Updates from EWMBA IBD – Team ProNaturaleza

Berkeley-Haas Part-Time MBA students Joe Bass, Mayhul Jain, Chidananda Khatua, and Hideaki Oshima participated in a summer IBD project in Peru with the nonprofit organization ProNaturaleza.

Quick background: Our project was about a nut that is grown on the Yarina Palm tree in the Amazon rainforest. The name of the nut is Tagua and it has an ivory like hard feeling to it; Tagua is commonly used to create jewelry.  The non-profit organization that we were working with, ProNaturaleza, was attempting to determine what new products could be created out of this nut to be sold to the US market and elsewhere eventually.

After taking a visit to Machu Picchu and checking out other sights in Peru, we were excited to start the project! To learn more about the plant, the people and the infrastructure, the first week was spent in Iquitos, the gateway town to the Peruvian Amazonian Basin. It began with a chance encounter with Lisa Ling at the Iquitos airport who was working on a documentary on local hallucinogens – we think!

IMG_0784Joe, Chida and Hideaki at Machu Picchu

IMG_20140708_123617Joe’s hand, Hideaki, Chida, and Mayhul with Lisa Ling

In Iquitos, a town connected to the outside world only by river or air, we were able to visit a factory that processes Tagua nuts into buttons but was currently shut down due to unmet financial commitments.  We then visited the drying plant to learn how these nuts were dried – turns out it’s the old school method of a big cement slab and baking sun.  Perspectives are different everywhere and this was true on our factory visit as well.

DSC_0132Tagua Nut factory in Iquitos

However, the most interesting part of the Amazon visit was a trip to Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, one of the largest reserves in South America.  The trip to the national reserve consisted of a two hour bus ride and then a three hour canoe ride to the ~150 person village of Viente de Enero.  Though there was no running water and no steady electricity in this village in the middle of the rainforest, we were able to watch the World Cup semifinal match between Argentina and Netherlands in a local person’s hut thanks to his generator – the man had his priorities straight!

In meeting the locals and seeing their homes, it was evident that this was a simple life with chickens running around and huts constructed primarily of straw and natural materials.  In the evening, the kids would play football and the community would hang out; the village even had their hut version of a discoteca, which would play music till 6am in the morning.  Their entire livelihood consisted of picking Aguaje and Tagua from palm trees and fishing in the local waters, and selling these raw materials to the larger towns down river.

IMG_1065At Veinte de Enero Village

DSC_0194With the locals at Veinte de Enero, Pacaya Samiria National Reserve

DSC_0238The school had no running power, but they did have laptops for their students- that was great to see!

The next morning we went on a short jungle walk to see how the Tagua nut was harvested. With machete in hand, our local guide led us on another canoe ride within the Reserve where we were able to walk around the dense and beautiful jungle. Lesson learned – New Balance tennis shoes don’t do the job for jungle walks!  Especially when the guide tells you that there are four types of venomous snakes in the area where the Tagua nut is harvested. This put things in perspective though – for these local villagers to even make a few bucks requires putting their lives at risk everyday. We heard multiple stories of being bitten by snakes.


DSC_0205Harvesting the Tagua Nut with our local guide Carmelo

After returning to Iquitos, we were able to kiss a pink river dolphin and feed Amazon manatees at a rescue center.  We also visited a local market where people from across the Amazon visit in an attempt to search for organic glue, which we were able to eventually find. While looking for this glue, we also saw both legal meat as well as illegal meat (spider monkey, turtles, tapirs, sloths) for sale, which speaks volumes about the tough job that law enforcement has protecting the local species.

In embracing the Berkeley-Haas Defining Principle of “Student Always,” we not only learned about the Peruvian Amazonian people and the Tagua nut, but also came to the realization that the Amazon basin has an incredible amount of sustainable economic potential – be it through eco-tourism, harvesting fruits or nuts, or fishing.  The next step is to just unlock it!

Updates from EWMBA IBD – Team SVB in China

Angela Cheng, David Lu, Andy Tang and Orian Williams are Part-Time MBA students working on an International Business Development project in Shanghai, China with Silicon Valley Bank.

Enabling Entrepreneurship in China

Did you know that Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) helped Mark Zuckerberg with banking when he was just a little-known hoodie-wearing startup entrepreneur? SVB has been helping entrepreneurs succeed by providing unique financial products and services in the US. Our team is here to help them succeed in China.

