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.

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