IBD Blog Post – Citibanamex

Written by Shaun Hundle, MBA ’19

Upon arriving in Mexico City, we knew we had big shoes to fill and a reputation to uphold as the third Haas team that has worked with Citibanamex. We were tasked with determining how we could make the online user experience easier for Citibanamex’s potential credit card customers. It sounded like a simple task on first read but we would quickly realize that the project had many stakeholders and puzzle pieces.

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Mexico City itself is a sprawling metropolis with long traffic delays, particularly during rush hour in the rainy summer season. Luckily, we stayed at a hotel relatively close to Citibanamex’s HQ, and those of us who were brave enough to cross the busy roads on foot even walked to the office every day.

Working hours in Mexico City are quite long. Employees are usually at their office from 9AM to 7PM, but that includes a longer lunch break that can be up to two hours. We were fortunate enough to have our client join us for a couple lunches, so we got a good sense for what the typical elaborate Mexican working lunch is like.

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During our first week at our client site, we were surprised by how complex the HQ operations were, being spread across three different buildings and multiple cross functional teams working on the same assignments and issues. Although intimidating at first, we quickly realized that everyone who had a stake in the project was very interested in speaking with us and saw the problem in their own unique perspective. This made our job as neutral fact finders even more interesting and layered.

We also developed a great relationship with our client sponsor. We were able to check in with him frequently enough in order to manage expectations and get his early buy-in on the project direction and, eventually, conclusions. This allowed for a great final report, where we were able to provide some great insights to all the project stakeholders without any major surprises. Long hours of client interviews, data analysis, research paper reviews, internal brainstorming and slide writing paid off with a successful client presentation.

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When we reached Mexico, we had known each other for about a month while we worked at Haas to prepare for the project at Citibanamex. The familiarity grew into friendship during the two weeks spent in Mexico City. We learned about each other’s quirks, understood everyone’s preferences and limitations, we even had our own inside jokes. Most importantly, we learned to contribute to the team goal by bringing our individual unique strengths. At first, we diverged – each of us focusing on the problem from different angles – and then we converged – combining all the findings into a cohesive and constructive recommendation for the client.

During our time off, we were able to eat tacos al pastor from many different taquerias, as well as eat at some of finest restaurants in the world, like Pujol. Getting to visit the Pyramids at Teotihuacan and ride our bikes alongside a main boulevard in Mexico City were also some great highlights from our time in Mexico City. All of us agreed that Mexico City feels like a hidden gem – so close to us in the U.S. with lots to offer and see, and yet it feels like you’re worlds away from home when you’re actually there. We’re all eager to visit again!

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One Day in Piri – YGA

Written by Clara Jiang, MBA ’19

Our IBD team project is to help Piri, a mobile audio tour company in Turkey, to explore virtual reality tour. I’m lucky to be in a diversified team and get the chance to explore the highly promising VR technology and experience the unique culture and life in Turkey and in Piri.

A day usually starts in the campus of Ozyegin University, where we have been living over the past 3 weeks. A packed schedule is waiting for us today, we are about to attend the Piri executive meeting in the morning, prepare our presentation for Piri team, meet with Mr. Faruk Eczacibasi, one of Piri’s early investors in the afternoon, and discuss feedback from Piri team about our presentation.

Piri executive meeting

The executive meeting is set at 8:30am in Piri’s Magnet office in the European side. To avoid morning traffic, we gathered at the uber pick-up spot and headed to the European side at 6:30am. Though we have been taking the same route almost every day over the past three weeks, I’m never tired of the gorgeous morning view of Istanbul with a perfect balance of historical heritage and modern skyscrapers. After roughly a hour of drive, we arrived at the breakfast place recommended by Sezin nearby Piri’s office. Nothing can start a day better than a refreshing Turkish breakfast with freshly fried eggs and juicy cheese with honey.

Arriving at Magnet office, most of the Piri team are already there. The executive meeting start at 8:30am punctually. When talking about executive meeting, first things come into mind are usually numbers, deadlines, targets etc. However, Piri’s executive meeting is absolutely different. As a start-up under YGA group, Piri shares the high-trust and people-oriented culture of YGA and carries the mission of developing selfless leaders. The executive meeting is more about sharing the personal feeling and growth with the team to cultivate and reinforce the high-trust culture. Today’s meeting started with reflection on Ephesus tour over the weekend where Piri team, especially Cemre, did an amazing job in helping us exploring historical heritage of Ephesus while experiencing Piri application. Only by immersing ourselves in the ruins could we appreciate the value-add by providing reconstruction of the historical site through VR tour. It is also inspiring to hear from Cemre about her experience to overcome the challenges and pressures to lead such a smooth and perfect trip.