Angela Cheng, David Lu, Andy Tang, and Orian Williams are EWMBA students working on an International Business Development (IBD) project in Shanghai, China. The scope of the project is to study credit quality in China for Silicon Valley Bank, specializing in banking with startups.

On our last day in the iLab at Berkeley before departing for the in-country engagement, we went through a brainstorming exercise with Frank Schultz, our IBD faculty mentor. We were glad that he was still smiling after all the hard work we put him through.

IBD-SVB Team + Frank

Week 1

The temperature in Shanghai was noticeably cooler than normal. This was a pleasant surprise and we took it as a good sign for our two weeks stay in Shanghai.

Our team of four arrived at Shanghai on three different flights. Contrary to the typical hours-long flight delays at the Shanghai Pudong Airport, our flights were all surprisingly on time. The first thing that struck us was the heavy pedestrian and vehicle traffic. Oftentimes, two moving parties were just centimeters apart while moving in different directions at high speeds. Just when it seemed like a collision was unavoidable, miraculously both parties maneuvered out of each other’s way. It was like two partners on a dance floor moving around swiftly without stepping on each other’s toes. This city seemed to thrive in harmony, without needing any verbal communication.

We met our sponsor, Arman Zand, from Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) for dinner the night before we officially began our work in the SVB office in Shanghai, China. In the Chinese culture, business and social gatherings are often conducted around good food. This occasion was no exception to that. Over several dishes of the local gourmet, we shared bits and pieces of our personal stories.

After dinner, our team kicked off our first official in-country working session in the hotel lobby to prepare for a meeting with the CEO the next day.

svb2First In-country Work Session

On our first in-country day at work, we put our knowledge of the Chinese culture and language to work immediately. We met our first interviewee, a startup incubator, at a building that provided office space and support to about 20 startups. Unlike the typical cubicle setup, each “office” was a 2’x4’ desk space which barely provided enough room for a computer, a cup, and a few miniature personal items.

svb3Startup Incubator in China

It almost caught us off-guard that our first meeting was conducted exclusively in Mandarin. It sure put some of our team members’ Mandarin to practice. A full hour of interviewing in Mandarin along with the writing of some names and terms in Chinese made our first in-country interview a very productive one.  As we found out later, the interviewers spoke more freely and provided more information if the meeting was conducted in Mandarin.

svb4Starbucks at Client’s Office

Did you know that a cup of Starbucks coffee is more expensive in Shanghai than in San Francisco? Our team discovered this because 3 of the 5 meetings on day one were at Starbucks. We were beginning to wonder if Starbucks was also where startups pitched to VCs, but that was not the focus of this project.

On day two of the in-country portion of our IBD engagement, our client helped arrange meetings with several well-known venture capital firms to better understand investor behavior in China. We tooled around the city in a gently used mini-van with our team of four plus our handler provided by the firm, and our driver. The weather was a lot warmer than in the Bay Area so thankfully we left our woolen clothing at home. We had one more meeting to go before having dinner with our sponsors’ team at a local Shanghainese restaurant.

Our itinerary had been non-stop since our arrival, but the team was eager to perform well.  The experience was amazing, but this first week had certainly tested our stamina.  This was one of the few IBD projects
with a public company this summer and so we all considered ourselves quite fortunate to have such a practical consulting experience.

svb5Local Breakfast

We decided to go native and got breakfast from a local vendor outside our hotel. Nothing too adventurous, just some steamed pork buns, although one of us did ask for a spicy one.   We also found a dry cleaning place that would wash dress shirts for one-tenth of the price that the hotel was charging. Did we mention that we love China?

We had a few more external meetings left over from earlier in the week and then some internal meetings to help us collect our thoughts. Performing internal and external interviews for the client gave our team twice the consulting experience.

svb6PFPS Exercise

To draw insights and align our observations from our interviews and observations from the last three days, we applied what we had learned from Problem Finding and Problem Solving (PFPS) class.

