Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The village of Viesese

Today was another great day! Ever since we arrived to Fiji I have been thinking that this project was one of the things that I wanted to experience during my MBA, and I still can’t believe my dream came true.

Our day started very early. It was 7:15 am when Ravin, our driver, picked us up at the hotel. After our meeting with Dorinda Work at Microfinance West Offices, we were ready to start our research. In order to cover more ground we decided to split into two teams. Jacob and his wife visited one of the Fijians markets in order to gain more knowledge about how women in these kind of businesses benefited from micro-loans; and Matt and I visited a Fijians Village, called Viesese.

Before getting there we were advised about how respectful we must be about their traditions, but really these women were very helpful and warm with us. They were anxious to share their stories with us and after an hour of conversation learning about their reasons for being involved in these kinds of loans we were offered a cup of coffee and a piece of homemade bread. They really wanted us to spend more time with them. I felt it was through coffee, bread and a nice conversation how they opened up to share a piece of their lives with us.

Guest blog provided by Rocio Ortiz, Kelley MBA 2011.

First day in Fiji

With only 10 days to investigate what type of micro-finance product would best serve women entrepreneurs in Fiji, and how to market said product, our team had little time to waste on our first day. Arriving at 4:50am we hit the ground running.

First we acclimated ourselves to the lay of the land. Our taxi driver took us to a local beach were we observed some local fishermen. We then took a drive along the west side of the island to get a better idea of the physical geography of Fiji. Lastly we took lunch at “Chicken Bites” a restaurant that in the USA would likely serve hot wings and chicken tenders, but in Fiji serves delicious Indian curries.

Alas the day was not all site seeing and merry making. At 2pm we headed to, what I can safely say is, the World’s Newest MBA Program at the University of Fiji (UniFiji). The program which launched on Monday August 16, 2010, has 40 students – mostly executives from Air Pacific, Fiji water and several Duty Free shops on the island. At UniFiji, which itself was started in 2004, we met with Professor and Dean of the MBA program KL Sharma, who talked to us about the business and economic climate in Fiji. He was happier to meet with us than the attached picture might let on.

We took several more meetings at the University and had the opportunity to meet our first female entrepreneur which was extremely informative! We ended the day with lecture on Global Supply Chain Challenges and how they impact Fiji.

Today we’re off to meet with a current micro-finance organization on the island which will introduce us to women business owners they currently serve. It should be another packed day and we’ll be sure to update the blog with more information as soon as we can.

Guest blog post from Matt Hutchens, Kelley MBA 2011.

Fiji project gets under way

This afternoon we left Indy at 5 p.m., we have been traveling for 17 hours and the good news is that in three more hours we’ll be landing on Nadi, Fiji. I’m so excited about this opportunity that I can’t hardly wait to be in this incredible place and start learning from this culture.

Our mission, as Greg Casagrande said last Friday in our phone call, is to talk to at least 100 women entrepreneur in different villages and learn about how a micro-loan can improve their business as well as their quality of life. We’ll be visiting Nadi, Lautoka and Suva trying to reach as many women as possible and make a positive impact in their communities. The most interesting part is that while doing this we’ll be also exposed to their culture and traditions which will make our experience even richer by opening our minds towards different realities and perspectives of life.

Being a member of the Kelley family has been one of the best experiences of my life, and opportunities like this have been a very important part of it. I remember that while we were talking with Greg Casagrande the only thing I could think about is how unique this opportunity is and what an amazing adventure it will be. I am sure this is going to be a life changing experience.

Our first stop after landing in Nandi will be Fiji University….stay tuned for more.

