Monday, August 31, 2015

A Traveler’s Tale: Here’s What Happens When Impact Meets Innovation in Tanzania

Diana Callaghan

Everyone loves a great story.  And so far, during my Dar es Salaam-based fellowship with Land O’Lakes International Development’s United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Innovations in Gender Equality (IGE) program, I have accumulated many.  In particular, I want tell you about my experiences meeting innovators competing for grant funds and capacity-building support through IGE-hosted Innovation Expos.

Children In Mbeya Checking Out the Great Expo 5 Innovations

The IGE Expos target entrepreneurs with technologies impacting women in agriculture. For the first Expo, I provided the 10 finalists with needs assessments and business development support. To do so, I traveled throughout Dar es Salaam, Arusha, and Mwanza to sit and speak with:
  •          A top mushroom-growing maven
  •          An engineer creating customizable crop processing machines
  •          An education-greenhouse organization
  •          A fish-poultry-produce aquaculture company
  •          A palm oil extraction company (palm oil is in Nutella… investment please…)
  •          A company developing solar driers
  •          A business creating solar bird and animal chasers
I was thrilled to see many of these organizations using clean energy sources to do everything from dry produce with solar driers to chase bird and animals away—about the latter, think of it as an automatic, screeching scarecrow with a solar panel. Each entrepreneur I met with had great stories. I eagerly listened to their experiences, and I was equally excited to brainstorm ideas with each of them about how to push their technologies even further. For example, through these meetings we learned that many had no accounting systems set up, and therefore had prices that were many times too low to have a sustainable business. In other cases, we heard that they planned to teach people how to develop their technologies, which contradicts the idea of growing their own business. During these visits I noted many areas for improvement, and with the IGE team, we have now developed trainings to help relieve many of these issues and will be working one-on-one with innovators to help push their development further.  

Just as everyone has a story, every story has its setting.

Tarangire Lion Fresh From a Nap

Zanzibar Sunset Sail

Oh what a magical place I’ve found myself in! If you haven’t already checked it out, read my other blog post, Entrepreneurship in Agriculture & Impacting Women's Lives in Tanzania. Since I wrote that, so much has happened in my life here in Dar es Salaam.
I’ve traveled around Tanzania working with additional entrepreneurs in agriculture, met new friends from around the world while exploring the tiny uninhabited islands off the coast of Dar, attended a 3-day Strategic Planning meeting to help devise a strategic plan for a new organization, and even met some of my favorite Rossers for a memorable trip to Zanzibar.


Mount Meru
Tarangire Safari Time

Mommy and Baby on a Walk

During my time working with Land O’Lakes, I was honored to explore some of the most beautiful parts of Tanzania. Arusha is like the Denver of Tanzania. Sitting at the foot of Mt. Meru, the city has a temperate climate with lush greenery, abundant produce and vails of flowers. Expats flock here for NGO work and the many tourist attractions the city brings. Hip English-clad coffee shops, restaurants and boutique hotels made me feel less like I was in an African country and more like I was in the Rockies. Points of interest near this city include Serengeti National Park, Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Mount Maru, and the infamous Mount Kilimanjaro.
Given time constraints (read: I’m not in my most “tip-top” shape), I was unfortunately unable to climb Kilimanjaro. Time also did not allow me to take the long trek to Serengeti but I was able to catch a Safari at the beautiful Tarangire National Park. Arusha is also where I met with the innovator developing a multi-crop processor and the organization building indirect solar driers.

DORGO Agro Multicrop Processor

SIWATO Indirect Solar Dryer


Lake Victoria Rocks

Lake Victoria Resort

I also spent some time in Mwanza, during which I made a quick visit to Lake Victoria, the second largest freshwater lake in the world behind Lake Superior (Go Michigan!). This is where I was reminded that some people are just natural entrepreneurs.  In speaking with the warehouse innovator, we learned about all of the work she has personally done to develop her business. We heard success stories, saw prototypes, and heard about the awards she has received to date. In speaking with her, we learned that her innovations came from listening to the needs of potential customers and designing solutions to address those needs—a sign of a true entrepreneur.

