On the Trail with CBLE2

Other global immersion programs can keep their 3 and 4-star hotels, their balloon rides over temples, their drinks by the beach and their multi-course meals. On GIP Patagonia, we sacrificed toenails, patches of skin, broken trekking poles, and boots whose soles detached mid-trip. With our blood, sweat, and tears, we put the “immersion” in global immersion program. It was worth every blister and bruise.  

This is an account of Columbia Business Expedition 2’s (CBLE2) trek through Cerro Castillo National Park.

DAY 1: The Expedition Begins!

The class travels to NOLS headquarters outside of Coyhaique, Chile to sort our gear, collect rations, and pack backpacks. Most packs weigh in at about 50lbs each. CBLE2, which consists of 10 CBS students and 2 NOLS instructors, is transported 2 hours to the drop-off point, where we make camp in a field for the night. Our instructor, Pablo, delivers a memorable and extensive demonstration on the proper technique for defecating in the woods. We learn how to light WhisperLite stoves and pitch tents. Then it’s early to bed in anticipation of our first full day of hiking.

The entire class for GIP Patagonia, pre-departure

DAY 2: Into the Breach

Distance Traveled: Approximately 2km in 8 hours

Our goal for the day is to follow the river through a forest, about 6km to camp. We set a route based on the topographical map, avoiding areas with closely-grouped contour lines, which denote steep elevation gains. Each contour line represents about 20m rise in elevation. What the map does not show is gain below 20m. Nor does it show the state of the forest itself, which consists of lenga trees. These trees, along with thorny calafate bushes, grow thickly throughout the terrain.

The lenga forest
Photo: Katherine Bergstrom

This translates to 8 hours of bushwacking through the forest, struggling through vegetation, pulling ourselves up 10-12m ravines by prickly calafate bushes. We go as far as we can until the sun is close to setting, and then we make camp. We know that we haven’t made our intended destination for the day (we will later realize that we have only trekked 2 of the 6km we’d set as a goal for the day), but the terrain is too technical to risk hiking in the dark. There isn’t any flat land on which to pitch tents, so we hack shallow pits into the dirt and string up tarps as cover overhead. Our backpacks go under our feet to keep us from sliding down the slope, and we sleep shoulder-to-shoulder, 5 people per tarp. In the middle of the night it starts raining, but we are too tired to care.

Jamie Merolla (’19) executes our first river crossing

DAY 3- And Then There Were Nine

Distance Traveled: 2km in 4 hrs

On day 3, we encounter our first group setback as a team member is medically evacuated. She experienced significant knee pain during the hike the day before, and was afraid that she had aggravated an old injury. In consultation with our NOLS instructors, she decides that she should turn back and not complete the expedition. NOLS instructor Pablo, Jamie Merolla (’19), and Lorenzo Casalini (’19) mobilize as an evac team to hike her back to the drop-off point, where NOLS will collect her and bring her back to base camp for medical examination.

The rest of the group, led by NOLS instructor Mita, will continue to the site where we had intended to camp the day before and wait for the runner team to return to us. Four hours of bushwacking later, we make camp next to a huge drainage.

DAY 4- And on the Fourth Day, They Rested

The group rests and waits for the evac team to find us, which they do my mid-afternoon. The bad news: after 3 days of hiking, we still haven’t reached our destination for day 1. This effectively means that we have no cushion in our route; we will have push harder to make up the time lost.

DAY 5- La Playa, Found

Distance traveled: ~6km in 6 hrs

For the first time, we split into two student-led teams of 5-6 people. Over the course of the expedition, each student will have an opportunity to lead a team for the day, setting the route, navigating the terrain, and engaging in consultative decision-making. Each team is self-sufficient, carrying enough gear and supplies so that if for some reason we don’t reunite at set meeting point at the end of the day, we can still camp comfortably and safely.

