Exploring Global Education in Cuba

Cuba has only recently opened its doors to U.S. diplomatic relations and visitors, which means that Wharton MBA for Executives (WEMBA) students enjoyed a privileged view of the socialist country.

“The fact that diplomatic relations are starting to open up made this a fascinating time to visit. The country will change dramatically and I wanted to see Cuba while it was still frozen in time,” Dr. Shika Pappoe, West Coast WEMBA student, wrote in a blog post about her experiences.

WEMBA students from the Philadelphia and San Francisco campuses traveled to Cuba for their Global Business Week this past fall. They explored the country through both official and unofficial visits, which allowed them to be immersed in the burgeoning business community and connect with everyday citizens.

“I wanted to see the hope and anticipation among the people for what is to come,” Pappoe said.

“We also learned about the country when we went off the beaten path. We felt comfortable walking around Havana and talking to the locals,” Rob Specht, an East Coast student and portfolio manager at Philadelphia’s SEI Investments, added in the online article.

Students also got the official take on Cuba’s present economic and business situation, engaging in conversations about the country’s financial situation, currency issues and development goals.
Cuba’s former minister of health gave them an overview of the nation’s famous health care system. The system is set up so that patients have consistent, close contact with doctors, from the medical office to the grocery store where they pick up their prescriptions. Pappoe, a health care professional herself, engaged Cuban medical staff on what-ifs, such as what they would do if they were handed $1 million.

“We saw time and again how our … views about money and the allocation of funds differ,” Pappoe said.

The reflections of Kent Smetters, Wharton’s Boettner Professor of Business Policy and Economics who led the Global Business Week Cuba trip, speak to this difference in viewpoints.

“I am cautiously hopeful about Cuba’s future,” he said. “But Cuban officials must first reverse their post-revolutionary system that penalizes effort and creativity instead of placing all of the blame on the U.S. embargo.”

As part of the Global Learning aspect of the Wharton MBA for Executives Program, students could choose to travel to Cuba, as well as China or Spain.