End of Week 1 in Ghana

June 21, 2008

Now that IBD in Gabon is over, I am in Ghana for a 10 week internship at BusyInternet, which started as an internet cafe/copy center, but also offers a plethora of services ranging from ISP (dial-up, broadband, satellite) and SME (small/medium enterprise) incubation to laptop repair, event hosting, and movie nights.

Ghana (15)

Busy is located off of Ring Rd., which is one of the main roads in Accra:

Ghana (35)

Most of this week was consumed by organizing and facilitating a two-day workshop for brainstorming the restructuring of Busy’s ISP business unit. I am pleasantly surprised to have the opportunity to apply concepts learned from my Organizational Behavior class this past fall =). I have also started interviewing people from Busy’s various departments (HR, Finance, Sales, Tech, Help Desk, etc.) to get to know the business better and also assess Busy’s functional requirements for a CRM implementation. It’s a bit intimidating thinking about designing, configuring, testing, deploying, and training a CRM application in 10 weeks (especially when this is usually done by a large team of consultants over the course of at least six months), but I hope that whatever I accomplish, I will make a lasting impact.

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[IBD: Gabon] Last Day in Libreville

June 13, 2008

After three weeks, IBD Team Gabon’s life in Libreville has come to an end. Here are some of the things we’ve learned along the way:

·    Images of President Bongo (basically a democratic dictator) are everywhere – wall prints, button-up shirts, and on billboard signs, like this one, which reads: 40 years – Peace, Unity, Stability and Progress:

40 Years of Peace, Unity, Stability and Progress

  • Paper products such as napkins, toilet paper, and paper towels are a precious commodity. Don’t leave home without a roll of toilet paper.
  • The cost of taxis is not based on a meter but rather distance, time of day, and cab driver’s mood. Always set the price before getting in the cab (1000-1500 CFA).
  • Mosquitoes are strangely lethargic here – a quick clap can result in one smushed ‘skeeter.
  • There are more stray cats than dogs here. These poor kitties are usually over-looked and desperate for attention.
  • Running is an oddity. Every time we went for a run around our neighborhood, we received not only stares from every passer-by, but also shouts of “Ils sont fous!” (“they are crazy!”).
  • Our botanist friend Manuel once told us, “The Gabonese got rich at the wrong time in history” referring to the proliferation of tacky 70s style architecture:

  •  Flexibility and patience are critical to doing business in Africa. A 10 o’clock meeting may not start until 1 pm. Someone says that they will email you a document the next day, and you have to send a courier to go pick up a paper copy… three weeks later. You tell your British client that you need someone to take you to the airport for your 11:15 am flight, and about 15 minutes after the time you should have been picked up, he sends you a text saying that you’ll be picked up at 11:00.
  • Many residents of Libreville display a very French sense of “malaise”, seemingly perpetually dissatisfied with life. However, a quick bonjour or bonsoir accompanied by a smile will nearly always result in a reciprocal greeting.

Time Flies (Even in Zambia) When You’re Crunching

June 12, 2008

So much has happened in the two and a half weeks we have been here:

Client: we began the difficult task of figuring out how our client, COMACO (Community Markets for Conservation), can become financially sustainable. We are now in crunch mode as we put the finishing touches on our document. We have locked ourselves in meeting rooms of our hotel here in Lusaka many a day and night to get our work done. What we thought would be a much shorter and tighter document than that which was created by last year’s team is turning out to be quite large, already surpassing last year’s document in length.

Zambian Culture: Let me say how nice Zambian people are. On our first day in Lusaka, we were trying to visit a market downtown. We asked a random driver on the street whether the market was walking distance. He laughed and said it was not but would we like a ride? Grateful for the kind offer, we squeezed into this man’s modestly-sized sedan. The driver dropped us off at the market entrance gladly, free of charge. I say free of charge because, it turns out, anyone can give rides and act like a taxi (which is fine as long as they take you to your destination, right?). We briefly contemplated helping COMACO become self-sustainable by outsourcing their vehicles for a few days and turning it into an impromptu taxi service. They’d be financially sustainable in no time because taxis are expensive here.

Speaking of vehicles, the Nissan Patrol that has been lent to us during our stay here is not the most reliable nor smoothest piece of masterful engineering ever made. Every morning, we have to push the car so that it starts. We automatically park the car facing downhill, no matter where we are or how long we are going to be gone for.