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Self-study time

After the executive meeting, it’s self-study time for us to work on Piri VR project. After months of research, exploration, discussion, argument and cooperation, we are finally at a point to put together everything and get ready for the showtime tomorrow, the final presentation to Piri’s board of investors and executive team. Our main target today is to have a final check on the content and run through the presentation with Tulin and Sezin for their feedback before the presentation tomorrow.

Meeting with Mr. Farek

Time flies and it was already 2:30pm before we realized and we head off to Farek’s office. Before heading into the office, we gathered at the coffee shop with three highly talented YGA high school students to share our research on Mr. Farek’s thoughts and questions prepared. We have been familiar with YGA’s approach of “Be prepared, be present and be peaceful”. Before all important meetings, we’ll start with a preparation session of around 1 hour to discuss about key questions we would bring up during the meeting. After each meeting, the team will also have an immediate debriefing session to share take-away from the meeting and provide appreciation or constructive feedback to each other. As CEO of the largest Turkish industrial group, Mr. Farek is a very insightful leader in the transformation of technology. We were inspired by his thoughts on applying VR for exotic travel destinations. His support and openness to disruptive innovation resonate with one defining principle of Berkeley-‘Challenging the status quo’.

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After debriefing about the meeting, it was already 7pm and we started dinner meeting with Tulin and Sezin about the final presentation tomorrow. We were impressed by the detailed and in-depth feedback they provided to make the content better align with YGA’s culture and more customized for the investment board by adding more about our personal journey and reflection. The meeting last till 9pm which help us to avoid the evening traffic back to the dorm. Everyone was excited about meeting the investment jury and delivering the final presentation tomorrow.

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It’s Time to Celebrate IBD!

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When Frank Schultz, IBD Faculty Director, took the stage on September 14th at the 2018 IBD Conference, he shared that he has two favorite days in the IBD yearly program cycle: the day that IBD projects are revealed, and the day of the annual IBD Conference.  “I see this as a celebration, a celebration of IBD, and more importantly of you all and the work you have done on behalf of Berkeley Haas and your clients.”

Like Frank, the entire IBD program (including FTMBA and EWMBA students) looked forward to the 2018 IBD Conference as an opportunity to connect with fellow students, and to hear directly from them about their individual IBD experiences.  Said IBD FTMBA student Team Lead Jocelyn Brown (Seva Foundation, India): “My team and I felt that the IBD Conference was a great way to reflect on our project and the accomplishments of our team. It’s easy to rush to the end of the project in-country, and not take much time to reflect on outcomes and overall learnings. I think the Conference really allowed us to do that, and to compare our experiences to our classmates’.” 

Team Ford with Ford Client, Sam Smith

Team Ford with Ford Client, Sam Smith

IBD EWMBA student Jerry Phillips (Wildlife Conservation Society, Belize) reported that the “IBD conference was an excellent opportunity to learn what our colleagues had delivered to their clients through a thoughtful exchange of war stories, experiences and results. Between all the posters, the energy in Spieker Forum was easily noticeable with smiles all around and a constant buzz of excitement.”

Spieker Forum in Chou Hall was a fantastic new venue for showcasing the hard work of our IBD student teams through project poster presentations.  The ample space and beautiful views added to the energy of students, staff, faculty and guests, as they walked from team poster to team poster, learning about each of the 19 international IBD consulting projects.

Team Seva with their poster

Team Seva with their poster

It is especially rewarding when IBD project clients attend the IBD Conference.  This year we were joined by representatives from Seva Foundation and Ford Motor Company.  Ford Motor Company executive Sam Smith, a Berkeley Haas and IBD alumnus, said he “found it deeply rewarding to return to Haas as a client of IBD, having been a participant 15 years ago.  The scope of projects this year was remarkable in its diversity, with a common thread of creative problem solving by the teams – kudos to the teams and the administration. I can say for Ford that the engagement with our team was excellent, with the best possible feedback – we are continuing the work that they started.  I’m thrilled to expand the IBD community!”

Team Novartis after presentation

Team Novartis after presentation

Following the general project poster session, the 2018 IBD Conference program kicked off with the long awaited announcement that IBD teams WCS and Novartis were selected by a vote of their peers to come on stage to present their projects to the audience.  In addition, annual awards were given out to IBD student teams in the categories of Best Blog, Team Photo, Art Photo — and a new category called “Beyond Yourself.” (Click here to see the winners of these awards.)

