Updates from EWMBA IBD – Team Acceso in Haiti

Berkeley-Haas Part-Time MBA students Anurag Aggarwal, Sam Kanakamedala, Mohan Krishnamurthy and Nitin Nagarkatte are working on an IBD project with Acceso Peanut Enterprise Corporation in Haiti.

Haiti greeted us with its sultry heat and its total chaos at the airport. We fueled the chaos further by showing up on three separate flights, and a lost piece of baggage. This was surely going to be one fun ride. The ride to the hotel indeed came with its own share of fun as our driver zig-zagged through crowded streets and even some street markets. We eventually reached Petion-ville, a neighborhood high up the mountain overlooking Port-au-Prince, and sporting significantly cleaner streets, and bigger houses. From the balcony of our hotel we saw gorgeous mansions jostling for space with makeshift shanties and crowded makeshift houses. Quite an extraordinary mix it was.

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Why did we travel to Haiti, you ask ? Our goal was to test and propose a traceability solution for the Haitian peanut supply chain. Acceso Peanut Corporation, a Clinton Giustra Enterprise partnership, is systematically building peanut supply chain in Haiti to help local farmers grow their income by 300% in two years. To achieve this goal, Acceso decided to target international buyers. The traceability of peanuts is a critical part of the infrastructure development to target international buyers.

The next morning brought our introduction to Acceso’s staff. The office was housed in a brand new building overlooking the mountains on one side and the bustle of Port-au-Prince next to the ocean on the other. Ushered in to the conference room, we were told that Acceso’s IT person would meet us soon. A few minutes later in walks this Haitian prodigy—Jacquelain. He is a determined young man, who lost his father in the earthquake and has seen his fair share of struggles. Today he juggles between his roles as a grad student and as a dynamic app developer for Acceso. He was also going to be our translator for most of our stay.

We spent the rest of the day understanding the current state of the peanut supply chain and the challenges they have faced so far. After three days of ideation, diverging and converging, and market research, we finally arrived at the first ever technologically enabled Farmer Identification system. We also went on to create a workflow for using tablets and scanners to automate and modernize farm to market traceability of peanuts. After all of this, we realized that we also needed real validation from the actual users in the field.

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We headed out into the Peanut country in the fertile central plateau of Haiti to a sleepy little town called Mirebalais. The journey took us through some sharp contrasts—from the bustling Port-au-Prince through the crowded markets along the way (again), to some steep winding mountain roads and finally on to the lush green plateau of Mirebalais. “Let’s see our peanut garden,” said Rob, our client, as we made a quick stop. For the next 15 minutes he walked us through different nuances of peanut farming and the steps that Acceso has been taking to improve yields.

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Next stop – Peanut Depot. We walked across the garden to a small warehouse, which had been converted into one of Acceso’s depots.  Inside the depot were sacks full of farm-fresh peanuts waiting to be shelled and eaten. Yet we knew those were forbidden fruit, because Haitian Peanuts may carry Aflatoxin, a deadly carcinogen. “These peanuts are safe,” said the Depot Manager and soon four hands dug into the large bag. No points for guessing whose hands they were.

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Experimentation is a challenge anywhere. This challenge was especially compounded during our trip due to the fact that we do not speak any French or Creole (the two most common languages in Haiti) and that the full extent of our practically nonexistent vocabulary included “Bonjour” and “Merci” (NO not Messi the football star). Thank God for Google Translate and Jacquelain, who made it possible to interact with depot managers and local staff who spoke no English. Though we did not inherit any Creole, we did give them all a taste of spicy Indian food. After a week of miming to communicate we now feel confident challenging anyone to a game of charades.

No travel to an island is complete without a trip to the beach, and we made no exception. The beautiful white sand beach, the grilled seafood, and the unlimited supply of drinks, not to forget the World Cup Final broadcast with Creole commentary, was all we needed to recharge.

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Heading back to Mirebalais, we launched the first part of the traceability strategy: grower ID cards. This was the first time in Haiti any corporation has ever issued an ID card. These cards are simple but very effective way of identifying each individual farmer. Each ID card has  a visual code that the depot manager can easily understand to quickly determine where the farmer is located; the cards can also be scanned using standard barcode readers.

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As a second step, we ran training sessions for all 5 of the depot managers and the regional manager. These Proof-of-Concept experiments helped us determine the usability of various solutions. It was another hot and muggy day, but excitement and anticipation filled the air. We were blown away by how quickly the depot managers learnt the process and how effectively they were able to help each other out. Though lacking formal education, the depot managers displayed excellent competence and definitely did not hold back from taking on these new challenges. As a third step, we gathered feedback from the depot managers on various aspects of the solution that they tested.

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The feedback at the end of experimentation from the managers, and our observations gave us all the data we needed. Before heading back though, we made it a point to gorge ourselves on some amazing Haitian mangoes.

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Back in Port-au-Prince after putting together our final recommendations we took the opportunity to explore the city. Signs of construction everywhere amidst the ruins left behind by the earthquake stood testament to the resilience of this country and its people. Virtually every street was filled with people hawking everything under the sun ranging from clothes and shoes to paintings and the local rum and sometimes even baskets full of vitamins and medicines.