Fortune finally smiles on the group. My team, led by Thirza Koppert (’19), drops out of the lenga forest to the river. We hike along the dry river bed and make good time to camp. We even overshoot our goal for the day, making it further than we’d hoped, which is a real morale booster. Both self-sufficient teams celebrate by washing our clothes in the river, sunbathing, and building a small bonfire on the bank after dinner. Spencer Flasjer (’19), whose rallying cry has been, “Vamos a la playa!” (“Let’s go to the beach!”) is delighted.

DAY 6- Alpinists

Distance traveled: ?km in 7 hrs

We leave the lenga forest to hike into alpine territory, almost 600m up. Now that we are out of the forest and above the tree line, I’m finally able to enjoy the scenery past my own boots. Our route is up through a mountain pass, over a saddle, and down to a glacier lake. The ground is nothing more than loose scree over sheer cliffs that drop into the valley. The higher we get, the more thrilling the view, and the more dizzying the drop. The terrain makes several of us uneasy (especially those afraid of heights), but we press on without complaint. Also troubling is the fact that the tops of Moni Vinuales’s (’19) brand-new hiking boots have started separating from the soles. Pablo has attempted to cobble them back together using duct tape and needle and thread, but it’s a losing battle. We’re not sure what alternative Moni has, since her only other pair of shoes is an old pair of running shoes- not ideal for trekking.

After a tough slog upwards, the glacier lake is a beautiful sight- the blueness of the water is inconceivable. There’s only one problem: there’s no shoreline around the lake, and we have to pass to the other side. There is, however, a ring of snow that has accumulated around the rim, and we hike through it. At one point, Mita says to me, “Elizabeth, please slow down. If you slip and fall into the lake right now, I can’t help you.” I pick more carefully over the snow.

We make camp on the other side of the lake. The view is spectacular- on one side the lake, on the other a cliff that drops down over 100m into the next valley. There is no dirt in which to drive our tent stakes, so Pablo and Mita show us how to anchor the tents using big rocks. We try to find spots next to boulders to shield our tents from the wind, which is gusting forcefully. Once it gets dark, we stay up as late as we can stand in the cold and watch the stars come out. We all agree that it’s one of the most incredible sights we’ve ever seen.   

Before we turn in, the instructors casually remark, “So tonight we need you all to make sure you’re packed up so if the wind gets too high and we have to evacuate in the middle of the night, you can grab your stuff quickly and go.” When we ask if that was likely, Pablo shrugs and says, “Yeah.” Each time the tent is buffeted by the wind during the night (read: several times an hour), I’m up like a shot, waiting to hear Pablo and Mita yell for us to leave. We make it through without incident, however.

DAY 7- Taking the Helm for the Day

Distance traveled: ~6km in 8 hrs

 “Oh [expletive],” is my first thought on day 7. It is my day as designated leader, where I will take one of the two self-sufficient teams through our planned route. Today we are descending back into a valley, down a very steep and precarious rock face, with lots of small, loose rocks. What concerns me when I wake up is the sound of rain- and wind- on the tent. Safety is my primary concern, and the already technical route has become riskier with the inclement weather.

We make it down safely, thanks in large part to Max Esteves (’19) and Ben McCabe (’19), who act as scouts, helping determine the best path for the team. At this point, Mita has traded her hiking boots for Moni’s old running shoes, and is hiking with very little support or traction. I am trying to be mindful of her situation as we hike. Once we get properly into the valley, we are dismayed to find that the forest along the river is much like the one we’ve just left two days ago- filled with steep ravines, huge drainages, and thick vegetation.

I start kicking myself- I feel personally responsible for leading the team through this situation. I’m convinced that I made a mistake, and if I had chosen a different path, we’d be making better time. At one point I turn to Max, an experienced mountaineer, and say, “What could I have done better here? Where did I go wrong?” He looks at me and says, “Hey, this is a tough day. There’s no right or wrong answer. We’re all here making these decisions with you- you’re not alone. This terrain is just difficult.” I appreciate his support, but have a hard time getting out of my own head.

We make it to the designated meeting spot about 10 minutes after the other self-sufficient team arrives. They had a similarly arduous day, climbing way up into the forest in a fruitless search for a flat way forward. During our team debrief, my group encourages me to be a more assertive leader, and to work harder at fighting off self-doubt.

