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.

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

ACT_4_fvJulián Garzón with the winners of the marshmallow challenge.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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

Mutare

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.

Harare

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

Onward

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

 

 

 

Updates from IBD Zimbabwe – Team Apsara Capital

Hello from Harare.

Miran, Evgeniy, Leo 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 family backed VC firm that seeks to make investments in water and agriculture. The Apsara Capital team has been working hard to develop a practically oriented entrepreneurship program (Codename: Grassroots Entrepreneurship) in order to create a pipeline of investable agribusinesses in Southeastern Africa.

Before we even stepped foot in country, it was evident the group had formed a cautious, yet excited attitude toward Zimbabwe. Countless medical shots? Check. Lots of Cipro? Check. Safety plan, malaria pills, and bottled water? Check, check and check. And who could blame us for being overly cautious? The only time we (collectively) hear of Zimbabwe or Africa in general is via sensationalized news coverage.

We could not have been more wrong. Africa is beautiful. Zimbabwe is stunning. It is green, luscious, and far from all our pre-conceived notions. Its people are hardworking, resourceful individuals looking to make a better country and continent.

IMG_0587Picture, courtesy of Dan Wong, is of the Zambezi River along the Zimbabwe/Zambia border

Within an hour of landing, we were already hard at work at a Startup Harare event held at HyperCube Hub. The event challenged individuals to pitch ideas and form teams around the best ideas. Starting Friday afternoon, these newly formed teams were expected to create and implement a business idea knowing that final presentations were Sunday afternoon. The winning team created an application where people can attach nodes to pieces of fruit and turn them into musical devices. We were fortunate enough to catch the final presentations held on Sunday afternoon, and while we were amazed by how much progress the teams had made since Friday, we could not help but feel we were too late to help create an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

apsara

Big Problems, Bigger Opportunities

Our client knew returning Zimbabwe to the status of being the breadbasket of Africa would be no easy task, but he knew it had to start from the ground up and it had to start somewhere. The problems of Zimbabwe can be summed up simply by supply and demand. Currently, too many people are out of work as the country suffers massive unemployment. Additionally, demand for products forces the country to import a large percentage of its goods. By focusing our attention on agribusinesses in Zimbabwe, our client hoped to proverbially kill two birds with one stone. Agribusiness could return countless people back to work, both to the farms and to value-adding companies. The collective output of these farms could again return local food to Zimbabwean shelves, radically decreasing the current prices paid for common food staples.

apsara2As you can see, grocery shopping can be an interesting experience when outside Harare, the capital city; food scarcity and food security are emerging government priorities

Our original deliverable to the client was supposed to be the curriculum for a one-year hybrid academic incubator. This academic incubator would provide Zimbabwean entrepreneurs with a physical working space, a network of mentors to work with and a fully built-out academic ‘modules’ which would allow him or her to build out technical skills while concurrently building his or her business.

We had spent most of our semester building and framing solutions via this curriculum. We imagined our time in country was to be spent interviewing potential students, creating financial projections and building out a network of mentors. Little did we know that with just over 3 weeks before we were to be in country, our client would fundamentally alter our scope and deliverable. Instead of an academic curriculum, he wanted to run a pilot program.

The Pilot

Our first real stop and home of our pilot program was Africa University in Mutare. About a 4 hour drive southeast from Harare, the University is home to approximately 2,500 students, 40% of whom are from neighboring African countries. During the years of hyperinflation in Zimbabwe, the Vice Chancellor of Africa University allowed students to barter goods for their tuition. As measure of last resort, the Vice Chancellor accepted U.S. Dollars (instead of Zimbabwean Dollars) for tuition at a time when such a move could cause massive forfeitures and penalties. When the Zimbabwean government found out that Africa Universities was accepting USD, instead of seizing the University and halting operations, it issued a paltry fine while tacitly acknowledging the demise of the Zimbabwean Dollar. Now that’s challenging the status quo.

africa universityOur pilot program enjoyed the full backing of both the administration and faculty of Africa University

Though we are students always, what better way to spread the ideas and tools we learned at Berkeley than to teach others as we had been taught. From challenging the status quote with design thinking to building a successful business through strategy, we reframed what we learned in the west to fit the culture and norms of Southeastern Africa.

Time was the most challenging aspect of our pilot. First, we only had about 3 weeks to build out a logical and comprehensive pilot program. This led to many late nights.

late nightsLast minute changes to the deliverable required several back-to-back late nights while in country; here we are on a late night group meeting

Second, we only had 3.5 days with our students to teach topics from design thinking to storytelling, accounting to marketing. The limited amount of time really forced us to not only deliver only what was absolutely necessary, but also in only the most efficient manner.

clusteringThe picture above is the product of diverging/converging ideas from Team Kugaoanya; we were very impressed how quickly the students picked up new concepts such as clustering and mindmapping

We could not have been more impressed with the caliber of the students. Their passion and enthusiasm for entrepreneurship really led to their success with new frameworks and practical tools. Just as we taught them how feedback is a gift, we thanked them for their time and their feedback on what worked well and what did not during our time together.

planeIt was a shame we could not spend more time in Mutare with the students; with a tight schedule, our client helped us stay on track with a private charter back to Harare

Back to Harare

As the wheels touched down in Harare, we let out a sigh relieved that the pilot program was truly behind us. However, there was no time to waste. We pivoted from instructors/mentors back to business school students networking with the movers and shakers of Zimbabwe. A necessary part of any incubator is a network of mentors and industry leaders available to our future Grassroots Entrepreneurs. We spent more than a week meeting with everyone from local entrepreneurs and lawyers, to small business owners and NGO workers. Perhaps our most impressive meeting was with Zed Koudounaris, one of Zimbabwe’s most accomplished and influential businessman and investor. At the height of hyperinflation, it was Zed who was in the room with the Governor of the Federal Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe until 4 a.m. convincing the government to officially adopt the U.S. Dollar.

Work Hard, Play Harder

Somewhere between the jet lag, the pilot program and the week filled with back-to-back meetings, we did find time to take advantage of some of the beauty and wonder Africa has to offer. We finally decided to make the trek up to Mana Pools National Park, in northern Zimbabwe along the Zambezi River bordering Zambia. Though it took us hours of driving to make it to our little cottage on the river, it was an unbelievable experience. From seeing hippos and elephants outside our windows, to tracking lions to simply star gazing in the pitch dark, Mana Pools was just the adventure we were all looking for.

IMG_0641We hired a park ranger to take us into the wild to track lions and stumbled across this dazzle of zebras only a stone’s throw away

The End of the Road

All good things must come to an end. London would be the last stop for the Apsara team. Our time in London was short and sweet as we delivered our final presentation with recommendations to our client. We were fortunate to meet up with a British classmate back in the UK for his internship. It just goes to show you that no matter where we go in the world, there’s always a Haasie just around the corner.

Goodbye from London.

 

–Apsara Capital team