Guest post provided by Rocio Ortiz, Kelley MBA 2011

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Aid to Artisans MBA intern travels to Ethiopia

Greetings, I am back from Ethiopia and happy to report that my trip was exciting and successful. After landing in the capital, Addis Ababa, my colleagues and I took a 12 hour trip south in a 4x4 Land Cruiser to the Konso Community. The journey consisted of mainly dirt roads, beautiful scenery, and an abundance of livestock. I quickly found out that Ethiopian law states that donkeys, cattle, and goats have the right away. As I am sure you can imagine, this greatly increased travel time! Along this trek, I was also surprised to learn that ping-pong was a popular means to pass time. In just about every community we passed through, small or large, a couple tables with people actively playing could be spotted.
From Konso, we then spent the next nine days visiting mainly rural communities on our way back to the capital. Each of these towns had an artisan group (10-70 members) that specialized in weaving and/ or basketry, along with shop and lodge owners, that I met with in order to understand tourism in the area, outlets for distribution, and the group’s handcraft capabilities and business knowledge. My means for obtaining this information was acquired through questioning that was unique in each community. Part of my challenge was to come up with creative questions to withdraw pertinent information. To make this even more challenging, I had to work through a translator, as the common language in Ethiopia is Amharic. This form of research definitely tested my patience and persistence.
Of the eight communities we visited, Tulo Gudo, an island in Lake Ziway, was my favorite place based on story value and attraction. To arrive, a tourist needs to take a metal motor boat that resembles more of a tank than a floating device on a 1.5 hour trip. Lake Ziway like all the other lakes found in Ethiopia’s Central and Southern Rift Valley is blessed with an abundant amount of wildlife. As we pushed off the bank, I immediately saw three hippos and shortly thereafter my first African Eagle. Tulo Gudo, along with being a stunning place to visit, also has religious significance. During the Islamic Crusades in Ethiopia the original Ark of Covenant was hidden on this island for 40 years. Many of the artifacts brought with the covenant are still housed in the island’s church and can be viewed by tourists.
When we arrived back to Addis, we then spent the next three days organizing a craft event to display the products of the artisan groups we visited. Hotel, lodge, and shop owners, as well as ex-pats, from all over Ethiopia were invited to provide suggestions, purchase items, and place orders. The event was also attended by a representative from each artisan enterprise, the US Ambassador to Ethiopia, and local media. I am proud to say that the event was a huge success with about 50 people attending and showcased the valuable support that Aid to Artisans is providing in the country. During the bazaar, many of the products were bought and orders were placed, and most significantly, constructive feedback for the artisans was provided.
Now that I am back home, I am tasked with taking the data that I obtained to formulate a market study on tourism and handcraft, and a business plan for each artisan group. My work will be used by ATA to increase the profitability of each enterprise. Further, now that I have been exposed to the African continent, I am even more excited about my next visit to Ghana as part of GLOBASE Ghana.

Follow-up guest blog entry provided by Blake Grosch, Kelley MBA, summer intern with Aid to Artisans.

Laying the foundation for market research in Fiji

Greetings from Fiji … or “Bula” as the locals say. 

As MBA Program Chair, I’m here for a quick trip laying the foundation for a team of three MBA students who will arrive in two weeks to a complete a market research project for the South Pacific Business Development Foundation (SPBDF), a nonprofit micro-lender to women, who has operated for 10 years in Samoa and now wants to begin operations in Fiji. 

Greg Casagrande, the SPBDF’s founder (whose efforts in poverty amelioration are so successful that he was highlighted on the "Making a Difference" series on NBC News), called me, asked the Kelley School MBA Program for assistance, and we have obliged.

During their 10-day visit, the student team will survey women micro-entrepreneurs about their credit and savings needs, speak with banks and government agencies about current micro-credit offerings in Fiji, and recommend how the SPBDF can position its brand and products to insure a sustainable nonprofit business model

This fuels a larger strategic effort by the Kelley MBA Program to expand experiences for students in emerging markets. For example, the program’s Global Business and Social Enterprise (GLOBASE) spring break course that has been in Peru for two years will expand to Ghana and India in Spring 2011. 

These experiences are designed not only to expose students to global markets, but to accelerate development of micro-social and leadership skills that will make students effective executives in companies and organizations. 

The uncertainties and unfamiliarity of completing a Kelley School project in a developing country prepares students well for unexpected challenges in corporate America.

Guest blog entry provided by Phil Powell, Professor of Business Economics and Public Policy and Faculty Chair, MBA Program at the Kelley School of Business, from a planning trip in Suva, Fiji.