Prepping for Egypt GIP!

Since I was a Classics major in undergrad and took classes like Science & Technology in Ancient Egypt, admittedly I am most excited to geek out on all the cool historical sites there are to see on the trip.

However, what I think will be especially interesting is to see how this ancient world melds together with modern Egypt, a business hub in the Middle East and key player in the Arab world. While the history is fascinating, all that is in the past. It will be exciting to see how the people of Egypt are paving their way for the future!

This GIP (Global Immersion Program) will be my first trip to the African continent and third trip to an Arab country – the other two were to the UAE, so quite different. I am excited to see how African and Middle Eastern culture blend together, both in and outside of the office.

Because GIPs include a half-semester course prior to travel, we have been given some time to learn about the country through some great lectures organized by our professor, Marco Viola. We had guest speakers with first-hand experience doing business in the country. We’ve also had the opportunity to work in small groups on various consulting projects for start-ups taking part in the American University of Cairo accelerator program.

I cannot wait to meet my start-up, Esorus. It is a female-founded company headed up by Dalia Laz, a former architect. The company is developing an online platform to connect furniture and fixtures manufacturers with interior designers, contractors, and FF&E buyers. In Egypt, I understand that personal relationships and face-to-face contact are very important in business. So, I think our project will be further enhanced by this incredible opportunity we are having to travel to the market and meet our Egyptian teams!

I was also very excited to hear that our company visits will be a mixture of industries as well as a mixture of corporate offices and facilities/factory visits. We will even be visiting the Egyptian Refinery Company, one of the companies from our case readings. I look forward to the amazing agenda planned!

Victoria Harman is a 2020 MBA Candidate at Columbia Business School.

Reflections on India

I absolutely cannot believe it’s been two weeks since we completed our trip to India – what a whirlwind! I’ve just settled into my flat in London, about to start the MBA Exchange program at London Business School, delighted to have some mementos from this memorable trip to decorate my room. All of the experiences are something I will not soon forget!

While the company visits I mentioned earlier were all outstanding, I have to say that our trip organizers did a superb job in planning the cultural activities, which brought context to our business discussions and made us feel really immersed in local life. Everything from seeing key sights like the Taj Mahal to trekking up a mountainside on an elephant’s back to see a historic fort to sampling regional cuisine and seeing arts performance in each city we went, made the experience outstanding and truly memorable!

One of the best parts of the trip was actually getting to know my fellow classmates better. Our group really gelled and it was exciting to see how the variety of activities we had on the trip brought everyone closer together. The long bus ride chats, rickshaw races, Mohit’s Bollywood dance lessons, and the awesome superlatives handed out to everyone at the end thoroughly convinced me that each member of the group would pass the “elevator test”! This was a truly amazing & spirited bunch and I think we all left the trip feeling like we’d made a wonderful group of new friends.

In addition to the warmth of our group, we also experienced the true sense of hospitality that is so deeply ingrained in Indian culture. At every hotel and office we visited, like in the photo above in Agra, we were greeted in the kindest way which made our stay that much smoother.

By the end of this trip, not only did I gain a deep appreciation of the place where so many of my CBS classmates and friends grew up, but also an eagerness and excitement around the future of business in India. I got to see many sides to the country through our programming which completely broke apart any preconceived notions I may have had going in. Overall, I am eager to see what the next few years will bring for India’s economy and hope I will have the opportunity in the future to work on business projects related to the market. This trip was a huge learning experience for me and some of the most fun I’ve had at CBS! I am so grateful I had the opportunity to attend and hope to make it back to India again soon.

Victoria Harman is a 2020 MBA Candidate at Columbia Business School.

Life Lessons From Manila Conference Rooms

Sometimes you have to make the best out of a bad situation. 

The eruption of the Taal volcano coincided perfectly with our arrival in the Philippines. The ash and toxins in the air forced us to cancel our planned outdoor activities. But that didn’t stop the GIP group from touring Manila’s finest corporate conference rooms. There was plenty of time during the PowerPoint presentations to find inspiration from the four walls around us.  

Live Your Principles:  Jollibee is the ubiquitous fast-food chain in the Philippines and perhaps the only Filipino brand well-known outside the country. Their conference room had all the utility and charm of a middle-school cafeteria. Their executives told us that their corporate culture valued frugality and efficiency and they demonstrated that with a distinct lack of pretension. In fact, the only way they showed off was with their food; everyone received a box of spaghetti and fried chicken. Much better than school lunch. 

