In a continuing series of interviews, this is one with a mentor for one of the University of Minnesota teams. Kaleel Ahmad is a marketing professional at 3M in St. Paul. Kaleel is a team mentor, working directly with a team, almost like a coach.

At 3M, Kaleel specializes in managing consumer brands like Post-it(R), new business development, global business strategy as well as merger and acquisition strategy & strategic partnership development.

Here are my questions and Kaleel’s answers.

How (and why) did you get involved in the Acara Challenge pilot?
I got involved with Acara in Jan 2009 at the request of a close friend, who thought I may be interested in this program, due to my background, experience & interests. He thought I may be able to add value to this program.

I got involved after learning the educational & social mission of Acara. It sounded exciting & different. I had some great ideas to make a difference with this pilot program & wanted to be part of it. I always thought programs that combine both academic education with parallel practical experience made the most sense. Meeting the U of M students during the open house convinced of my choice.

How has the experience been?
Great so far. It has been very rewarding. It has opened my thinking to the whole arena of social entrepreneurship.

What has been your biggest surprise in working with the students?
The level of enthusiasm & engagement of the students on solving a problem across the globe. How they have been able to manage working through such a complex issue as well as the adaptation to the situation.

What suggestions do you have for making it better?
Opportunity for the US & India teams to interact more. I heard there were some start-up issues with some of the teams. I focused my team on making sure they built a trusting relationship. I think we need think of more ways to simplify this cross national communication. The challenge problem formulation process can also benefit from some extra work.

Anything else you would like to say?
I am really looking forward to completion of phase 1 in early May so the team can present the fruits of all the hard work, then see how I can help with any future projects on this program. We need more of these types of programs.

I am also hoping to invite the winning team to be interviewed on one of the local Public TV Programs (Diversity in Focus TV) where I volunteer as a host. (Note: Kaleel is also a host on Geetmala TV)