About a year ago I was avidly reading the IBD (International Business Development) blog from Haas written by business school students working on projects in developing countries. I’ve just arrived in Gabon, Africa a few days ago, and up until about an hour ago, sans luggage. Last year I spent some time in Eastern and South Africa for a project. I had heard that Gabon was a relatively rich country, rich in oil with a relatively high GDP for the region. I have never been to central or west Africa, and had no idea how critical the ‘relative’ was in those statements.
Gabon seems very different then what I expected. There is very little infrastructure. In Libreville, the largest city, the roads are poor, the buildings are old and the amenities are minimal. My team of 4, are staying in a house with about 12 other people, 3 bathrooms and many mosquito nets. The water turns off at 9pm and the bathroom sinks rarely have running water during the day. The temperature is in the 90’s and with the humidity at 95%, it feels like 105. Without any luggage for three days straight, working full time in this heat was more than a bit difficult.
Nonetheless the project we’re working on is super exciting, and this is exactly the kind of experience I’ve been wanting. Gabon has one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. We’re building a strategy for a sustainable partnership between the hydrocarbon industry (oil and gas companies) and local conservation societies to protect the Gabonese coast. In the past, Gabon’s economy has almost completely relied on their natural resources – oil. However, the increasing presence of these companies along the coast is slowing destroying the otherwise untouched, beautiful and unique ecosystem. There are four of us, all students, working on this together for the next three weeks. My team is incredible and we all complement each other well, each with our own style, but all working well and having fun at the same time. It’s eye opening to see parts of the world that we rarely think about on a day to day basis. It’s a stark realization of how different things are in this world, how uneven things are often distributed; it puts many things in our lives into perspective.