JikoBora Warehouse Prototype

Jiko Bora Entrepreneur

Dar es Salaam
Returning to where my internship began, I worked on a kick-off event for 6 other innovators supported by IGE. In part, I developed and implemented a training on business model development and performed a needs assessment to identify any gaps in innovators’ business models. At the training, we openly and successfully brainstormed creative solutions to some of their most pressing problems.

Since then, I have also worked in conjunction with IGE staff members to develop a social media campaign, revised training materials, and developed strategies to help further support innovators in their development processes.

Easy Breeze with Tangawizi (Gingerale) and Skype at Bagamoyo

Mushroom Shelter and Spawn Production

Solar Bird and Animal Chaser

I only wish I had an additional time in this beautiful country.  I’ve made some great friends along the way, joined a volleyball team, sang karaoke under the stars on the beach, had dinner at the Greek Club, learned how to negotiate with the Bajaji taxis (aka tuktuk) like a pro, danced until 5am at the local dance clubs, and became a regular on the islands of Mbudya and Bongoyo—to snorkel and dine on freshly caught fish and lobster. I’ve also attended restaurant openings, sat at wine tasting events, slept on a beach under the moon, swam in the Indian Ocean at night, explored the many restaurants of Dar, and met people from all around the world.  And of course I can’t forget 4th of July on Zanzibar with two of my favorite WDI Fellows.

Zanzibar Market

Me and My Boys

Sailing the Blue

Beautiful Kendwa Rocks on Zanzibar

Simplicity of the Sea  (Not Posed)

 Streets of Zanzibar

Julio, Shukun, and I Representing UofM and Ross in Africa

My experiences have been both personally and professionally rewarding. I wish all of the innovators I’ve met through IGE much success and I’m grateful for working with and learning from all of them. Kudos to Land O’Lakes for partnering with students to catalyze innovation to enhance women’s participation in the agricultural sector and to help improve food security.

Want to hear more travelers’ tales? Be sure to check out the fellows’ blog to read blog posts about WDI Fellows working in healthcare, energy, entrepreneurship, and education in emerging markets.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Thank You Africare!

By Samantha Madden

Post was completed the last week in Zambia (August).

It’s hard to believe my time in Zambia and with Africare is coming to a close! The second half of the summer really began to pick up speed as the management team in Lusaka completed the final hiring process for those individuals that will be working out at the two sites of the project; Lundazi and Mansa. The M&E officer, project director, and officer in charge extended contracts for the following positions: M&E assistants (2 per site) and site contractor/building specialist.
In July we all came together in Lusaka to collaborate as a team and solidify the objectives and deliverables associated with the next 18 months of the project. It was a unique experience as Africare HQ individuals were present, along with every other member involved in various aspects of the ZaMs project. We discussed gaps in the project, constraints, budget adjustments, community sensitization efforts, and the production of required quarterly reports for the donors involved.  Additionally, we assigned roles to the incoming Boston University interns that are scheduled to arrive in Zambia at the end of August. Various presenters, including myself, exposed site staff to the proposed business plan, IGAs per site, and ongoing operational and financial logistics. Overall, it was a highly effective conference. It was great to see such collaboration amongst team members, all with varying roles and responsibilities speak to their ideas or concerns in moving forward. I was quite impressed with the openness and professionalism of the Africare HQ staff from Washington; though they oversee the project from a distance, it was important that they were brought up to speed with on the ground efforts here in Zambia. In our talks, of course, were the ongoing concerns with the energy crisis and lack of water supply in Lusaka and beyond.