Our client invited us to their World Cup themed team-building event.  We were told that fun team building activities are not common in Chinese company offices and definitely were new concepts to SVB local employees. SVB tried to build a more collegiate and social culture in its office, and we saw that everyone was able to build off the energy and make the rest of the day more productive.

svb7World Cup Fun

At night, we met up with one of the EWMBA Seminars in International Business (SIB) classmates and we hung out at Nanjing Road.  Nanjing road was an interesting blend of old and new Shanghai.  Most of the original architecture and building fronts were kept but large billboards had been raised over them.  We also took the subway for the very first time.

svb8Nanjing Road

Over the weekend the team took the opportunity to recover from the late nights during the workweek. On Saturday we visited the Tianzi Fang district and the Yu Garden. The highlight of the day was our dinner at Lubolang, one of the best restaurants in Shanghai. We saw a photo of Hilary Clinton who had previously dined there. Their Xiao Long Bao (soup filled dumpling) was excellent.

svb9Best Dinner

On Sunday the team traveled to the outskirts of Shanghai for the local alumni chapter event held at the Sofitel Shanghai Sheshan Oriental.  We met Ann Hsu, the Shanghai alumni chapter coordinator, and her husband Tom, who used to work in M&A. Tom said he knew Professor Goodson – small world.

We enjoyed an all you can eat brunch buffet with mimosas. Some of the team members even took a dip in the pool afterwards. It was a nice opportunity to get some fresh air in the countryside, but we wanted to get back and work on some additional analysis for the project.

svb10Sofitel Alumni Event

Week 2

During Week 2, the Seminars in International Business (SIB) class visited the SVB office. The CEO gave a presentation about doing business in China and how SVB positioned itself as the model for innovation banking in China.  We even let them hang out in our cell.

svb11IBD Met SIB at SVB

Week 2 was an intense workweek as the team prepared the final report and presentation to the CEO. On Thursday and Friday, we made our final presentations to the CEO and SVB credit team.  We knew our work had paid off when the client told us that they finally have some tools to play with in China.  We celebrated our success at our client sponsor’s house over drinks and barbecue.  Thanks to Haas and Silicon Valley Bank, another great IBD project!


Updates from EWMBA IBD – Team WCS in Cambodia

Berkeley-Haas Part-Time MBA students Timothy Black, Henry Lawrence, Alex Lin and Ennis Olson are working on an IBD project with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Cambodia.

Our team had the opportunity to work with Sansom Mlup Prey (SMP) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to evaluate the future financial sustainability of Ibis Rice. WCS started SMP in 2009 with the goal of helping farmers work their land using methods that protect the wildlife in their region. In particular, protection of the critically endangered Ibis – Cambodia’s national bird. By following farming methods that protect the habitat, SMP purchases rice from these farmers at a premium. This organic fragrant jasmine rice (phka malis) is then sold at a premium on the market as Ibis Rice – the only Wildlife Friendly rice in Cambodia.

Since it’s beginning, SMP has grown to distribution in over 100 markets, hotels, and restaurants in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Our goal was to evaluate the financial sustainability of the Ibis Rice program so WCS can understand at what point in time it can function as a standalone business with no dependency on grants or donors. To help SMP achieve financial independence we set about understanding their operations, rice farming and milling practices, and their sales channels to look for opportunities. We prepared our day of arrival presentation and highlighted the efforts we planned to dive into deeper during our two weeks in Cambodia.

Siem Reap

After 25 hours, 3 planes, and 4 airports we landed in Siem Reap, Cambodia – the home of Angkor Wat. As we walked out of the airport into the humid, wet rainy season of Cambodia, we found our driver amongst the crowd and walked towards the minivans in the parking lot. Then we walked past the minivans to where our tuk tuk awaited. Somehow we managed to fit into a single tuk tuk along with all of our luggage!


As the rain started, we piled in, our driver put on a plastic poncho, and we were off – dodging cars, motorcycles, pedestrians, and the occasional wildlife on the way to our hotel. Our adventure had already begun.

The next day we had to ourselves to explore the temples of Siem Reap – in particular Angkor Wat – the largest religious monument in the world. SMP arranged an opportunity for us to take in the awe-inspiring temples before we dove into work with our clients. We took in the sunset on the outskirts of Angkor Wat where it was already 80 degress at 5:45am!


Angkor Wat at sunrise


Temple – with Australian photo bomber in the background!