Team YGA with poster

Team YGA with poster

Community, celebration, awards, and acknowledgement of the efforts of our program’s MBA students are what the IBD Conference is all about.  It was great to hear that after all the hard work and time invested in IBD projects — along with the funny and challenging moments of traveling abroad — our MBA students found real value in the IBD project experience.  As IBD EWMBA student Nik Reddy said, “The proof is in the pudding; you’d be hard pressed to find a team that did not enjoy their IBD experience.”

Thank you to the students, faculty, staff, and project clients who made the IBD program in 2018 a success. We can’t wait to launch the next IBD class in 2019!

To see the photos from the IBD Conference click here.

The Annual IBD Conference Awards

This is the sixth year that the IBD staff awarded IBD teams with the best photos and blogs.  The competition is always fierce as so many amazing moments are captured by our IBD students around the world.  Here are the 2018 winners.

Best IBD 2018 Photos

Best Aesthetic Photo -Winner:  TEAM YGA

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FTMBA’s: Daniel Mombiedro​, ​Joanne​ ​Lee​, ​Clara​ ​Jiang​, and ​Enrique​ ​San Martin Petit

Best Team Photo – Winner:  TEAM FORD

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FTMBA’s: James Westhafer, Sandra Tamer, Joesph Akoni, John Sheffield, Alyssa Warren

Best Aesthetic Photo – Honorable Mention: TEAM SEEDLINKSeedlink-Art (1)

FTMBA’s: Paola​ ​Blanco​, ​Nanor​ ​Asadorian​, ​Ralph​ ​Boyajian​,​​ ​Conor​ ​Farese​, and ​Dean​ ​Guo

Best Team Photo – Honorable Mention: TEAM PSI

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FTMBA’s: Sara Farsio, Jennifer Richard, Deitrich Davidheiser, Nick Greczyna, and Kamellia Saroop

Best IBD 2018 Blog

With so many great blogs written by our students describing a day in the life of their IBD project, it was nearly impossible to pick the best one.  This year ended in a tie between Team Ford and Team Think Beyond Plastic (TBP). Team Ford did a wonderful job of describing their project and how they spent their time in China working through the question that Ford asked them to solve.  Team TBP’s blog was notable because every team member contributed to the blog, sharing their own personal reflections and learnings from their in-country project experience.

This year IBD created a new award category called “Beyond Yourself.”  We presented this award to Team WCS because they wrote not just one, but two blogs detailing their IBD in-country experience, and at the same time created a video of their team experience of diving over 100 feet off the coast of Belize.  All five IBD team members obtained diver certification for this experience, which they memorialized by videoing themselves unveiling the UC Berkeley Cal Flag underwater. See the IBD Team Belize video here.

Best Blog Winners - Team Ford and TBP

Best Blog Winners – Team Ford and TBP

Team Ford : James Westhafer, Sandra Tamer, Joesph Akoni, John Sheffield, Alyssa Warren

Blog: Ford Shanghai – 2018 IBD

Team Think Beyond Plastic: Catherine​ ​Soler​, ​Leslie​ ​Brian​, ​Kelly​ ​Lamble​, ​Scott​ ​Peacock​ and ​Sipian​ ​Wan

Blog: How Three Weeks in the Bay Islands Changed our Perspective on Plastic

Blog: Continued Reflections on Our Plastic Use

Team Wildlife CS: Hima​ Erukulla​​, ​Andrew​ Lee​, Jerry Philip​, Srinivas Rajamani, ​ ​​Nik​ Reddy​​

Team WCS - Winners of the "Beyond Yourself Award"

Team WCS – Winners of the “Beyond Yourself Award”

Beyond Yourself:

IBD Team Belize aka Team Unbelizable – Week 1

IBD Team Belize aka Team Unbelizable – Week 2

WCS Video 

Click here to see all the photos from the IBD Conference

A Day in the Life of an RDoer- Team Resultados Digitais

From Emily Atwood, Thomas de Lyon, Connie Leung, Zack Looman, and Billy Phillips, working with Resultados Digitais – Florianópolis, Santa Catarina, Brazil.

For our IBD project we traveled to Florianópolis, an island in the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, to work with the digital marketing startup Resultados Digitais (“RD”) on their education business unit, RD University. Floripa is nicknamed “Silicon Island” and so a natural partner for us as Bay Area MBAs. RD is a fast-paced work environment full of young people and we quickly felt at home.

