Experiencing the “X for good” at INSEAD

Nhi Dao

“X for good” is a popular catchphrase nowadays. You can substitute “X” with anything – business, tech, artificial intelligence, non-fungible tokens, and so on.

Nhi Dao

Nhi L. Dao
Intern, Office of the COVAX Facility

MBA 21'D


Aspiring to contribute, I was keen to explore my own “X”, but perplexed about how “X for good” idealism actually applies in the real world and what its challenges are.

So it was with much curiosity that I arrived at the INSEAD campus determined to find some answers.

In February 2021, one month into the MBA programme, an exciting opportunity was thrown at me: INSEAD’s Master Strategy Day (MSD), a capstone project for the core course in Strategy in which students apply frameworks they have learnt to solve a social problem. We were asked to formulate a market entry plan for MiracleFeet, a low-cost provider of treatment for clubfoot, and to expand its existing operations from predominantly low-income countries to middle-income countries.

This meant terms such as operating model, revenue stream and growth strategy would mean more than simply profit generation. The right route-to-market meant we could reach more children with clubfoot whose future would be crippled without a $500 intervention, and to those whose parents are either unaware of or can’t afford the treatment.

Each child treated is a future saved - and given a second chance.

So, there I was, ready to go all-in to see for myself how business could solve a societal problem. Following 24 hours navigating through a river of data, challenges, ideas, analysis, my group won first place by a landslide thanks to our “creative but practical proposal”, in the judges’ words. We recommended MiracleFeet “stand on the shoulders of giants”, e.g, build upon immunizsation programmes in low-to-middle-income countries (LMICs’) and popular organisations like the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), National Basketball Association (NBA) and churches to expand its reach and diversify its funding. My experience working on commercial growth projects in rural Vietnam had taught me challenges of market expansion in LMICs, especially for resource-constrained NGOs like MiracleFeet.

At last, I saw how business could be a force for good. Or so I thought. What I experienced later in the summer rocked my assumptions - for good.

Wanting to bring to life my team’s proposal, I decided to pursue a summer internship with MiracleFeet in summer 2021. The experience exposed me to the challenges unique to the social entrepreneurship world: resource constraints and a complex ecosystem.

To my surprise, our team seems to have overlooked one core challenge that MiracleFeet staff face on the ground: the importance of engaging with local government. So I rolled up my sleeves and interviewed experts and practitioners in the public health space to develop a government readiness index. This was designed to help the organisation determine which countries to enter based on how ready the public health system and political machinery are to adopt MiracleFeet’s solution. Solving a public health problem clearly involves having a wider network of stakeholders, which I had rarely encountered in my previous for-profit job, if not for the experience at MiracleFeet.

The INSEAD Master Strategy Day had allowed us to apply strategic business thinking to a public health issue, while the summer internship with MircaleFeet challenged me to customise the one-size-fit-all strategic framework to address the complexity of a multi-stakeholder system.

This is common in social innovation as it entails more interdependencies at the system level. The complexity intrigued me enough to go beyond the boundary of one firm and observe at a systemic level how the public and private sectors can join hands to solve social challenges.

As I embark on another internship at Gavi, the vaccine alliance and a public-private partnership in the global health sector, I am glad to have a more tangible grasp of how to apply the “X for good” framework, regardless of what the “X” is, to the next stage of my career.

Note: INSEAD is grateful to the Hugo van Berckel Award and Moondance Foundation for their generous support.