Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Global Study Trip I - Melbourne

A (very much appreciated) part of the curriculum at Stanford is the "Global Experience Requirement" (GER) that can be fulfilled by various international activities such as study trips, internships abroad or exchange programs.

I decided to make use of the Stanford connections and travel with a group of about 25 students to a country I have never been to. Through a lottery system I got to go on the trip to Australia which was focused on "The Two Speed Economy" and incorporated meetings with Australian leaders from business, politics and society.

The next four blog entries will each be fairly short and focus on a different location we visited:

Melbourne (December 15 - 17)
Even before the official start of the trip our group had lost two members due to visa issues. A couple more students got their visas literally last second. My own trip via LAX, TYO and KUL was long, but fairly uneventful. I tasted both Japanese and Malaysian cuisine and arrived on the evening of December 14th in Melbourne, stayed at a hostel and joined the group the next morning. Soaking in both the culture as well as the local brews we wandered around town and concluded that Melbourne is both beautiful and expensive (think 10 USD for a beer). Our meetings in Melbourne included:

David Peever (MD Australia, Rio Tinto)
Leigh Clifford (Chairman of the Board, Qantas)
Jayne Hrdlicka (CEO, Jetstar Group)
Ian Anderson (CFO, Australian Football Leagues)
James Sutherland (CEO, Cricket Australia)

It was interesting to see the perspective of two Australian airlines on the local aviation market and the issues they have to fight with. Jetstar was established by Qantas to tap into the low-cost market. A move very similar to Germanwings being built up and strengthened by Lufthansa. Some issues that resulted in endless discussions (e.g. Which IT system to use? Whether LH managers should join Germanwings) were discussed by Jayne and it became obvious that Jetstar is a different company to Qantas that in only very few aspect shows ties to its mother company in order not to dilute the low-cost approach. I am excited to see (and actually fairly skeptical) whether that will or won't happen to Lufthansa as well. The multitude of manager going over to Germanwings, the high-class low-cost product as well as LH requiring Germanwings to mirror some IT applications seem to go into the wrong direction.

Overall, Melbourne was great, especially because we talked about airlines, got to the the cricket stadium and went to a few interesting bars!

Stop in Tokyo
Stop in Kuala Lumpur
Having a drink by the river in Melbourne
Cricket Stadium
Visiting Qantas
Bars in Melbourne
View from Qantas Office
Visiting the AFL - Apparently Australian Football is more better than American Football

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Good and The Bad

Let me wrap up the first quarter. Final exam wise it is not fully wrapped up yet, but I assume that my priorities after the last final on Wednesday will be more focused cleaning my room, packing and running last errands. 

The Good
1) I have met some people that I connected with and that I feel can become really good friends. Applying the German (or maybe European) concept of friendship one actually has to get to know another person in order to really be friends. With some people I think I am on a really good way.

Thanksgiving Trip to Big Sur
German(-speaking) Connection
2) I have never been more in shape than right now. Ok, it has actually been quite chilly over the last couple of days (luckily Stanford warns us about ice on the streets), but usually it is no problem to go running in a T-Shirt and shorts. Given one of my first post about the "ripped Americans" I actually feel that I might catch up. Even though the arms of some classmates are still thicker than my legs (Kevin, Clark) I see potential. 
Winter in California
3) I have figured out a couple of things that I care about: 
Food, food processing, developing world, leadership topics, organizational design, big companies, transportation

4) I have figured out a couple of things that I need in order to like a job:
Competition, visibility of my work, significance, strategy, future- orientation
Welcome to Business School!
5) I feel totally secure about my future. I have a feeling that all doors are open and I simply have to pick. There are numerous fall-back options and I really don't have to be afraid of anything. Well, besides getting my teeth punched out by Dutch students that can't take that they are not from Germany.
I wish I had been joking…
The Bad
I have once more realized that even with numerous scholarships people still come from financially well-off backgrounds (which doesn't mean they are jerks, it simply means there might be a lot of poorer people that are overlooked). The application process is costly (and chances are low to get in), tuition is enormous (and chances are low to get a full ride) and the cost of living is one of the highest worldwide (and one doesn't want to sit home and eat toast all day). Stanford will have eight full-ride scholarships for low-income African students next year, which is a start to bring in more low-income internationals. I don't know how to further accelerate that process though...