Outside work, I made a final in-country weekend trip to Lake Kariba and the town of Saivonga. It is the largest manmade lake and reservoir in the world and splits the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia.  It was an experience to say the least; much like my other personal travels in country!  I woke up early and walked for nearly an hour and a half just to locate the correct mini bus area where buses were headed to the area I wanted to go. (“Down this street, on your left”, “No, not here. Back that way a few blocks”, “No, not here. Over that direction”)  Yikes! I finally boarded the mini-bus around 830 on what was supposed to be a 3 hour ride south to the lake.  After a flat tire, a broken wheel rod on the trailer, a 2 hour stop in the village (because the bus wasn’t in fact going to Siavonga, but across the border post to Zimbabwe) I finally caught a bus to the village of Siavonga.  I arrived early enough (4pm!) to head down to the lake and catch the sunset and I must admit, my time spent there was some of the most relaxing and tranquil days I’ve found during my entire visit to Zambia J It was lovely! (See attached pictures!) The ride back was great- I hitched from Siavonga to the turn off to the border post without any issues and then managed to hitch a lovely ride from there all the way to Lusaka from a South African couple also visiting the lake for the weekend. I even met up with them later in the week for dinner!

Moving forward I am hopeful that I will be back to see through some other parts of this project!  In speaking with individuals from Africare HQ, that I have been in contact with throughout the summer via e-mail, and then at the conference, they were persistent on me coming back to Zambia post-graduation in December. This project won’t conclude until May-June 2018 so the opportunity still exists to come back and be a continued part of this implementation project (Yay!)  It is a bittersweet feeling to be leaving- though I’m excited for certain aspects of the States again, I will miss the simplicity (or lack thereof!) of this country.  It has been a humbling experience to come work for such an impressive organization.  I can say that I truly admire the work they set out to do and the projects for which they’ve completed.  They really stand for many of the things I value in an NGO and it was an honor to work alongside them! Thanks Africare, I will miss you all!  : ) 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Finishing Reflections

Carlos Robles

My last entry will be a reflection of the progression of the project in the two countries I worked in over the last three months.

I started by working two weeks in Mexico City. These first two weeks were a bit of a slow start since I was getting used to the city and trying to find a place to work, as well as develop a work plan that would allow me to complete the research objective.  I could not find any contacts to interview during this time in Mexico City, but I was able to find some valuable information regarding the changes in the Mexican bankruptcy law after 2000 as well as a lot of background information on bankruptcy practices.  After the first two weeks flew by, I headed to Argentina for nine weeks hoping to be able to interview local experts about these processes.

I had never been to Buenos Aires before, so I was really looking forward for the opportunity to get to know the city and learn as much as possible about its history, as well as the research objective. My favorite part of the project was the high level of independence I had, because it allowed me to work from different coffee shops around the city and get to see and experience the many things that this beautiful place had to offer while working toward the project.

My host was the Universidad Astral IAE Business School in the outskirts of the Buenos Aires. Similar to my time in Mexico City, my first week and a half in Buenos Aires included learning a lot about how to get around and where to go to get some work done.  Once I was able to get in touch with the people at IAE, I was able to set up a schedule that allowed me to work more diligently on the project. They gave me my own work space in the area where the PhD students worked, and I was able to meet some people that way, as well as ask for their insights on any questions I had.  Everyone was extremely welcoming and accommodating, and I felt really comfortable there. 

Universidad Astral IAE Business School Campus in Buenos Aires
Another view of the IAE Campus
Once I was more acclimated to the city and my schedule, I was able to enjoy weekends to do various cultural activities, such as museum visits, explore local restaurants, go to concerts, and (my favorite) weekly Tango lessons at a local coffee shop. 
To say I enjoyed my time in Buenos Aires would be a huge understatement. I think being by myself in such a beautiful, yet calm city, coupled with all I learned along in the project really helped me feel like I grew a lot both professionally and personally. 

Around my fourth week in town, I made a really valuable connection with a prominent law firm in the city. My interactions with two of the lawyers from this firm created a lot of opportunities to meet important contacts that provided incredibly useful information about the restructuring practices of the companies we were interested in.  Through that connection, I was able to interview the former CEO of Fargo, which is one of Argentina’s most important food companies, but was eventually bought out by Mexico’s Bimbo.  Also through that connection, I was able to attend a Boca Juniors game. This was especially great because those games are actually closed off to members only, and tourists often have to pay 150 USD and up for a “tour” and game package, and I didn’t want to do that.  But, since I developed a good relationship with the lawyers at the firm, they let me borrow their box seats for one of the games!

