Nan ga def! Mangifi!

Nan ga def! Mangifi!

Welcome to Dakar. Nestled in the Cap-Vert peninsula, Dakar is the westernmost point of the African continent.

picture1          A beautiful beach in Ile de Goree, off the coast of Dakar

A city of contrasts where gleaming Range Rovers and broken Renault cabs jostle for space on the same lane, towering beachside mansions overlook decrepit shanties. And bold new-age enterprises, dysfunctional government and age-old agriculture makeup the Senegalese economy.

The first thing that strikes you in Dakar is the construction. There is an undercurrent of urgency in a city bursting at its seams as people from all over Africa, and around the world flood to it, seeking opportunities in a resurgent Africa. We visited and met scrappy entrepreneurs in a number of incubators in Dakar – working on bringing technology to transform deep social causes. 

picture2           Dakar is bustling with construction

Africa has leapfrogged the traditional banking system, with mobile banking. With over 100% mobile penetration, mobile payments and mobile money transfer are slowly replacing the cash based economy. Our host InTouch hopes to make this readily accessible to a wide swath of the population with a digital point-of-sale system as an aggregator of payments. From day one, we hit the ground running to figure out a strategy for expansion and growth for InTouch’s products.

picture3             Tigo is one of the top 3 mobile money operators. In the foreground is a                                                          rebooting Windows screen.

Our main focus was understanding the market landscape and the adoption of InTouch’s current product. We had already prepared a couple of solutions before landing in Senegal – so that we could quickly validate our hypothesis and present to InTouch.

picture4           Usability research at gas station where the product is deployed


picture6          Market validation with local retail stores

We visited CTIC (an incubator) and Jokkolabs (a co-working space) in Dakar. It was fascinating to meet and interact with the entrepreneurs from all over the world working on making a deep impact on some of the social challenges in Africa.

picture5                        Visiting incubators and co-working spaces in Dakar with Yann LeBeaux

Vincent, the Innovation director at UNICEF was looking to use data analytics to become a nimble and agile organization. Adam at Voto was working on technology that could be used to gather survey data from social workers in far-flung regions. Malick at Africa Mobile sought to build a service to reach uneducated massed via web and mobile communication tools. And Bagore & Edouard at La Laiterie du Berger are looking to create a distribution channel for milk produced in rural Senegal to meet the burgeoning demand in cities like Dakar. We also met a passionate Daouda Gassama at the AEME who is bringing in an age of energy efficiency to Senegal.

picture7          Met the passionate Daouda Gassama and his wall of energy efficient lights at the AEME

As a part of our secondary research, Mike also figured out that Senegalese eat 29 Kgs of fish every day. One of our goals was to consume 29 Kgs of fish in 2 weeks. Thus began a search of the local Ceebu Jen (thiéboudiène), Yassa Poisson, Grilled Thiof, Crevette et lotte, and all sorts of deliciousness. Incidentally, we also found that Ravi does not like to wait for his food – a point made amply clear while waiting repeatedly for the local made-to-order Thiof.

picture8      Food was always on our minds in Dakar

Yogesh earned the nickname of “Yekini” given his uncanny resemblance to the professional Senegalese wrestler Yekini. That and his love for fish heads and sparkling water.

picture9           Apparently Yogesh bears an uncanny resemblance to the wrestler Yekini

Our gracious hosts took us sight-seeing over the weekend to Sine Saloum islands in South Senegal. This was a weekend of touring the local villages, fishing in the delta, pickup soccer on salt flats, seeing our first ever sun halo and attending a local wrestling competition. Evenings were spent taking in the spectacular African sunsets and more eating.

picture10     Amazing Sine Saloum


picture11    Spectacular African sunsets

This was one of the best experiences we have had at Haas. Thanks InTouch team for hosting us.

picture12     We can fit in the back of a beat up Renault or a horse cart

An Invitation to Help Transform Agriculture in Ethiopia

Like all the other IBD stories, ours is a story of international travel. Of exploring a country for the first time. Yes, we tried new food and saw amazing new things (our oldest known human ancestor, 12th century churches carved into hillsides, and much more).



We survived the government shutdown of the entire country’s internet. (Yes, really) We fit all of us PLUS our intrepid client/guide into his tiny car from the 80’s.


Collectively, we even tried every single domestic beer brand (not as impressive as it sounds, considering there are only nine of them) and lots of Ethiopian buna coffee.


But more interestingly, it’s also a story of agriculture in a country where over 80% of the population depends on the sector for their livelihoods. It’s a story of a country determined to achieve middle-income status in the next 10 years and of the proud and optimistic people across numerous sectors who are working to make this a reality.


So it’s not really a story about us. It’s a story about an invitation. An offer to share a vision and contribute in some very small part to projects that could one day help an entire country produce key crops more efficiently and effectively. Reaching this goal will mean food security for 100 million people. Exports that provide income for public investment in roads, health systems, and schools. An opportunity for children to become educated and pursue jobs that will help their families have more than the generation that came before them.


This is a story about Ethiopia. About the people who work here every single day with the hope that someday, together, they will reach these goals. So instead of talking any more about us, we’d like to share the story of just two of the many amazing people we’ve met over the last two weeks.


Input Supply and Distribution Head at the local government level an hour outside of Addis Ababa

Taressa is young, a sharp dresser. He seems out of place in his surroundings – the local branch of the Ethiopian Agricultural Bureau. The office where we conduct our interview is cramped with three desks, one computer, several filing cabinets, and shoulder-high piles of what could be anything from reams of paper to leftover and forgotten agricultural inputs. By lining chairs up between the desks, we find room for everyone to sit.