The following day we were greeted at the hotel by SMP’s delivery driver Mr. Samoeun. SMP has only one form of transportation – a remorque – and that became our mode of transport all week as well! A reqmorque is a motorcycle with a flatbed attached on the back. With the sun beating down at 95 degrees with 70% humidity, our very sweaty team piled into the remorque and headed off to the office.


The Remorque

The last stretch of road to the office was unpaved and quite muddy from the rains of the previous evening. Our vehicle got stuck and was unable go any further, despite Samoeun’s valiant efforts. We hopped out of the remorque and after several attempts was able to free the wheels from the red, muddy clay. We tried our luck and got back on only to get stuck again – get out, free the remorque and try again! We navigated the last 50 yards or so on foot and arrived very hot with slightly muddy shoes, but in one piece. It was an unexpected, but interesting first trip to the office – and all before 9am!


Haas and SMP together for the first time

After a warm welcome from Chinda (SMP’s Sale and Operations Coordinator) and Sochitra (SMP’s Accounting Coordinator), and some introductory discussion on Ibis Rice, we accompanied them on a round of daily deliveries to several of SMP’s customers in the area.  It was insightful to see their delivery process as well as learning more about SMP’s customer relationship management. But the adventure wasn’t over yet.

As part of our delivery ride, the client took us to the old rice mill they had used until several years ago when they switched to a mill near Phnom Penh. When we arrived, we expected to see the sacks of rice fililng the warehouse. What we hadn’t expected was our client saying, “there is also a crocodile farm out back – want to see it?” As we made our way around back we passed the crocodile jerky being dried in the sun.



The next several days we had the opportunity to meet with SMP’s customers and learn about their support for Ibis Rice. We also met with previous customers who no longer purchased Ibis Rice so we could better understand the market and needs of their customers. During the first week we learned a great deal of information not only about Ibis Rice as a product, but also about the operations from orders to deliveries, and the relationship management with customers. We ended our week in Phnom Penh, where SMP and WCS’s main offices are located and spent the next week diving deeper into operations and analysis.

Phnom Penh

Everyone we met in Siem Reap mentioned the traffic of Phnom Penh. Arriving late at night for our final week, we immediately saw what they were talking about. It took our drivers over two hours to get to the airport which is only 10km from the WCS office. Luckily, we stayed close enough to the office that we could walk each morning from our hotel. We set to work immediately meeting with staff and learning more about the work WCS does in Cambodia and the importance of Ibis Rice and SMP to fulfilling their conservation goals.


We spent the final week really digging in to the data, financials, and marketing opportunities we see for Ibis Rice. Throughout the week we had the opportunity to meet other companies making rice products and even had a few $1 beers at a local bar with a group of expats that work in Cambodian agriculture.

Most of our last week was spent working through the details with SMP and better understanding their sales, marketing, and operations data. Chinda, as Sales and Operations coordinator, was an invaluable resource throughout our stay. Everyone at WCS/SMP was supportive and helpful  throughout the week with additional data, insights, rides to interviews. They also kept us going with Cambodian snacks – we were treated to bananas 3-ways: small banana, medium banana, and chek chean (fried banana!)

The last two days we hunkered down to put together the financial sustainability analysis for Ibis Rice. But it wasn’t smooth sailing just yet. The evening before our final presentation, we were wrapping up our analysis and getting ready to start our presentation. While typing away and engrossed in spreadsheets our team didn’t realize our hotel room was flooding! The water seeped into the hallway and the room across the hall as well. Luckily there was one extra room available at the hotel and we were able to move. Within the hour we were back to our report and getting excited for the final presentation.


The final day we gathered WCS and SMP staff together and delivered our final report on Ibis Rice. We felt great about the work we accomplished and everyone was excited to hear what we thought about the future of Ibis Rice. Everyone was so engaged in conversation we continued to discuss opportunities for SMP for nearly an hour after the presentation! After we presented, Ross Sinclair – WCS Country Director for Cambodia – invited us to his home down the street where we enjoyed a few beers, cocktails, and pizza to finish out an incredible two weeks.


One last photo with Chinda and the team!

We were struck throughout our experience by the warmth and hospitality of Cambodia. Regardless of how much or how little they had, the local Cambodians touched us with their remarkable kindness and optimism. There is no more perfect a metaphor for Cambodia than its national bird the Ibis. Through the work of WCS and SMP the country is preserving its resources, the farmers’ lives are being improved, and the Ibis bird is beginning to thrive in the communities growing Ibis Rice. We are all incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work with these organizations and to help them continue the success of Ibis Rice for years to come!

