IBD Blog “Dois dias no Brasil”

By Varstation Team Member, Dakota Campbell, MBA Candidate 2020

São Paulo Skyline

São Paulo Skyline

As a relatively inexperienced international traveler, I did not know what to expect when signing up for IBD other than that I’d stretch myself personally. As I was assigned to team Varstation in São Paulo, Brazil, I was excited to visit a country to which I had never been, but that my Brazilian classmates spoke highly of. After spending 3 weeks in country working with my Haas classmates and the Varstation team, I can certainly confirm that it was a transformative experience. Week days working in the office with the Varstation team and weekends exploring Brazil with my classmates both contributed immensely to the experience in unique ways. Profiling a “typical” week day and our shared weekend in Rio will paint the most complete picture of the Brazilian IBD experience.

Example of student deliverableWeek Day

The work days typically began with 6:15am alarm to rattle us out of our comfortable hotel beds. I’d fumble around the room for clothes and brush my teeth before heading upstairs to the hotel gym for a team workout! Depending on the adventures of the night before, team participation varied but was a great way to start each day. Afterwards, we’d all run downstairs to shower and hustle out the door for Starbucks on the way in to the office – a 20-minute cab ride from our hotel. Side note: we appeared the most American at Starbucks via our iced coffee or café filtrado orders as all the locals drink espresso-based drinks!

IBD/Varstation final presentation

IBD/Varstation final presentation

Our client, Varstation, is a genetic analysis software company that is in the process of spinning out of the prestigious Albert Einstein hospital in Brazil. Our office was located within an incubator that serves as a satellite office for the various companies the hospital is incubating in the Vila Mariana neighborhood. The Varstation team was gracious enough to carve out a conference room for us to set up shop for three weeks to finish all the deliverables we had been working towards over the semester.

IBD Touring Albert Einstein Hospital’s Sequencing Lab

IBD Touring Albert Einstein Hospital’s Sequencing Lab

You can’t have IBD without the work, so what did we actually work on? Our three main deliverables for the project were a spinoff playbook, market prioritization, and competitive audit. The spinoff playbook delivered best practices, case studies, and a synthesis of critical success factors across financing, governance, leadership structure, and business strategy. Market prioritization distilled down many factors including total healthcare spend, genetic analysis competition, market growth, etc. across ~26 different global markets to determine where Varstation could best expand in the near to mid term beyond Brazil. The competitive audit profiled four key competitors in the genomic space to provide Varstation with a competitive intelligence report. This report enables Varstation to more effectively compete by seeing services that are offered by everyone, what they do better or worse than others in the industry, how their value proposition stacks up, etc. Since the Varstation team is primarily comprised of computer engineers / coders working towards building their software, these higher-level business strategy documents were far beyond the scope of their daily activities and created value by more concretely guiding their business at it continues to take shape.

Our IBD team was usually in the office from ~9am to 630pm working towards these deliverables. We’d grab lunch at any one of several local eateries for lunch with many Varstation team members. This break for lunch is an integral part of Brazilian culture, as they can often take upwards of 90 minutes – a stark contrast to eating lunch at my desk as I was used to in the states. Our favorite destination was the “boteco”, a Brazilian staple that is a mix of a local café, corner store, and diner. Lunches were heavier than I was accustomed to, ranging from chicken parmigiana to a huge “corner” omelet, all served with rice, beans, and French fries.

After staving off the food-induced afternoon sleepiness, we’d finish our work for the day and depart the office back to our hotel. We stayed in the Itaim Bibi neighborhood which was a wealthier suburb, containing many stores for shopping and restaurants. We’d typically take 45 minutes upon returning to the hotel for personal tasks – tough to keep your life in order while out of the country for a month! Most nights the team would then all go to one of many local restaurants for dinner, spanning styles from Japanese, Brazilian, Mexican, American, etc. After dinner, we’d typically return to the hotel around 930pm. I’d put on the Warriors or Bruins games on the TV in the room and enjoy watching with the excitable Portuguese commentary, before going to bed around midnight to start the following day all over again!

Weekend in Rio

Ipanema Beach, Rio de Jainero

Ipanema Beach, Rio de Jainero

Our team had two weekends in Brazil where we could really cut it loose and see more of what the country had to offer. Since there were 4 separate IBD teams stationed in Brazil, we took the opportunity to plan a weekend in Rio together. Despite it being early winter in Brazil, Rio was still warm enough where we could take advantage of the nightlife, beach, and general outdoor ethos of the city. Teams from São Paulo, Florianopolis, and San Jose all assembled into two shared rental houses for a weekend full of shenanigans.

Ipanema Beach, Rio de Jainero

Ipanema Beach, Rio de Jainero

On Friday night we all grabbed quick dinners, and then headed for the street fair located in the center of the city. Here, numerous food vendors, drink carts, musicians, etc. lined the central park of the city near a major nightlife district. The streets were filled with locals and tourists celebrating, popping into the local bars and eateries before spilling back out into the central street party. Samba music mixed with contemporary American music to create a truly unique cultural immersion.

Ipanema Beach, Rio de Jainero

Ipanema Beach, Rio de Jainero

On Saturday we all rebounded from the late night Friday by heading straight to the iconic beaches of Rio. Despite it being early winter, the midday temperatures were over 70F and the water was delightful to swim in. Most of us relaxed on the beach for the day, strolling down to check out the coast line, and getting drinks from beachside vendors. When late afternoon arrived, some of us decided to hop in cabs and head to Sugar Loaf Mountain, a high mountain at the edge of Rio that has a system of cable cars to take you up top for a breathtaking vista. It was a truly expansive view of the entire city. The only issue was that we were still damp from swimming and it was unsurprisingly window at the top of the peak, which you can see from some crazy hair in the second picture below! We grabbed a glass a wine from a vendor at one of these peaks and listened to a live band before departing for a pre-planned, all group dinner.

iew from the top of SugarLoaf; Multi-team photo

Multi-team photo

View from the top of SugarLoaf;

View from the top of SugarLoaf;

As a sendoff for the broader Brazil IBD teams, we planned a nice dinner Saturday night before everyone departed at varying times on Sunday. We went to the local restaurant Bazaar, where most people indulged in seafood paired with Argentinian wines. We even squeezed all of us into one photo!

Wrap up

Overall, the IBD experience pushed me outside my comfort zone, both personally and professionally. I had never worked internationally before, and all my international clients had previously come from Europe. Getting used to the more laid-back Brazilian culture away from the comforts of home tested me over the 3+ weeks I was out of country. Personally, it brought me close with my IBD team members Stephen Collins, Erika Renson, Michael de Lyon, and Moto Takai. Whenever you’re out of your element, as we were in Brazil, the uncomfortable external environment really draws you close to those most similar to you. From that standpoint, I really appreciated IBD in that it brought me closer to my teammates. We now share a truly unique experience between us, and I hope that propagates in our relationships beyond our time at Haas. As for our client team at Varstation, they were truly gracious hosts and a fun-loving bunch, and I hope to track Varstation’s progress and keep in touch with them moving forward.

Full Brazil IBD team photo in Rio

Full Brazil IBD team photo in Rio

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

YGA- Art (1)

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

Best Team Photo – Winner:  TEAM FORD

Ford-Team (1)

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

PSI Team in Masai Mara on Safari (1)

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 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!

Ananda1

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.

Ananda2

Ananda3

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.

Ananda4

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.

Ananda5

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.

Ananda6

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.

Ananda7

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.

Ananda8

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