Watching the Boca Juniors games in Buenos Aires
On top of the interactions with people, the process of getting information about the project from different contacts was thrilling; I had very few connections, so every time I talked to someone I was eager to ask them to further introduce me to people knowledgeable on the topic.  Thanks to that, I was able to set up interviews with former CEO’s, Professors, and lawyers who were directly involved in these processes, and who worked with the companies we were interested in learning about.
Back in Mexico
After being in Argentina for nine weeks, I had a week left to work in Mexico City, and luckily I was able to make a connection with a professor in Buenos Aires my last week there who put me in touch with two of Mexico’s most knowledgeable lawyers and professors in the topic of Mexican bankruptcy and debt restructuring practices.  With a lot more knowledge about bankruptcy proceedings and a better understanding of the history of the impact of economic crises in Latin America, my conversations with these two gentlemen really left me wishing I could have spent more time researching bankruptcy practices in Mexico. I say that because, on paper, Mexico has a very good bankruptcy law, but on practice, it falls short of being effective due to the high levels of corruption and ignorance of the proceedings in court.

Reflecting back on my experiences, I am really thankful for the way both countries welcomed me. I already miss the amazing steaks and wine I had in Argentina and also going to Tango classes on Sunday evenings.  Mexico also left me with a great sense of nostalgia, especially after being away for so long.

My experiences in both countries helped me realize I want to pursue a career that allows me to travel and work on projects in Latin America, and they also allowed me to realize how adaptable I can be and that I can thrive in very different environments.  Because of that, I am extremely happy I was able to be a WDI Fellow this summer and I look forward to this upcoming year and to what will come after graduation.


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Some Findings About Debt Restructuring Practices in Argentina

Carlos Robles

As I mentioned in the last post, the next entries will be focused on the research I did in Argentina and Mexico City. I will talk a bit about the progression of the investigation, challenges, and reactions about being abroad.

The research project focused on the strategies used by multinational Mexican and Argentine firms that filed for bankruptcy and whether they used their local bankruptcy laws, or the United States’ Chapter 11 to restructure their debt.  Before starting, I did not have a lot of background experience on this topic, but I was thrilled for the opportunity to learn more about it.
Now a bit on what I found.  Argentina faced its biggest economic crisis in 2001 and, long story short, one of the biggest problems was that the Argentine peso and the U.S. Dollar were valued on a 1:1 ratio, and when the true convertibility kicked in after the 2000’s, anyone who had debts in USD now had their debts almost quadrupled. Among other factors in the crisis, this was a very severe blow to the private sector. Because of that, there were a lot of companies falling under financial distress. But at the time, proceedings to restructure debt or file for bankruptcy were simply not very efficient. To change that, the government reformed the law in 2002 to expedite those processes. The change would be the equivalent to a Pre-Packed Chapter 11 in the United States, where the debtor and the creditors come to an extrajudicial agreement and then present it to the judge to approve the new payment plans. This made the process a lot faster and more seamless. Due to this change, most companies opted to use that process instead of seeking protection under Chapter 11 in the United States, even if they did have some assets abroad.
The most interesting finding, in my opinion, was the fact that there were indeed some Argentine companies that were involved with Chapter 11 in some capacity, five of the biggest companies in the country, actually. But what was interesting was that the U.S. creditors wanted to bring them to the United States to file for bankruptcy instead of letting them do it in Argentina.  However, these companies’ best interest were served in Argentina’s courts, so they had to show the New York District Court Judge that Argentina had bankruptcy proceeding similar to those in the United States. This was all due in part to the change in the law of 2002. Since that change in the law, a lot of Argentine companies were able to successfully restructure their debts and continue operating.