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We spent the last day of our time here brainstorming and discussing new ideas at our client’s home high up in the cool mountains in the midst of nature, away from all the hustle and bustle.

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After the heat and sweat, mosquitoes and Deet, dehydration and electrolytes, beaches and mountains, and new friends along the way, “We are coming home.”

A short 2 hour flight later, we reached U.S. Customs and Immigration at the Miami Airport on our way to our respective post-IBD destinations.

The immigration officer asked us – “Where are you coming from?”

We responded “Haiti.”

To which he responded – “Keep up the good work, Sir”.

Then and there we knew we were carrying one more powerful brand – “The Haitian Brand”

 

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Updates from EWMBA IBD – Team SRS in Haiti

Berkeley-Haas part-time MBA students Cherian Abraham, Matt Heling, Abhishek Singh, Saket Srivastava, Sumedha Swamy and Mahesh Vencata are in Haiti working with Sustainable Recycling Solutions (SRS).

SRS Haiti, a for-profit plastic recycling company based in Port-Au-Prince, asked us to make 3-5 year strategic recommendations on increasing market share and profitability and in the process also help SRS improve the lives of local Haitians and clean the streets of Haiti.

The company was started by 2 Americans – Andrew MacCalla and Brett Williams – in 2012 after the 2010 earthquakes and tornadoes devastated the country. However the co-founders soon realized the challenges of running a business in Haiti and were hit hard by the “Green Fence” enforced by China and had to close in 2013 for 6 months. With additional funding from the Clinton Foundation, they restarted operations in late 2013. SRS Haiti was still losing money and needed guidance from us to help them with strategies that would make them sustainably profitable.

We spent five Saturdays in the Innovation Lab at Haas working on ICO reports, affinity diagrams, and hypothesis trees and defining the scope of the project. In addition we spent countless hours on calls analyzing and discussing the information passed on by the client.

We reached Haiti and were welcomed not just by Sarah Leddy, SRS COO, and Socrates, SRS Director, but also by the extreme hot weather and poverty in Haiti. Driving to the guesthouse, the damage caused by the 2010 earthquake was still evident.

The next day we went to the facility and things began to make a lot more sense. We built up a good rapport with the client and started interviewing a number of people including potential partners, employees and plastic collectors.

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IBD Team at the SRS facility

Talking to the plastic collectors and employees at SRS gave us a sense of the real difference SRS was making in the lives of Haitians. It would be a pity if SRS couldn’t continue to contribute to the Haitian economy. The more we saw the more it seemed like a distinct possibility.

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IBD Team talking with SRS employees

One of our most exciting visits was to the largest dump site which was controlled by the mafia carrying guns. Tapping into this supply source could possibly take care of all plastic supply issues for SRS.  This project did not have any constraints and we had the freedom to explore all aspects of the business. The real question was whether we would be able to offer recommendations to turn this company around and make it profitable.

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The first week breezed through with multiple visits during the day and crunching numbers in the evenings. The six of us were staying in a modest guest house with 2 bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. After a few kitchen mishaps and near accidents we settled into a smooth routine. Abhishek was the designated cook and we appreciate all the pasta he cooked for us, but we are done with Italian food for a very long time.

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“piece de resistance”

For a weekend getaway, we had two options – Jacmel – a quaint small town with cobbled streets and beaches in the south of Haiti or the coastal city of Cap Haitian in the North of Haiti which also boasted of some beautiful beaches. Even though both these cities were less than 100 miles from Port-Au-Prince, driving could take anywhere from 5 to 8 hours. We decided to take a 20 minute flight to Cap Haitian instead.

The plane was a small 18 seater which would sway in the lightest of winds and cannot be recommended for the faint of heart.

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Leaving on a Jetplane

We checked into a fancy hotel on Saturday and went to see the historic citadel. It was quite a walk from the parking spot but the grandness and historic significance of the citadel made it all well worth the effort.

The next day we started early for Cormier De Plaag – a beach hotel. A few of us took a dip in the clear water, and in the process also got bitten by a sea urchin. We then played some beach volleyball and feasted on some amazing grilled lobster.

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Cormier Plaag- What happens at the beach stays at the beach

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Fresh catch

This was followed by watching the World Cup finals with some die hard German and Argentine fans at a bar by the beach. Pity Messi didn’t oblige us with a goal that day.

The next morning we traveled back to Port-Au-Prince to continue with our IBD project. There was a huge amount of work pending and our final presentation was scheduled for Thursday morning. We had a number of issues to work through before making our final presentation, including SRS’s organizational challenges, and I am glad we did a fine job handling these challenges.

In all the stressful moments, the one thing that guaranteed hilarity were our interactions with the cleaning lady who could only speak Creole. Our knowledge of Creole was restricted to Merci and Oui so Sumedha Swamy, a Microsoft fan, would use the Bing translator for our conversations and Bing ensured that we were constantly entertained.

Another faithful ally throughout the stay was the local Haitian beer – Prestige and Barbancourt 5 star rum. Probably the best beer and rum I have had in a long time. Highly recommended.

