Spring 2014 IBD Team Beauty For Ashes (Chandhini Balakrishnan, Jackie Laird, Zach Knight, Matt Richards) is in Nepal working with nonprofit organization Beauty for Ashes.
After 24 hours of flying, which included traveling directly over the North Pole, we landed in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. As we made our way to the hotel, we were greeted with a traditional Nepali welcome: blaring car horns; a taxi driver who must have thought we were casting for “Fast & Furious 7: We’re All Going to Die”; goats, chickens, ducks, and dogs darting in between traffic; and 95 degree weather. What had we signed up for??? Despite a 12-hour time difference and awful jetlag, we tried to get some sleep in anticipation of our first day at the client.
Although it should have been a 20 minute ride, our adventure getting to the office on the first day took over 90 minutes and was fraught with detours, a dead cell phone, and a sense of helplessness. There are no addresses in Nepal, which can make it difficult to get around. How did our taxi driver not know to turn left at the orange painted fence after the hole-in-the-wall shop called “Ram Store?” Reliable transportation is so hard to find here in Nepal these days!
Every year, 10,000 to 15,000 Nepali girls are trafficked into India for sexual exploitation. Another 7,500 children are trafficked within Nepal every year. The majority of victims range between 7 and 24 years old. As Beauty for Ashes puts it, that is the equivalent of 36 Boeing 747’s filled with women and children trafficked to India and 36 school buses full of children trafficked within Nepal every year. Through skill training and education, Beauty for Ashes teaches victims of sex trafficking how to create jewelry and then sells the jewelry to provide the women with a stable income.
Beauty for Ashes runs its operation from a house located just outside of the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu. The house is homey, to say the least, and is filled with sewing machines, jewelry, and recycled saris. It’s also filled with the constant chatter and laughter of eleven Nepali women (most likely laughing at our discomfort with the squatter toilet behind the house!). A day in the office consists of morning devotions, lots of tea breaks, all of us working from the cushion-less couches in the living room, and a delicious lunch made by Reena, the resident Nepali chef extraordinaire.
Beauty for Ashes brought us on board to help build a foundation for growth as the organization is looking for ways to expand its operations both within Nepal and externally. While in country, our team worked on the following workstreams:
– Financial performance – Created a model that easily calculated annual sales revenues, cost of goods sold, and profits to help Beauty for Ashes show that they are a financially sustainable entity. Detailed cost analysis allowed our team to make suggestions on optimal product pricing based on raw materials, labor inputs, etc. as well as margin markup suggestions.
– Marketing – Provided recommendations on marketing to new and existing wholesale customers. Identified target customer segments and marketing tactics. Created marketing materials to send to new, potential customers.
– Competitive landscape – Performed a SWOT analysis, identifying areas of opportunity around pricing, design, and distribution channels.
– Performance assessment – Created quarterly and annual performance review materials for seamstresses and managers, as well as a compensation strategy aligned with performance review metrics.
Exploring the “Roof of the World”
As if traveling to Nepal and working for an amazing organization wasn’t enough, our team had the opportunity to travel to some of the most beautiful parts of Nepal. In Pokhara, we went on a two-day hiking trek, paddle boated on the lake, and paraglided next to Annapurna, the tenth tallest mountain in the world. We also had the opportunity to spend a weekend in Chitwan where we went white water rafting, bathed elephants, and spotted rhinos on our safari.
In business school, we often talk about the amazing benefits of the “MBA experience”: socializing at happy hours, going on game drives in Botswana over winter break, having lunch with CEOs of the companies that we all dream of working for, etc. Working for Beauty for Ashes, who is helping to change lives and make a real difference in the world, has helped to shift our perspective. Utilizing the skills we have learned at Haas to help grow an organization that is giving victims of sex trafficking a second chance at life has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and one that will surely be the defining occurrence of our MBA experiences.
Chandhini, Jackie, Matt, and Zach