have decided to not go with a firm, if you find yourself at that firm’s event make an effort to seem be eager to be there because this network you establish in recruiting will follow you during your professional career. Not to mention recruiters talk to each other. In my experience, eagerness is the quality that translates to recruiters the most and is the hardest to fake. Recruiters remember people that are eager to be at their events.

Be professional- You will bond with recruiters, but remember they aren’t necessarily your friends. Avoid topics and language that would make a future employer hesitate to put you in front of a client. Again, remember that recruiters talk, so things can carry across firm lines.

Be yourself- This is the most important “Be” by far. The whole purpose of recruiting is to see where your personality and skill set will fit the best. It’s impossible to determine if you fit if you are not being yourself, and being whoever you think recruiters want you to be.



This December, I will be going to the Central Region of Ghana through Global Brigades on a microfinance brigade with a number of other students from the University of Texas.  I usually am not one to step out of my comfort zone in such a bold manner, but coming to the end of my college career has forced me to think considerably about what I want to be and what I want to do in this world. I want to have an experience at the outset of my professional career that remodels my view on success, and an experience I can be truly proud of long after I leave the 40 acres. This opportunity seemed to be the perfect chance for me to accomplish these goals.

What is microfinance?

At the beginning of the semester, I had little to no idea of what microfinance encompassed. I have come to learn that microfinance is the provision of financial services to people living in poverty. These financial services include loans, savings, insurance, and financial literacy training. Microfinance has become one of the great success stories in the developing world over the past 30 years and has become widely recognized as a sustainable solution to poverty in developing countries worldwide.  In fact, the Bangladeshi professor of economics, Muhammad Yunus, that developed the concepts of microcredit and microfinance won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his “efforts through microcredit to create economic and social development from below” through the Grameen Bank.

Microfinance’s increasing role in development has been brought on by a number of factors. The first of which is the fact that the poor need access to productive resources, with financial services being a key resource, if they are to be able to improve their conditions of life. Another factor is the realization that the poor have the capacity to use loans effectively for generating income, saving, and repaying loans.

Many studies have been conducted on microfinance and its role in development. Generally, microfinance has been shown to help very poor households meet basic needs and protect themselves against risks, to improve household economic welfare, and to empower women by supporting women’s economic participation and promoting gender equity.

Microfinance creates access to productive capital for the poor, which when combined with human capital developed through education and training, enables individuals, families, and communities to move out of poverty. The provision of material capital to an individual in poverty can help strengthen his sense of dignity and empower him to participate in economical and societal affairs.

What am I going to be doing?

To get a better picture of what I will be doing, take a look at this 5 minute video produced by students who have gone to Ghana on a microfinance brigade in the past. To check out my personal page, click here!


Czech it Out- Cultural Excursions

In Old Town Square before our walking tour!

Yet another installment of my summer abroad experience!

While in the study abroad program, you have a cultural liaison who is affiliated with UT (usually a masters or PhD student) that is familiar with the culture and fluent in the language. Your liaison is responsible for organizing cultural events every week so you get a good taste of the culture in your short time abroad.

Our liaison was Jaro, a UT PhD student from Slovakia, and he did an excellent job organizing our events so we would get a feel for the distinctive culture in Prague.

The cultural event for our first week was an extensive walking tour of the city so we could get our bearings. This was very informal and a good way to start to get to know our fellow MPA students also in Prague. Prague is a city rich with history: stretching back from being the cultural center of the Holy Roman Empire under Emperor Charles IV, being invaded by Prussians, becoming the capital of Czechoslovakia, being invaded by Nazis, being taken over by communist powers at the end of WWII, to leading the Velvet Revolution to end the communist regime. Prague also is one of the most picturesque cities in the world with it beautiful baroque architecture that is everywhere you turn. The only unfortunate thing about the walking tour is that we found ourselves in the worst flood of the decade (and a nation-wide state of emergency) so some of the areas close to the Vltava river, including the famous Charles Bridge, were closed.

Jaro leading our tour in the Communist Museum

The next week, Jaro was our personal tour guide through the Prague Communist museum. Jaro shared his personal experience growing up in a communist country, and the experiences of his family during the communist regime. This is where the effect of Communism became really apparent, and it became impossible to ignore how often you saw its impact on the city throughout the rest of the trip.

Prague is a city famous for its jazz music. Some go as far to say it’s the best city next to New Orleans for jazz in the world. The city has many famous jazz clubs where all the American greats have performed out. Even Bill Clinton graced the citizens of Prague with a performance on the saxophone while he was here as US president. Jaro booked us a jazz river cruise for the night after our exam for Professor Kamas’ half of the course. I think he was so nice to us since we missed the river sights on our earlier cultural experiences due to flooding. We enjoyed the company of our fellow MPAs, Professor Kamas and his wife, wonderful jazz music, and the beautiful sights of the Prague waterfront.

Our last cultural experience was a visit to the opera. Prague is famous for its opera, and it was definitely a … hmmm, how do I say this…. cultural experience. So, it turns out opera is not my cup of tea, but it was still a wonderful experience and I can now say that I have attended an opera!