As Taressa tells us about his job, the most incredible thing is that he doesn’t seem at all frustrated by a system we view as infuriatingly outdated and redundant. Each day, Taressa spends up to eight hours on the phone collecting transaction data from 20+ primary cooperatives (agricultural distribution centers) under his office’s jurisdiction. When no one else is using one of the two working computers in the office (the one in front of us is off the “functional” list) he can update an excel sheet with his findings. If not, or if the electricity is out, he records information by hand and waits for an opportunity to update the excel sheet. Once updated, he prints it out and walks or catches a ride to the center of town to hand deliver the sheet to another office. When we ask about emailing it, he laughs. There is no internet in the office.

But he doesn’t seem upset. He smiles the entire time we’re talking and is optimistic that there are ways to improve the system. He takes us to see a primary cooperative and animatedly discusses different options for digitizing their inventory tracking system.


Meeting Taressa gave us a newfound respect for the young people who dedicate their time and talent to improving the lives of smallholder farmers. And we left with the hope that our project can in some small way make his job slightly easier, and in turn help to improve others’ livelihoods.

Melaku Admassu

20 years working for DuPont Pioneer, the only private multinational company with current permission to sell seeds in Ethiopia

We met Melaku, the Country Manager for DuPont Pioneer  Ethiopia, at his administrative headquarters on Peacock road in Addis Ababa. We entered the building, which looked like a converted private residence, and were welcomed by an older man wearing a tweed suit and a warm smile.


Melaku has worked for Pioneer in Ethiopia for twenty years and, though his humble demeanor won’t allow him to say it out loud, is largely responsible for the international company’s success in a country whose agricultural industry is almost entirely dominated by public sector enterprises.

At the end of our interview, during which Melaku showed extensive knowledge of both the agricultural sector in Ethiopia and innovative marketing and business practices, we asked him one final question and received an amazing answer –

Q: What is your background and why do you do this work?=

A: My background is in agronomy. When I was young, my father was a teacher but he also farmed the land. I still remember when one day a government extension agent came to our farm and he said “you should use this fertilizer” and my father, he said, “why do I need this? All I know is manure.” And the man said to my father, “Okay, don’t use it for your own sake. Use it because you are a teacher and you need to show everyone else that this works and will make their crops better.” And my father said “I’ll do this for the people.” I still remember that.

When I started this work as pioneer employee, I went to this smallholder  farmer and asked him. “Please try this improved seed.” He looked at me and said, “you know I have two wives and sixteen children to provide for. If I take your seed and it doesn’t work, you’ll be responsible for killing my family.” And I said, “Okay, I believe in this seed. I’ll take the responsibility.” He planted the hybrid corn seed I gave him as a sample (free of charge ) plus my advice on agronomy management and he harvested three fold of what he used to harvest from the same plot of land, secured food for the whole year, and started convincing his neighbors later the community.

Now, 20 year’s later, he is a big man. We promoted him from a Pioneer Extension Partner (model farmer) to a seed dealer and he has expanded from half a hectare of cultivated land to 16 hectares. His productivity has increased and his  income is also growing because he is implementing  best practices. Before, he had to decide which of his children could attend school, because he didn’t have enough money for uniforms and supplies for all of them. Now, four of them have graduated from university and the rest are all attending school. He has upgraded the grass roof of his house to corrugated iron, bought a television and radio, and now has a mobile phone to be able to keep better track of  agricultural market information. I was talking to him last month and he was going to another city for his son’s graduation. He was taking his younger wife with him I asked him, “oh, how long will your drive be?” and he replied, “We’re flying! I want my wife to experience riding in an airplane.”

Melaku smiles and says, “This is what our seed can do. It helps people. And when I see their success, it is my success. It’s like all their good fortune, it’s in here,” he touches his chest, “not just in their pockets.”

We feel similarly about our project and our time here. It’s a class, it’s an adventure, but it’s also a labor of hope. Hope that the project recommendations we make here will someday help the people we’ve met do their jobs more efficiently and, in turn, help farmers grow better crops for their children, their communities, and their country. If our project recommendations put more money in the pockets of the people who truly need it, their good fortune will be reward enough for our work. We are grateful to Haas for providing us with an amazing experience and an opportunity to go “beyond ourselves.”


Getting started

To get a sense of the evolution of our project, one could start with the name of our team. Initially, we – Theo, Vaisakh, Josh, Asli, and myself (Cameron) – were assigned to, a South African for-profit company with a  “three-zone” business model consisting of a for-profit software business as well as non-profit and impact investing activities around wildlife conservation and poverty alleviation. The client was frustrated that all of the good work it had done for conserving elephants and rhinos had gone nearly unmentioned in the press, and hired us to turn that around.

After a semester in Berkeley figuring out how to market this unique business model to a corporate audience in the U.S., we decided to refocus our efforts on just the non-profit entity of, ERP – short for Elephants, Rhinos, and People. We were fortunate to work with Quintin Smith, a Haas alum himself, who embodied the passion and entrepreneurial spirit we came to recognize in all of ERP and

On The road!

The highlight of our three-week trip was without a doubt heading down two days after we arrived to a wildlife reserve in the Eastern Cape. The reserve had recently suffered a tragic rhino poaching, and we were there to discuss steps the reserve could take to protect the rest of its herd. These conversations dovetailed nicely with one of our final deliverables, developing an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign for a technology-driven rhino security solution.

Every good Indiegogo campaign has a short video to go along with it. So we had to take to the streets – er, the dusty trails – of the reserve to start shooting some film.

To get the best lighting, we woke up at the crack of dawn for some sunrise safaris…

Our director and team lead, Theo, with his cinematographer Rob (of ERP)

Our director and team lead, Theo, with his cinematographer Rob (of ERP)


…and went back for round two as the sun set:




With this trip, we really took mixing business and pleasure to new heights – we struggled to think of another time when we’d be holding team meetings around a campfire, or conducting research from the back of a safari truck.

Enjoying my fifteen minutes (seconds?) of fame as a stand-in for our interviewees.