Even though professors are better than I have seen them anywhere else, they still have the problem of evaluating learning in a way that contributes to the academic experience. We just had our Global Strategy Final. Open book, no clear understanding of what would be on the final. Few people studied, everyone googled the questions, wrote something as an answer (copy&paste not even an option, because we had to write. On paper. With a pen. Like in the middle ages. Can you imagine?). And in two days we will have forgotten everything. I have very rarely encountered professors which found ways to objectively evaluate ones learning while manifesting that learning somehow. Sadly, Stanford is no exception here.

--> Not that many more bad things. NICE! And when I am really sad, Kevin makes me apple pie:

Thanks Kevin!
(Look at the arms, that's what I mean)
What am I up to over break:
Global Study Trip
Christmas on the Beach
SEA City Hopping in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur
New Years in Tokyo
Skiing in Japan

… yes, it's pretty cool!

Cheers + bis bald,

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Condi and Ann - Learning from Practitioners

I was unsure as to whether I can ask one of the most senior executives of HP how it felt not to be nominated as CEO. I was also unsure as to whether I can ask whether recognition and admiration by others has been one of the driving forces in her career. I was also unsure if I can ask about sacrificing family for career.

I asked and Ann Livermore answered. Ann has taught my "Managerial Skills" class and just had lunch with me and four other classmates. She was amazingly open and offered advice to everyone of us. She was also honest about her feelings and emotions. Something very few executives that I have met so far have been. It is amazing that I can have lunch with someone like that if I feel like it. And I am sure that if I had a follow-up question, she would reply my email within 2 hours.

My Next Class
Will be taught by Prof. Condoleeza Rice and therefore by one of the most powerful women on earth. We will talk about the rise of India and China, about foreign politics and about developing economies. On Friday we will discuss sanctioning Iran for their nuclear activities. And she will give her insights how it was negotiating with the leaders of the world. It is amazing to see everyone reading more thoroughly than usual, taking notes and showing up to class five minutes early. Yes, we only have Condi twice this year and yes, she will probably not know by name afterwards. But I will get to sit in the first row and feel immensely privileged.

Both things remind me how great my life is right now. I don't know when I will ever have the chance to be amongst 400 great people, being taught by superstars from academia, business and politics in an environment that does everything to bring the best out of me. It reminds me how little I should care about that consulting mixer where I have to make a good impression or that follow-up email to the engineering student I met yesterday or that Ethics case that I find so boring and don't want to read. Everything will work out, I will have enough money and I can grow as a person.

What better can there be?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Ice Cream Sandwiches and Valuing Your Life

A title that might have raised some eyebrows. This blog has basically two sides. A humorous and a serious side. Let's go with the funny part first

Ice-Cream Sandwiches
Yep, two cookies and a scoop of ice-cream in the middle. Its like wrapping a hotdog in bacon (ok, Americans do that), or deep frying butter (well, Americans also do that). Anyway... It's a pretty cool thing and something I haven't really seen before. I came across this ground-breaking Silicon Valleyesqe invention during an Ice Cream tasting with a bunch of friends in Palo Alto. Due to the fact that there really aren't that many entertainment options we brought ten different toppings (nuts, white chocolate, dark chocolate, marshmallows, gummibears, crackers, etc etc) and tasted ice cream at three different places. Interestingly we didn't even try all the ice cream places in Palo Alto with this. Luckily, we were patient enough to wait in line 30 minutes to get into CREAM. Since Americans like things on the extreme side this is the place-to-be where you can get almond-spiced-vanilla ice cream in a macadamia-nut-brittle-and-white-chocolate cookie. All super organic of course!