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Our routine:

Our days always start with breakfast at our hotel, a spread of cakes, pastries, fruits, juices and coffee. We live in a convention center hotel in the neighborhood of Itacorubi, about a 5-minute drive from the RD office, which is next to a mall. We are Uber’s best customers, using them to get everywhere on the island. Our first weekend we went to Rio, so we were very glad that last weekend we got to stay and explore Floripa in the light of day. Although Brazil has undergone a gas shortage due to a trucker’s protest, we have had no trouble with transportation thanks to ride sharing apps.

At the office we’re on the 5th floor in the New Leads on the Block conference room. All the rooms have digital marketing and music-related pun names – my favorites are Frank SaaSnatra and Ricky Marketing. The office is constantly expanding (they are literally adding floors as I write), and there’s lots of room for breakout meetings or to get a change of scenery. We have freedom to meet wherever we’d like, or to take calls on zoom, which we do for people in São Paulo or elsewhere.

Hands down our favorite thing about the office – beyond the RDoers, of course – is cake day, which happens every Thursday at 3pm. Yes, we have an alarm set so we don’t miss it. Nothing beats going to the kitchen and getting six different kinds of cake.

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The work day:

Our first week was all about getting as much information as possible, it was like a firehose. Our project is the benchmarking phase of a larger project that RD is working on, so they are very interested in making sure we get as many perspectives as possible. We’ve interviewed dozens of RDoers, marketing agency partners, and end customers. We’re learning a lot about tech startups, education, and Brazil, and even found ourselves talking about internal and external fit and realize that Ned really did get through to us in our Strategy class.

We feel especially challenged that our final presentation will be to the entire company of RDoers—we want to be sure that our work is clear and that everyone understands how it might impact them. This democratic approach is the norm; the executive team often involves the entire company with what is happening. We have daily check-ins with Caique and Paty, our main contacts, and a midway-point check-in with Eric, the CEO, and want to make sure the whole company is on board with what we are working on.

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The food:

Food has been very important to us. If we don’t have much time for lunch, we go next door to the mall food court, which we estimate to be upwards of 80% RDoers at lunch time. Otherwise, we go to a churrasqueira (Brazilian barbeque place) nearby, or for sushi.

Floripa is known for its seafood, so after work we try to get out to try different restaurants on the island for some bolinho de bacalão (codfish fritters) or pastel de camarão (shrimp pastry). We challenge Billy to eat steak at least once a day, and he largely succeeds. The restaurants are great, but our favorite meal has been a feijoada (traditional black bean and pork stew) at our RDoer friend Michelly’s house, complete with the whole RDU team.

We will miss the RDoers:

Far and away the best part of our time at RD have been the RDoers, who have been open, professional and kind. We have learned a lot from them and will miss them back in Berkeley!

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A Week in the Life of an IBD Team – Team Ananda

Written by Igor Borges, Stan Cataldo, Ryan Dingler, Elaine Leong, and Mila Pires, of the Ananda Development team in Thailand.

It was May 13th at 6pm and our team had just arrived in Suvarnabhumi, Bangkok’s main airport. Ryan (one of our team members) hailed us a Grab, Thailand’s Uber, and we were on our way to the hotel. In the hot and humid Thai weather, we passed two of our clients real estate developments. During our research, we found Ananda Development (our client) had a strong real estate presence in Bangkok and were already finding that to be true!

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The next day we met Lloyd, our main employee contact and the best host we could have asked for. He introduced us to his staff and gave us a tour of the office, which looked more like a high-tech company office in the Bay Area than a real estate company.

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After showing our initial research and framework to Dr. John, Ananda’s Chief Development Officer, we rebuilt our deck to dive deeper into the solutions we identified as strongest in preparation for our field research the following day. To decompress, back at the hotel we began a tradition, which continued for the full three weeks, where we would all play foosball but only Elaine would win. Then we managed to get through the intense Bangkok traffic to Beer Belly, a restaurant recommended by an employee at Ananda, where played some pool, air hockey and ping pong along with eating fried pork skin and some (very) spicy food.

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Tuesday during the day, Lloyd and his team setup tours of three of Ananda’s real estate developments, from pre-construction to fully sold-out and transferred properties, including an amazing 4D projection for the Ashton brand (Ananda’s most luxurious sub-brand). The three developments were all different Ananda sub-brands (these brands vary by target resident income and style) which gave us a good perspective of the various types of customers Ananda attracts.