Enjoying my fifteen minutes (seconds?) of fame as a stand-in for our interviewees.

Our crew hard at work

Our crew hard at work

As much as we loved our time on the reserve, eventually, we had to pack our bags and say goodbye.

Me, Josh, and Vaisakh on a final ride with our German-Spanish-French tour guide Pablo

Me, Josh, and Vaisakh on a final ride with our German-Spanish-French tour guide Pablo

A weekend retreat

Fortunately for us, the Quintinator was not about to let us go back to Pretoria quite yet. Instead, he and the rest of the crew took us up to Modumela, a ranch several hours north of the city.

After several days of filming and focusing exclusively on our Indiegogo campaign, we needed to step back for a moment to think through our project’s broader objectives.

Hard at work, clearly

Hard at work, clearly

But it was the weekend, and we made sure to relax:

Learning new hobbies

Learning new hobbies

Grilling full chickens!

Grilling full chickens!

Closing down the campfire at 2? 3am?

Closing down the campfire at 2? 3am?

The real work begins

When we got back to Pretoria, we buckled down in the office and got back to work. We had a gargantuan task ahead of us: taking a semester’s worth of research, conversations, and observations and coming up with a succinct yet comprehensive branding for this burgeoning non-profit. Very quickly, we realized that this work was more than just a marketing exercise; it was getting to the heart of ERP’s strategic first, figuring out how to communicate it second.

Like any good first-year Haas students, we got our PFPS on:


The Windy City

Despite being in crunch time, we managed to find time to get away, just the five of us – the dream team. We spent the weekend in beautiful Cape Town, taking a much needed break from everything branding, marketing, and frameworks.

Asli making some new friends

Asli making some new friends


Blown away by Table Mountain!

Blown away by Table Mountain!

Elephants, rhinos…and sea lions?

Elephants, rhinos…and sea lions?

Wrapping up

In the end, we delivered a comprehensive branding and marketing action plan for our client. This final report provided some realistic, actionable recommendations for coordinating ERP’s communication from the inside out.

It wasn’t always the easiest process – we took the liberty of proposing some bold new ideas, and the clients didn’t always pick up what we were putting down, sending us back to the drawing board. This entire experience was undoubtedly a valuable learning process. If anything, we learned that, for all of the immense value of the Haas core curriculum, what works in a business setting isn’t always the most feasible for a young non-profit. We didn’t realize it at the time, but our challenge was adapting what we had learned in Marketing (and in Strategy, Leading People, Leadership Communications…) and adapting it for an untraditional setting. Three weeks and many Post-Its later, we can confidently say that we “cracked the code” on non-profit marketing.

All done!

All done!

As for me, I learned that, when you have the right crew by your side, getting around the South African bush on crutches isn’t so hard. I wasn’t sure what three weeks abroad while unable to walk properly would be like, but with help and support from my awesome team, I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. It was, as Josh would say, truly something special.

The Big Five

The Big Five

IBD in Zimbabwe Week 1

FTMBA students Sebastian Pflumm, Rodrigo Calmet, Julian Garzon, Benjamin Irarrazaval, and Chloe McConnell were in Zimbabwe working on an International Business Development (IBD) project.

The first week of our International Business Development project flew by for us five Haasies based in Harare, Zimbabwe. Our project is to develop and teach a two-week entrepreneurship program, named ACT (Apsara Capital Trust), to young Zimbabweans who are passionate about social change. Our client Henri Lambert, owner of Apsara Capital, founded the intensive design-thinking program two years ago to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Zimbabwe that catalyzes economic development and fights unemployment. While our IBD team is a diverse mosaic of nationalities and backgrounds, we share a common work ethic, sense of humor, composure, and dedication to our project.

First Day of Class

Irene, our local and indispensable program manager, picked us up at 6:45 a.m. on the morning of Monday May 16th. Having worked on lesson plans, Powerpoints, online pre-courses, and logistics for the past two months in Berkeley, our team was anxiously quiet on the bumpy car ride to the first morning of class. As we looked out the window onto the Harare streets, we noted the contrast between the huge houses, malfunctioning street-lights, and large pot-holes. We didn’t know what to expect, both in terms of our students’ skills and the general classroom experience. It was not only our first time in Zimbabwe, but also our first time teaching a structured program. Additionally, due to unexpected problems with our Colombian teammate’s visa, we were one team member short. As we pulled into the school at 7 a.m., we were surprised to see that many students had already arrived. The school, our office for the next three weeks, is a large house in the Milton Park neighborhood recently converted into a center for entrepreneurship named Udugu Institute. The students cautiously mingled with each other as we checked them in. Their backgrounds range from the founder of the University of Zimbabwe Entrepreneurship Club to a preacher-turned software developer to a young amateur rapper.

ACT_1_fvChloe McConnell teaching the Introduction to Design Thinking class on Day 1.

Our biggest take-away from the first day, was how passionate, excited and bright our students are. They are willing to work hard to change their communities for the better and we left the day incredibly excited to help them realize their dreams.

Diverging and Converging in the Classroom        

Over the next 5 days, we experienced the sun-soaked winter Zimbabwe days as we ran the students through the design thinking process while simultaneously teaching them the business skills necessary to launch their ideas. As the intensity of the work built throughout the week, so did the comradery within the teams. Breaks and teamwork time starting filling up with laughter and heated discussions. The teams’ focuses range from waste management to organic farming to increasing employment opportunities for semi-skilled workers.

ACT_2_fvRodrigo Calmet working with a team on insight generation.

Luckily, our Colombian classmate Julián finally received his visa to enter Zimbabwe after five lonely days in Johannesburg. We welcomed him with salsa music and a whiteboard full of messages from the students in local languages.


The students welcoming Julián Garzón to Zimbabwe after he finally received his visa!

ACT_4_fvJulián Garzón with the winners of the marshmallow challenge.


A passionate team working late into the night on their business idea.

