Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Team Kenya: B-school ethics in Nairobi

December 17th was another travel day for Team Kenya. We woke up in Kisumu and made the short drive through town to the airport. During the check-in process, we learned a lesson in Kenyan air travel. When we flew from Nairobi to Kisumu earlier in the week, we were each given a half sheet of paper that looked like a flight itinerary or receipt. In trying to clean up and lighten our baggage load upon arrival, some of us had thrown away our used boarding passes, old itineraries, and baggage tags. Unfortunately, we also threw away that piece of paper, which happened to also be our return ticket to Nairobi. Luckily, the airline checked our passports and issued us boarding passes. Lesson learned for next time!

Waiting for and boarding an airplane at Kisumu is an experience of its own. The boarding gate was actually outside, under a large tent. Passengers sit in rows of chairs, waiting for a gate employee to announce that boarding can begin. One member of our team went to buy a bottle of water from the outside bar (also under the tent), but discovered that they did not have adequate change when he tried to pay. The employee took his money, and walked off into the main building. Fortunately, a few minutes later, he returned with correct change in time to catch our plane.

When our flight was announced, we walked through a gate, onto the tarmac, and took in one last view of Kisumu before boarding.The flight back to Nairobi took approximately 45 minutes. From the air, members of our team saw hyacinth on Lake Victoria, and large rice, tea and coffee plantations between the two cities.

When we arrived in Nairobi, we were following the crowd on the tarmac walking toward the building when we were asked to stop. In front of us, slightly to our right, was a plane that was preparing to take off. We had to wait for it to leave before we could continue walking. While we were waiting, a private jet had arrived and was taxiing up behind us. As the first aircraft left, the ground crew started waving their arms and yelling, trying to get the crowd out of the way so the jet could get into its designated parking area. We all moved to the left and made it out of the way before being run over by the jet.

Our drive from the airport to Maryknoll Guest House was much longer than we expected. The distance seemed long, and was made longer by the traffic. One good thing about being stuck in Nairobi traffic is having an opportunity to view the street vendors. They would walk up and down the street between the rows of vehicles selling random items, such as flags, passport covers, soccer balls, pens and peanuts.

Once at the guest house, we found a gorgeous compound run by the Maryknollers, an order of Catholic priests. Although the power goes on and off all the time, it will be a nice place to stay for our group. It is located in a nice part of town, feels very secure, and has ammenities such as internet access, a television room, and a kitchen with drinks and snacks.

Our next destination was the CRS headquarters, where our team had an opportunity to finally meet up with Viva. She was very excited to see us, and I think we were all happy to see a familiar face. We sat in a conference room and shared our experiences over lunch. We learned about Viva's trip to Mombasa, and she learned about our visits to Kisumu, Homa Bay, Rongo, Migori and Kipingi.

We discussed our memorable moments, challenges and opportunities faced by groundnut producers and local businesses, and plans for the remainder of our time in Kenya.After lunch, our team traveled to the University of Nairobi's School of Business at the Lower Kabete Campus to meet with Dean Nzuve and Professor Karanja. During our discussion, we were told that the University of Nairobi has the largest business school in Africa, with approximately 7,000 students, and offers bachelors, masters and PhD programs. Although the school faces many challenges, we were encouraged at one point when the conversation turned to ethics. When we asked them how the corruption in the country affects and is dealt with by the school, Professor Kiranja mentioned that the business school was looking at incorporating some ethics classes into their curriculum.

Upon hearing this, our eyes widened and our team was eager to share our experiences regarding Notre Dame's ethical foundation. We spoke passionately about Notre Dame, its values, and the structure of our MBA program. When it was time to leave, we left our new friends with a Notre Dame pennant to remember us by and took a few group pictures in front of a University of Nairobi sign.We were given a chance after the interview to go back to Maryknoll and relax for about an hour. Then we all packed back into our CRS van and traveled to David Orth-Moore's house (David is the East African Regional Director for CRS) to meet back up with Viva for dinner and a debriefing.

