Final reflections on Rwanda and Tanzania

We are now back on campus, back to our routines and the preoccupations of business school life. Career plans, recruitment, connecting with our fellow students, and everything that we want to get out and contribute during our second year at CBS. But over the last few days we also had time to reflect on the lessons we learned from our trip to Rwanda and Tanzania.

There were a few valuable business lessons. We saw how it can be challenging to operate in emerging markets (or even ‘frontier markets’, as sub Saharan African economies are often dubbed), as players like Zenufa or FabLabs showed us – production inputs are not as available as they would be in other markets, maybe their quality is not as reliable; financing is not as accessible as in countries with a longer history of venture capitalism and risk-taking; top talent is not always in strong supply. But when these challenges are overcome, success can be extremely rewarding – becoming a leader in a high-growth market and having tremendous impact on the lives of people. Businesses like Zipline have overcome some of these challenges and are literally saving people’s lives. Azam has become a powerful conglomerate catering to a booming consumer economy.

We also saw how it is possible to stick to your values and still operate a successful business. Azam is an example of this, with their commitment to running an ecological business and decision to not go into alcoholic beverages, even if this could be a very profitable move. They are preserving the values which are at the core of their group, and they are thriving.

It was interesting to see how can being ‘local’ and culturally charged can be a source of distinctiveness – Mara Phones is betting precisely on this, with their phones branded as ‘by Africans for Africans’. It will be interesting to watch how their brand develops.

And finally, it was inspiring to meet entrepreneurs who believe in their visions in the long-run, and decide to not sell or give up control even when the opportunities are attractive. Nala and Nuya Essence are examples of just this: They could have sold or opened up their capital but decided not to in order to further build out their businesses, and they were rewarded.

We also learned some impactful cultural lessons. If on the one hand we saw how differences among people, even when they only exist in our minds (and is this not always the case?) can be devastating, we also saw how a society can recover and rebuild itself from the darkest and most devastating past, as Rwanda did after the genocide.

It is also possible for emerging economies to commit to protecting the environment, even if they are on a long road towards development, unlike some large emerging economies often claim. Tanzania is an example of this, with their ban on plastic bags and green businesses like Azam, as is Rwanda – the cleanliness of Kigali will attest.

As I hope this and the previous posts made clear, this was a trip that taught us a lot, in a lot of different aspects. I’m sure the people in our group will become more globally minded and conscious leaders because of it, and I hope this impact will be lasting. I’m excited to see how Rwanda, Tanzania and its businesses and people will continue to develop.

A night view of Kigali

Pedro Anjos is a 2020 MBA Candidate at Columbia Business School

Farewell to Zanzibar

Our trip is over! Zanzibar’s mix of beautiful architecture, white sand beaches and warm and fun local people has really amazed us.

After getting off the ferry we quickly dropped off our bags at the hotel and headed for the Blue Safari – a boat trip that took us to visit a few small islands and snorkeling around colorful fish and coral reefs. Besides the sights everyone was in great spirits so we danced and laughed the entire way. A highlight was the seafood lunch we had on one of the beaches where we stopped – does it get better than lobster on a paradise beach in great company?

One of the boats at the Blue Safari

Our hotel – Maru Maru – was also very nice, as usual. We had cocktails on the rooftop all together and admired the surrounding buildings, the sunset and the call to prayer that could be heard all around.

The rooftop at Maru Maru

Our last dinner together was a little bit sad (goodbyes are!) but also very fun. Brian asked everyone what their impressions of the trip were. Everyone agreed that Rwanda was a surprise – how quickly they recovered from their recent tragedies – but there were different opinions on the company visits, which made for an interesting discussion. It was unanimous that the trip was a success and that we were all happy to have connected with each other.

We capped things off with a night of dancing at a club nearby named Tatu. More than ever before, we found a group of really fun locals! They were teaching us dance moves and chatting happily. Turnout on our side was also the highest, which helped make it a great farewell party.

The last day still had room for a couple of quick company visits. We saw Nuya Essence, a female-run cosmetics company which uses local ingredients to produce natural skincare products, and whose growth is impressive – from 1 to 3 locations in 5 years.

The group at Nuya

The last visit was Hotel Verde – a ‘green’ hotel that belongs to Azam group. It’s quite inspiring to see a company go to great lengths to create a successful business that has a minimal impact on the environment. A particularly funny feature were the ‘Verdinos’ – a currency that guests are rewarded with when they act ‘green’ – take the stairs or generate power on the gym treadmill – and which can then be exchanged for mocktails or massages.

After the visit the extremely kind people at Azam treated us to a boat ride along the coast, where we saw a few more paradise islands, and a delicious lunch at the Hotel. It was a great visit!

Visiting a room at Hotel Verde

That was the official end of the trip. A few of us came afterwards to the North of Zanzibar, to relax a few days before heading back home to New York. We will be digesting all that we took in in the past couple of weeks during the trip back – it was a rich mix of experiences!