Updates from EWMBA IBD – Team Bombay Teen Challenge

Berkeley-Haas Part-Time MBA students Ellie Erickson, Katherine Foos, Cecilia Mui and Tamara Patterson worked with Indian nonprofit organization Bombay Teen Challenge to craft a sustainable and actionable plan to generate profits from products created by women saved from Mumbai’s Red Light District.

Set Beautiful Free

A Typical IBD Workday

On the day of our final presentation, we experienced the following: 4 hours of sleep, gave a sad farewell to 20+ inspiring ladies (more on them later), drove 4 hours on monsoon-worn roads bogged down with traffic while attempting to finish up our slide deck, held down car sickness, got a flat tire, ate granola bars for lunch (again), presented our final results to the board for 3+ hours, Skyped with the CEO of our client’s oldest customer, ate dinner with the organization’s founder, and at 10 pm decided we should wait to tour the Red Light District another time.  That was Wednesday.


Human Trafficking

Set Beautiful Free is the customer-facing campaign of Bombay Teen Challenge, a non-profit working to prevent sex slavery.  Mumbai is home to Kamathipura, the 2nd largest Red Light District in the Asian continent with over 40,000 women working in 14 crammed lanes.  When we visited the neighborhood we were overwhelmed by the sheer number of “Johns” swarming the streets.  Our guide informed us that the ratio of men to women in India is 7 to 1, which aligned with what we were seeing on the streets (but contradicted what we found from a quick google search). We saw women standing outside dimly lit doorways with painted faces attempting to make them look fair skinned, waiting for business.  Our driver told us there were many Bangladeshi women, a desired ethnicity.  These women likely started out as girls in their home country with a promise of a desirable job in India.  That fate is true about 50% of the time.  For the other 50% of girls, they are sold to a brothel, locked up and forced into sex slavery.  BTC restores hope and dignity to these women by rehabilitating and empowering them through education and vocational opportunities in a safe environment.  We were tasked with trying to make the sales of the goods made by these women into a sustainable and growing venture.

The initial project scope described the creation of a B2C marketing plan.  While in Berkeley, we discovered B2B was more appropriate and less than a week before leaving we uncovered critical operational gaps we then had to prioritize and address.  Our 20 minute Day of Arrival presentation turned into a 3.5 hour meeting, which established our credibility with the board members, and subsequently, staff were instructed to help us any way possible.  Over the next 6 business days we managed to build trust and gain invaluable insights into the organization.  Everyone recognized our objective participation and tried to help us in order to help the larger mission.  We stayed in Mumbai and at their campus in Badlapur to both learn about doing business in India to test rapid prototyping, as well as work alongside the women to understand their operations and how to best describe their message.  In the end, we completed a marketing plan, the core elements of a business plan, and strategic recommendations and specific contacts for which to follow up.  We even found a local store in Mumbai for them to sell their goods!






Work Hard, Play Hard

When describing what we initially planned to do in India we said, “We’re basically going to go shopping.” While we did do that, the expanding scope, long travel time, and monsoon rains kept us from exploring much of the city.  We visited the Gateway to India, had tea in the regal Taj Hotel and even saw a movie (for $3!).

Seemingly with everything in India, there are too many more stories to tell about our experience so below are a few highlights and photos that encapsulate our time there:

  • When meeting each other at our first class in May, before we received our project assignment, we joked about a group of all women probably working with a non-profit or in fashion; we ended up doing both!
  • Meeting for over an hour with the General Manager of the Oberoi, a luxury 5-star hotel, provided an insightful conversation about Indian culture and its economic development—more than any research or study could have provided.
  • Meeting with the Consulate General of Iceland and getting his advice on business success, “Go ask my wife!”
  • Interviewing the Founder of BTC in the car for an hour after the 3.5 hour day of arrival presentation while in a downpour through roads flooded with 3+ feet of water, and only 30 hours after having landed in India. Talk about jet lag!
  • Laughing at how the ladies could make a bracelet in 5 minutes while Katie struggled to just start one for 15 minutes.
  • Having a focus group with the women to learn about their dreams, feelings about each other, and favorite movie stars.
  • Eating delicious crab caught at the local waterfall, cooked by the boys from BTC.
  • Giving each other DJ names – you’ll have to ask one of us to find out what they were 😉
  • Braving Mumbai roads for over 15 hours/week during the Monsoons.
  • Learning that if you’re the only one awake in the rural countryside area, all the bugs want to greet (and eat) you.
  • Seeing individuals, who have overcome so many obstacles in their lives, thrive in their element and really come alive when asking for their advice.
  • Opening a new product line and rapidly prototyping with one of their key customers.