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In the afternoon, we went to dinner with Ananda and a USC-Marshall team that was also doing a project with Ananda. It was a great opportunity to mingle and try several typical Thai dishes that our Ananda team ordered for us. This was also the point where Ryan was introduced to mango sticky rice – a true love story in the making.

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Wednesday we spent the day incorporating our initial feedback from Dr. John and additional information and insights we gathered during our field tours into our deck before our presentation to the CEO on Thursday. We also got to participate in a Singularity University event on the development of “fake meat” delivered by a professor from Japan.

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Thursday, was our big day to present to Ananda’s CEO, Khun Chanond Ruangkritya. Khun Chanond is a young Berkeley alum that is at the forefront of rewriting how real estate is done in Bangkok. During the meeting, he gave us the go-ahead and said we were heading in the right direction and gave us a lesson on how to be a successful but humble leader – a true Haasie! To close the day, we were invited to the presentation of USC’s project and networked with professors and other USC teams that were also in Thailand.

On Friday we visited another Ananda building to learn about their Property Management division and how they manage existing developments. Also, Ananda had a TGIF event, where we were able to hear an amazing Adele performance by one of our close Ananda contacts, who used to be a professional singer before joining Ananda.

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After the performance, we headed to our flights to Chiang Mai (a city in the north of Thailand) where we spent the weekend visiting temples, caring for our “own” elephants at a sanctuary and driving rented motorcycles.

It was an amazing pleasure and privilege to be in this project and we hope the next classes are as lucky as we were in getting such a heartwarming, exciting and eye-opening experience as ours. Lloyd and the team were wonderful hosts, every week they planned multiple events for us to network with CEOs, academics, and Berkeley alums.

Thank you Ananda for this unique experience and for the invaluable lessons!

Ford Shanghai – 2018 IBD

Members: James Westhafer (team lead), Sandra Tamer, Alyssa Warren, John Sheffield, Joe Akoni

Figure : The Ford Asia-Pacific headquarters in the Shanghai neighborhood of Pudong

Figure : The Ford Asia-Pacific headquarters in the Shanghai neighborhood of Pudong

The Ford-Shanghai team was tasked with a very unique problem in their IBD project: How can Ford improve their customer experience in the “pre-drive” space (before a journey starts) and the”post-drive” space (after the journey ends).  It was a relevant problem for multi-national company because so much of Ford’s internal effort is spent on the “in-flight” (during the journey) customer experience. We spent the spring semester at Berkeley researching customer use cases, benchmarking the competitive landscape, and speaking with as many Ford employees as possible to better educate ourselves on this unique problem.  We knew that our in-country experience in China at the end of the spring semester would be immersive and we came in with high expectations. Our time in Shanghai exceeded these expectations and gave us a level of exposure and experience that none of us thought was possible when we were sitting at our gate ready to board our flight to China on May 11.

After registering at the front desk of the Shanghai Information Center in the skyscraper-laden Shanghai neighborhood of Pudong and passing through the facial-recognition security checkpoint, we arrived on the 36th floor of Ford’s Shanghai office.  Our first day was filled with meetings of Ford executives, in groups ranging from strategy to Ford Smart Mobility to their Autonomous/Electric vehicle division.  It was the epitome of “drinking from the firehose” as we continued to educate ourselves on a very complex topic. We soon realized that talking and listening is only one component, and to fully understand the travel woes in urban China, our team had to experience it for ourselves.  We spent the entire second day of our project moving through Shanghai: subways at rush hour, the bus during non-peak hours, the dock-less bike share program, Didi (Uber equivalent in China), and even more.  

    

Experiencing the true urban China mobility experience first-hand was essential for our understanding of the true pains of residents and Ford customers.  It’s these pain points that drive Ford’s strategy in product development and partnership selection and an area that we believed to be a key area of focus in our project.  We didn’t have much time to debrief after our mobility outing because we were scheduled to travel to Beijing on Thursday for all-day meetings on Friday. We wanted to meet with other key Chinese mobility players to better understand their strategies for addressing customer pain points in the pre and post-drive space.  The partners we visited—Didi (Uber equivalent in China), Mobike (China’s most promising and successful dock-less bike company) and Shouqi (Didi competitor)—would be a great data point on how other companies in China were thinking about similar mobility problems.