I am worth more than your stupid, uneducated grandparents!
In my Business Ethics class our professor made us think through a case study about a company selling one-room heaters in California. Those heaters are dangerous to operate and can cause casualties if no additional safety measures are installed. Those measures are costly to install and the company is evaluating as to whether it makes sense to include the additional safety mechanisms or to risk law suits by people that might get injured or even killed.

Some people might now already object that it is unethical to put a value on a person's life. Up to this point one can argue that we do that all the time and quite often even to ourselves. When you drink and ride your bike you are putting a value on your live and on the probability of hitting a car compared to the inconvenience of waiting for a taxi.

In the heater example, if you with you and your company are targeting an upscale market with financial resources, you are more likely to instal safety measures than when you are targeting a low-income markets. Why is that? Well, if your customer has money he or his family is more likely to (successfully) sue you, so the additional safety measures you would include have to be more expensive than when you target low-income customers that will not be able to sue you in case of an accident.

To sum it up: Rich, educated and young people will get higher quality products than old, poor and uneducated people because the live of the rich executive's son is worth much more than of the life of a simple nurse's mother.

I do not want to judge this thinking, but hope to provide some food for thought for some of you.

And to finish off with another good thing: Stanford just bear Oregon in Football.

Cheers + bis bald,

Friday, October 18, 2013

TALKing in class

So, this blog is about talking. TALK and talking. One thing is awesome, with the other one I am actually having my problems. But good things first...

TALK is Stanford. TALK is the school community. And TALK is one of the things that sets the GSB apart from most other business schools. The concept is fairly simple. Every Monday night more than 200 students get together in the MBA lounge (a tiny little room) and listen to 1-2 fellow students tell their life story. And I do not mean in a "I-am-so-great" Business school essay style, but really their own personal story. Oftentimes that makes the TALKers vulnerable and exposes deep feelings and emotions. Oftentimes it is really, really funny. But first and foremost you get to know your classmates and feel that that some sort of a bond that holds us together gets stronger and stronger. First I was skeptical what benefit it brings to do that "soul striptease", but after a couple of talks I realized that it is actually just another form of self-reflection, owning one's actions and decisions and opening up to grow as a person. I really need to start writing down stories and anecdotes for my TALK.

Talking in class
Well, I mean participating in class, but talking sounds better. Because of TALK. You get it... Anyways.  I big portion of our grades is determined through classroom participation. In sections of 70 students and classes of 105 minutes in which also the professor speaks once in a while it does not require a Stanford MBA to see that airtime is scarce. So what do a lot of people do? Right, try to make a comment. Almost force to make one in order to be on the safe side to secure their grade. Other people just talk to bring the class forward and therefore naturally speak less. It is tough to differentiate between quality and quantity, but the current system probably only focuses on the later. I personally think it's better to shut up if you can't bring the class forward. Professors disagree (though they would not say that, but I am sure quantity is what influences their view on a student). So, what consequences do I draw from that? Try to talk to people before and after class to actually discuss, for the sake of everyone I'll also shut up if I can't say anything valuable in class and I am really looking forward to the electives with only 30 people.

I am off to the Disney party in a bit. I never thought costume stores would have a chance to survive. At least now I know who buys Peter Pan outfits.

Next time I'm gonna talk about taking deciding on norms about basically everything. We do that a lot here.

Cheers + bis bald,

TALK on Mondays

We actually have a cactus garden on campus... 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Eat, Sleep or Socialize?

I was told that business school could be boiled down to the following dilemma:

You can only pick two out of the three things: Study, Socialize, Sleep.

What I am experiencing here at Stanford is somewhat similar. I feel that my outlook calendar (well, I use a Mac now...) is more cramped than when I was still working. And people who know me know also that I was managing EVERYTHING through outlook. It is quite a lot, mostly classes, lunch session, speeches, workshops, 1:1 coaching, mixers, study groups, case groups, cocktail receptions etc etc etc. There a also unofficial things, this week namely the 80s party, whiskey night, wine circle, small group dinners, TALK, brainstorming session, recruiting events, FOAM etc etc.

