School Feeding in Ghana!

September 8, 2008

This summer, I worked with the Ghanaian government on their school feeding program as part of Haas’ International Business Development (IBD) course. The Ghana School Feeding Program is an amazing program that provides lunches to over 975 primary schools in Ghana to over 400,000 students. By 2010, it is projected that the program will serve 2,900 schools and approximately 1.04 million primary school children.

The program was launched in 2005 with the goal of contributing to poverty reduction and increased food security in Ghana. The three key objectives of the program are to 1) reduce hunger and malnutrition by providing all primary and kindergarten students in beneficiary schools a nutritious meal each school day 2) increase school enrollment, attendance, and retention and 3) boost domestic food production by sourcing GSFP meals locally, and providing a sustainable market for local food producers in the community. These objectives align closely with the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) surrounding hunger, poverty, and primary education.

While the program has been extremely successful, there are some operational areas that need attention. Our project was threefold, and involved sizing the market created by the feeding program for food staples such as maize, cassava and rice; optimizing meals given price trends and nutritional content; and identifying points in the value chain where small farmers can capture more of the market. We worked with the Ghanaian government and a number of international development organizations including the UNDP, WFP, IFCD, Technoserve to identify trends and opportunities for local farmers to be more involved in the school feeding program.

The experience was awesome. Not only because we were able to provide a valuable analysis, but also because I was able to work closely with two other MBA students in an environment which was extremely challenging!

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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.

[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.

Brasil

June 1, 2008

*The Brasil IBD team on arrival*

I want to preface my post by saying a few weeks or even months abroad does not make me or anyone an authority on a country and its people. That truly takes a lifetime. This is my third trip to Brasil (no, that’s not a typo; it’s spelled with an s), and I am still making new discoveries about this place each and every day.

I’m about to start week three of my International Business Development (IBD) trip to Brasil. The first few days were purely recreational, spent wandering about in Salvador da Bahia. Salvador is very distinct when compared to the storied beaches and samba music from Rio de Janeiro that most [American] people associate with Brasil. I did make it to Rio for one night after meeting up with the rest of my project team. I’ve been before but this time rather than stick to the touristy areas like Copacabana and Ipanema, we went out in Lapa. Last time, I was warned it wasn’t safe.

I can’t say whether it is Brasil or me that has changed so much in the past 5 years, but I am no longer comfortable referring to this nation as “developing.” Even “emerging” doesn’t seem right. Whether it’s the flex fuel and natural gas cars, the waiters equipped with PDA’s and wireless credit card machines or the veritable opulence of Campos do Jordao, if this country isn’t developed and emerged, how can [America] claim to be? I’ve been to China and India, 2/3 of the remaining BRIC countries. There, with their skylines dominated by cranes, those words have more resonance than they do here. It’s not my purpose to opine on word choice, only to question whether we [Americans] are quick enough to recognize the accomplishments of that part of the world we used to so pompously refer to as the Third World. (Please forgive my own preachiness here; isn’t it ironic though?)

If I were to form an opinion of China having only visited Shanghai, I would surely conclude that China was among one of the more advanced economies of the world. Fortunately, my perspective on Brasil has been derived from more than just one data point, and I will still be the first to admit that the economic growth of Brasil in the past few decades has not benefited everyone equally (after all these people are still brasileiros). All joking aside, the favelas are a testament to the perennial challenges of social equality that every nation faces. Here in Brasil, those challenges may be felt more acutely than back in the US, but anyone that thinks we’ve done a better job of dealing with them must not have turned on CNN in the days after Katrina. I’m a firm believer that to whom much has been given, much more should be expected, and a society should be judged by how it cares for its weakest members.

One problem that’s derived from the inequality is the high crime rate in Brasil, particularly in urban centers. I’m speaking more specifically to the so-called petty crime that I have experienced as a tourist, but the same idea applies to illegal logging and drug trafficing. The Brazilian government has worked very hard to overcome the perception earned in the ’80’s that it was unsafe here for tourists here. Corruption among police is reportedly on the decline, but the jail system is still so strained that it is hardly worth the effort to track down and arrest a mugger who never actually hurt anyone, something that I could clearly see in the apathetic looks of the police scattered around Pelourninho for security. To really address high crime rates, enforcement alone isn’t enough. People must be saved from the desperation that would push them to crime, and that is where all this pontificating comes back to the world of business, market solutions, and economic development.

Right now I’m working for a entrepreneur who has developed a portfolio of novel technologies in search of a market. Formally he was a researcher, and he told me that he could have made all the money he wanted in that field but he want to create something of value. He wanted to develop technologies that would solve problems for people, and he would actually prefer if he didn’t have to worry about making money from them (it’s not really his core competency). He probably has no clue what a social entrepreneur is, and I sincerely believe he is more excited about solving problems than trying to change the world (one of his technologies is for liposuction). Still, could there be a truer social entrepreneur? For a number of reasons that would require an entire post themselves, he has grown frustrated with the business environment here and is looking abroad for relief. If only [Brasil] could push through the legal reforms to keep entrepreneurs like this one focused on solving the problems here.

I’ve been inspired again, as I was in my last year of college, to move to Brasil. I love it here, and I see a huge market opportunity that some may be overlooking amidst the fervor to tap China and India. It is an opportunity to do well while doing good, but not without obstacles. On the spectrum of “social entrepreneurs” I definitely fall further out toward the entrepreneur side of things. I believe that a company can realize the most good in the world through economic vitality: providing goods and services and creating jobs. Of course, we will need to learn to share the gains from business better to see it become a significant part of the solution. Hopefully that’s going to come from the generation of inspired leaders Haas is working to develop right now.