It isn’t often in business school that we get an opportunity to work in a group of all women.  We also got to learn more about India and Indian culture than any tour guide could have exposed us to.  The hospitality, warmth and recognition of human traits across socioeconomic boundaries were amazing to experience.  For instance, some girls told us they liked to spend the money they earned from making jewelry or chicken fried rice and joked with us about snatching vegetables from the garden.  Can’t we all relate to that?  As a reality check however, one of those girls ended up at BTC because of a coincidence when she was being shopped around to be sold to a brothel by a family member. This is just one of many stories of the amazing women hoping to benefit from our work, earn a dignified wage, own a humble home, and provide a future full of potential for their children.

To quote one of the many beautifully decorated trucks we saw, “India is great.”



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.

Pic 1

Pic 2


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.

Pic 3

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.

Pic 4

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.

Pic 5

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.

Pic 6

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.


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.

Pic 7

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.

Pic 8

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.

Pic 9

Pic 10

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.

Pic 11

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”


Pic 12

Updates from EWMBA IBD – Team Yachay in Ecuador

Summer 2014 EWMBA students Timothy Chen, Karthik Jalamangala, Eric Ma, and Go Nagatani are working on an IBD project with the Yachay City of Knowledge in Ecuador.

Seeing is Believing

It all became real for us at 10.45 am on July 7th, when we came to a mileage sign along the road that said Yachay City was 2.5 km ahead. Yachay City was indeed thriving. During the six weeks before that, we had spent a great deal of time researching and talking to people about the Ecuadorian government’s grandest landmark initiative, Yachay City.

However, our imagination of the progress done on the city did not match up to what the city had accomplished since going live in 2013. Set in an exquisite location surrounded by the Andes, the rapid pace of development of the University, the living complexes and the dorms gave us the theme for our work in country – “Seeing is Believing!”


A view of the Andean Valley Setting of Yachay City of Knowledge

The Grand Vision

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa announced Yachay (“Knowledge” in Quechua) as a multi-year initiative, to be completed by the year 2031, to build a smart city that was to be home to a university, a technology park, a tourist destination, and a smart urban living area. The development is accordingly divided into multiple development phases.

The objective of the Haas IBD team was to help plan the US launch of Yachay City by coming up with a marketing strategy to attract US investors. The project goals included making recommendations about US investor outreach via media articles and advertising, events, and key metrics to track the success of the outreach. However, the Yachay project for Haas was expansive in scope and a one of the challenges for the team was to hone the project scope to something manageable for the short timeframe of the program. This project was a wonderful opportunity to put our education at Haas to good use.

Journey to the Middle of the Earth


A view of the Pululahua volcanic crater, now a green valley

After a good night’s sleep after the long journey from the US, we visited the Equator Line Monument, called the La Mitad del Mundo and a former volcanic crater area called Pululahua. Both spots were exciting spots to visit with some interesting activities at the Equator museum to prove the balance of the earth at the center of the earth. Both spots were within one hour’s driving distance from Quito and cheap transportation options such as a cab at the hotel were available.


The team at the Equator Museum

That same evening, we met with our client contacts at a coffee shop and had a great time catching up with them. It was good to meet with the folks with whom we had spent six weeks talking with prior to our arrival in Ecuador. We caught up on not only our travel but also discussed Ecuadorian culture and the impending final week of the football World Cup.

Work Begins In-Country

The first working day of our trip we went to Yachay City, a 3 hour drive north of Quito. The drive took us through a picturesque route full of winding roads overlooking the Andes. Arriving in Yachay City – seeing the students in classrooms, the Yachay logo everywhere, the active construction – was a surreal experience. Once there, we got to play the role of prospective investors and received a pitch for investment from the investment promotion team.