So now the interesting question: Which two things do you pick?

The top 10% of the class are named Arjay Miller Scholars (Arjay was a former Dean of Stanford). A title that might give you self-satisfaction, a nice certificate and some attention during graduation. Not a whole lot more though. Oh, and hours of studying and headaches whether you actually make the top 10 %. It is hard for a group of overachievers that have constantly been on top of their game to accept that many of us will not end up on top of academics here at Stanford. Hard for my classmates, but also hard for me.

But is it discouraging enough so that I become a study beast and worry only about academics?  NO

I came to Stanford not for micro, accounting and strategy classes. I came for intellectual stimulation that can happen in class or after 3 bottles of Cabernet in the Schwab Courtyard with my small group dinner comrades. I also came to hear other people's stories, to be inspired and to learn from the many, many experiences.

So I am faced with somehow clear expectations of why I came and a track-record of academic success. I know that I want to prioritize the first point, but it feels damn strange to knowingly push aside the second part. A lot of MBA2's told me, and I come more and more to the conclusion myself, that choices are and will be necessary to have a great time here. And when I am self-reflective those choices prioritize many, many things over academics.

To actively listen, talk, interact, discuss, exchange, argue and agree I need to be somewhat awake, fed and relaxed. So I guess I will pick socialize and to a somewhat lesser extend sleep.

How that entire socializing thing works will probably be a part of a future blog. I haven't really figured it all out yet. But hey, it's week 3.

Cheers + bis bald,

PS: It was a thoughtful post so I had no picture initially. I guess that one will do!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Week Zero, Hummus and German Fashion

Week Zero, or the week before classes start, is over. Observations so far:
- I have not been fully transformed by B-School yet. Do I have to worry?
- I will have to learn to live with less than 6hr of sleep
- No one noticed that I have been wearing the same clothes since I got here from Colombia

Content-wise we learned how to effectively lead teams. Our American professor with the very strange Dutch accent made us solve a murder mystery, survive in the dessert, create a large scale painting and fight over plastic coins. Though some of the learnings felt repetitive I have to admit that the unconventional teaching style engaging the entire class is something I really enjoy. The same feelings I had 8 years ago while doing my high school exchange in the US came up again: You guys simply know how to make class interesting. Maybe sometimes a little too funny and fancy, but interesting for sure.

Oh, and I love the constant positive feedback:
"I love your comment"
"Great, thanks for bringing this up."
"You are diving right into the subject."
"I love it. Great story."
"This is a really interesting approach. Thanks for sharing that."
"Right on!"
"You guys bring everything up without me."
"I love this atmosphere here."

I just hope this is to encourage everyone to speak up in class in the beginning and not a constant in all classes.

Free Food:
Well, not particularly "free", because we technically paid $300 week zero expenses... People seem to be really excited about food around here. Especially when we are told it is free. Friendships and other plans are pushed aside in exchange for a cold slice of pizza or some hummus and pita chips (a looooot of hummus around here). I can see why that is though. People enjoy being full. Especially before classes or presentations.

That actually proves my theory that people should be fed before important events. Ever since I have told people that I will have snacks for the guests before my wedding so that people actually listen to the  ceremony without constantly envisioning the buffet or debating whether it is socially acceptable to go for a quick burger after church before the banquet (remember Dad, we did that once... good times).

Are really cool. At least the ones I have met, which sadly has not yet been the entire class. Well, there are two more years to go. As I know that a lot of my classmates read the blog I thought it'd be nice to have a little competition:
The first five MBA1's to like the post about this blog entry on Facebook and post their favorite free food from week zero will get a dinner invitation from me! 

Alright I need to make Stanford business cards now so that I can hand them out and boost my ego if I need confirmation about how great I am :-)

Cheers + bis bald,

PS: Clothes. Yes, I actually own more than 2 pairs of pants (One is actually not in my room. Scott needed them.) and 4 T-Shirts. All my stuff is still in Germany and will come in 4 days. GSBers watch out for some hot German fashion to be observed on campus.