We have also taken many a bus ride up and down the Eastern Province and the Southern Province. These are no short bus rides, as Daniel described a few posts ago. They are whole adventures in and of themselves (and that’s just on the bus…or off the bus, when it breaks down). Between one other teammate and I, we have gotten 6 free bananas from kind strangers. Though we tried to pay for them, Zambians refused to take payment. We were gifted delicious bananas by people who don’t have much in the way of income.

What else have we done? We have learned a lot in the process of figuring out how to make honest recommendations to our client. Today, we gave our third and final presentation of our findings to our client’s staff. We hope we did a good job and that the staff got a lot of it; we believe this is the case.

In the midst of furiously finishing this massive audit report today, I went down to a local radio station with one of the COMACO managers and recorded a 15-minute radio feature about COMACO’s product line called It’s Wild! In true Zambian style, we had to go down to the radio station twice because the first one didn’t take.  Apparently, the power went out and the recording we did the first time didn’t take. I have never been on the radio before so go figure I’d be on the radio in Zambia.

Last weekend, we did take a 1.5 day break down in Livingstone where we canoed 20 kilometers down the Zambezi river. It was a lot of fun but somehow I hurt my arm. It’s still swollen and in pain. I also have a rash on both my arms (again). I seem to be much more fragile than I ever imagined. But it was a nice break from our intense work schedule.

Canoeing: In our first 20 minutes of canoeing, we were surprised by a hippo that jumped in the water right in front of us. It scared us pretty good. Hippos are territorial and if you get too close to them, they attack. And they are HUGE. The canoe I was in took a little too long to paddle away (us lefties are smart and creative folks but sometimes uncoordinated, perhaps?). I thought we were done for. We eventually paddled to safety.

Victoria Falls: We got to see Vic Falls in Livingstone. That was incredible. It’s a very wide and impressive waterfall, loud and “smoky” in the sense that the water falls, then rises then falls again, raining down as if it were, well, rain. Our canoeing guide told us that animals sometimes get swept by the river and down the edge of the falls. The bodies of such animals are eaten by villagers. Funny how nature works.

Next steps: Flying home tomorrow.  We have had a great experience and look forward to telling people about our adventures.  We also look forward to applying our new knowledge to future projects and our careers.


[Mayfield Fellows: China] The Great Wall and Goodbyes

June 6, 2008

Our last day in China was a blast, a great way to end our Mayfield trip. 

We woke up early and loaded onto a bus that took us to the Great Wall in Badaling, a 1.5hr trip.  As we drove into the mountains, the scenery was amazing.  We had a tour guide on the bus that none of us could understand except David.  All we remembered was how loud the volume was!  Badaling’s Great Wall point is perhaps the most touristy of the Great Wall destinations – cheap souvenirs, fake wood entrance (think Matterhorn or Splash Mtn), and speakers blasting Kenny G (I kid you not!).  We were a bit taken aback by this introduction to the Great Wall.  But, once we all made it up to the wall itself and began our climb (we climbed from tower 4 to tower 9), our initial skepticism was washed away.  This wall truly is amazing, especially when you consider it took decades to build, 10 thousand people, and it spans approx. 10k miles in total!!  This is one experience I will never forget – just like the Taj Mahal in India.  How lucky we are to experience 2 of the greatest man-made feats of engineering in one trip!!

 

 By the end of this Great Wall experience, we were in high spirits.  We felt on top of the world; the Mayfield Fellows are prepared to tackle any obstacle; any challenge or issue we know we can navigate to a solution.  Like getting back home:

Well, eventually we found our bus and made it back to Beijing.  Our final event was a good one — dinner with some of our Haas classmates and some of the 2010 new admits!!  We ate in a very cool area called Hohai, which is a bar/restaurant area surrounding a small lake.  I don’t remember the name of the restaurant where we ate, but it was very tasy!  We crammed 12+ folks into a small private room and had a blast.  I wish I had a picture of this event, but I had already used up my 2 GB of memory space on my camera (yeah, I took ~600 pictures on this trip!!)… 

And that was that.  We woke up very early the next day, caught a cab to the airport, and spent the next 24 hours traveling back to the US through Hong Kong.  Our Mayfield Trip 2008 has come to a close and now we are on to beginning our summer internships.  What an experience!!  We met with so many successful folks on our trip from VC, law firms, etc – some great contacts.  We saw some amazing sites, and experienced some of the finer aspects of the Indian and Chinese cultures.  And we ate (and ate, and ate) some extremely delicious, and occasionally adventurous, meals.  I have to shout out some kudos to Uday and David for their excellent job in being our tour guides, translators, food experts, etc in India and China respectively.  Thanks guys, you were great!!  And with that, I am signing off – Mayfield Fellows 2008 trip blog is officially complete!!