Walking the tortuous streets of Stonetown

Pedro Anjos is a 2020 MBA Candidate at Columbia Business School

Rwanda was incredible; On to Tanzania!

We just arrived in Dar Es Salaam, and all of us are very impressed with what we experienced in Rwanda. The bar has been set high for Tanzania, but we trust it will be up to expectations.

Before the official trip started, our group was split into two pre-trips: A visit to the gorillas in Volcano National Park and a safari in Akagera National Park. They were both amazing! The gorilla group came back very enthusiastic about how close they got to them, and we saw, among others, 3 of the so-called ‘Big 5’: An elephant, two lions and a lot of buffalos. It was also exciting to find some crocodiles and hippo by a lake.

The gorillas at Volcano National Park
Luke and Joanna with their new friend
A few of the many Zebras we saw at Akagera

The official trip started on the 22nd of August – a welcome dinner in Kigali, where we finally all got together. We kicked off the company visits the next day with Mara Phones. The plant we visited is just being finished now, and both of the company’s 2 phone models are expected to launch in September. They will be phones made ‘by Africans for Africans – as well as the rest of the world’; the company will be based in Kigali, employ Rwandans – including 60% women – and initially target African markets.

After Mara Phone we visited Africa Improved Foods. The company is producing an enriched porridge aimed at providing the nutrition that pregnant women and infants from 6 months onwards require, and in the process is also helping to improve the economic conditions of Rwandan farmers. It counts large international organizations as its backers and clients.

The group at Mara Phone

We closed the day’s visits with Fablabs, where we learned how a few young Rwandan entrepreneurs are tackling problems like clean water supply with the support of this branch of the incubator. Afterwards, we still had time to visit the Genocide museum. I don’t think words can do justice to the atrocity and extent of human suffering that defined this period of Rwanda’s recent history.

The weekend was dedicated to a trip to see the chimpanzees close to lake Kivu. We drove probably over 15 hours in total to be able to see them, which allowed the group to really bond and get to know each other in the van – a nice side effect. Seeing the chimps themselves in their natural habitat was of course an amazing experience – watching them get rowdy when one of the leaders showed up in the middle of their ficus meal was really funny.

I think it’s fair to say that Zipline, the company we visited on Monday is among the group’s favorites. They started around 5 years ago and deliver medicines to hospitals and other healthcare facilities with drones, solving the problem of access in regions with insufficient infrastructure. Everything about them was impressive – their sophisticated drones, the UI they developed to track them, the logistics behind sorting out the pharmaceuticals – and it was super cool watching the drones be launched and land again. Zipline also employs top local talent and counts leading global VCs among their backers.

The group listening to our guide at Zipline

Just before leaving the town we visited the local market, where we set out to see who could knock off the most from whatever item they decided to purchase by haggling with the merchants. Gang was the winner with 70% off a pair of wooden masks, closely followed by Gavin, who got 63% off a pair of woven baskets. Pretty impressive!

Anita and Professor Brian at the market in Kigali

As you can see, Rwanda provided us great experiences and we are thrilled for Tanzania. I’m sure I will also be talking about how amazing it is in just a few days. Stay tuned!

Pedro Anjos is a 2020 MBA Candidate at Columbia Business School

Rwanda and Tanzania: We’re ready!

We have less than two weeks to go until our trip to Rwanda and Tanzania, and I think it’s fair to say that anticipation is running high among the entire group. With the exception of Dee and Idan (our organizers) who are a sort of experts on the region, for most of us this will be the first time in Africa, or at least in East Africa. We are incredibly excited to get to know the companies who are making it the fastest growing region in the continent – such as FabLabs, Mara Phone Factory (the first smartphone factory in Africa) or Liquid Telecom. We also can’t wait to become acquainted with the local people, their culture and history – which has had its dark moments, such as the recent genocide in Rwanda, which we will get to know better in our visit to the genocide museum.

The preparation process has been somewhat eventful – it took us a while to figure out that being vaccinated against yellow fever is apparently not mandatory in the region, as we originally thought, and our interactions with the Rwandan online visa system have been challenging – we hope not too much of a preamble to challenges the region may present us!

We got to know each other in the pre-departure social in New York, and shared some of our expectations – from the company visits, to the local food and culture and scuba-diving opportunities, it seems we will be aiming to enjoy the trip to its fullest potential. Personally, I’m very excited to explore Dar Es Salaam’s thriving music and nightlife scene when possible – apparently the fun and creative Singeli genre is emerging in clubs all around the city. Over the next two weeks I’m certain that feelings of anticipation and packing plans will be filling  everyone’s minds. Stay tuned for updates as we kick-off the trip and go through with our exciting itinerary!

The pre-departure social in New York

Pedro Anjos is a 2020 MBA Candidate at Columbia Business School

Top 10 Moments from GIP: Economic Growth in the UAE

It’s hard to believe our trip to the UAE has come and gone so quickly. Our whirlwind week brought us from soaring skyscrapers to desert safaris, sovereign wealth funds to night clubs, man-made islands to mosques.