Twerk Hard, Play Hard!

In case I forget my name!

Learning about teams.

Losing my beer pong virginity.

Friday, September 13, 2013

First Days at Stanford and Thoughts about Bad HBS Press

Hello there,
Walmart Run!

my to do list is getting smaller and smaller. By now I have a bank account and a cell phone plan. Both things are essential here. So are trash bags, paper towels and forks. Also taken care of!

I got into town on Sunday, spent a night at a friends' place and moved into my room on Monday. The days have been filled with shopping trips, admin tasks and a lot of sports. The facilities here are amazing: tennis, volleyball, soccer, running, cycling, rugby. Very impressive to see how active the entire class, but also the campus in general, is. Let's see whether we can keep that up once classes really start.

Two interesting things that I have noticed:

People here are stunningly beautiful:

As already mentioned earlier, everyone in the class is slim, fit and takes good care of his or her body. Why is that though? Have we been selected also for how we look or  are the character traits most of us share lead to the fact that we are conscious about our appearance? On a sidenote: I met a guy who told me he had purposely lost 60 pounds before applying to B-school. He had the feeling he would not get an offer if he was too big. Feel free to use the comment box if you have an opinion about the topic!

HBS gets a lot of crappy press lately:

And also here...

I'm glad not having to put up with all of that. From my undergrad I know how annoying bad press can be and how much inflated many things are portrayed. I can just image that basically any more-or-less talented author can make a good story throwing gender issues, rich internationals, sexism and the Harvard brand into an article. Nevertheless, I am eager to see how the mentioned issues are tackled at Stanford. Will let you guys all know!

Cheers + bis bald,


View from my room

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Stanford Trip to Colombia

So, how could business school start better than by bringing 247 classmates and SO's (significant others) to Colombia in order to get to know each other and to form first friendships? - Right, by throwing in 2 days on a desolated island in the Caribbean with cheap cocktails and parties all night long.

The annual pre-MBA trip to Colombia started some years ago and has been carried on ever since. Our group is the biggest that ever went and I believe that even at the end I will not have met every single one. Stops on the 8 day tour include Cartagena - Isla Mucura - Medellin - Bogota. We are currently in Medellin and I am glad to have both hot water and Internet (amazing how a few days in Europe can make you feel that you need both things!)

 I will not bore you with too many details about the last couple of days (and I took no pictures...). You can imagine that it was pretty cool and yes - it was. Nevertheless I was surprised (well, was i really???) that no matter what type of people you bring together, if it involves alcohol, naked skin, loud music, everyone starts to behave like teenagers again. I guess a lot of people see business school not only as a way to expand one's horizon academically, but also to shop around for a potential husband or wife. As someone once said to me: Meeting new people is like a new gene pool opening up. Well, Isla Mucura was definitely helpful in doing first evaluations of the gene pool.

I can also report a first small victory on my side: Team International beat Team USA in soccer. Beating might be wrong word though, destroying sounds much more accurate. With a final score of 7:2 (including 3 German goals!) we showed where the game of all games has its roots.

Another interesting observation: American guys are RIPPED! How can an entire nation (or at least the sub-set going to Stanford) have so much muscle? Whereas in Germany I felt I had an above average body, here I really need to watch out to not become depressed. I have to find some gym buddies on campus to show me their tricks!

Alright, enough about teenage behavior, gene pools, soccer victories and enormous abs. I have to get ready for dinner.

Cheers + bis bald,

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Goodbye Rwanda!

Tonight is my last night in Kigali. Another day of work tomorrow and then off on a much-to-long trip home to Frankfurt via Addis and Riyadh. The last days have been quite stressfull because we are on the last mile of putting together an important project proposal for a funding agency. This is also why I will only have a day back home until I travel to The Hague and Amsterdam to meet up with consultants helping us put together the application.