 

After a marathon day of meetings, we were able to unwind a bit and take in the local flavors of northern China.  There was an eventful Beijing night that included the local favorite dish of Peking duck and a Chinese alcohol specialty, Bijou.  The next day, the team made a memorable trip to the Great Wall of China that far-exceeded everyone’s expectations. We had a great tour guide that educated us on all-things Chinese history and helped put the grandeur of the Great Wall into perspective.  It was a highlight of our trip and certainly a lifetime memory for all of us.

An amazing day trip to Huanghugcheng, north of Beijing, to visit a relatively tourist-less portion of the Great Wall

An amazing day trip to Huanghugcheng, north of Beijing, to visit a relatively tourist-less portion of the Great Wall

We got back to work the following Monday and began designing and creating a comprehensive interview guide that would help to validate (or disprove) some of our customer painpoint takeaways from our mobility outing and various meetings from the week before.  We lined up a number of Ford employees and other Shanghai residents that ranged from ages 23 to 60 in order to help our team better understand mobility trends and personal travel pain points in urban China. We had some very interesting and thought-provoking conversations that validated some of our personal painpoint takeaways, but also some unique nuggets that we used to develop some preliminary recommendations.  

As the week progressed, we had more meetings and team brainstorms to start landing on what our final recommendations would be to the Ford team.  There were many long nights as our team sifted through the massive amounts of data and information that we had in front of us from the 2 weeks of immersive meetings and interviews.  We left the Ford office on Friday on the second week of our in-country visit with a clear (yet ambitious) presentation outline that we would delve into during our last week.

Figure 7: The Ford team working through some slides in “CR-9 War Room”, the designated space for the team during their stay in Shanghai.  Lots of snacks, coffee and water were needed.

Figure 7: The Ford team working through some slides in “CR-9 War Room”, the designated space for the team during their stay in Shanghai. Lots of snacks, coffee and water were needed.

The final week in Shanghai consisted of long working sessions to perfect the slide deck that would be presented to senior Ford leadership at 8am on Thursday May 31st, the last day of the project.  The climax of the in-country experience came on Wednesday May 30th when the team worked from 7:30am until 10:30pm at night, which included a final run through of the presentation in our hotel room while eating one last meal of Shanghai’s famous “soup dumplings”.  

The final presentation on Thursday morning was a wild success.  We presented to the head of Asia Pacific Ford Smart Mobility and the head of Asia Pacific Strategy for Ford along with a number of other Ford executives.  After presenting our findings and making final recommendations on Ford’s strategy in China, the VP of Strategy for Asia Pacific (formerly a partner at Bain Consulting in Shanghai) said that the presentation “exceeded his expectations” and that he saw really tangible ideas that could make a difference in China.  He even started brainstorming with Ford’s lead on Connected Services on how some of our recommendations could be piloted in China! It was a very rewarding ending to the project and validated the hard work that we put in throughout the spring semester. It was an absolutely amazing experience for all 5 members of the team and will certainly be a highlight of our two years at Haas.  We want to publicly thank the Ford team for their help and support throughout the project. It was a joy working with the Shanghai team and we are happy that our recommendations could have a lasting impact for the company. From the entire team, xiè xie for everything, Ford!

The Ford team on the 36th floor of the Shanghai Information Tower in Pudong on the last day of their project.  Thanks for everything Ford!

The Ford team on the 36th floor of the Shanghai Information Tower in Pudong on the last day of their project. Thanks for everything Ford!

 

Seva Team Blog – 2018 IBD

Written by Jocelyn Brown, Rachel Lee, Grant Hannigan, Josue Chavarin, and Gagan Dhaliwal

May 21, 2018

It’s 110 degrees outside. Every bump of the road jostles us back and forth as we sit on stretchers in the back of the hospital ambulance. Weaving down dirt roads that look way too narrow for our vehicle, let alone two lanes of traffic, the driver uses the siren to announce our arrival, to both wandering buffalo and massive trucks filled with just-cut sugarcane. Within minutes of leaving the hospital, we are passing small farming villages. Goats, stray dogs and buffalo rest in the shade of ramshackle structures, along with villagers who stare at us as we drive by. Little fans in the back of the ambulance blow hot air in our faces, making it feel like we’re in the middle of a hot, dry sauna.

After stopping to ask directions several times, we finally locate our first interviewee. Today, Gagan and I are interviewing patients who visited Dr. Shroff’s Charity Eye Hospital in Mohammadi, India, and were told that they needed cataract surgery but haven’t come back yet to schedule it. We’re hoping to learn, through our teenage translators Srishti and Gracy, why they haven’t come back to the hospital. Every trip we take outside of the hospital walls has taught us an incredible amount about the surrounding communities and their day-to-day lives. We also usually come back exhausted and completely wiped from the Indian heat after only a few hours.