We were warmly greeted by David and his family, and we all sat outside next to a fire discussing topics ranging from Notre Dame football to microeconomics as it related to Kenyan business. Our team was then treated to a wonderful Indian-themed dinner, followed by dessert. After dinner, we shared with David our impressions of Kenya and CRS's initiatives. We then offered gifts to David and his team as an expression of our sincere gratitude for their efforts to make our trip memorable.

The members of CRS that we have interacted with have been top-notch, and have gone to great lengths to ensure our educational journey to Kenya was rewarding. The evening ended with our goodbyes and a drive back to Maryknoll. Having a nice dinner with friends was a welcomed relaxation after the hard work we have been doing during this trip. On the drive back, we all commented on how lucky we were to be sharing this time together, and how we can't wait to get home and tell everyone about our experiences in Kenya.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Team Lebanon: A fragmented land

Beirut, Lebanon

We landed in Istanbul, Turkey on Friday evening (Dec. 11) and had an opportunity to see the city for a few hours. I am not sure exactly what part of the city we went to, but we hopped on the train and got off at the busiest looking stop to look around. We ate at a great Turkish restaurant and the meal included lamb and chicken shishkabobs. After a few hours in Istanbul, we finally landed in Beirut at around 2:00 am. We are staying at a beautiful hotel in a very central location. Our first morning ,we met with the Vice President of the Central Banking Control Commission who gave us great insight on Lebanon's banking industry. Since then we have met with a few Ministers of Parliament, the mayor of a town near the Israeli border, and visited a town near the Syrian border. We were also able to meet up with Notre Dame alums Naji and Jill who own the Chateau Belle-Vue vineyard near Beirut.

So far we have been able to conclude that all issues in Lebanon revolve around the 18 different political/religious sects in the country. Everyone here is very efficient at working alone, but when it comes to working as one towards a goal, little ever is accomplished. CRS has been a joy to work with and they (along with the many other NGO's we have met with) have exceeded our expectations. Thus far I would have to say the most intriguing part of the trip was visiting with an NGO in southern Lebanon which created a business incubator which provided support for businesses in the food and manufacturing industries.

Team Kenya: Entrepreneurs and small businesses are a driving economic force

Dec. 15, Kisumu, Kenya

The day started off with a trip to the local Pentecostal Church where we met with a reverend and a pastor. The Church was very interesting because of their role in business in the community. The Church itself operates businesses to try and generate income for the Church besides collections and donations from the congregation. One business it has is a small private elementary school which is well respected in the community and growing at a very fast rate. The Church also operates a catering service which caters all of the events and activities for the Church, but also caters for outsiders such as weddings, parties, and meetings.

Currently the catering business is the only one which is profitable, while the others are breaking even or showing small losses. The Church is working though to improve its other businesses and claims that the others will begin to be profitable in the future since they admit they were inexperienced and did things the wrong way when they first started. Now, though, they have started a business unit and has a business director to oversee the businesses and make them successful.

A very interesting experience for us was speaking to the assistant pastor who had a fascinating and scary story regarding the post election violence that took place in Kisumu in 2007. He himself is part of the Luo tribe, but his wife is part of the Kikuyu tribe. The Kikuyu tribe is the group that was discriminated against and chased out of Kisumu during the conflict. He told us the scary story of how his wife would get continuous death threats to leave the area and eventually the story of how he had to sneak his wife and children out of the city and get them to Nairobi for safety. It was the first true firsthand experience of the conflict that we have heard, and while it was amazing to hear, it was also very disheartening.

The Church also does work to support members of its congregation in opening their own small businesses. We were so lucky because by chance the reverend was headed to bless the opening of a small business started by a woman in the congregation named Helen. We met her at the Church and spoke with her about her venture.