Wednesday was a crucial day and for most of the day it seemed we wouldn’t be able to complete our work in time for our Thursday morning presentation. But we doubled up our efforts and by late evening the presentation was coming together well and all our hard work seemed to be bearing fruit.

We crunched the numbers and now knew exactly how much the company was losing on every pound of plastic sold; our recommendations included recommendations around increasing the supply of plastics, improving operational efficiency and also around increasing demand by producing higher value plastics which would fetch higher returns.

We believe we made solid strategic recommendations and our analysis will certainly help SRS make adjustments that will be critical to their business’ success. Though some of the findings that we presented were unnerving, the SRS management team appreciated our analysis.

With the presentation out of the way, we went out to the historic Oluffson hotel that evening for a fun evening of drinks and dinner with the client.

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Hotel Oluffson – Ready to partyyyyy

The client had a few follow-up questions which we addressed on Friday and then shortly after we flew back to the USA. The two weeks have been an amazing experience and Haiti should definitely be on your list of places to see. Just bring lots of Deet (mosquito repellent) and drink bottled water and you will have a wonderful time mingling with the people of Haiti and learning about its history and culture.

Updates from IBD Haiti – Team HELP

Naoko Miyamoto is a full-time MBA student working on a Spring 2014 International Business Development project in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. Her team, H2 (Helping HELP), is working with the Haitian Educational & Leadership Program (HELP) to develop a training program for their Personal Development Advisors team.

Our team had a rather unique IBD experience, first being assigned to a project in China and later switching to a completely new project in Haiti with less than one month before starting in-country travel. The mental shift from Shanghai to Port-au-Prince was a rather large one, but our team has succeeded in adjusting accordingly. Perhaps it was the live band welcoming us as the Port-au-Prince airport that did the trick.

Heat, extremely unreliable access to the internet, limited space, and essentially no understanding of Haitian Creole can’t hold us down though. We have made great progress with in-country interviews, especially after the delayed arrival of Quentin, our resident French language expert (American Airlines…mechanical problems…fail).

Our client, Haitian Educational & Leadership Program (HELP), provides scholarships to low-income, high-achieving Haitian college students. In addition to their university courses, HELP students are required to take English, IT, and Leadership courses through HELP instructors. I thought we were busy as Haas MBAs, but these students’ schedules put us to shame! HELP also employs several Advisors that help these students adjust to new university life (living in dorms, managing their stipend, new romantic relationships, etc.). Haas IBD has been brought in to assess the Advisor program and develop a training program for these advisors.

Completing several interviews and conducting a survey among the students will help inform our strategy going forward. Perhaps the highlight of this experience so far has been applying what we’ve learned in the classroom to this project. We went through the design thinking process from the Problem Finding, Problem Solving course with the advisors to identify challenges of and solutions to the advising program. HELP staff and students were intrigued with our resulting whiteboard with probably hundreds of post-its. (If there’s anything I’ve learned about design thinking on consulting projects, it makes your client think you’re being extremely productive!)

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Getting a better understanding of the Advising Program strengths and challenges, one Post-It at a time.

 Outside of work, we’ve tried to avoid the pouring rains to get out of the hotel, drink Prestige (delicious local beer now owned by Heineken!) or rum punch, and generally experience life in Port-Au-Prince. Chicken Master has become our lunch option of choice (to the entertainment of HELP staff), and we’ve learned that the privilege of being driven everywhere is actually a necessity for all ex-patriots here. Other organizations’ vehicles spotted to date: International Red Cross, United Nations, Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam, and U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID).

Other exciting moments include visiting University of Quisqueya and Ecole Superieure d’Infotroniq d’Haiti (University of Information Technology in Haiti), two of the private universities here, visiting the HELP student “dorms” (aka beautiful homes with many bunkbeds), and getting fresco (shaved ice) with Smyrne, Director of Student Affairs at HELP and HELP alumna. Luckily for us, Thursday nights at our hotel are THE place to be in Port-au-Prince: the band RAM plays Haitian music and people from all over PAP (locals and ex-pats alike) come to dance. We befriended Argentines (in a tango band!), Brazilians, and a yoga instructor from Washington, DC.

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Team H2 (L-R) : Pablo Bosch, Quentin Barber, Naoko Miyamoto, and Jing Wang visit University of Quisqueya in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

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Visiting the executive team at Ecole Superieure d’Infotroniq d’Haiti (University of Information Technology in Haiti)

While at first I was concerned we wouldn’t get to immerse ourselves in Haitian culture due to safety concerns and our lack of language abilities, it turns out that by virtue of working on this project, we are learning more about Haitian culture than we ever could have imagined. We cannot provide meaningful recommendations for HELP without first understanding the environment in which these students grew up in nor understanding Haitian culture in general. Sometimes, the most meaningful information reveals itself during casual conversations over dinner – it’s important to remember that informal interactions with the client can be an incredibly valuable use of time (not to mention the delicious foods and amazing rooftops bars they take you to!).

Week 1 in Port-au-Prince has been full of pleasant surprises and we can’t wait to see what else this exciting city and HELP has in store for us!  With that, we are off to Wahoo Bay this weekend to explore and relax!