I want to recap a couple of the most interesting things I learned during my time here:

1) Rwanda is pretty advanced. I am excited to see where it stands in a decade.
2) International development aid is big. But often too slow and unfocused.
3) Government and private sector should develop at similar speeds.
4) Mushrooms are difficult to grow and also easy-looking businesses require expertise.
5) The right balance between expats and locals is crucial in your workforce.
6) Access to skilled labour is a challenge for businesses.
7) You have to be persistent to succeed as an entrepreneur even when things do not work out.
8) Moving to Africa means sacrificing a lot of things we take for granted.
9) Connections are key in a new environment.
10) Africa is full of opportunities.

One last story that made me realize how difficult it is to change something here:

We didnt have running water for some days and decided to fill up the tank manually. Everyone was craving a shower and we worked for several hours lifting up water containers to fill the tank. I had blisters on my hands and was sore all over my body. By then I decided to never let the water run when I was putting tothpaste on my toothbrush or when I was washing my hair in the shower.
Well, I kept the promise for two days and then returned to my bad habits.

In order to really bring this country, but also all other societies, forward, civil society, governments and all other stakeholder have to get over enjoying the short-term benefit and move on to working on collaboratively on big issues.

In diesem Sinne.
Cheers + bis bald,

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A trip to Spain

Me and the GURELAN Management Team
Mushrooms grow on organic matter that is inoculated with mushroom spawn. Such spawn is a high-value input factor and can only be replicated under high-tech laboratory conditions. Our plans in Rwanda foresee to move away from an external spawn supplier and to set up an own production facility.

Process mapping
Since we are totally new to the process and require experts in the field to help us plan, construct and run such a spawn lab I took a trip to Pamplona, Spain, this week and met up with GURELAN, the market leader of spawn production in Spain. After two exhausting, but very productive, workshop days we have formalized the partnership, decided on how to apply for funding and mapped out the production process including adjustment for Rwanda. 

It is amazing to see how a collaborative attitude can enable great things to happen. GURELAN is well-established in the market, but seeks to enhance its social benefit and to develop tertiary markets such as Rwanda. In my opinion there are much too many NGOs, private sector enterprises as individuals that pursue ventures without the proper knowledge and skill-set. Yes, drive, motivation and speed to market is one thing, but nothing speaks against getting help from an established partner. I firmly believe it is exactly this knowledge transfer that will help developing economies to get on track. 

Autoclave for sterilization of spawn base product

Besides working on mushroom spawn I of course used the opportunity to experience local sights and cuisine. Tapas and red wine in a Spanish bar make you aware that working in a developing country is of course rewarding, but makes you sacrifice some things as well. Oh, and the Guggenheim in Bilbao really is a neat building...

Cheers + bis bald,
Guggenheim and "Puppy" by Jeff Koontz

Monday, July 22, 2013

Uganda - The Pearl of Africa

A friend from Stanford visited last week and I spontaneously decided to join a group of interns from all over Africa to go rafting in Uganda. After an important deadline Thursday evening my colleague and I took the freedom to take Friday off and decided to opted to Kampala by bus. Flying was much more expensive and a 9hr bus ride during the day might actually be nice (... or so I thought before the trip).

Our JAGUAR bus
Border Crossing
On the way to Kampala
Leaving the house at 4:45am meant too little sleep, a seat pitch of about 10cm meant cramps all over my body, only stopping twice meant depriving oneself of much needed water in order not feel like going to the bathroom. Well, and the 9hrs turned our to be 11,5hrs. I was ready to fly the way back (but ended up taking the bus again - One can do so many cooler things with the 150 EUR a ticket would have cost!)

After meeting up with the group in Kampala we went out for some West African food (Mama Ashanti - highly recommended) and a couple of drinks in a nice, but very expaty place.  The next day we were picked up early again to drive to Jinja, a place that calls itself the adventure capital of Africa, and that has some awesome grade 5 rafting on the White Nile.

Beginning of Rafting
Jumping off the raft
IT WAS GREAT!!!! Even though I'm not a water person it was amazing to raft the wild waters and to do backflips from the raft in the calmer areas. Going rafting in Uganda doesn't sound too natural, but I can assure you all it was great.