DAY 8- A Taste of the Good Life

Distance traveled: ~8km in 8 hrs

Eureka: my cooking group realizes at breakfast that hot oatmeal, peanut butter, and chocolate transform into an alchemical combination. Try it at home, it’s delicious.

The expedition is winding down, and we are racing towards the finish point. Our goal for the day is to get out of the lenga forest once and for all, and make our way to a lake, where we will camp. The next day we’ll then locate the first trail of the expedition and follow it to the pick-up point. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. Probably a close translation of what Icarus said right before he took his wax wings for their first test flight.

Somehow my self-sufficient team is incredibly fortunate, and after a steep ascent, we find a cattle trail. No longer required to bushwack, we make our way into a series of lush fields, with tall grasses, sweet-smelling clover, and small clumps of cattle. We are giddy with happiness. We arrive at camp at around 6pm, and pitch tents under a grove of cherry trees, which we raid and stuff ourselves with fruit.

Darkness gathers, and around 9pm, we realize that the other team isn’t coming. We assume that they were unable to find the trail that we stumbled across, and had to make camp for the night elsewhere. NOLS protocol dictates that if one team isn’t able to make it to the meeting point on the designated day, they have until noon the following day to catch up.

DAY 9- Sweet Reunion

Distance traveled: ~6km in 10 hrs

By noon, the other self-sufficient team hasn’t yet arrived, and we are starting to worry. Our team has had a leisurely breakfast (a makeshift cherry cobbler made from leftover granola, butter, sugar, and local cherries), filled our water bladders, packed our gear, and enjoyed spotting wildlife- 3 condor and a fox. We are about to strike out in search of the other team, when they straggle in around 1pm, clearly exhausted. They have been hiking since 7am, after a particularly grueling previous day. While we had crossed the river and ventured across the left side of the forest, they had stayed on the right side, only to learn that there was no way to reach the lake from that side. They had to backtrack and cross the river to make it to the meeting point.

I ask Spencer what had been the toughest part. He says, “Where we camped, there was no real water source. There was ground water falling down the mountain, but it was more of a trickle than a stream, and we had to dig to get to it. It was getting dark, and I was sitting alone, holding my water bottle in one hand, and tapping drops of water off of a leaf into the bottle with the other hand. All of a sudden, my nose started bleeding, and I realized I didn’t have enough hands, so I sat bleeding until I finished filling my water bottle.”

We give the other team an hour regroup and rehydrate before setting off for our final hike. We hike up into the mountains, searching for a part of the trail that the map indicated would lead us down to a flat plain, where we can walk on a service road out to the pick-up point. However, we never find the split in the trail. We keep ascending until close to sundown, and which point we realize we have to get off the mountain quickly before dark. We have already called NOLS to see if we can push back our pickup time for the next day, but they respond: “Pickup is at 7am. We can’t change the schedule.”

Finding our way off the mountain is the first time I have seen either Pablo or Mita a bit unsettled. There is no trail, and we are forced to find our own way down a sheer cliff face. At certain points, we remove and lower our packs down the mountain, and then rappel down without ropes or harnesses, using only califate bushes (we have all taken to wearing winter gloves while hiking to minimize the number of thorns that embed themselves in our hands), or cracks in the rock as hand and footholds. Everyone is tired and dehydrated, particularly the team that has been hiking since 7am. After a hairy scrabble down the mountainside, we reach the plain around nightfall. We ford our last river and hike another 4km up the service road to the pick-up point. We make camp at midnight. We have hiked about 10 hours all together; the team that was delayed has hiked 16 hours in one day.

Lorenzo Casalini (’19), looking at the mountain we had just rappelled down

DAY 10- Back to NOLS

We are up at 6am to pack up and ready ourselves for the bus back to base camp. We fill out evaluations and paperwork on the bus. Once we unload at NOLS, we have to go through gear check, cleaning out tents, washing backpacks, returning unused rations. Then we are allowed to shower for the first time in 10 days. My hair is so greasy that I have to wash it twice before the shampoo suds. Our legs boast constellations of bruises.