The Journey Is More Important Than The Destination:  The headquarters of the Ayala Corporation stares down on the Makati district from a skyscraper with their name on it. It’s only appropriate; Ayala built Makati and the streets are named after the company’s founders. As a real estate developer, Ayala is selling aspiration and the long route to their conference room projects that. In order to get there, you have to cross the marble lobby, take an elevator to another, more intimate lobby, find another glass-enclosed elevator to the top, then go down a dark, plush hallway to a sleek, modern room with a killer view.  

Rebel Against Authority: Ayala Corporation has a venture capital arm and is investing in a fin-tech startup called Mynt which makes an app called GCash. Even though the company comes from the same corporate line as Ayala, the conference room has the opposite aesthetic.  A temporary room with pop-up banners behind a Gold’s Gym. It says: we’re so busy innovating that we gave no thought to anything as mundane as windows and decorations. 

Let Your Passion Guide You: The Moment Group is a restaurant innovator in Manila and they hosted us in their test kitchen. Yes, there was a PowerPoint and speeches, but it was hard to concentrate. All through the presentation, chefs in the same room were cooking our lunch and putting out plates of sisig and bowls of sinigang with watermelon, skewers of chicken inasal and grilled prawns. The message was food always comes first.  

Take A Moment To Look Around: The Phinma group hosted us in their skyscraper in the Rockwell district. We heard from the former secretary of tourism, Mon Jinemz, talking about his viral advertising campaign “It’s more fun in the Philippines.” The room was all windows and views. Looking out over metropolitan Manila, we could imagine all the fun sights and adventures we were missing while we did an MBA tour of conference rooms. Exactly the point of his talk. Even daydreaming is more fun in the Philippines. And, as if on cue, we left for the beaches of Boracay right afterward.  

The greatest conference room of all. The view from our hotel in Boracay.

Robert Smith is a 2020 MBA candidate at Columbia Business School

Fostering Economic Inclusion in Tunisia: Enda Tamweel

On Wednesday, we met with Enda Tamweel, a microfinance institution in Tunisia. The presentation began with senior members of the leadership team telling us about the history of their company, about their products, and about their mission and vision. Their products currently include microcredit, digital services, non-financial services and microinsurance. Enda Tamweel aims to promote economic and social inclusion of vulnerable populations (especially women, young people and rural populations) and to contribute to the economic development of the country.

After presenting information on the company, we met two recipients of microloans for Enda Tanweel. The first recipient used the loan to help open a center to provide language education for professionals. Prior to opening her business, she worked for UPS where she noticed that many people didn’t have strong enough language skills to work across borders. As a result of discovering this market need, she approached Enda Tamweel to see if they would be interested in providing her with a loan. She developed a strong relationship with the Enda Tamweel team who has helped her grow her business over the past year.

Next, we met an entrepreneur who opened a day care center for individuals with autism in Tunisia. His business primarily works children age 3-12 who, historically, were not receiving any care whatsoever. His business brings together language therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, sociologists, and more to help address a traditionally underserved community in the country. I was truly inspired by his work!

– Nimra Khan ’20

Doing Business in India: Mumbai

Mumbai was the second city on our trip where we had company visits (with some amazing cultural stops in Agra & Jaipur in-between). Like Delhi, Mumbai was a great city of contrasts as well – from the glitz and glamour of Bollywood to the vibrant start-up scene to the street industries of the slums – it is a city of great energy and optimism!

Above: a “portable barber” in Dharavi

One of our first activities in the cities was an extensive tour of Dharavi, Mumbai’s biggest slum, and the 3rd largest slum in the world. It was the setting of the film “Slumdog Millionaire” and houses almost 1,000,000 inhabitants in 0.8 square miles, making it one of the most densely populated places in the world. We were split up into small groups, each led by someone who lives in the slum.

Above: one stage of Dharavi’s vibrant plastic recycling industry

Our guide, Samir, took us around to see all of the lucrative industries that take place in the commercial part of the slum. We learned about the various stages of the slum’s biggest industry, plastic recycling. We also saw leather production, pottery making, and the crafting of household goods like suitcases and children’s raincoats. It was really incredible to see how high quality products were made in these cramped conditions, often in makeshift structures.

We also learned that the literacy rate within the slum is the same as the national average and that there are apartments sold there for up to $200,000. Quite a few of my classmates noted that the people there did not seem unhappy, in fact many walked around with smiles on their faces or laughing at jokes. While some people from rural communities come to Dharavi for 11 months of the year to make money to send back to their families, their sentiment towards the slum seems pretty positive. They are pleased to find the work and be part of a tight-knit community. I think all of us were surprised at how safe we felt walking though Dharavi – everyone really looks out for one other there. Our accompanying professor, Brett Martin, pointed out in his reflection to us the immense sense of hope that came out of the visit – that no matter what happens to any of us in the future, even if we lose everything, we could learn something from the people of Dharavi and their incredible drive to survive and thrive under difficult conditions.

