Leandro “Leo” Pongeluppe
Assistant Professor of Management at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
“I don’t think the traditional economist model of, ‘Give me a database and I will explain the world’ works. I need, ‘Okay, give me a database. I will do some analysis, but I have to go to the field, talk to the people, put my foot on the ground, get my hands dirty.'”
Leo Pongeluppe received his PhD in Strategic Management from the University of Toronto Rotman School of Management in 2022. His areas of expertise are the UN Sustainable Development Goals, stakeholder management, mixed methods, and the Global South. He is interested in understanding how organizations’ design and governance affect the achievement of the United Nations’ SDGs such as poverty alleviation, environmental conservation, and healthcare.
According to his Wharton bio, Pongeluppe “co-founded and worked as a PMO at Insper Metricis, a research group dedicated to evaluating projects’ socio-environmental impact. At Insper Metricis, he participated in the design of Brazil’s first Social Impact Bond in partnership with the São Paulo State Government, Sundfeld Attorneys, Social Finance-UK, International Finance Corporation (IFC), and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). He also worked for about three years as an associate researcher at Accenture Institute for High Performance, during which time he participated in projects related to inclusive innovation and public innovation in the context of developing countries, namely Brazil, China, Ghana, India, Mozambique, Nigeria, and South Africa.”
Poets&Quants: Tell me about your Rotman experience, if you will.
Leo Pongeluppe: It was great. I really love the structure that is Rotman. I graduated from the Strategic Management Department. And as you probably know, they have three big areas in the department: econ, org strategy, and sociology. I think this provides a good combination of quantitative techniques and methods for each, but also a more holistic understanding of theories, qualitative methods. So research-wise, it was great. And they also had opportunity for the TAs to teach some classes in the MBA program there with my supervisor Anita McGahan. Was a great experience also to get some toolkits and some more interaction experience with students. That was basically my Rotman endeavor.
And here I will be teaching the core Management course in the MBA. They structure it in three different modules. One module is for strategy, one module human social capital, and one module global strategy. That’s the one that I will be teaching. We taught the first class to the three sections last week. It was great. It was interesting way to engage the students. The three modules try to make connections using the case of Walmart — in my part specifically, their internationalization strategy. I’m looking forward to keeping doing that through the beginning of November.
You had a focus on sustainability in your PhD, correct?
Exactly. My main research agenda is understanding how organizations can affect the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the SDG. I particularly focus on poverty and inequality, environmental issues like climate change and healthcare management. But my dream as a researcher would be to be able to analyze each one of the different 17 goals and how organizations can actually contribute to the achievement of them.
And that’ll be woven into the class that you’re currently taking? Or is that something that you could design a class around yourself somewhere down the road?
I’m trying to bring some of my research to class. One of the classes that I will be teaching is specifically dedicated to issues such as climate change. And in this one, I bring the econometric analysis that I did about Natura, one of those cosmetic companies that have a positive footprint in terms of forest conservation in the Amazon. And not only that, I try to bring podcasts, videos, movies to class that help to highlight, illustrate some of the theoretical points and might then reach the discussion of the students using different medias. I think these might be good ways instead of the classic only reading materials. Try to integrate readings with visuals and stuff. Let’s see how it goes.
Your research has taken you to some pretty far-flung places. You’ve been out in the field to study much of this stuff. So you bring a lot of on-the-ground expertise, too.
Yeah. I usually make this joke with some friends of mine that are economists that I don’t think the traditional economist model of, “Give me a database and I will explain the world” works. I need, “Okay, give me a database. I will do some analysis, but I have to go to the field, talk to the people, put my foot on the ground, get my hands dirty.” And I try to do that with Brazilian favelas, Amazon rainforests, Malawi, and other contexts. I think it provides the researcher with a more in-depth understanding of what is going on.
It’s not just numbers. It’s people.
Exactly. And I think there is a big risk of sometimes thinking it’s just a number. But that’s actually our life. For instance in the case of Malawi, we are talking about patients with HIV/AIDS. And those numbers are people that could have died and didn’t because of intervention and electronic medical records, for instance.
Talk about Wharton as your new professional home. This is one of the world’s top business schools, but it’s also a great place to study and teach sustainability issues, isn’t it?
Yeah. First of all, I’m very fortunate to be here. They have amazing group of scholars working here in different topics, and especially sustainability. They have a team of researchers focusing on new market strategies, ESG, and more, and I think as a leading school, it’s nice to see such an investment dedicated to these areas. Sometimes I see schools that have, ‘Okay, we need a token, a person that is in sustainability so we are not criticized for not having it.’ And I think one of the differential things about Wharton is that they are really bringing it to their core strategy or core teaching and research capability. I think this is amazing. And I hope to contribute back to the group.
You’ve already started the management course this year. So you’ve met some of the MBA students you’re going to be teaching. What are your thoughts on the current crop of new MBAs?
It is outstanding to see, first and foremost, 50% of the class women and 50% men. So we have a good gender balance. I think this is really important looking forward. Second, because my module is global, the first question that I asked in my class was, “How many of you have lived in more than one country?” And we are not considering here only your vacation in Bahamas where you rent the place. And I would say 70 to 75% of the students raise their hand. So really a global perspective from different areas of the world — I think this really enriches not only class, but also the interaction among the students, by bringing together those different perspectives, different values, different cultures. This is something that I’m really excited about, especially given the module that I will teach.
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