The first man we meet is prone on a cot underneath a straw hut and comes out to meet us. He’s shirtless, hunched from the waist around a wooden walking stick, and wearing thick, coke-bottle glasses. The first thing our translator tells us after introducing us is that he drinks alcohol. He doesn’t have any family members who can take him back to the hospital, and so he relies on others for transportation. Boiling in the sun, struggling to get any concrete details about why he might not want to come back to Shroff’s, we quickly decide to move on.

Our next interview is the opposite experience. We pull up to through the center of another village and step out of the ambulance. All of the houses around us seem to be made out of mud and straw. Several children seem to be the only ones who have any energy as they run around playing with each other and a stray dog. The community outreach coordinator for the hospital learns that our next patient is out working in the fields. While other members of the community go fetch him, chairs and water are suddenly precured from nowhere. We see very few women, just glimpses of their colorful garb from open doorways. As we wait for our interviewee, a small crowd of children and interested men starts to form. By the time our interviewee has arrived, a crowd has fully surrounded our little half-moon of chairs.

We’ve worked with our translators ahead of time so they know the types of questions we’re hoping to understand: how did you first hear about Shroff’s? What motivated you to seek care there? Did you understand what the doctor told you about cataract surgery? Why haven’t you returned to Shroff’s for surgery? We receive very brief answers in return: I was very satisfied with my experience. I wouldn’t change anything; the doctors and facilities are the best. Now surrounded with a full crowd of villagers, I wonder how much this man feels like sharing with these foreigners who have suddenly descended upon him and his home.

Conducting our interview with a local farmer

Conducting our interview with a local farmer

As our translators work to glean why this man hasn’t returned to the hospital for surgery (he doesn’t have the time), Gagan and I start to realize the enormity of our task. Our goal is to find untapped sources of new paying patient revenue, so that the hospital can work towards financial sustainability. But as our interviews in the community continue (we only make it through two more before we’re completely wiped by the heat), we realize we will not find the patients we’re looking for here.

We discover that the sugar cane farmers are paid 1-2 times a year for their crop and are making at most $5,000 a year. If these villagers are challenged with the basics of transportation and finding the time to make the trip to the hospital, none of our fancy, MBA pricing models are going to make any bit of difference in this community. Our impression that these patients would price shop for their surgery is immediately dispelled once we realize the simple, minimal lifestyle that describes 80% of this entire state of 200 million people. It’s only Monday of our second week and we certainly have our work cut out for us to identify sources of paying patients.

We gathered quite the crowd!

We gathered quite the crowd!

Continued Reflections on Our Plastic Use

*POST 2: Written by Catherine Soler, Leslie Brian, Kelly Lamble, Scott Peacock and Sipian Wang

Beautiful water and skyline with boatsThis is a second post about our project in the Bay Islands. After spending three weeks answering the question, ““How might we provide clean drinking water to the communities of the Bay Islands without a plastic footprint?”, we are now examining the question,

“How has this project changed the way we look at our own plastic footprint?”

See reflections from our team members below.

Scott’s Reflections: Developing Gratitude and Empathy

There was a perception on the islands that the pollution is caused by a “live for today” mentality. But, it’s not about enjoying the day; it’s about surviving the day. How can someone worry about the future consequences of plastic waste when they are worried about food, water, and safety today? I have the means and time to plan for the future, but still, many things that I use for convenience, saving money, or fun have negative externalities. This experience has reinforced my appreciation for the benefits I have and has made me reconsider the conveniences I take at the expense of others.

Beautiful water and sky with branch

Kelly’s Reflections: Called to Action

As we slowly moved down Pumpkin Beach on Utila, methodically picking up pieces of plastic, my heart sank. A staggering number of microplastics dotted the white sand with blues and reds and greens. Even the most painstaking cleanup could never get all of those little pieces off the sand and into a trash bag.

Witnessing the effects of plastic pollution firsthand made me think about my voice as a consumer. What excuses do I tell myself for why I’m not able to make a bigger impact? Is there really not enough space in my kitchen to have trash, recycling, and compost bins? Is there really no way to avoid buying new consumables, like big coffee tins from Trader Joe’s or shampoo from Walgreens, instead of refilling them? Those small pieces of plastic littering that beach was the motivation I needed: I bought two new trash bins yesterday, and a bar of soap that came without packaging. These may be small steps, but if enough consumers start voicing their desire for less plastic and greater sustainability, companies will have no choice but to listen.

banner saying "El Plastico recicla, la naturaliza, no!"