Adventures Outside the Classroom        

We are staying in the walled neighborhood of Gunhill at the Guinea Fowls Rest Inn and eat out most nights. Harare has a plethora of food options ranging from the local sadza and stewed meat to tempting Thai eateries. Our favorite spot, named Amanzi, hosts trivia every Wednesday. The five of us, Henri, and Irene formed a team named after the tasty South African Cabernet Sauvignon we were imbibing and were immediately hooked on trivia. Our excitement did not make up for our sub-par knowledge of miscellaneous facts, leading to an underwhelming middle of the pack finish. We committed to practice for the next week.

During the days, we’ve explored Harare by accompanying students on their fieldwork. When visiting the Central Business District and the Avondale and Barrowdale shopping markets, we noticed Zimbabwean’s positivity and friendliness despite the distressed economy.


Chloe McConnell taking a Kombi into town with the students for fieldwork.

On Sunday, our first day off, we embarked on a group neighborhood run, relished in a long breakfast, and drove out of town for a hike. The beautiful rocky landscape of Ngomakurira is rife with green algae-spotted rocks and cave paintings. The scenery was ideal for group portraits and we took the time to stage some shots.  We then hit the driving range for a fun, but competitive, putting tournament to round out the day.


Rodrigo Calmet, Julián Garzón, Sebastian Pflumm, Benjamin Irarrazaval, and Chloe McConnell (members of Team ACT), pose during a hike in Ngomakurira.

Concluding Week One

Our first 6 days of teaching left us exhausted, yet exhilarated. We feel at home in Harare and are inspired by the work and ideas that our students have developed. We are ready to work closely with our students to develop business models, financial plans, and a tight story that they will pitch to investors next week.



From Silicon Valley to Abobo

Naomi Logan is a full-time MBA student working on an International Business Development project with the Jacobs Foundation in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. She and her team of four other MBAs are exploring ways to improve education in developing West African countries through low-cost technology.

Walking into school
The sounds of recess are unmistakeable anywhere. When we walk into Abobo’s primary school we are greeted by a chaotic courtyard teeming with kids running, yelling, and laughing. Abobo, a suburb of Cote d’Ivoire’s capital Abidjan, is densely populated and individual classrooms can include up to 100 students per teacher.

We are in Abobo to observe a pilot that our client, the Jacobs Foundation, is running with Côte d’Ivoire’s Ministry of Education. They have equipped pilot schools with tablets, training, and basic software designed to improve reading and math skills.

As we make our way into the classroom, a corridor of kids forms around us eager to check out the visitors. With pale skin and bright red hair, I especially stand out. Some tentatively tap my arm, and excitedly wave when I smile back. As we’re seated, the teacher has to shoo away kids from another class that are crowded around to see what we’re doing.

Jacobs_girl-fvStudents in CP1 (first grade) ready to start class

Digital classrooms
The teacher hands out tablets, and after warnings not to break them, the students are set to log-in. Even the most basic password (12345) takes some explanation as they are just learning how to count to 5. However once the kids are logged in, they display the intuition of digital natives. An error message pops up on one girl’s screen that she can’t possibly read. But she navigates back to the home screen, reopens the app, and is ready to practice drawing the letter “a”.

The excitement is palpable, and the teacher has to repeatedly clap and tell the kids to sit back with their arms folded to calm them down. In an older class this is less of an issue, but the dedicated focus on their tablets shows the real potential for technology to help keep students engaged in such large classes.

Students logging in to their tablets

Bringing Silicon Valley to the Ivory Coast
The route to digitally-enabled classrooms will not be easy. As we’re discovering with field visits and interviews, infrastructure like electricity and internet are sorely lacking in most schools. Teachers, themselves often unfamiliar with technology, need substantial support managing technology in the classroom. And aspiring education technology enterprises will need support from a Ministry of Education that is just beginning its own technology journey.

However, we’re here to understand these challenges and how technology solutions might help improve education in Côte d’Ivoire. After months of researching companies ranging from global success stories to the edtech explosion in our own backyard in Silicon Valley, we’re eager to advise our client on the types of businesses that might make both a difference and a profit in West Africa.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be meeting with technology companies, education non-profits, startup accelerators, government staff, and more to understand how the Jacobs Foundation can best support appropriate efforts and business models in support of bringing education technology to Cote d’Ivoire. There’s a lot to learn, but we’ll also make time for weekends at the beach and lots of local food.


Our team at a maquis, the local name for a casual bar/ restaurant

As we wrap up our visit in Abobo, the kids have grown braver. They reach out to feel my hair and skin, or grab my hand and walk with me. By the time I’ve reached the gate I have an entourage of at least a dozen waving me off. There are plenty of office visits and brainstorming sessions to come, but ultimately this project is all about how technology can change their lives.


Updates from IBD Kenya – Team UN Women

Berkeley-Haas MBA students Liz Liu, Sevda Gundogan, Sneha Sheth, and Tiffany Shieh participated in a summer IBD project in Kenya with the UN Women.

Quick background: This project is about empowering women in Kenya and Sub-Saharan Africa at large by providing online entrepreneurship modules. We were asked to find the target segment that would create the biggest impact, tailor Lean Launchpad trainings to the Kenyan context and the target segment, and then write scripts which will be turned into online videos by UN Women.

Women Entrepreneur Focus Groups

Throughout our three weeks in Kenya, we conducted interviews with ten organizations ranging from banks to technology companies to university programs. Through the interviews, we uncovered that UN Women should target high-potential, urban women entrepreneurs who had access to internet in order to make the largest impact. After identifying the target segment, we met with over 30 women entrepreneurs to further understand the challenges they face.

We found that the top priority training modules the women needed were 1) introduction to entrepreneurship 2) finance 3) sales and customer acquisition 4) marketing. We then developed the training scripts and iterated the writing based on feedback from women entrepreneurs to tailor the training to the Kenyan context.



