It’s been another busy week here in the Middle Kingdom...
...but the numerous rewrites, sleepless nights, and long evening meetings to confirm proper English usage paid off: The Sun Yat-Sen University (SYSU) chapter of Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) last Friday won first place in its league in the regional competitions and will be going on to the China national competition in Shanghai next month. SYSU SIFE, jiayou!
Okay, I’ll back up a bit. In real life, when not trying to help international companies struggle with the complexities of working in China, I teach Human Resources in the international MBA program at Sun Yat-Sen University, a program offered in conjunction with MIT. Last year I started working with the school’s SIFE team, an energetic group of grad and undergrad students from all sorts of disciplines who have made it their mission to take principles they’ve learned about free enterprise and go out into local communities, implement their learnings, and improve the lives of the folks they’ve touched.
The students do this on their own; they have their own structure, they obtain their own financing, they identify and run their own projects, and at the end of the year, they present their results to a panel of judges who score them against some pretty stringent criteria. Business folks and faculty types like me offer occasional words of wisdom and advice but the projects are really all about the students’ capabilities in project management, public relations, influencing skills, marketing, relationship building, and here in China, learning to work through the local government.
In 2008, SYSU SIFE also won at the regional level and went on to take 3rd place in China, beating out even the “prestige” teams from Beijing University and Qinghua. (For U.S. folks, that’s kind of like one of the major public universities beating one of the Ivies.) And, personally, I think the team’s projects and results this year are better than last year’s. Not that I have any bias, you understand.
So last Friday was the regional competition and our presentation room was packed. We were up against schools that were far better funded and one of the Hong Kong universities. SYSU SIFE won a great position... the last to present in our league. The first team went up and did a very good job, but this was only their first year and so most projects had not come to fruition. Mercifully, the team right before us didn’t seem to have prepared very well at all. A 20-minute presentation and it seems they didn’t know their lines.
Then SYSU SIFE took the stage. The video went well. The PowerPoint slides slid by without a hitch. A couple of words were mispronounced (AAARGH!), but out of script of about seven pages, that’s pretty good. But I love how this group has developed their teamwork. We had six presenters, but the other 15 team members present all stood at the back of the classroom to visibly lend moral support to the presenters. Mr. Cranky Judge even paid the team a compliment during the Q&A that followed the formal presentation. Whew!
Sitting with these kids – well, young adults – at the awards ceremony was a hoot. The ritual is that everyone holds hands while the winners and runners up are announced. And when SYSU SIFE’s first place finish was announced, the team jumps up and screams. (And you thought Chinese folks were shy, quiet, and retiring? Really??) And then all 20+ team members tromped down to the stage. A very impressive and intimidating sight to see them all from the stands, let me tell you!
So it’s off to Shanghai in May. Fingers crossed. SYSU SIFE, jiayou!