[Mayfield Fellows: China] Operation Do-Everything-In-China On Road to Success

June 6, 2008

We Mayfield Fellows don’t quite know how to describe this two week trip; is it a vacation?  A business trip?  I think it’s just a big mash-up of both.  But in any event, we have certainly done a lot, whether it be educational meetings or sightseeing excursions.  The wear-and-tear on the team is showing, but we’re still kicking (on fumes) and having a great time!

Our last day in Shanghai was productive.  Brian had been on a mission since we arrived in China to go to the Shanghai Museum.  We decided against going Saturday afternoon because the line was wrapped around the building – we thought we’d be clever and show up early on Sunday morning to beat the crowds.  Well, little did we know, Sunday was a holiday (Children’s Day), so the line was even longer in the morning, full of families waiting to get inside!!  Once inside, we experienced four floors of very cool, historical artifacts.  I took lots of pictures of many of these exhibits, here are a few of my favorites:


We had one last meeting that day with NEA Ventures, and one last evening on the town. We then said goodbye early Monday morning. 

Beijing — our last leg of the trip, home of the summer olympics (in ~2 months). I have to say, I’m not sure they’ll actually be ready for the games by then!  Lots of construction is happening all over town, restoration of lots of the sites, etc, but I cannot see how the city will be ready by the start of the games.  Reminds me of that commercial for Coke (or something) before Athens where the sprinters ran through a construction site of workers finishing the stadium!

Yesterday we visited Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, right in the center of Beijing.  Quite cool, although we found ourselves very ignorant of the historical significance of what we saw.  I need to review my 8th grade world history books I guess…

We ate dinner at a famous restaurant renowned for its Peking Duck dishes.  I can say we certainly had opportunity to eat duck – pretty much every part of the duck!  I can elaborate later, it was a new, and actually delicious, experience!!

Today, we visited the new Olympic Stadium and surrounding area – there is quite a bit of Olympic excitement all around town, and the new structures are quite amazing!

Well, this is my last blog entry from China – we have one last day, which I am very excited about, as we will be traveling to the Great Wall for a day trip!  Should be a great way to end our Chinese experience.  I will finish out our Mayfield trip blog after I get back to the states, so stay tuned!


[IBD: Gabon] An average day working in Libreville

June 6, 2008
IBD Team Gabon’s daily routine in Libreville:
1. Le petit dejeuner: A light breakfast consisting of French bread with butter/jam/Nutella, and powdered coffee w/powdered milk.
2. Head to the old office of the Wildlife Conservation Society so that we can check email before our first interview.
3. Pile into the back of a sedan or smelly taxi and head to our first interview.
4. Wait anywhere from 15 minutes to over two hours.
5. Our WCS client introduces us, and Sergio masterfully drives the interview in near flawless French. Kris and Charlene listen intently and scribble notes in EngliFrench.
6. We pose for a formal photo:
 
7. If we’re lucky, we have lunch at a random restaurant. If not, then we have ham & cheese baguettes at the hospital cafeteria across the street.
8. We head to our afternoon interviews. Continue to sweat in our business clothes.
9. Work at the old WCS office.
10. Hail a taxi to head home:
11. Go for a run (while the locals stare and/or laugh at us) or unwind in the living room:
12. Eat dinner, cooked by our chef/housekeeper Pierre.

Zambia – First Week

June 1, 2008

IBD’s Team #7 arrived to Zambia on May 19th. After 3 days of safari in the South Luangwa National Park, which Silvia already described, we visited COMACO’s (our client) Conservation Trading Center (CTC) in Mfuwe.

Back in Lusaka, after two meetings with our boss, we took a bus to Lundazi to visit the main CTC of the company. The bus was uncomfortable (it had 5 seats per row instead of the usual 4), the road very bumpy, and the journey long (12 hours and a half), but we made it. We stayed at the Castle Hotel (which is really a castle!), where we had a good time despite the lack of running water.

The first day of work in Lundazi we had many interviews with key staff and we learnt about the production process. The second day we went to the field to visit some farmers with an extension officer to see the real COMACO impact.

The bus trip back to Lusaka was 16 hours long, interrupted by a few mechanical break downs, but I guess it’s all part of the Zambia experience.

Now in Lusaka, we have been working hard for a few days, gathering data and interviewing people, but we still have a long way to go. Getting consistent data is very challenging around here, but we are confident the project will be successful.