by Abena Foreman-Trice
What began as a student-led project at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business has turned into a
In the fall of 2012, Darden students who took the Global Field Experiences (GFEs) elective collaborated with
Executive MBA students from the Mediterranean School of Business (MSB) to form a company devoted to the needs of
Tunisian citizens affected by the growing incidence of Alzheimer's
Alzheimer's Family Assistance will offer in-home daily
care, nurse and caregiver training, and memory-stimulating products
for patients. The business will begin providing care in the African
nation in December.
This is the first time that a Darden Global Field Experiences
course has generated a company.
"Global Field Experiences are an opportunity for Darden students
to advance deep learning on what it takes to start, grow and lead
organizations around the world while putting what they have already
learned in their Darden MBA into practice," said Marc Johnson,
executive director of Darden's Center for Global Initiatives, which coordinates the elective's
experiences. "This is the perfect example of the kind of
impact that our students can have and are looking for in pursuing
Spurring a Mission
A group of students at MSB reached out to Darden with a request:
Help them explore the creation of a social enterprise to help
families in Tunisia deal with the difficult impacts of Alzheimer's,
a disease projected to affect 60,000 Tunisians by 2025.
In response, participating Second Year students formed a GFE
project in which they conducted background research on Alzheimer's
in Tunisia, examined the needs of families affected by the disease
and helped to write a business plan for an organization to serve
Alzheimer's patients. Together, the student teams from both schools
developed plans to operate, market and finance a company.
Two years later, Alzheimer's Family Assistance was born.
Dr. Afef Hammami — now a graduate of MSB — is founder of
Alzheimer's Family Assistance. She recently visited the U.S. after
her team successfully presented a business plan for the company to
her professors. In addition to gathering business insights from
Darden faculty and staff members, she also convened with geriatric
care providers and administrators with the Alzheimer's Association,
the world's leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer's
"The disease is horrible," said Hammami. "It's an irreversible
degeneration of the brain that can lead to death, and Tunisian
families don't know what to do for their loved ones who have this
"Today people with dementia diseases in Tunisia are only able to
go to psychiatric hospitals or stay at home with their families,"
said Luiz Velloso (MBA '13), a Darden alumnus who was part of the
project team and attended the business plan presentation at MSB.
"Alzheimer's Family Assistance will provide appropriate care
through assisted living facilities for Alzheimer's patients, as
well as training for patients' families to help them cope."
Along with Velloso, Michelle de Arruda (MBA '13), Hillary Lewis
(MBA '13) and Charlie Lin (MBA '13) comprised the Darden team.
Darden Professor Peter Rodriguez, senior associate dean for degree
programs, served as faculty leader for their project.
Uprising Leads to Political and Economic Change in
In December 2010, the world closely watched Tunisia, where the
first Arab Spring uprising developed. Anger over rampant
unemployment helped fuel protests.
Hammami believes Tunisia's successful transition to a new
government opened the door for opportunities like hers.
"Three years ago we experienced the revolution and we fired
dictators," said Hammami. "With democracy taking hold in Tunisia,
entrepreneurship and the creation of startup companies can now
Hammami also noted that Tunisia is close to many European
countries and has good relationships with other nations in the
Middle East. She believes that business models with social
missions, like hers, will take root and spread throughout the
The History of Global Field
GFEs began in 2012 in response to students and other Darden
stakeholders who requested more experiential, global opportunities
in the School's MBA program. Since its inception, several GFEs have
taken place in Africa.
- Darden students teamed up with students from MSB for a second
time to develop business plans for a social enterprise called
INASanté — a health care services accreditation agency.
- In Thohoyandou, South Africa, students consulted leaders at the
University of Venda on the development of a third income
stream to help the university diversify its support and increase
- In Zambia, Darden students helped the Buffalo Bicycle Company
enhance its financial model, raise new capital and seek new
- In Tanzania, students worked with the World Bank on ways to
spur economic development through "microwork" — small,
Internet-based jobs completed by many different people on a single
In addition, interest in socially responsible organizations is
on the rise among Darden's students. Global Field Experiences help
meet their focus on creating good in the world through
"Global Field Experiences bring the opportunity to not only
learn more about a new country, culture and business context, but
also to help organizations on a path to success at making positive
difference in the lives of people around the world," said
Such is the goal of Alzheimer's Family Assistance.
About the Darden School of Business
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business is
one of the world's leading business schools, offering MBA, Ph.D.
and Executive Education programs. The unique Darden experience
combines the case study method, top-ranked faculty whose research
advances global managerial practice and business education, and a
tight-knit learning environment to develop responsible and complete
leaders who are ready to make an impact.
Director of Media Relations
Darden School of Business
University of Virginia
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