Luckily the crocodilesusually frequenting the nile have been scared away by dynamite fishing (one of the few times when I actually approved of that practice ;-)). So no immediate threats by dangerous animals. One guy in our boat had a waterproof camera with amazing quality. See for yourself how it was and feel free to become jealous!

The evening was spent talking, eating and drinking on the banks of the Nile and on Sunday we all headed our ways. I must have been too eager to get home and forgot my phone in Jinja. Luckily I realized it in Kampala, arranged a transfer and changed my bus ticket from noon to 4pm. Alright, no big deal, until I was told that they forgot to give my phone to the driver, ok, changed the bus to 8pm and visited some Kampala sights. At 7:45pm I was beginning to worry: where is the delivery guy? Do I really have to take the 1am bus? At 8:03pm they closed the bus doors (without me). I would have never expected that in Africa... I mean I was surprised that there actually are schedules. At 8:04pm the guy shows up with my phone, I run and catch the bus at the first traffic light and still get on. All sweaty, but oh well!

Nile River
So here I am now, the only muzungu (white person) on the bus, sitting in the very back (note to myself: never never never sit in the back... It's SO bumpy) and await another 11hr journey including a 3am crossing of the Uganda-Rwanda border.

At least 30minutes are already over due to the blog entry. I'll try to sleep now.

Cheers + bis bald,

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Development Aid in Africa

I would like to answer a few of the questions I have received over the last couple of days dealing with my work here:
- Do you actually plant and harvest mushrooms?
- Are you working for some NGO that helps farmers grow mushrooms?

Short answer: NO!

The aim of Kigali Farms is to create a modern mushroom growing and processing industry in East Africa. This is done by brining modern technology to Rwanda, adapting that to local requirements and training farmers to work with those new technologies. This has several positive effects: promoting mushrooms as part of the daily diet to fight malnutrition, providing new jobs in a formerly non-existent industry and allowing farmers to create revenues through the sale of wheat straw (a mushroom growing substrate) which used to be a waste product of wheat farming.

Kigali Farms is a for-profit company. The owner has invested a lot of money not only to do good, but to also create a profitable business that will eventually expand and yield returns on his investment. Several government funds and private donors support such companies by awarding grants or loans for innovative and promising businesses. It is my job to think of extensions for Kigali Farms business model (new markets, new products) and apply for funding to materialize those project ideas.

I have yet to got out to the fields and see the actual growing of mushrooms. Until now my work has basically consisted of meetings, research and drafting project ideas. Of course quite similar to what is have been doing in Germany, though the environment is different. Our office is not air-conditioned, next to a car repair shop (to give people direction we always tell them to go to "Gorilla Motors"), has Internet that takes FOREVER (in case it actually works) and gives you a headache due to the gasoline fumes floating around. But I should not complain, we have a western toilet and running water!

Cheers + bis bald,

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Things You Didn't Know about Rwanda

Alright, so I am in the middle of my first weekend here in Rwanda and would like to share a couple of fun facts with you:
  1. People wish you "Good Morning"! Be it 7am, lunchtime or late at night.
  2. Rwandans are crazy about shoes. Dirty ones are a no-go.
  3. Rwandans love buffets. Especially for lunch. Nearly every Restaurant offers one.
  4. Food in local bars takes AT LEAST 1hr to arrive. (Maybe that´s why buffets are popular... no waiting time)
  5. In case you want to buy airtime or data for you phone / laptop you have to buy a scratch card from some vendor on the street, scratch it and type in the code... come on... scratchcards !?!?!
  6. Rwandans love mayonnaise and eat it with everything.
  7. You are not supposed to walk over grass in the city. If there is a nice patch in a public area, make sure to never set foot on it!

As you can see: I am not writing about being attacked by lions or elephants, crazy people trying to sell me blood diamonds or child soliders or being asked to invest in organ trade. Not saying that stuff like that cannot be found, but Rwanda is much more advanced, safe and clean than expected. I guess my perception of Central Africa will be a little adapted over the upcoming weeks.