Above: CBS students with “Slumdog Millionaire” actor Dev Patel

Upon returning to our hotel, nestled in a high end neighborhood among the homes of Bollywood stars (almost a different world!), we had an exciting surprise in the lobby. We ran into Mr. Slumdog Millionaire himself, the star of the film, Dev Patel! Needless to say, we were all pretty starstruck.

In stark contrast to the Dharavi visit, we also had the opportunity to visit the incredible offices of Dream 11, a fantasy sports start-up founded by CBS alum Harsh Jain. If you love sports, this office would be your Disneyland – everything from cricket balls hanging from the ceiling, to the astroturf floors, to the plethora of autographed memorabilia. This office was a FUN place to be! We really appreciated Harsh’s candor in speaking with us about his start-up journey and the great ups and downs of the business that he experienced before it reached the success it has had to date. It was such a privilege to hear from him and to see the energy of the vibrant office!

Seeing the diversity of bustling Mumbai was an excellent way to end our trip. We really got a sense of all walks of life in Mumbai and an idea of the Hindi concept jugaad, meaning “to make or repair things in an improvised or inventive way, making use of whatever items are at hand”. We saw jugaad come in many different forms, including our trip organizers seamlessly coming up with solutions whenever any small blips in our programming or timing got in the way to make our trip totally seamless and memorable – the spirit of entrepreneurship & ingenuity is truly alive and everywhere in India!

Victoria Harman is a 2020 MBA Candidate at Columbia Business School.

A Warm Tunisian Welcome!

Nothing says “Welcome to Tunisia” like a traditional Tunisian feast!

Tonight marks the first night of our 6 day Tunisian adventure. We spent our night at Dar El Jeld, a restaurant located in a traditional medina-style house in the heart of the medina in Tunis. This was truly one of the most beautiful restaurants I have even eaten in. Upon entering, we were greeted with the smell of jasmine and divinely tiled walls. We made our way through the main room and into a private room for our dinner.

The first course took the form of a number of dishes. The first thing to arrive was the freshly baked bread and local olive oil. Professor Jedidi shared that Tunisia is currently in olive oil production season so the oil at the table would be especially fresh. It was a truly exceptional first bite in Tunsia! The bread was followed with a shrimp and octopus salad, a chopped lettuce salad, a pepper dish topped with chunks of tuna, and, the table favorite, harissa. Having tried numerous takes on harissa throughout my life, I can confidently say nothing could quite compare to the harissa at Dar El Jeld. Throughout the course, Tunsian ‘dumplings’, or briks à la viande, stuffed with various meats were brought to the table.

After a much needed break to digest the delicious food that had been coming our way for what seemed like hours, we were each handed a plate of couscous topped with either lamb or vegetables, depending on dietary restrictions. Each bite brought rich new tastes unlike any food I had ever had.

Last, but certainly not least, came an array of desserts and fruit. The desserts consisted of small bites that contained various configurations of marzipan, dates, nuts, and rose. Each bite was more delectable than the last, but my two favorites were the pistachio-based and rose-based desserts.

If tonight’s delicious food and fabulous cultural experience is any indication of what lies ahead this week, I can truly say that I cannot wait to spend time with this group!

— Nimra Khan ’20

The Mysteries of Manila

I arrive at the Manila airport to find that it’s still Christmas in the Philippines. The terminal remains stubbornly decked out with colored lights and trees. Singers serenade the travelers.

Filipinos adore Christmas, and they don’t want it to end just because the calendar says so. The decorations start appearing in September and stay up through mid-January. It’s just one of the many quirks of this unique Asian country steeped in American and European culture, a reminder that there are some mysteries for us to solve in our 7 days on the ground.

The Philippines is a land of contradictions. It’s a country with a remarkably high level of education, yet it hasn’t matched the explosive economic growth of its East-Asian neighbors. It’s a place where a cruel, populist president can have an 87% approval rating, yet it is also, reportedly, the home of the most friendly people on Earth. It has brilliant business leaders, but somehow they struggle when they try to expand their brands outside the archipelago. And since the Philippines used to be an American colony, my personal goal on this trip is to understand how much responsibility the United States shares for the country’s successes and failures.

The 30 of us on this Chazen trip have read the case studies, watched the historical documentaries and done extensive research on the companies we plan to visit; now we have just a week to figure this place out.

Robert Smith is a journalist and 2020 MBA candidate at Columbia Business School.