Catherine’s Reflections: Demystifying Plastic Perceptions

When we interviewed local people about their clean drinking water sources and plastic pollution, there was a pervasive sentiment that because we were from the US, we knew how to do things the right way. There was blind faith that, in America, we are free of single use plastic water bottles and all of our waste is composted or neatly packaged and disposed in environmentally friendly ways. Meanwhile, those same people were promoting sustainable straw use and drinking from 5 gallon jugs of water in their homes to reduce single use bottle waste – practices that are far and few between in the US. More so, by interacting with the communities on the Islands, I recognized many of my own behaviors that actually encourage plastic pollution and was inspired by their actions to change.

In a place like the US, we have the luxury of resources, education and expertise to make substantial plastic reduction and be a true ecological leader to others in the world. I hope that we act on that opportunity quickly and live up to the expectations that the rest of the world has for us. After this project, I hope to work to help local people feel empowered to design their own solutions to sustainability and have the confidence to share their practices with others. I am committed to learning more about how to reduce my own plastic footprint and find ways to inspire others around me to do the same.

plastic coke bottle on the beachClick here to read Post 1 from Team TBP

To view additional photos from Team TBP, click here

How Three Weeks in the Bay Islands Changed our Perspective on Plastic

Beautiful water and boatsPOST 1: Written by Catherine Soler, Leslie Brian, Kelly Lamble, Scott Peacock and Sipian Wang

How three weeks in the Bay Islands changed our perspective on plastic

Prior to this consulting project, none of our team members had even heard of the Bay Islands. Now, we will never forget them. The beautiful lush scenery, the warm people, the exquisite sunsets – our IBD adventure was chock full of moments to remember. And yet, the most frequent way we will remember our time on this project will be through the sight of plastic.

The objective of our consulting project was to help Think Beyond Plastic (“TBP”), a Carmel-based NGO focused on plastic reduction through creative enterprise models, bolster its Mesoamerican Reef Plastic Reduction Initiative through the identification of business ideas and partnership opportunities. We explored the question:   

“How might we provide clean drinking water to the communities of the Bay Islands without a plastic footprint?”

And now, we will share the answer to another question that came from this work:

“How has this project changed the way we look at our own plastic footprint?”

Pile of plastic and trash

Leslie’s Reflections: The Shield of Waste Management System

Our team came to the Bay Islands with the hypothesis that tourists were the problem behind plastic pollution. We were right, just not in the way I had first imagined.  Waste management is a problem in most developing countries, and the Bay Islands are no exception. A 16-year-old boy described how the trash outside his home would smell and attract dogs. The government simply stopped collecting trash at the end of last year due to mismanaged funds. What would I do in the absence of reliable waste management? Most likely, I’d do what the islanders do: throw trash in an uninhabited, public space.

Yes, plastic pollution is a problem in the Bay Islands, but an average person there consumes far less than an average person in the United States. The local people reuse everything out of economic necessity — kids use plastic bottles as toys. On an island, everything you consume has a direct impact on your surroundings, while in the US, our waste management system shields us from the impacts of our consumerism. I am certainly guilty of the mentality that once the garbage man comes, my trash is out of sight, out of mind. Yet, I don’t really know what happens next. My trip to the Bay Islands has pushed me to lift the lid on waste management in the US and not to rely on recycling to undo the effects of unnecessary consumption.

Sipian’s Reflections: Every Effort Counts

Sipian’s Reflections

Sipian’s Reflections

I was standing on a white sand beach in Utila. On my right hand side is one of the most gorgeous scenes I’ve ever seen with crystal-clear blue water and the colorful coral reefs underneath. On my left hand side, pieces of plastic waste can be spotted all over. In fact, the picture above captures only part of the plastic we picked up during a 3-hour cleanup: toothbrushes, straws, toys, etc.

Beyond government and institutional efforts, I believe our day-to-day actions are the key to reducing plastic footprint. Every piece of plastic waste we produce doesn’t disappear when we throw it into the trash can; it can end up somewhere in the ocean. While there is no quick path to minimize our plastic footprint, every small effort counts. Ask for no straw in your next drink, resell children’s plastic toys online, and reuse your solo cup.

Look for our next post to continue our team’s reflections here