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.

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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.

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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 Ghana – Team Reach for Change

EWMBA students Michael Fitch, Wei Kwan, and Nachiket Torwekar spent their Summer IBD project working with Reach for Change in Accra, Ghana.

A Day in the Life of the Ghana IBD Team

Our group of three was assigned to consult for Reach for Change, a Swedish based social impact incubator that primarily focuses on improving the lives of children and young adults.  They were founded as the non-profit arm of the Swedish investment company Kinnevik group.  Reach for Change currently operates in 16 nations worldwide, with a six locations in Africa.  We were assigned to work for the program office in Accra, Ghana which also housed the management team for the entire African continent.

The Reach for Change office had just recently moved from the Osu area of Accra to the North Industrial Area, known for recycling plans and factories for large corporations.  The office is housed in a newly remodeled building that is still partially vacant but had the great benefit of having a full restaurant as one of their tenants, which is where we had a majority of our meals.  The Reach for Change team had arranged accommodations for us at a local hotel, The Swan Hotel, which was located about 10-15 minutes away from the office by foot.  It was really nice to be able to walk to the office on a daily basis.

7:45 Gather at the Hotel Lobby

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We started the day with some friendly competition to keep ourselves honest. We then took a short walk to the office which was around six blocks away. The mini market workers knew Mike’s name by day three and called out to him every time we walked by. We passed the Qodesh on our way – the largest branch of Lighthouse International in Accra.  Since the addressing system in Ghana is unusable, street names have no meaning since no one uses them, the Qodesh was the landmark we used to help our taxi drivers navigate back to our hotel or to the office.

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8:00 Walk to the Office

Breakfast at La Galette

Breakfast at La Galette

The office is in the same building as a local eatery, that serves “continental” cuisine which meant they served a mix of Italian, Ghanaian, and Lebanese food.  We ate many of our meals including all of our breakfasts here.  The omelet and coffee collection is very good and makes for a great breakfast.  We were regulars by our third day and the staff remembered what our standard order was. We were usually the first customers there and the music started playing only when we walked in.  Given that there were not many food choices nearby other than sidewalk stalls with street food, this was a lifesaver for us on more than one occasion.

9:00 Arrive in the R4C Office

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The Reach for Change office was relatively modern with most necessities available including the very crucial AC system.  We were offered a conference room on the second floor where we worked, brainstormed and presented our findings. The staff stopped by once in a while and chatted with us, gave us information and constant feedback as we progressed on our project.  One added benefit was that there was a mango lady in the area that came by everyday to the door and sold delicious mangoes for around four cedi.

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10:00 Taxi Negotiations

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Around 10, it was the time for the first meeting of the day. The taxis are the main modes of travel within the city. They were freely available but required bargaining since the fares are not regulated by the government and each driver sets his own market rate.  We got pretty good at bargaining by the second day but someone from the Reach for Change staff occasionally helped us out and got us a better deal since foreign rates are still higher than the rate for locals.

11:00 Meeting a change leader

Kaneshi Market

A Change Leader is a social entrepreneur that is funded by Reach for Change that is devoted to a social cause that directly impacts the lives of children and young adults.  We met change leaders in various environments – rural areas, garages, modern office spaces and even in a warehouse in the busiest market in the city. Visiting Change Leaders on-site actually gave us a better picture of the fundamental issues they were dealing with. We typically interviewed the Change Leaders for an hour and also got their feedback on the financial tool-kits that we had prototyped.

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2:00 Partner meeting

We tried to understand the ecosystem that Reach For Change operated in by meeting with all the players including: competitors, partners, other entrepreneurs and Change Leaders.  The partner meetings with UNICEF and VIASAT1 (#1 local TV channel) were extremely helpful in helping us understand what the partners were looking for in the relationship.  Most people we encountered seemed really interested to talk to us and gave candid responses.

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4:00 Back to office and to the drawing boards

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We usually got back to office prior to calling it a night for one last round of discussion the the day’s events and consolidated the findings from our interviews.  We revisited our hypothesis and prepped for the next day’s sessions. The Reach for Change staff would stop by and ask about our day, very eager to hear what we found out.  We then headed back to the hotel in anticipation of heading out for the night to blow some steam.

7:00 Night life @Republic

Live African music at The Republic

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Most of our nights ended with chilling at local bars and cafes. The Republic was a favorite with its street side setting, signature drinks and appetizers.  The Republic is the most popular venue for expats, foreigner and locals to gather in the evening.  We encountered key people from one of the local Hubs on a regular basis at the Republic, which goes to show the power of networking over drinks and food in Ghana.  Live bands and DJs are part of the regular entertainment line up and Friday and Saturday nights are the most lively.  Interestingly enough we were joined by our clients on most of the nights out which enabled us to build a stronger working relationship with them.