Her story is both sad and hopeful. Her husband died 3 months ago from sickness. Her husband was a different tribe than her and because of this his family treated her and her 2 children very poorly. Women’s rights is a huge issue in Kenya and the husband’s tribe took all of the husband’s belongings (including the house they had just finished building) and claimed she was not next of kin so she was literally left with nothing. She went to the Church in tears and they gave her 20,000 Kenyan schillings, which is about $274. She took the money and decided she could not just spend it on living expenses because it would be gone in one or two months. She attempted to find employment, but getting a job in Kenya right now is extremely difficult and she had no luck. So she decided she needed to open her own business to support her children. It was very interesting how all of these little things fell into place so that it was possible for her to open a business.

She came up with the idea to open a very small fruit juice and drink stand in the main bus station area of the city. It was so exciting to hear how hopeful she was about the business and the raw vision and drive she had to do this venture. She has plans to expand to selling snacks and then cooked food once she makes enough money to invest in those areas.

Furthermore, she said she hoped to expand in the future and open other businesses and become a successful business woman. The amazing part was hearing about the entrepreneurial spirit she had and the vision.

This woman literally has nothing but was able to use the Church money and another 70,000 shilling microfinance loan to start this business.

This gave us hope for this country because entrepreneurs and small businesses will be the driving force to economic success in Kenya. To top it off it just so happened that she is opening her business tomorrow, and today the pastor right after our meeting was going to bless her place of business. After speaking with us she insisted that we come along and of course we were so delighted and excited to go. So we got in our car and drove to the bus station which is in the middle of a huge street market. We arrived and her shop was a shipping container and she rented about a third of it, so needless to say the space was very small. Six of us crammed in and listened to the pastor pray over her place of business. Then we got to be her first customers as she offered us some mango juice that she had made for the occasion.

We all agreed that it was the freshest and most delicious mango juice we had ever had, and possibly the best juice we have had period. It was so interesting that she had noticed that many stands in the area sold sodas and water but none sold fresh juice. It was so exciting to see a woman with no business training and no experience running a business think of all the niches she could penetrate to get customers. We all left speechless at the event that we were just a part of, which may end up being the most moving and rewarding experience of our time here.

After our wonderful experience we left Helen and departed to the Kenyan Association of Manufacturers. This was a very interesting organization because it is basically a collective union of 40% of the manufacturing firms in Kenya. The firms pay to be a member and the association mainly lobbies for them in the government. Also the group does work to aid the businesses with operations, budgeting, cost control, energy savings and other services.

Team Kenya in Kisumu talks cell phones and tourism

Dec. 14, Kisumu, Kenya

Today we finally started our interviews. First stop was the Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC). This group is tasked with conserving Lake Victoria and the surrounding basin. The commission is based in Kisumu, Kenya, but has five member nations: Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi. The commission is in charge of many different projects concerning the lake and its conservation. One problem the lake has is that there are many boating accidents, particularly involving fishermen. So one solution to the problem is to extend cell phone coverage over the whole lake, since it currently only covers areas close to the shore. Once cell phone coverage extends over the lake, boaters in trouble will be able to call for help. Furthermore, boaters can communicate to each other about areas with rocks that can damage boats and also when weather in certain parts of the lake is bad. It was a wonderful first interview and the people we interviewed were so hospitable and welcoming. This really set the tone for us and got us really excited for the upcoming interviews.

The next interview was with a man, Laban Mburu, who works for KenInvest. This is a government mandated organization that is tasked with marketing Kenya as a place to do business. The group focuses on attracting international investors, as well as domestic, into the country. They help companies meet all the requirements of businesses to start in Kenya, which is a very complicated and lengthy process.

This is meant to help cut through the complicated bureaucracy and stimulate Kenya’s economy and job market. The gentleman shared some invaluable knowledge with us and also showed us some very interesting projects they have worked on in the past and some that they are currently working on for the future.

Following lunch we departed our hotel and met with a local journalist from Kisumu. This interview was very interesting because we ended up focusing primarily on the government and the political situation in Kenya. The press here is very free in relative terms to other countries in the region. Actually many journalists are comfortable with writing and reporting stories that criticize and contradict government. The journalist we spoke with is also part of a consortium group of journalists in Kenya who search for and cover stories related to health and the environment in the country. So this group exposes problems with the environment and such and they try to make the people aware of these problems so that something can be done to stop the problems.