We are too exhausted to really reflect on the experience. We head back to Coyhaique to eat our way through the town.

A Look at the Role of Business in Conservation in Chile

The pre-trip coursework for GIP Patagonia included an article about the conservation of 10 million acres in Chile, the result of a public-private partnership between the founder of the North Face brand, Douglas Tompkins, and the Chilean government. Mr. Tompkins’s conservation organization donated 1 million acres that he acquired over two decades; the Chilean government donated the remaining 9 million. The land forms the Patagonia National Park system, which is “more than three times the size of the Yosemite and Yellowstone parks combined,” and “expands Chile’s national parklands by nearly 40 percent.” The park is now untouchable by mining interests, as well as the logging industry and ranchers, who want to capitalize on the country’s natural resources. This endeavor highlights a unique example of “doing well by doing good;” instead of bulldozing forward and achieving his vision on his terms, Mr. Tompkins struck a compromise and partnered with the Chilean government, to their mutual benefit.

Wilderness worth preserving

A couple of details make this story remarkable: first, the deal rose out of a desire for social and environmental good, as opposed to a pressing business need. A growing field of study at CBS is how businesses can profit from social impact. In this case, Tompkins’s brand prospered, and then he leveraged his personal wealth to benefit a place he loved. The upshot is a lasting legacy for Mr. Tompkins and Chile, as well as indirect benefit to North Face’s brand.

Second, so many companies want to exert change on their own terms- tax incentives in exchange for bringing business to cities; funding projects in exchange for branding and publicity. Communities often question what motivates corporations to bankroll change. The more land Mr. Tompkins purchased, the more backlash he received: he was stifling the economy (the business community); he was putting Chilean sovereignty at risk (military officials/ politicians); he was attempting to exert foreign control over the country (leftists, nationalists); etc.

Many Chazen trips focus on change and innovation- how countries are developing to meet new challenges and improve the lives of their citizens. What often goes unexamined is whether certain cultural aspects deserve to be preserved. Is all change positive, or is the issue more complex? Chile is still grappling to balance economic progress and environmental preservation. While we were hiking, our NOLS instructors told us that just outside of the park, a mining company is looking to buy up huge tracts of land. The local community is divided about the prospect- some feel it would bring more jobs to the region, while others feel it could damage tourism, which is currently a huge economic force.  Questions like this will continue to arise in Chile and should be an integral part of the GIP Patagonia coursework.

Reflecting on Chazen Indonesia 2019

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The first of many group pictures!

With the semester off and racing, Chazen Indonesia 2019 remains a lovely memory of this winter break. After the trip ended, some of us went on to do a Bali extension and visit Komodo Dragons on the Flores Islands; others hopped on flights to join the GIP Philippines or GIP Myanmar classes; and still others continued on to neighboring countries like Vietnam, Singapore, or Thailand to continue exploring the region during the last weeks of CBS winter break. Personally, I flew to Singapore, where I had the chance to visit one of my best friends from college and travel with her to Hanoi, Vietnam.

As any CBS student who has done a Chazen trip knows, the jam-packed itinerary of the trip leaves little time for introspection. I am guessing that’s why the Chazen Institute requests that we Chazen travel bloggers file a follow-up post with reflections and lessons learned. Speaking for myself, especially as I continued my travels in the Southeast Asia region after the trip, I’ve been able to gain a richer perspective on the experiences we had in Indonesia.

A few weeks after returning home, here are the themes from the trip that are still stuck in my mind.

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Being true to who you are – as a nation
As I consider authenticity to be one of my own personal values, I was excited to hear Thomas Lembuang speak about it on our first office visit at BKPM, an agency promoting foreign investment in Indonesia. His perspective is that authenticity is just as important on an organizational or even national scale as it is on a personal one.