*With our client*


Wildlife Conservation 20 Feet Away

May 31, 2008

You know how after you have been somewhere for a while, it begins to feel comfortable and you begin to feel like you can become part of it’s day-to-day fabric? After nearly 2 weeks in Zambia, it’s beginning to feel like that. It certainly helps that Zambia is a beautiful country with very generous and friendly citizens.

My IBD team and I have been lucky to have had the chance to start our experience with an amazing half-week of safaris in the South Luangwa National Park using the services of a bushcamp called Flatdogs. The bushcamp staff was very, very friendly, professional and seemed to love their jobs at the bushcamp. I think I might love my job if I got to wake up every day wondering whether there were any hippos, elephants or lions roaming the grounds of the bushcamp the night before (or even during the day, which happened while we were there). I can see myself getting used to that very quickly. After a couple of days there, I started to feel like it was my home in Zambia and I didn’t want to leave.

But back to the safaris: there are very few more pristine experiences I can imagine than going into a national park like this one. There is very little evidence of human presence there. In fact, human presence is mostly only found in 4-hour blocks of time: once in the morning and once in the evening when (walking or driving) safaris take place in the park. Outside of those hours, visitors are kindly welcomed outside the park. In the park, there are no bathrooms, no garbage cans, no convenience stands, nothing for human comfort. All this takes some adjusting to if you come from a western country but as a result, the wildlife in the park is nearly undisturbed. Luckily for us, the animals in the park do not have a strong memory of being poached, which means safari vehicles can get pretty close to them and they won’t hide back in the thick bush. In Zambia’s recent history, widespread illegal poaching has devastated wildlife populations in many areas. But Zambia has done a fantastic job of making wildlife conservation a top priority and now enjoys a steady recovery from illegal hunting and poaching activities. I’m not sure when again I will get to see an elephant and its baby eating the trees from 30 feet away, or a lion laying unconcerned of our presence only 20 feet from our vehicle, or the large, awkward-looking but magnificent giraffe running as if it was doing so in slow motion…and seeing a pack of hyenas tear a waterbuck to pieces in front of some very angry, hardworking lions who had done the work of capturing and killing the prey is an exhilarating experience impossible to describe.

Our International Business Development (IBD) team from Haas is in Zambia to work with the WCS-funded COMACO model. COMACO stands for Community Markets for Conservation. It is a group of trading centers located in three different towns in the Eastern Province of Zambia that promote wildlife conservation and alleviation of rural poverty by providing trade incentives to farmers who engage in conservation farming. COMACO is doing amazing work. Our job is to help them improve their organization by doing an annual check-up of their operations. Had we not visited South Luangwa National Park and seen the amazing wildlife we saw up close and personal, we would not have seen with our own eyes the importance of wildlife conservation. Now it is knowledge that cannot be taken away from us.

Giraffe in South Luangwa National Park


[IBD: Gabon] Bienvenue au Gabon!

May 31, 2008
I am writing on behalf of my IBD Team (Charlene Chen, Sergio Gonzalez, and Kris Harders). We are in Gabon working on a feasibility study for the Wildlife Conservation Society’s proposed Rainforest Discovery Center in the Mondah Forest 20 minutes north of Libreville. The mission of Bois des Geants is to inspire local Gabonese to appreciate their country’s best kept secret: its biodiversity.
 
After a couple of days in Bronx, NY visiting the headquarters of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), we flew from JFK to Paris (7 hrs) and then to Libreville (6 hrs), where we landed at Aeroport International Leon M’Ba. We are staying at the WCS lodging, where we have our own rooms, own bathrooms, a Gabonese chef named Pierre, an Equitorial Guinean security guard named Alejandro, and a house cat named Gin (her sister Tonic ran away).
 
We spent Saturday morning hiking through the Mondah Forest, which is where Bois des Geants would be constructed:

Then we spent a week conducting 8 interviews of officials from the ministries of Tourism, the Environment, and Education, a travel agency, construction company, the national school of water and forestry, a bank, and the national agency of national parks. Each day we increase our understanding of the culture of Gabon, which is a complex melange of French and Gabonese attitudes.


El Salvador Impresionante

May 23, 2008

After arriving last Sunday to the heat and humidity of El Salvador, I was immediately impressed by the warm welcome my International Business Development (IBD) team received from the Salvadoran people we met. We were particularly amazed by the team at SalvaNATURA, our client for the next three weeks. We will be working with SalvaNATURA to develop a strategic analysis of the certification landscape and make recommendations for the organization moving forward.

The staff at SalvaNATURA have been incredibly helpful in getting us up to speed. While we certainly researched the entire landscape of sustainable/fair trade/agriculture certification standards before we left for El Salvador, nothing could have prepared us for the immense challenge of understanding how certification trends would impact a local auditing body. In addition, we have come to understand how sustainable certifications such as Rainforest Alliance complement SalvaNATURA’s other services, which include managing national parks, conducting environmental research, and providing environmental education programs.

For our client, the challenges are immense. The organization is dedicated to the preservation of the environment and natural areas of El Salvador, a country with 98% deforestation. Yet the opportunities are immense as well, especially given the growing demand for certified products like coffee from consumers, farmers, as well as international companies such as Kraft, McDonalds, and Walmart.

These issues are incredibly interesting to research, but even more so in El Salvador. As the team debates (in Spanish) the future of sustainable certification in El Salvador, we nourish ourselves with pupusas and look towards the looming volcano in the north for inspiration. El Salvador Impresionante, indeed!