The most interesting fact that we learned with the journalist, is that although the press is free and not oppressed by government, the main stream media is not able to be completely open and honest about big businesses in Kenya. Large companies in the country, like the cell phone service giant Safaricom, pay for the majority of the media’s advertisements which is the main revenue of the media outlets. So journalists only write good stories about the large corporations to protect their advertising money. Interestingly though there are some outlets on the web for journalists to express themselves freely concerning big business, although these internet news sites are not widely accessible by the public.

We came back to our hotel and on a whim decided we should try and see if we could speak to the manager of our hotel. Luckily he was available and we met in his office. This was an interesting resource because we discovered a possible market that could thrive in Kisumu.

The hotel manager expressed that the city does not have enough hotels and does not have enough marketing for tourism. He explained that building a hotel will not only be a successful business to the owner but it will help the local community as well. Hotels employ many people and will create a lot of new jobs in the city. Furthermore, the hotel will bring more people to the city, which in turn will bring more money to the surrounding businesses. One of the major things that he theorized will create such a demand for hotels is a new international airport being planned and built in Kisumu. The airport is scheduled to open in August of 2010 and will bring much economic growth with it. Needless to say we were very pleased that we thought to speak to him and now some of us are seriously considering coming back here and opening a hotel!

After the long day we decided to have a relaxing evening and went to a local Chinese restaurant that was quite good. Then we sat and did some work in our rooms while watching some local television. We came across a very weird British show called “Can Fat Teens Hunt?” The premise is taking obese teens from the UK and sending them to Borneo to live with indigenous people and live off the land to lose weight. The show was quite ridiculous although quite entertaining. After that we retired to bed.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Village visits -- microfinance, soy beans and tilapia


Jambo from Uganda,

Team Uganda is just finishing up an amazing weekend in the field. We
have met with incredible groups in three or four villages and learned
so much about the micro-finance movement, farming, and mobile money.
We are excited to get back to Kampala and develop a plan of action for
the rest of our trip. We have had some opportunity to see some great
wildlife on the road during our visits, and we have had great pictures
of the land. It's so beautiful here.

We have found that there are great opportunities for change here and
we believe that we will be able to develop a solution that will
benefit many people. We are very grateful for CRS' help. They have
been fantastic. Their partners are also very helpful and insightful.
We look forward to sharing with all of you soon.

P.S. We are safe, Don't worry about us. Everyone here is very
friendly and helpful. We have great drivers that help us so much.

Team Uganda.


Hello everyone,

Just a quick note from Team Uganda. Our trip is going very well! Connectivity and electricity have been challenges,but both the Mobile Money and Soy Production teams have had a successful trip to Fort Portal. We have had many enlightening interviews with various stakeholders within the value chain. Mobile Money has been meeting with various financial institutions to build context around financial operations in Uganda. Soy Production has been meeting with local farmers in the region to understand the challenges and opportunities. Among the highlights of our visit to Fort Portal has been seeing elephants, hippos, warthogs, antelope, and water buffaloes in the wild. We are in awe of the natural beauty here. Today, we will be driving back to Kampala this afternoon and preparing for our meetings in the capital city the rest of this week.


Greetings from beautiful Homa Bay,

Our team had a great day today. We met with two Catholic priests in the morning and their clergy in the afternoon. We were able to gather come great information on the everyday lives of Homa Bayans. Most people here make a livelihood through subsistance farming and selling any excess. As you can guess most are extremely poor. But, surprisingly almost all have enough to eat, although having clean drinking water and access to healthcare is another story. We all had a great experience today when we had fresh lake Victoria tilapia. The tilapia is served whole (head a all) and is eaten with the hands. Well, actually everyone had a great experience except for Eric. He hates fish! Tough break for him since that is about all they eat here. Things here are great and I don't know if we could be in better spirits.