This makes sense – if individuals are more successful when they are authentic and self-aware, why wouldn’t companies and even countries be so as well? But I had never thought about authenticity in this way before. As an Indonesian himself, Mr. Lembuang has a high level of awareness of the characteristics, tendencies, strengths and weaknesses of Indonesian culture, and he uses that insight to understand what types of businesses and industries will be most successful there. For example, based on Indonesians’ national characteristics of gentleness, openness and hospitality, he believes the country is on its way to becoming even more of a tourism powerhouse in the region.

Importing brands – what works and what doesn’t 
One of the highlights of the week for many of us was the opportunity to meet Kevin Johnson, CEO of Starbucks, at the opening of the Starbucks Dewata Coffee Sanctuary in Bali on January 12. The impromptu visit resulted from a generous invitation from Virendra Prakash Sharma, CEO of Mitra Adiperkasa, with whom we met in Jakarta at one of our scheduled company visits earlier in the week. The opportunity to attend this invitation-only event was definitely a strong #whycbs moment.

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V.P. Sharma’s presentation about Mitra Adiperkasa
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Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson speaks at the opening of the Dewata Coffee Sanctuary

At 20,000 square feet, the store is the largest Starbucks in Southeast Asia and is meant to give visitors an immersive coffee experience, including a 1,000 square foot Arabica coffee tree farm. Our visit tied into our conversation with V.P. Sharma earlier in the week, continuing our discussion about which Western brands will succeed in the region and which won’t. Krispy Kremes did; Jamba Juice didn’t. And Starbucks did. (For more information on the Coffee Sanctuary, check out coverage in Food & Wine and Business Insider. )

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Enjoying a night at one of Jakarta’s rooftop bars
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Traditional Balinese fire dancers
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Visiting a Balinese temple

A country rich in diversity
While our days were packed with company visits, I appreciated the variety of opportunities we had to learn more about Indonesian and Balinese culture as well. On the first day of the trip, we received our very own batik outfits, and then a few days later, we visited the National Textile Museum to learn how to make them ourselves. We had an impromptu karaoke session at a local bar in Jakarta. When we landed at the airport in Bali, our tour company received us by placing a beautiful chain of marigolds over each our heads. We had “hippie health food” while sitting on the floor at Clear Café ,and then witnessed a local religious procession while driving into the mountains toward Nandini Jungle Resort, our accommodations for the evening. That night, we enjoyed a show featuring traditional Balinese dance, which was slow and mesmerizing. Some of us even joined the dancers out on the floor, though we weren’t sure how to match their pace (apparently, it takes seven years to learn the dance properly.) It was wonderful to encounter Indonesian hospitality at every turn.

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Lounging after lunch at Clear Cafe.
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Cooking class on our last night in Bali
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Acai bowls in Bali

Returning home was certainly bittersweet, as I’m still nostalgic for warm ocean breezes, tropical fresh fruit, and especially those purple Balinese sunsets.

All photos in the post are credit Amber Liang!

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Philippines: Reflections

The Philippines is not your typical  Asian country. We were often reminded that the Philippines is a country that spent “300 years in a convent, and 50 years in Hollywood”. This phrase is commonly used to describe the countries colonial rule by Spain and then the United States. This rich history adds to the country’s cultural diversity! I am always excited to learn about a country’s culture and its people, and especially the food. I’ve enjoyed Filipino people and its food from the United States, and it was an honor to experience this first hand.

7 days, 20 business meetings, 30 classmates, 1 professor – lots of learning and lots of laughs. We learned how there are various businesses and activities engaging in the pursuit for progress for the Philippines, and the following areas were common themes as we learned more Filipino culture and business:

FinTech – There is a rise in FinTech businesses across the Philippines. Presently 3 out of 10 Filipinos have a bank account, and the remainder keeps their savings in their homes. 68% of financial institutions are pawn shops. Digital payments are low, and consumers take advantage of cash on delivery payments. There are currently a lot of ventures focusing on this space such as Coins.PH focusing on meeting the needs of consumers who do not have bank accounts.

Telecommunications: The Philippines has a population of over 105M people, and about 67M people have access to the internet. The Philippines spends about 4 hours on social media on average (compared to 2 hours in the US). With the average age of Filipino Citizens hovering around 24, the internet and social media will continue to play an active role in politics and the rise of many industries.

