Aaron Beaudette, Andrew Berry, Chris Pfab and Eric Prando are full-time MBA students working on an International Business Development project in Tanzania with Population Services International (PSI).
It was 6:30am and the sun had just come up. Our driver pulled a quick 180 and sped off after the lion, which had just leaped up and broken into a run after a small pack of hyenas on the hunt. We were the first (humans) on the scene and just in time to see the lion charge in and steal a freshly killed Thomson’s gazelle from the hyenas, which numbered only six or seven and did not have the numbers to retaliate. Instead, they simply drifted closer and closer until a growl and a lunge from the lion put them at a distance for good. A jackal also wandered over and joined in the spectacle, waiting for an opening to steal a mouthful itself. On our way back to the lodge after our most memorable safari moment, our driver taught us how to say, “In the Serengeti, we saw a lion eating a Thomson’s gazelle,” in Swahili. The resulting “Serengeti tumeona simba anacula swalatomi” became a commonly repeated phrase throughout our trip.
Spring 2014 IBD Team “Simba Anacula Swalatomi” is in Tanzania working with Population Services International, Tanzania (PSI/T), a global health nonprofit with a mission to use sustainable and effective collaboration to measurably improve the health of vulnerable people in Tanzania by promoting healthy behaviors and delivering quality affordable products and services. The team – Eric Prando, Andrew Berry, Aaron Beaudette, and Chris Pfab – are providing a recommendation on how PSI/T can best fulfill its goal to reduce deaths from diarrheal disease in children under five years old. We are tackling this problem by looking at household water treatment technologies (focusing on WaterGuard, PSI/T’s current chlorine-based product on the market) and alternative financial mechanisms such as carbon credits.
From the moment our team stood up in the first IBD class at the beginning of the semester and heard that we were going to Tanzania, every one of us was excited with the placement. None of us had ever been to East Africa, for one, and what’s more we were all thrilled to be working with PSI/T’s Director of Programs, Melissa Higbie, who herself graduated from Haas in 2009 with a joint MBA/MPH. Melissa worked with the University of Botswana and in Tanzania for Venture Strategy Innovations before joining PSI last year and was already familiar with the IBD process.
Shortly after our kickoff presentation, we left for a week and a half of field trips around Tanzania to understand water consumers in both urban and rural – some very rural! – areas. Our goals were to familiarize ourselves with different approaches to water sourcing and consumption, as well as to become acquainted with perceptions and attitudes towards treated and untreated water. One interesting insight we had on these trips was that customer education and behavior change are separate concepts, and while they can be achieved independently they need to be integrated in order for PSI’s project to be sustainable.
On our trips, we quickly learned that infrastructure is a big problem in Tanzania; it took us three and a half hours to drive 70 miles to a nearby city, and even the roads in the most developed parts of the capital, Dar Es Salaam, are riddled with potholes caused by the rainy season. Some were so deep that our 4×4’s almost got stuck. Getting around on Bujaji’s, the local iteration for a scooter fitted with seating for 4,5, or even 6 people, turned out to be an adventure by itself, but always fun.
Upon returning to Dar, we set up meetings with water experts in the government and nonprofit sectors to test our theories. Before we got too far, though, we had to try WaterGuard for ourselves! After hearing substantial negative feedback on the “chemical” or “swimming pool taste,” we were surprised to find the taste rather mild! Upon further reflection, though, we considered that this may have been to us associating a slight chlorine taste with something that is free from bacteria, i.e. safe to consume. Someone without this context could have a very different reaction.
The food in Tanzania is really good. Between the local lunch shacks on the streets that served fresh cooked fish and omelets with fries, the incredible Ethiopian in Dar, the Indian curries, and eaten-with-hands full tilapias we had on Lake Victoria, there were always new things to enjoy. The local brews also stood out, with memorable brands such as Kilimanjaro, Safari, Serengeti and Castle.
Before delivering our final presentation, we were able to head off to beautiful Zanzibar for a weekend. We took a tiny prop plane – about a 15 seater – for the 20 minutes flight, and upon landing and opening the door everyone on the plane stayed put. We did as well, initially thinking that everyone was waiting for someone to come and get us to lead us down the tarmac. This thinking quickly shifted when other passengers began boarding and we realized that everyone else on the plane was continuing on to another destination! We quickly gathered our things and deplaned before they had a chance to whisk us away to a far less desirable destination… We spent time in Stone Town walking through the medina, getting Zanzi-beards (i.e. a shave at a local shop), and chatting with many, many friendly children all eager to teach Swahili and learn some English. On our flight back to Dar, our very own Aaron Beaudette was promoted to co-pilot (!), which was as exciting for him as it was terrifying for us. (It turns out that there is no co-pilot on these flights and that one passenger gets to sit behind the second set of controls!!).
Over our last few days, we consolidated our ideas into a practical solution we described as, “In rural areas, empower trusted community members to be door-to-door entrepreneurs who educate on and sell clean water products.” These local entrepreneurs could fill out their basket-of-goods with additional water treatment options, such as ceramic filters, or child health products, such as vitamins or Milo, for sale. This solution is a departure from PSI/T’s current pull-dominant strategy that does not feature simultaneous marketing and sales.
Looking back on our time over the last three weeks, a few things really stand out. The first is that the Haas spirit is alive and well in East Africa. Melissa truly represents everything that makes Haas a fantastic place. We also learned that taking some time to learn the local language – and really have a genuine interest – does wonders to help break the ice. Almost without exception, our best local interactions came when we tried, and often stumbled, to speak and learn Swahili. People loved it. Last, harkening back to our safari adventure, sometimes it does not matter how fast or skilled you are. Sometimes the strongest just wins out. We loved our trip to Tanzania: We had a fantastic team, project, and client and cannot wait until we can get back there for another adventure.