In order to see as much of the city as possible I today ventured
out to the Kimironko neighborhood, home of the biggest market in town, to do some grocery shopping. I tried to upload a video here directly, but internet seems to be too slow (maybe buy another scratch card?).

Youtube worked though! (Click me)

Cheers + bis bald,

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Mushrooms in Rwanda

Alright, many of you might have heard me talking about how I will grow mushrooms in Rwanda for the next couple of weeks. Well, surprisingly I was not making one of my jokes, but am actually sitting in Kicukuro right now (which belongs to Kigali) reading about spawn production in East Africa.

What do I do?
I am working for Kigali Farms (www.kigalifarms.com) and am responsible to find much needed funding for our upcoming projects which include enhancing our product portfolio (with white button mushrooms, right now we only do oyster mushrooms), building a spawn lab and setting up a distribution system. Kigali farms is a for-profit social business that aims at fighting malnutrition in East Africa by introducing commercial mushroom growing with local resources in the region. We try to win local farmers to purchase substrate and spawn from us who then grow the mushrooms and sell them either back to us or directly at the local markets.

Where do I do it?
Our office is located in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. Rwanda is one of the up and coming countries in the region, relatively safe and politically stable. We have some land an hours away that allows for expansion and is in a region with more favorable climate. In Kigali I am currently staying at my boss's house but will move to my own place on Monday. It's great to get to know different parts of the town! I have not seen that much of Kigali so far, but the markets, the colorful dresses and the traffic already made an i

How did I get to spend my time in Rwanda?
Well, I have two spare month in between quitting my job and starting school, Instead of simply travelling or doing a traditional internship I tried find working opportunities in the social sector in a country or region I have not been to much. Stanford has been a great help putting me in touch with some organizations that fit my requirements and after a one-hour skype date with the founder and CEO of Kigali Farms I decided to spend my summer in Rwanda.

In the upcoming posts I will talk a bit about the work I am doing here, the non-profit sector as well as life as an expat in Africa.

Cheers + bis bald,

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Moving out

After leaving work it was time to also leave my apartment this weekend. A long good bye party at a local "Apfelwein-Wirtschaft" on friday did not prove to be the best preparation for that. Oh well... 

Though I am happy for every step I am taking at the moment it feels strange to know that all I'm owning is now sitting in some cardboard boxes. I got rid of all my furniture, all plates, silverware, my desk and so on. I might not yet live without any tangible possession, but I feel that I can at least a bit relate to people that actively try to not own that much. Now I don't have to be afraid anymore of not being insured against fires, of breaking wine glasses, I won't get annoyed about that scratch on my table and I don't have to clean any of the things again. I feel more free now.

So, tomorrow meeting a couple of friends and then having my extended family over for coffee and cake. Some organizational stuff on Monday and then I'm off to RWANDA.

I also found my visa to the US in the mail today. Another potential obstacle taken care off. I kind of look like a criminal though...

Cheers + bis bald,

Friday, June 28, 2013

Every end is also a beginning...

After a great good-bye celebration with my colleagues yesterday at work it is time to close the aviation chapter for now. Five years at Lufthansa will come to an end this afternoon. A time during which I had the opportunity to live and work in Germany, Canada, Poland and Hong Kong, during which I really got to know an industry and what working in a big, multi-national corporation means and during which I was able to meet a bunch of extraodinary people.

As much as I enjoy looking back I am ready to move on and dive deep into what is ahead. Be it mushroom growing in Rwanda, going back to school at the GSB or travelling without the perks of an airline employee.

This blog is serving a coupke of purposes:
(1) informing friends and family without having to write multiple emails
(2) giving insights into what I consider one of the greatest MBA programs out there
(3) helping me reflect on what I do everyday and how I make c
ertain decisions and
(4) serving as a really cool read in twenty years' time for me.

Feel free to post questions, suggestions and comments anytime. I will try to include them in my posts to make that thing interactive. But first and foremost: I really hope you enjoy my writing.

Cheers + bis bald!