Tourism: During our last day, we visited Bohol, the 10th largest island in the Philippines, and home to many resorts. We learned about the tourism industry. Tourism is forecasted to be one of the largest industries in the Philippines. In Bohol, there are many programs in place to help support this growing industry, such as a local school where students grades 8-12 can take part in the Turo-Tourism program and prepare to work in local resorts.

The Philippines is forecasted to be the 16th largest economy by 2050, and I look forward to visiting the Philippines long before then to witness the greatness that lies ahead!

Jacinta James (’19) is an MBA Candidate at Columbia Business School

Philippines: Doing Business for Good

GIP Philippines class at Ayala Corporation

We visited about 15 companies in Manila, Philippines. These industries vary from food to fashion to telecommunications. And despite varying areas of focus, they did have one thing in common and that was to improve the lives of Filipino Citizens.

The Philippines has a population of 107 million people across its 7,000 islands. And half of the population is younger than 23 years old. While the Philippines economy is growing annually at 6% +, there is still much to be done to help the Filipino people. Local corporations are not leaving it in the hands of the government along but are working in partnership with the government.

Ayala Corporation is the Philippines’ oldest and largest conglomerate. Ayala Corporation was founded in 1834, managed by 7 generations of Ayalas and there are currently 3 family members working in the business. The company’s business portfolio includes real estate, telecommunication, water, energy, infrastructure, health care, and education. Ayala Corporation prides itself on its commitment to social causes,  being the Philippines’ partner in its pursuit for progress and building the nation and innovation.

ABS-CBN is the Philippines leading news organization. ABS-CBN also has a public service framework, where they aim to be in service of every Filipino through the following key areas:

  • Humanitarian Relief and Rehab
  • Child Welfare
  • Education
  • Health and Wellness
  • Overseas Filipino Welfare
  • Environment

It was definitely inspiring to meet with these companies and to see that a company can be both successful industry leaders while operating with a social mission in mind.

Jacinta James (’19) is an MBA Candidate at Columbia Business School

Expectations Shattered: Reflecting on Myanmar

After traveling through Southeast Asia for winter break, just over 6 weeks, I had the opportunity to experience different cultures and countries through food, nightlife, human interactions, celebrations, natural beauty and historic sites. At the end of my journey, I had several peers ask me, “which one was your favorite?”

Before our Global Immersion Program (GIP), I would have had pros and cons for each country and said I loved them all. However, after spending two weeks diving into a country that was shut off for decades from the rest of the world, Myanmar has enthralled me. Through its benevolent people, mind-blowing advancement and beautiful townships, everything I had thought about this country has been completely turned upside down.

Our GIP team during a river boat cruise. The night ended with some amazing karaoke

As a preface to what follows, I want to highlight an important fact that we often forgot during our trip. Our pre-travel and GIP were centered around the Bamar (Burmese) and Shan populations in the dry areas of the Shan State, Mandalay region and Yangon. Myanmar has been in conflict for decades, currently the longest running civil war. On the border states to the North and West, there are conflict zones with different ethnic groups that have been fighting the government and military since 1948. Particularly of interest, in the Rakhine state, there is a genocide occurring of the Rohingya people. Most Burmese people we encountered did not give the crisis much thought. Even the most intelligent of our speakers, local and foreign, seemed to defend the government’s actions at the very least calling the conflict complex and at most likening it to the Israel-Palestine conflict. I undoubtedly believe that the conflict is complex, therefore when I refer to the country and people of Myanmar in this post, I want to be clear that I am talking about the Burmese and Shan people, which comprise almost 80% of the population, and the development occurring within this area of Myanmar. Ultimately, the Burmese people are not directly involved in the conflict and the terrible burden lies on the government. Therefore, I want to turn the focus to the future of the country and the Burmese people.