Technovation Challenge

One highlight of our fieldwork in Kenya was the Technovation Challenge, an app design competition for high school girls in Nairobi. The challenge was organized by Safaricom and we were invited to attend and observe. This was truly and inspiring experience for all of us. We saw 16 year old girls create applications for emergencies, healthcare, and other social causes. They had not taken any formal business or coding training, but they had intellectual curiosity and the courage to build prototypes. We spent a day with them and talked about their dreams. They all wanted to change the world and we could see that they all were capable of this. Kenyan females, from illiterate middle-aged women to high school girls, are powerful and impressive.



Team Bonding

We came to IBD as four different women from various continents and backgrounds. We didn’t know each other before. We have noticed that IBD brought us together because we all had something in common. We were passionate about creating a better world, empowering women, bringing gender equality through education especially in the least developed parts of the world

We talked with women from various industries and age groups. We discovered their needs and got surprised by how women all over the world were subject to the same discriminations and challenges.

This IBD project was not only a business trip to Kenya but also a personal growth journey for all of us. We got to know each other and ourselves. We discovered how we have faced similar challenges in our careers with the Kenyan women. We shared our passions, our dreams with each other on education and women empowerment. While working on empowering women in Africa, we have noticed that we empowered each other during these five months.

Getting to know each other was the best part of IBD for all of us.


Updates from IBD Zimbabwe – Team Apsara

Emilio, James, Sebastian and Dan are all full-time MBA students working on an International Business Development project in Zimbabwe. Their client Apsara Capital is a UK-based venture capital firm which invests in water and food chain enterprises. The Apsara Capital team has been working hard to develop a practical entrepreneurship program and offer it at three separate sites around Zimbabwe.

The Apsara team in front of Africa University, located just outside of Mutare, Zimbabwe

The Apsara team in front of Africa University, located just outside of Mutare, Zimbabwe

Sadza Nation

Sadza, the staple food of Zimbabwe, is deceptively simple: ground maize, a touch of oil, a splash of water, a dash of salt—and voilà. Yet this simple dish requires a chef’s expertise. Rendered poorly, the hungry eater is offered a sad hillock of mush. Whipped up by a seasoned expert, however, and sadza takes the form of a beautiful spiraling mountain of golden starch, warm to the touch and primed to be used as a satisfying scoop for other dishes.

This country, much like its beloved sadza, also appears deceptively simple to the outside eye. From afar, one sees the macro and the political: Years of failed economic policy that led to the second worst inflation in recorded human history. A country reeling from the jarring shock of economic collapse. Tenuous resuscitation in the form of the U.S. dollar. The distant watcher expects a Zimbabwe that is a failed batch of sadza, the final product of spoiled economic ingredients and a recipe of tumult and heartbreak.

This was far from the Zimbabwe we found. While the government sector is large and the state operates numerous low-flying services that citizens are all but forced to accept, room abounds for creative workarounds and fresh starts in other areas. After all, the unofficial Zimbabwean motto is, “Make a plan.” The country is teeming with bright teens and twentysomethings, hungry to build the companies and offer the services that would pull Zimbabwe by its bootstraps out of the economic morass.

Speaking of food, this plate comprises the fixings of a typical Zimbabwean braai, or BBQ

Speaking of food, this plate comprises the fixings of a typical Zimbabwean braai, or BBQ

The Project

Our client had worked with two previous IBD teams to investigate agriculture and entrepreneurship in Zimbabwe. Last year’s team even piloted a three day program on business creation with university students while in country. Our task was to flesh pilot program out into a 7-day boot camp for students at two universities, while also developing an application process and admissions criteria. Simple enough.

Students were given a handful of rubber bands and two hours to roam the streets of Harare/Mutare with the goal of creating the most “value” possible. This soda can instrument is one of many creative solutions.

Students were given a handful of rubber bands and two hours to roam the streets of Harare/Mutare with the goal of creating the most “value” possible. This soda can instrument is one of many creative solutions.

Still, we were left with nagging questions: How do you teach something as hands-on, demanding, and unremitting as entrepreneurship in just one week? How do we, as mere students, impart to others something we haven’t fully mastered? How are we to plan 60 hours of content and meet the needs of a group different from any we’d ever worked with before?

Equipped with the expertise of two former teachers on our team, we spent countless hours scoping and sequencing a curriculum for nascent Zimbabwean entrepreneurs. And, luckily, because our team members had such varied experiences and skillsets, we were able to create a one-week program that overlaid the principles of design thinking onto the skills required of entrepreneurs—persuasive pitches, well-reasoned financial projections, iterative business plan development. Fieldwork was prioritized. Mistakes, rearrangements, and fresh starts were encouraged. Excuse-making was not tolerated.

Emilio pumps up the class between sessions with his patented countdown dance

Emilio pumps up the class between sessions with his patented countdown dance

The Program

Nineteen days. Twenty-five university students. Four early-stage companies. Seven business plans and pitch decks. Four business pivots. Ten million Post-It notes, give or take. This, the scorecard of our Zimbabwe sojourn.

Design thinking guru James walks our Mutare cohort through the process of finding business gaps and creating viable ideas

Design thinking guru James walks our Mutare cohort through the process of finding business gaps and creating viable ideas


At Africa Unviersity, our six participants—smart, hardworking, and ambitious students (though much to our chagrin all male)—showed up for day one wrapped in sharp suits and a sense of urgency. Because our cohort in Mutare was small, we were skeptical of the value of such a tiny group early on, but the advantages became quickly apparent: We were able to spend copious amounts of time with each and help them nurse their vague ideas towards realization.

