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