People

Never in my life, have I felt so safe in a country so foreign. When I first stepped off the plane in Yangon to transfer to the Heho airport, I was cautious and reticent. I was mindful of everything I did, less I get locked up by the government for misspeaking or offending a citizen. These actions could not be more laughable now. The hope, love and optimism the Burmese people display is unmatched. Everywhere we went, we were greeted with admiration and politeness.

A waitress at Inle Lake that taught us about the sunscreen makeup that you often see on Burmese people

If asked if you wanted to buy something or a take a taxi, a simple “no thanks,” would suffice and the conversation would be done. No heckling. No pressure. If you’ve ever traveled in other parts of Southeast Asia, this is a complete shock.

Every single service counter, whether it was a convenience store, restaurant or hotel, you would be greeted with a genuine grin from ear to ear and a look that said, “how can I help you in any way possible?” Even when a mistake was made, YOU felt bad as they apologized profusely and immediately corrected the error. One classmate hilariously described riding in a taxi that was clearly cut-off by another driver and for the remainder of the ride the taxi driver would apologize sincerely about every 10 seconds.

At Myanmar Imperial University, we were welcomed with a traditional Burmese dance

When we asked a foreigner that had been living in Myanmar for several years why the people were so happy, he summarized it with one word: hope. Hope that Myanmar will become a better country. And every day their lives are improving. Four years ago, no one had a cell phone. Today, they are live streaming sports and movies on their smartphones at speeds faster than most of the United States. Yet another expectation shattered.

Technological Advancement

Throughout our company visits, we continuously heard the same phrase used to describe the technology and way of life in Myanmar. The Leapfrog Effect. It is an amazing case study of a country that had shut its doors for decades and finally opened them up to discover a world 50 years ahead of where they were. I have written in another blog post about how this amazing phenomenon has changed the lives of countless Myanmar citizens. Godfrey Tan, the CEO of Frontiir (the leading internet service provider in Myanmar), summarized it beautifully, “if they go out and buy cell phone service for 78 cents per person per day, and I sell them internet at 13 cents per day, I am giving them the opportunity to take that 65 cents and buy a meal. They no longer have to choose between food and internet.”

Frontiir HQ in Yangon, Myanmar

Godfrey was born in Myanmar, educated in the US, worked for many years and gained his citizenship, but eventually returned to his home country to bring technological advancement to the people of Myanmar. He saw an opportunity when he realized the country had only 1% landline penetration. Obviously, it would be incredibly costly to install lines in every single home to provide internet, so instead he developed a system of routers that line the streets of Yangon and Mandalay that give WiFi to those that sign up for his service. Through a box in their home, they can receive 4G internet at a price significantly lower than his competitors. This technology only exists in Myanmar, nowhere else in the world.

This example, and others like Wave Money, have revolutionized what was thought possible in emerging markets. With a cellular infrastructure to support apps like Instagram, YouTube, etc., one wonders why although their technological advancements are ahead, tourism is falling behind.

Beauty

As we rode through Bagan and were surrounded by over 2,000 beautiful Buddhist temples erected during the 12th century, I wondered why there were so few tourists. At Inle Lake, when we stayed at a well-known hotel, we were baffled by the realization that we were 6 of maybe 15 people staying in the hotel that could hold hundreds of guests.

Riding scooters through Bagan

Although the Rohingya conflict is likely a major deterrent for tourists, it is still astounding to be in places with such natural and historic beauty and feel like it was carved out specifically for you.

The conflict aside, most people usually think of Thailand when planning a trip to Southeast Asia. I would make the argument that tourists should change or supplement their itinerary. Myanmar is a must-visit country in the region. It is a shame to see such a beautiful country lacking in tourism. Words and pictures cannot describe the adventure of hopping from village to village and shop to shop on Inle Lake with a group of close friends. As you fit into a narrow canoe , an Inthar native will drive you around a thriving population that lives on stilted homes and makes crafts like silver jewelry, cheroot cigarettes and lotus-weaved scarves. Fishermen pose for photographs in an iconic manner and Karen tribe women with long neck jewelry will peacefully wait while people come and visit them.