Through rounds of fieldwork that included observations and interviews, our two groups eventually honed in on two different problem and plans to solve them: One of our groups originally set out to create an online shopping service but moved on to the idea of using nearly-expired food products to open a restaurant serving nutritious, ultra-low-cost meals to the poor. The other group focused on Zimbabwe’s notoriously erratic energy grid. (Zimbabweans face frequent, unpredictable power outages, known euphemistically as “load shedding.”) After considering electricity alternatives, this group decided to develop a company that would facilitate faster, more accessible purchasing of electricity credits having observed residents’ waiting in long lines to prepay for electricity.

As part of the design thinking process, our client Henri (blue shirt) and our student Gabe (red shirt) interview a Mutare resident about his experiences using and paying for electricity

As part of the design thinking process, our client Henri (blue shirt) and our student Gabe (red shirt) interview a Mutare resident about his experiences using and paying for electricity

Human Post It Note and entrepreneur Shaw embraces the principles of design thinking.

Human Post It Note and entrepreneur Shaw embraces the principles of design thinking.

Sebastian coaches a team on their business model canvas

Sebastian coaches a team on their business model canvas

After a week of hustle and sweat, we held a final pitch session in front of school officials and investors. Food Box, the company set on reducing food wastage, won the day. We were also heartened that the university’s business school dean, who also chairs the food services committee, enthusiastically offered to work with the group on their business and possibly test their plan on campus. One week after we left Mutare, a revised business plan and pitch for Food Box hit our inboxes—an excellent sign of this group’s commitment to their business.


Hundreds of kilometers away in the capital city of Harare, we worked with 19 students divided in five groups at the University of Zimbabwe. The students here, including four women, had very diverse backgrounds from computer science and electrical engineering to hospitality and animal sciences. Unsurprisingly, their business ideas also ran the gamut, including a solar company with innovative financing that put the technology squarely within reach of working families and an organization that trains high school dropouts to become entrepreneurial caterers.

Teams at the University of Zimbabwe work energetically to complete pitches before presenting their businesses to seasoned investors and practitioners

Teams at the University of Zimbabwe work energetically to complete pitches before presenting their businesses to seasoned investors and practitioners

For the final pitch competition, three prominent local investors and fund managers served as judges. An infectious energy jolted to and fro about our cavernous classroom as students prepared slide decks and practiced their pitches. Just over a week before, our students would have laboriously constructing a business plan based on what they felt customers needed and waited until the final moment to test their concept. Now they were presenting businesses to judges that were soundly rooted in observed need and customer preferences.

The winning team presented what our judges felt was the most feasible idea: selling laptops to students through flexible, longer-term payment plans. This company would put technology squarely within reach of poorer students.

Our panel of judges offers encouragement and thoughtful critiques of each team’s business plan

Our panel of judges offers encouragement and thoughtful critiques of each team’s business plan

A few days after winning the pitch competition, this team is committed carry this idea forward with Apsara Capital’s support. They’ve spoken with lawyers. They’ve registered a company. They’ve sourced cheaper laptops from Dubai. They will use their summer to perfect their model and, fingers crossed, roll out their service in August for the U of Z’s incoming class.

But our other future entrepreneurs were not discouraged. Some promised to move forward with their ideas, as well. Others were profoundly, effusively grateful for the gift of design thinking.

Apsara’s Harare graduates proudly display their certificates and Cal hats—looks good on everyone, no?

Apsara’s Harare graduates proudly display their certificates and Cal hats—looks good on everyone, no?

Teachers as Students

We had planned out our entire entrepreneurship program from almost 16,000 kilometers away. Not surprisingly, we had to adjust our game plan and practice what we preached.

Frequent and intensive coaching helped our entrepreneurs accelerate the design thinking and business development process

Frequent and intensive coaching helped our entrepreneurs accelerate the design thinking and business development process

Our students were much stronger in some areas, and much weaker in others, than we had anticipated. For example, our first group possessed very strong presentation skills but lacked an ability to structure a logical argument. Our second group of university students was surprisingly open to creative solutions but struggled to piece together a sound problem-solution pathway. We tested numerous methods for teaching them, refining and tweaking all the way to our last day. We had to practice observations, interviews, and testing, all with the aim of gathering valuable feedback for improvement. In this sense, we were students alongside our pupils. Immersed for nine hours a day in design thinking, this felt a natural thing for us to do.

Still, we were reminded that this is not always an easy thing to accept or do. The design thinking techniques we learned at Berkeley Haas from Problem Finding, Problem Solving, and which are woven throughout the Berkeley curriculum, were invaluable tools. The wisdom James garnered from a design challenge with Specialized Bikes, an Innovation Lab course with gravitytank, and experience on the board of Haas Innovation Design allowed us to find workable solutions to challenges both teachers and students faced.

Returning cups and a pot of hot water to the cafeteria following a much-needed tea break for instructors and students

Returning cups and a pot of hot water to the cafeteria following a much-needed tea break for instructors and students


What remains to be seen for Apsara is what this program should look like in the future.

While a success, our three weeks in Zimbabwe were expensive and constrained by a number of factors. Dozens of applicants were not able to join our program. Hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of qualified students never applied. How many hundreds of thousands of starry-eyed dreamers across the continent could become highly successful entrepreneurs, with the right push?

Students work quickly to complete the marshmallow challenge. Three groups managed to succeed in erecting spaghetti towers.

Students work quickly to complete the marshmallow challenge. Three groups managed to succeed in erecting spaghetti towers.

Like so many other sectors, we see the future of our educational endeavor online. With our client, we’re considering options to house portions of our program on the web. This brings with it a slew of challenges. Design thinking is notoriously difficult to house purely on the internet. Field work is an absolute necessity, and difficult to guide from afar. Interactive, engaged, sometimes heated debate regarding business ideas and models is best facilitated face-to-face. We also continue to refine Apsara’s in-person entrepreneurship program.