We had a first-hand experience of how investors hear about Yachay City’s progress. During the pitch, we got to tour of the University campus and some of the associated areas of the campus. This included some beautiful sculptures by local artists depicting Yachay, the community and the learning experience.


A view of the recently constructed dorm buildings


Some of the advertisements pasted on the walls of Yachay City


An example of the beautiful sculptures made by local artists in Yachay City

We also had a chance to meet with another group of consultants working on a master strategy for Yachay investment.

On the second day of our official visit, we presented our introductory presentation to the investment promotion team with our preliminary research data and proposals for the remaining two weeks of the trip. We received some excellent feedback from the team about our presentation and great recommendations about the marketing strategy recommendations that they would need from us.


The IBD Yachay team with the Yachay EP Investment Promotion Team

Over the rest of the week, we met with several teams at Yachay related to investment incentives, entrepreneurship, marketing and communication, and, of course, the investment promotion team, our client. What struck us most was how passionate this group of young individuals was. There is a very strong sense of pride in Ecuador and what is possible for this country in the next few years. There is a sense that their time of greatness has come and that they will be a force to reckoned with in Ecuador.

At the same time, we also discovered that Ecuador has a long road ahead of it full of challenges, including changing its perception in political and economic circles. Also, Ecuador faces aggressive competition from well-established technology parks around the world, some of whom we had a chance to talk with. Also, we got a chance to speak with many potential investors and anchor partners of Yachay in some of the focal industries such as Information and Communication Technology and Life Sciences. They all displayed excitement about wonderful possibilities for Yachay but at the same time they exhibited cautious optimism about their role in the future of Yachay City.

World Cup Football

As Friday rolled around, we had a chance to socialize with the Yachay team. As mentioned above, they are a group of young and passionate individuals who love to work hard and play hard. We had a good time exploring one of Quito’s busiest Friday night spots, Foch Square. Our clients and associated team members were excited to spend the evening with us and were very generous in showing us around this part of town. The energy was palpable when we went out to dinner and socialized – a perfect end to a busy week.


A gorgeous view of Quito City from Teleferico

On Sunday morning, we visited an area called Teleferico, where we took a cable car (Gondola) ride up to a height of 4100 meters. The view of Quito was spectacular from this spot and we could see how expansive the area is. Next, we visited the Virgin Mary statue, which watches over the entire city. This again was a spectacular view. We spent Sunday afternoon watching the football World Cup final in a local restaurant with our client. After a busy week, this was a nice way to kick back and enjoy the great game.


The legendary statue of the Virgin Mary

The Final Leg of the Project

The focus of working week two switched to creating our final deliverables. The final deliverables included a presentation on Thursday to the Yachay CEO, Mr. Hector Rodriguez. We spent a lot of time consolidating all of our insights from the prior seven weeks of the project. We focused on structuring our final presentation and final report as a marketing strategy document that would help give the client a strategy of focusing not only on Yachay as a smart city but also focusing on Ecuador as a country that is on the cusp of something wonderful. Related to the strategies presented, we also created a set of marketing tactics that will help ensure that the strategies can be successfully deployed and measured in the US. The eventual outcome of this effort is to bring widespread investor interest to Yachay City.


After the presentation, the Haas IBD team with Yachay CEO, Mr. Hector Rodriguez (center) and Investment Group Director, Daniela Calero

Needless to say, this was a massive team effort with many, many long hours spent working on data research, story boarding, draft and mock presentations, oftentimes with team meetings running deep into the early hours of the morning for multiple days in a row during the week. On the Thursday before our departure, we had a very useful discussion with the CEO. He gave us insightful feedback on our presentation and expressed appreciation for the work we put into our IBD project to help give his team a new direction in ensuring unified communications and investment promotion strategies.

We spent the evening with the investment promotion and communication teams. We went on a grand tour of old town Quito in the San Francisco area visiting old churches and the cobblestone roads of the area. Afterwards, we enjoyed a delicious dinner at the “El Ventanal” restaurant while taking in a picturesque view of Quito.

The Yachay IBD project has been a very insightful and fantastic project which afforded our Haas IBD team with a wonderful opportunity to experience Ecuadorian culture and to be part of an exciting project that can alter the future of this country.

We wish the Yachay City the very best of success with investment attraction!


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.


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.


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.



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.


“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.


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.

Cormier De Plaag

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


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.


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.