Our pre-GIP crew riding through the villages of Inle Lake

Even Bagan, the more popular tourist destination, felt like an adult playground that was abandoned long ago. After renting E-scooters you can bop around from temple to temple, climb on a few and become mesmerized by some giants. If you opt for a more expensive balloon ride on a clear morning you are stunned by the beauty of the peppered temples across the landscape. Unlike Ankor Wat or other temple compounds, there is a vibrant community of mainly farmers that live in the area and pray at the temples. The old and new represented and preserved in the middle of Myanmar.

A beautiful scene of farmlands, hot air balloons and temples we witnessed from above

Future

As I reflect on ancient Burma and the present Burmese people, it is my hope that this country continues the path towards democratizing their government and advancing the lives of their people. The people deserve a country that will bring them wealth and prosperity. They deserve a future for themselves and for their children. My hope is that the world sees the diamond in the rough that is Myanmar, pulls it up from the ground and polishes it to demonstrate its brilliance.

I joked a few times with classmates that they might see my LinkedIn page in a few years and notice I’m working somewhere in Myanmar. After talking with several expats who have thoroughly enjoyed their lives there, the idea is becoming less and less far-fetched. Regardless, I truly hope that whether or not I’m living there in 5 years, Myanmar has earned what it deserves. In a country where Buddhism is so important, after suffering bad karma for so many years, good karma is finally due.

Oliver Salman (’19) is an MBA Candidate at Columbia Business School

East Africa: Kenya & Rwanda – Our departing thoughts

As we depart from our trip, I asked my classmates to share the key differences they noticed between Kenya and Rwanda. One of the most interesting things about this trip was that we got to experience two countries within a region most of us had never been to before. Seeing these neighboring countries side-by-side in a one-week period gave us the opportunity to dispel stereotypes we had about Africa and begin to more deeply understand the nuances of the economic and political landscape in each country.


“The two countries are fundamentally different in terms of state interventionism: an authoritarian, welfare driven, Singapore-like government in Rwanda versus a laissez-faire, fully democratic, India-like government in Kenya. Both approaches are interesting and seem to fit well the size, societal structure and economic resources of each country.” -Gauthier Denoyelle

Kenya is a humble yet powerful country. Rwanda is an energetic country filled with resilient souls.” -Sachi Nakano

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CBS students John Plaisted, Jeannette Paulino, Lindy Gould, and Thaiza Alvim

Kenya is strong economically, with robust technological innovation. Rwanda, despite impressive efforts, still seems to be tackling daily problems.” -Chris Pacicco

“In Kenya, the atmosphere seemed entrepreneurial and creative. Rwandans, seemed to need a bit more of a script, whereas Kenyans were more comfortable dealing with surprises. I imagine it is a function of each country’s political climate.”-Stef Otterspoor

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A tour of Sorwathe tea factory in rural Rwanda

Rwanda had to rely on higher government involvement [than Kenya] to boost economic development, given all the challenges related to the rebuilding of the country after the 1994 genocide.” -Frederico Lopes

“Bottom-up (Kenya) vs. top-down (Rwanda) economy. Seeing the two countries, visiting some of their best companies and participating in their social life made me realize how different these two countries are. On the one side, Kenya is the “classic” developing economy—chaos everywhere, traffic, vibrant community, and full of entrepreneurs that are driving the change with little guidance from the government. On the other side, Rwanda, which had to be completely rebuilt after 1994, is a country where the innovation and economy are still government-led, with specific centralized strategies to bring the best corporations to set their headquarters there.” -Davide Pugliese

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Thaiza Alvim at the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi

Kenya’s entrepreneurial scene is vibrant and startups are flourishing without heavy government oversight; Rwanda is a slowly entering this space as well, but with a much more regulated and involved government.” -Jeannette Paulino

“Both countries are committed to development for their people, and each takes a different approach: Kenya is driven by entrepreneurship, and Rwanda by government support for economic transformation. It is interesting to see those approaches on the ground—you can truly feel it everywhere you look.” -John Plaisted

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Scene from the Nyamirambo neighborhood walking tour

Lindy Gould ’19 is an MBA candidate at Columbia Business School