With Love,
Derek, Eric, and Jon

Team Uganda: Soy farming in Kampala

Things are going very well here. We just wanted to report a bit on our recent activities. Since we returned to Kampala on Monday, we have had meetings with several Ministry offices, the telecom giants, commercial banking institutions, technology thinktanks, agricultural Phd's, buyers, sellers and NGOs. We have had excellent food, great drivers and incredible insight into the problem at hand.

The interviews have helped us identify the challenges that the soy farmers face in producing and profiting from their crops. We have also gained insight into the potential solutions that will improve their chances of success. The Mobile Money team has had several innovative ideas that will also help CRS improve its effectiveness and response times in its regular and emergency response programs. The CRS staff has been fantastically helpful in coordinating a wide variety of interviews across all levels of the value chain. We really appreciate all of their help.

We have also enjoyed top notch accommodations at the Adonai guesthouse. We are in a quiet, residential neighborhood, and receive two hot meals each day from a very friendly staff. We have met many world travelers at the house, and have enjoyed our time there. It has become a "home base" of sorts for us to discuss our ideas, relax, and enjoy Uganda's natural beauty. It is clear from our discussions that everyone is gaining a much greater understanding of the complexity of business and how the principles we have studied can be used to facilitate change.

Everybody here is safe. We have had a few uneasy stomachs, but no other problems. The food has been excellent. We even had Ethiopian food at a great local restaurant. We have really enjoyed our trip so far.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Team Kenya: From busy storefronts to burned out buildings

So the trip began with 5 of our Kenya team and 3 others in Business on the Frontlines cramming into a Yukon XL, and surprisingly us and all of our luggage fit. We then began our long trip at 5pm Chicago time and touched down in Nairobi 22 hours later (Chrissy Vaughn had a 56 hour trip in total having come from Chile all the way back to Chicago and then flying with us here).

At 12:30am, our driver finally found our lodging for the night called the Precious Blood Guest House, which is run by a convent in Nairobi. When we got there the security guard was the only one awake, but he didn't have keys to open the gate...an elderly German nun was the only person with keys and we later found out she had fallen asleep while waiting for us to arrive. We waited about a half hour while our driver, security guards and other guests (whom they had woken) proceeded to yell and knock on windows trying to locate the Sister (since the security guard didn't know where her room was). We eventually got her up and got to sleep around 1:30am (it was the first time most of us had slept under a mosquito net!).

We had an early wake up at 8:00 am considering our long trip, but we were very excited to start the day and see the country. We met at Catholic Relief Services' headquarters in Kenya and were briefed about what they do in Kenya and such. We met all of the CRS personnel and they were the nicest and most gracious people. We were very grateful they came to meet us, especially considering it was a Saturday and also Kenya's independence day. It was a great start to the trip and it really got us all excited. Then we had our first experience with Kenya food: CRS was so thoughtful, and they had lunch catered for us which was made up of various types of popular local Kenyan cuisine.

That afternoon we were off to traveling again as we departed to take a short flight to the beautiful city of Kisumu, which lies on the shore of Lake Victoria. Attached is a picture of Eric Clark, Mirjam Wit and our CRS guide and new friend Mwende after we got off the plane in Kisumu. We then drove through the city of Kisumu on the way to our hotel. On the way we saw great contrast from busy business fronts to burned buildings left over from the post election violence in 2007 that have still not been rebuilt. That night we went to a local restaurant Mwende recommended called the Green Garden. At first we drove up and all were thinking, "where the heck is she taking us" as it was a true hole in the wall from the outside and looked like it was in disrepair. Then we walked inside and discovered a beautiful open air restaurant (it is in the 80s here, much preferred to the 10 degree weather we left behind in South Bend) and it was decorated like a safari. The restaurant was great and had a huge menu with a wide variety of cuisines from German to Italian to Kenyan to Indian. Everyone had something a little different and the food was fantastic! Even better was the fact that 9 of us had a fabulous meal and drinks and all together it was only $70!!!