The days flew by in a jiffy. We met a lot of inspiring people who were very forthcoming with information and treated us very well. We made many new connections and good friends. The three of us bonded a lot through the tough days and the laid back evenings.  Most importantly, each day we spent there broadened our views and enriched our lives.  We walked away with a profound sense of appreciation for what the organization aims to do amidst a shrinking pool of resources for the Change Leaders.  The Change Leaders drive and sense of mission towards children was admirable.  We were touched by all the stories we heard that inspired each Change Leader to be dedicated towards their cause.  We leave Ghana with a sense of accomplishment knowing that our project has put Reach for Change a step closer towards their goal of helping Change Leaders create more impact in the lives of needy children.

Updates from EWMBA IBD – Team Ashesi in Ghana

Devin Christiansen, Linda Jiang, Nikhil Mansukhani, Stephanie Shen, Jathurshun Sivaloganathan, and Brigid Warmerdam are part-time MBA IBD students working with Ashesi University, a private college in Ghana founded by Haas alumnus Patrick Awuah, on risk management strategies.

You’re “Ghana” have a blast! That’s what previous IBD teams told us as we departed for the West African country of Ghana – and they were right!

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The Team (left to right, as pictured): Stephanie Shen, Linda Jiang, Brigid Warmerdam, Jathurshun Sivaloganathan, Devin Christiansen and Nikhil Mansukhani

We had the pleasure of working with Ashesi University, a private college founded by Haas Alumni Patrick Awuah (pictured above in the middle). Only 12 years old, Ashesi has quickly become a premier university for undergraduate students in West Africa.  Current enrollment has grown to 600 students and impressively Ashesi has a track record of 100% work placement for its graduates with the majority choosing to stay in Africa which is in step with its mission – to educate a new generation of ethical, entrepreneurial leaders in Africa…to help transform a continent.  The passion and determination to make a difference can be felt throughout the campus and it is truly “in the air”. We learned we were the 10th IBD team to work with Ashesi and we were optimistic that we too could help make a difference and further strengthen the connection between Haas and Ashesi.

The Road to School

On day one, we weren’t sure what we had gotten ourselves into when we were picked up from the Salmarise Hotel in North Legon (Greater Accra) and were driven up this bumpy dirt road to campus in Berekuso, located about one hour outside of Accra, Ghana.

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You can imagine our surprise when we arrived on campus. It’s beautiful! How can anyone concentrate here when you have a view like this!

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The School

Given that Ashesi was founded by a Haas alum, we found many similarities between Haas and Ashesi, especially the focus on ethics and the structure of the lecture rooms.

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Lecture hall at Ashesi University

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We are (almost, kinda, sorta) sure that Dean Lyons will approve our request to build this outdoor classroom on the Berkeley campus!

Project Scope

“Team Ghana” was tasked with delivering a set of risk management guidelines to Ashesi and our framework was rooted in capital projects such as the new engineering program and building (currently under construction). It was inspiring to see the new building come to life over the 2 weeks we spent on campus.  On our last day on campus workers were beginning to tile the roof (which wasn’t there when we first arrived).  The photo below was taken at the beginning of week two.

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Ghanian Cuisine

It took us a few meals before we figured out what side dish went with each entree. On the first night, it took us 25 minutes to order. Brigid: “I’d like the grilled chicken with fufu, please.” Waitress: “Haha! No. That doesn’t match!”  There are many starchy side dishes that are made specifically for a particular entree. Now we know!

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In addition to the juicy tropical fruits such as pineapple and mango, Nikhil enjoyed some coconut with Walter, our new friend and Operations Assistant of Ashesi University

Cape Coast

After a long week one, we ventured to Ghana’s Cape Coast (3.5 hours by car). Here we visited the Elmina Castle, an eerie building that was once the hub of slave trade in West Africa. Next we visited the Kakum National Park. Before we started our hike, the guide warned us – “Don’t worry, no one has died on this walk.” We understood what the potential fear was all about when we crossed the seven swaying bridges 30 meters above the lush rainforest canopy. Before we headed back to Accra, we stopped for lunch at Hans Cottage Hotel, where they have a large lake full of crocodiles!

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It was such a privilege to spend some time in beautiful Ghana. To future Ashesi teams, we have these words of wisdom: There will be bugs and hugs, fears and beers, but above all there will be memories for years.

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.

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

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(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.

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(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.”

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

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(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.

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

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(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.

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

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(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.

Bloomberg Businessweek Features Alumnus Patrick Awuah

Patrick Awuah, center, opened Ashesi University in 2002

Patrick Awuah, MBA 99, shares with Bloomberg Businessweek how he came to Haas with the intention of founding a private, secular liberal arts college in his home country of Ghana, a dream he’d had since his first son was born in 1995. Ashesi University is now regarded as one of the premier universities in Ghana. Learn how Haas played a role in making Awuah’s vision a reality.