Into the Wild

By Mia Cara Mendoza, Global MBA Student Ambassador 2019 – 2020, Strategy & Management Major, Singapore

The ESSEC Global MBA 2020 cohort went on a one-of-a-kind learning experience that took us to the jungles in Northern Sumatra.

After an early morning flight from Changi airport and a 4-hour van ride through the bumpy roads of Indonesia, we arrived at Bukit Lawang. Bukit Lawang is a tourist village located on the edge of Gunung Leuser National Park – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the Sumatran orangutan. Racing through the village is the river Bohorok, where locals and tourists alike can take a leisurely swim or ride on a tube through the river’s rapids. The winding streets were lined with a mix of jungle foliage, small inns and restaurants, tourist shops, and glimpses of the Bohorok river. Our group carried our luggage on a 10-minute mini hike through the village until we reached our home for the next four days – Hotel Orangutan.

The ESSEC – Hotel Orangutan team wasted no time to kickstart our Jungle Innovation experience. After settling in and having lunch, we immediately dived into to our first workshop on Design Thinking. Here, we were taught to reframe our problem-solving minds and focus on being human-centric. Over the next few days, we would be living in and experiencing Bukit Lawang in the way the locals and visitors do. We were challenged to talk to the different people we meet, learn as much as we can, and come up with an innovative solution on how to make Bukit Lawang more successful.

ESSEC also arranged for us to meet with DBS’s former Chief Innovation Officer and the owner of Hotel Orangutan, Neal Cross. Neal is considered as one of the most disruptive CIOs in the world; and, within minutes of meeting him, we could tell that a passion for learning and a drive to do things differently was ingrained in him. Neal talked about his unconventional background – coming from years of martial arts training. He shared with us that what he learned then – and all his experiences since then – he takes with him wherever he goes. Whether it’s in the boardroom or in the jungle, Neal challenged us to find learning opportunities in every situation and to never limit ourselves to what we think a certain field of knowledge should be. He told us to never call ourselves an “expert”, because that means we already know all there is to know. And that’s never the case.

Jungle Trek

Our second day was dedicated to exploring Bukit Lawang and its most visited attraction – the jungle. We went on a 6-hour hike through Gunung Leuser National Park; and, with the help of our guides, we were able to spot different species of monkeys, birds, as well as the endangered Sumatran orangutan. Coming from a big city to being in the jungle made us realize that it can be so easy to forget that we share our world with many other living things. Seeing these creatures in their natural habitat was beautiful and inspiring, and allowed us to experience nature in a totally different way.

Our guides were so at home in the jungle. They shared with us their tidbits of knowledge that they learned over years of experiencing the jungle and its inhabitants first-hand. They spoke about the environment with much respect and reverence. The jungle was an integral part of Bukit Lawang’s community, and you could feel that the locals knew and appreciated that.

We capped off our jungle trek with a refreshing swim in the river and a trip down the rapids heading back towards Hotel Orangutan. Before ending the day, we took our new jungle knowledge and combined it with insights we gained from talking with locals and tourists both in the jungle and in the village. We were ready for the next day’s Jungle Innovation challenge.

No More Monkey Business – Time to Get Serious

In the process of Design Thinking, we were taught that it’s difficult but important to learn how to let go of your initial good idea and pivot to something new – especially if the stakeholder research points you in that direction. It was vital for us to keep remembering whose problem are we solving, what are their considerations, and how would they use our solution. People. People. People. They are the center of our ideas, and our groups had to tweak, adjust, and refine our solutions to better address their concerns.

We ended up with one group pitching a platform to push ecotourism in Bukit Lawang and another group developing a program to empower the locals to play a bigger part in improving their economic situation. Two powerful and interesting ideas centered on the same goal – how to make Bukit Lawang more successful. At the end, we learned that every proposal has its loopholes and even great ideas can still have a lot to improve on. Our workshop facilitators gave excellent feedback on our pitch and our overall discussion strategy that made the exercise that much more enriching. 

Bonding & Building Blocks

The journey we undertook to discover Bukit Lawang and meet the people involved in making it what it is was a one-of-a-kind experience that our MBA cohort now shares with one another. The lessons and memories that we took from this trip was an excellent foundation on which we’ll build the next 12 months. ESSEC showed us that learning doesn’t just take place in the classroom and that we can draw insight and learning from everywhere.

Enjoy this short video clip prepared by Lemuel Chua, GMBA Student Ambassador 2019-2020: HERE

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