A student in Harare fleshes out (no pun intended) a mind-map related to fish consumption

A student in Harare fleshes out (no pun intended) a mind-map related to fish consumption

The future of this country, and perhaps even this continent, rests in large part in the hands of entrepreneurs. Can they create solutions to Africa’s most vexing problems? Can they build the enterprises that gainfully employ their countrymen? Can they fashion the hardware and software that will make farms more productive, electricity more accessible, and communication more reliable? Through more effective and just problem-solving, can they fashion an African tide that carries all boats, from the poorest dingy to the bejeweled behemoth, upward?

A hundred Apsaras running a thousand week-long ACT Programs could not meet this need. Our challenge now is to figure out how we can become an important cornerstone of this massive, diffuse, and critical project. While we do so, dozens of thoughtful, deliberate, newly emboldened entrepreneurs now roam the streets of Zimbabwe, hunting for problems to solve.

Our students continue to refine their ideas. So do we.

Our students continue to refine their ideas. So do we.

James launches a fireball over the Zambezi River during a quick jaunt to Victoria Falls

James launches a fireball over the Zambezi River during a quick jaunt to Victoria Falls

We were invited a small festival tucked deep in the rolling grasslands that surround Harare, where we heard local bands perform and finally found a reliable supply of espresso

We were invited a small festival tucked deep in the rolling grasslands that surround Harare, where we heard local bands perform and finally found a reliable supply of espresso




Understanding Solar Distribution : Delivering Uganda’s Bright Future

Arun Abichandani, Elif Unlu, Mathangi Sivaramakrishnan and Arjun Kapoor are Team Uganda Solar. On a project for Haas Professors William Fuchs and Brett Green, our charter is to understand, analyze and offer recommendations on solar lamp distribution in Uganda. This project complements the Professors’  ongoing research projects in Uganda, mentioned in The Economist and Freakonomics among other publications.

Almost immediately after President Barack Obama’s historic visit to East Africa, we arrived in Uganda excited to meet solar manufacturers, distributors and NGOs. Our mission is to understand the distribution of solar lights and other goods to rural Uganda. In a country with limited infrastructure, the narrow and bumpy roads serve as the only link between Kampala and the smaller towns and villages across the country. Combined with the fact that more than 85% of the population lives off-grid, finding efficient and reliable solutions for solar lamp transport is a critical problem to solve if Ugandans are to have healthy, cheap and renewable lighting.

Barefoot Firefly Lamps

Better than kerosene and charges your phone too!

 One Game, Many Players
There is no shortage of manufacturers, distributors and organizations trying to increase solar adoption in peri-urban and rural Uganda. We met with several of them in our first few days, starting with our Berkeley Research Co-ordinator Vastinah who introduced us to the solar lamp experiments and their transport logistics. Barefoot Power, an Australian solar lamp manufacturer with a local office, was an eye opening visit. We got a first hand view of the products and how they are operated and repaired. Quizzing the country manager and her support staff, we learned the many challenges in getting lamps from their Kampala location to regional distributors and rural retailers.
Anne Kayiwa - barefoot

Meeting with Barefoot

Businesses with a social charter like Living Goods buy and transport high-impact products such as medication, solar lamps, stoves and contraceptives to local entrepreneurs and businesses, generating employment and providing access to life-improving technologies in rural Uganda. Their country director was an excellent resource for understanding the local distribution sector. BRAC is an NGO with probably the largest presence and distribution network in Uganda and were gracious enough to share their logistics and supply chain best practices in their interviews with us. UpEnergy is a well established distributor of efficient cooking stoves, now entering the solar lamp distribution business hoping to leverage their existing networks with micro-franchised entrepreneurs & NGOs.
Left : Taking stock; understanding UpEnergy's warehousing and logistics Right : Always be making deals; Our driver and guide, Herbert, seen with his new energy efficient stove from Up Energy. He will test it in his village to determine if he wants to be a micro-franchisee

Left – Taking stock: understanding UpEnergy’s warehousing and logistics
Right – Always be making deals: Our driver and guide, Herbert, seen with his new energy efficient stove from Up Energy. He will test it in his village to determine if he wants to be a micro-franchisee

Sipping Coke while understanding Century Bottling's distribution network

Sipping Coke while understanding Century Bottling’s distribution network

As part of our research back in Berkeley, we had identified a Coca Cola bottler (Century Bottling) and Unilever as companies whose superior reach would serve as an interesting model – both to compare existing solar distribution with as well as to creatively leverage for solar distribution. Fortunately for us, we could set up meetings with executives at both companies who were very interested in our work and very generous with their time and knowledge. Both discussions were extremely rich and impressed upon us the commitment, persistence and creativity required from multi-nationals who want to establish a local presence. We’re very excited to share our findings and ideas generated from these discussions.

Bright Future
Traveling in and around Kampala, listening to people’s stories and soaking it all in, we can see Uganda’s potential for growth. With the right public and private investments, Uganda can leverage its very young population and abundant fertile land to improve the lives of the millions in semi-urban and rural areas. Basics first though – lighting, energy, education and health. Market solutions are just as important as non-profit/charity work in enabling sustainable progress. That’s where we hope to do our small part, in understanding how solar lamp companies can profitably and reliably deliver their products.
Stay tuned for more updates, including one on our site visits to villages where research is being conducted and why this IBD trip is definitely Level 5 on the adventure scale.

Spurring Innovation in Nairobi’s ‘Silicon Savannah’

 Team Juhudi Kilimo is in Nairobi, Kenya working with Juhudi Kilimo to develop a strategy for structuring, financing and operating a new innovation lab, dubbed “Juhudi Labs”, which will support the continual development of Juhudi Kilimo services to rural smallholder farmers.

Before our trip, we knew that Nairobi is one of the most prominent and fast growing cities in East Africa. Yet, I don’t know if we were fully prepared for the culture of innovation that Nairobi breeds. Also, we didn’t quite realize the impact that we would have as we developed the business model for Juhudi Labs, an innovation lab that would partner with outside entrepreneurs and streamline internal resources to develop micro finance solutions.


