Seeking Out the “Hot Cities”

Ulaanbaatar by Johnny Sheldrick on Flickr

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

This Reading Week, a group of  students from the faculties of Management, Arts, Education, and Engineering will travel to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia and Seoul, South Korea to experience business within rapidly emerging markets. Their journey, the sixth Hot Cities of the World Tour, will be led by Desautels Professor Karl Moore.

Six years ago, Dr. Moore started the program with the help of Heather Reisman, CEO of Indigo and McGill alumnus, and her husband Jerry Schwartz, a Canadian businessman. With the help of Reisman and Schwartz, a group of of 20 McGill students and 20 Ivy students traveled to Israel. According to Dr. Moore, the motive of the annual tour was to “bring the future to the future.”

Destinations are selected based on current and projected rates of economic growth. This year, Ulaanbaatar and Seoul were selected due to their unique characteristics, “Ulaanbaatar had one of largest growth rates over the past five years of any city in the world,” stated Dr.Moore, “and Seoul is one of the most interesting emerging economies, a developed economy but was emerging not too long ago and has great high tech with LG and Samsung.”

xoxoryan on Flickr

Seoul, South Korea

During the trip, students will meet with 10-13 business and political leaders. Included in the list this year are the executives of leading mining and technology companies, a senator and MP in Korea, and a minister of the Mongolian government. These opportunities are provided through McGill alumni and student connections, and are coordinated by the student leaders, Mia Bernhardt and Aliénor Lemieux-Cumberlege.

Mia Bernhardt explained why the trip is a unique opportunity for students. “The biggest thing is that it is a chance for students to move outside the classroom…On this trip, you can’t just sit in the corner, listen, and take notes. We’re reaching out to high up people and they are giving their time; therefore it’s our chance to absorb everything,” expressed Bernhart.

A diverse educational and professional experience

Students from the Arts, Education, and Management faculties are participating in the trip along with professionals and alumni. In previous years, MBAs also participated, although this year the trip has an undergraduate focus. For the first time, the Faculty of Engineering is also represented, with two mining engineering students attending. Mongolia has a large mining sector and could present a good learning opportunity for the students. Delphine Quach, one of the mining students participating, is excited by the opportunity.

“Mining is starting to be a big industry in Mongolia,” she says, “Mongolia should  be one of the main reserves of copper and coal in the world, but because of political issues, they do not know how to access these resources. So it’s very important to compare Canadian and Mongolian industries.”

The trip also attracted the interests of two exchange students who were studying at McGill last semester. Xindi Zang, an exchange student from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, expressed her interest in the trip, “The Hot Cities Tour sounded like a unique and interesting trip that I wouldn’t have the chance to experience with any other institution. I was attracted to the philosophy of paying it forward and stepping into far-flung countries with awareness for the social, cultural and business environment.”

About 20  of the 30 students participating in the Hot Cities trip are also registered in the optional course. The course, instructed by Dr. Moore, focuses on the theories of national competitiveness by Michael Porter and Richard Florida. Dr. Moore asserts that the trip allows student to see these theories first-hand, “when we go abroad, it is a more integrated course because we look at how we manage differently in Mongolia versus Canada and we can look at how we market globally and locally. These sorts of issues we see in spades by being over there,” explained Dr. Moore.

Aliénor Lemieux-Cumberlege also expressed the academic value of the trip, “It is a crash course in international management, except there is no textbook and it’s based only on case studies and interviews with people,” expressed Lemieux-Cumberlege, “The experience is a really cool way of getting a lot of information from people who are well placed and know what they are talking about.”

“Paying it Forward”

Started four years ago, a philanthropic aspect was also added to the trip, where students assist a charity in one of the cities they are visiting. This year, the students chose The Veloo Foundation, a charity providing early education to impoverished children in Ulaanbaatar. The Veloo Foundation also employs women in the area and sponsors dedicated women to receive proper certification for teaching preschool. Aside from fundraising, the students will assist the charity in updating its website, mission statement, and business model.

“Because the charity uses a systems based approach, the scope is very broad and there are many different projects,” explained Bernhardt, “Business side functions have taken a backseat as she’s focused on the mission and getting things done.”

The project, while serving primarily to assist the Foundation, also provides a lesson to students in international business and nonprofit consulting, “We are acknowledging the power we have as McGill students, and seeing how we can directly transfer this knowledge to someone else so that we best fit the needs of the charity,” said Aliénor Lemieux-Cumberlege.

Aside from the consulting experience, the coordinators also expressed that the charity aspect provides opportunities for students to engage in and practice social media marketing. The engagement with the charity also provides a perspective of corporate social responsibility. “Corporate social responsibility is too often used just as a buzzword. When we go on these trips, we’re not a corporation, but we are a major entity – and we shouldn’t be giving back just because it looks good, but rather because if you want to participate in a country’s economy, you have to realise what issues it faces and participate in challenging those as well,” continued Lemieux-Cumberlege

The coordinators  also explained that all fundraising associated with the trip will go directly to the charity’s activities and not into covering the cost of the trip or supporting the foundation’s overhead and institutional costs.

A Networking and Community Building Opportunity

The trip also provides students with a special opportunity to interact with their peers, “I meet a lot of people that I would otherwise never see, and students can have a lot of conversations with other smart, young people.  It’s in these conversations that a lot of the richness occurs” stated Dr. Moore.

Inter-faculty cohesion is encouraged on the tour as well, “If you go from an Engineering building to an Arts building, to the Management building, they’re all very different,” said Quach, “just sharing a room with someone who is not in the same faculty and has had a different experience at McGill really increases relations between faculties.”

Aside from the business side of the trip, participants in the tour will also have the chance to experience the cultures of the cities they visit by participating in fun activities such as staying in traditional Mongolian yurts. Moore insists that this side of the tour is crucial for students, “as a good businessperson, you need to understand culture; understanding a country’s music, art, and history will make you more apt to be a successful businessperson.”

Students will depart for The Hot Cities of the World Tour on February 28th and return on March 9th. The events of the tour, and more details about  The Veloo Foundation can be found at