Week one started off at our client’s headquarters: a brand spanking new second floor location in the posh Kilimani area – boasting reliable Internet, a generator, and security guards.  From our balcony, we interviewed local entrepreneurs and Juhudi’s team to delve more into the structure that Juhudi Labs would undertake.


 That first week we also ventured to iHub, a co-working space and business incubator for local entrepreneurs, designers, and developers. iHub is heavily funded by big players such as Microsoft, Samsung, and Google; and is the heart of Nairobi’s Silicon Savannah.  And although locals deride the term “Silicon Savannah” since there is no real manufacturing capability here, the bigger picture is that Nairobi is abuzz with innovation and entrepreneurship, and our project with Juhudi Labs is positioned to be right at the center of it. GrowthHub, our next stop on the Nairobi tech movement discovery and as equally impressive, offers mentorship, access to capital, and training.


 Week two took us into rural Kenya, our client’s satellite stronghold. Juhudi offers micro financing to rural farmers, and Ned our strategy professor would say, that is their internal fit. And what a fit it is – we spent about 48 hours over 5 days in a rented matatu, a Kenyan minibus, on Dramamine-required dirt “roads”, visiting farmers throughout El Doret, Bungoma and Masaii Mara (okay that last town was for a safari trip but I digress). We came face to face with the Kenyan spirit of kazi ngumu (hard work), from the farmers who worked tirelessly tending their dairy cows, the cooling plant operators who collected and distributed the milk to brokers, and Joseph our matatu driver who never seemed tired while we uncomfortably slept through most of the ride.


A lot of us came to business school and chose Berkeley specifically for its proximity to Silicon Valley and the Bay Areas’s ecosystem of entrepreneurship. What we IBD’ers at Juhudi were privileged to experience was not just Mother Africa and the best she has to offer (oh yeah safaris and beach houses!!) but the ability to spur innovation and this ecosystem through Juhudi Labs in the ever-growing Silicon Savannah.

 We are very grateful to IBD and Juhudi Kilimo for the opportunity to meet, work with and learn from such an amazing group of people!

Asante Sana!

Thank you! Merci! Gracias!


Feeding Children at the Center of the World

Team Partnership for Child Development (PCD) is working in Ghana to improve the school feeding program. PCD is a nonprofit organization centrally coordinated at the Imperial College of London that uses a network of experts, academics, and civil society organizations to influence policies on child education and nutrition. Our team’s goal is to examine how the country’s strategic grain reserves (buffer stocks) fit into school feeding program and identify ways to strengthen the connections between local farmers, the government, and school caterers.

No amount of research could have prepared us for Ghana. On paper, Ghana is a prosperous nation in West Africa, a model for economic growth and stability in the region, and a poster child for school feeding programs. Located on the Greenwich Mean Time just above the Equator, Ghana is quite literally at the center of the world.

The reality is that Ghana is still a truly developing nation. After settling in to our hotel just outside the University of Ghana, our team of obronis (Gustavo Brandileone, Nicolas Bennett, Sean Yokomoto, Slava Balter) explored downtown Accra, the country’s capital city. We expected a bustling and modern city center. Only Independence Square, the Black Stars stadium (Ghana’s national football team), and Flagstaff House (the President’s home) met those expectations. Instead we found an amazingly different, even relaxed village recovering after Sunday church. Partially developed construction speckled the horizon like modern-day ruins and a mixture of dirt-and-asphalt roads were dangerously lined with treacherous three-foot trenches that served as the city’s sewage system. Good luck if you miss a step.


(Downtown Accra: Independence Square with the Black Stars stadium in the background)


(Marketplace: business on top, family in the back)

The biggest reality of Ghana’s development hit the moment we got back to our seemingly modern hotel. No power. From then on we got used to daily power outages. Ghana had grown too quickly beyond its energy capabilities. But we had a packed agenda for our three weeks here so we pushed on and worked through the blackouts.


(Power outages: the work goes on for Team PCD)

PCD did a phenomenal job arranging meetings with government ministries, schools, farmers, and school feeding partners. There was no lack of people willing to share their knowledge and their challenges. With every progressive meeting we felt a growing duty to really solve the inefficiencies of the current system. While the government officials played a big part in implementing our recommendations, the real beneficiaries were the children. During our visit to a school, we surveyed a classroom full of fourth graders about their satisfaction with school feeding. At the end one brave boy stood up and asked us to “please increase the quantity of food.”


(Feeding time: meeting with the headmistress, caterers, teachers, and students in a remote village of the Central region)


(Smiles: children escape their classrooms to say hello)

The ultimate challenge: our client’s last visitor was Bill Gates. Bill visited Ghana just a couple months before us and stopped by the same school. No pressure. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had taken a keen interest in home grown school feeding and had funded a project for PCD to connect local farmers into the supply chain. With a slew of visitors and little change, we felt a pressing need to use our field observations to influence policymakers.


(Meeting with government officials: in Ghanaian fashion, we started an hour late and included every decision maker possible)


(Meeting with farmers: brainstorming how to increase farmer crop sales to school feeding)

Our fact-finding mission took us around the country, so we took advantage of the time to explore the far reaches of Ghana. On a trip to Tamale in the agrarian Northern region, we spent the weekend in Mole National Park, a safari reserve full of wildlife. Three hours battling with a dusty cheese grater road, rising temperatures, and no A/C we finally arrived at a serene nature escape. Sneaky baboons spared no time to jump on our table and steal Gustavo’s fries. Elephants were a bit more graceful and stayed a safe distance from base camp.


(Elephant sighting: trying to look relaxed under the blistering sun)


(Baboon thief: scouring our camp for more food)

After a weekend at the savannah, we returned to a hectic schedule of meetings in Tamale, Cape Coast and Accra. We had plenty of human mouths to feed.