Leaving the UAE, I’m left with a few most striking impressions. First, the country is a crazy case of development done right upon the discovery of oil. The UAE is second to none when it comes to the astute management of natural resources. The country’s leadership truly did an exceptional job diversifying the economy beyond oil and gas, allowing the relatively oil-poor Emirate of Dubai to become a global financial center and tourism destination to rival few others.

Second, the UAE is a country of stark contrasts. In a matter of minutes you can travel from beach resorts to an urban metropolis, and then drive off into the desert horizon. You can see a man trailed by his four wives in a mega-mall of retailers from Europe and North America. The UAE is home to the planet’s largest mosque, which was built in the past decade. And you’ll find groups of women in headscarf letting loose at pricey nightclubs. Put simply, the UAE is a very unique place, that feels like no where else I’ve ever been.

In an effort to sum up such a jam packed week, I’ll share 10 of the top moments from the trip:

  1. Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. The massive and beautiful hospital — believe me I never thought I’d describe a hospital that way — that was built two years ago and offers free healthcare to Emirati citizens. In addition to an array of cafes, restaurants, and a salon, the hospital has VIP suites with adjacent hotel rooms for family members to stay.

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2. Shopping malls galore. After visiting so many of the world’s largest malls, it’s safe to say I’ll never view shopping malls the same way again. Dubai’s malls — which all seem to be connected by elevated walkways — don’t just feature some of the stores from back home, they’s feature all of the stores from back home, as well as from Europe, Asia, and a swath of local Middle Eastern retailers. What’s more, inside the malls you’ll find things like indoor skiing, pictured below.

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3. Enviable Office Buildings. Living in New York City, you never expect to return home and feel like your city is filled with old, modest buildings. But after a week in the UAE, that’s bound to be your feeling upon returning home. Pictured below, we attended a meeting at the Dubai International Financial Center, one of the “Free Zones” that allow foreign business ownership.

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4. Camel selfies. During our desert safari on our last day, we rode SUVs through sand dunes, rode camels, got henna tattoos, and watched fire and belly dancers. As nice as it was to be out in the desert, it was crazy to see just how many SUVs of tourists were out in the same part of the desert, suggesting that Dubai could be doing more to promote desert tourism.

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5. The Palm Islands. One of the most memorable company visits was to the real estate developer, Nakheel, responsible for developing the Palm Islands and The World. We toured the original palm-tree shaped, reclaimed land island by boat, seeing the expanse of the project that doubled Dubai’s coastline. I found touring the original Palm Island, Palm Jumeira, to be so fascinating I devoted an entire blog post to it.

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6. The Sheik Zayyed Mosque. The construction of the Sheik Zayyed Mosque was completed less than a decade ago, making it an unusually modern national landmark. Visiting the picturesque mosque was a special break from a week of company visits, as we got to see another side of the UAE, pertaining to the country’s cultural heritage.

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7. Music Hall. It’s rare to have high expectations for a place and to have them surpassed, but that was our experience at Music Hall, a night club in a hotel on the Palm Island that was a unanimous favorite experience from the trip. Featuring a variety show of musical guests from around the world, Music Hall delivered on its reputation set by our professor and TA. We’re proud to say we closed the club down.

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8. Emirates Training College. Touring Emirates Airlines, one of if not the top global airline according to many rankings, training facilities was a treat. During the super interactive visit, we tested life jackets in a lesson on flight safety, learned about flight attendant hair and makeup, and tested the different first and business class seats in an out of commission airplane.

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9. Burj Khalifa. Visiting the 125th floor of the world’s tallest building was exciting even for New Yorkers, used to being surrounded by tall buildings. From across Dubai, you can see “The Burj,” the super modern skyscrapper that is soon to be replaced by an even taller building in Dubai.

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10. Old Dubai. It’s hard to find remnants of the fishing village along the Dubai Creek that was the entire city of Dubai less than a half century ago, but if you look hard enough, you can find them. After touring the souks, frequented mostly by locals unlike in some other Middle Easterern countries, we stumbled across some non-modern boats used for transportation by foreign workers who flock to the UAE by the millions. That boat ride across the Dubai Creek was one of the most fascinating experiences of the trip, as one of the few glimpses into the village that was.

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The Disney-like Development of Dubai

Contrary to popular belief, the Emirate of Dubai doesn’t have much oil and it never has. Its leaders recognized early on that it would need to grow other sectors to develop economically, and turned to trade, aviation, tourism, and finance. The Sheik of Dubai set aggressive targets for tourism, and real estate developer Nakheel, one of the most fascinating companies that we met with this week, responded with a creative solution. To create more tourist attractions, beaches, and waterfront property, Dubai would need a longer coastline. The Emirate of Dubai only had 70 kilometers of coastline, and it was already nearly entirely built up.

Nakheel is the company responsible for literally reshaping the map of Dubai through the development of the reclaimed land Jumeira Palm Island (and the new reclaimed land Jebel Ali Palm Island) as well as the World, the archipelago of man-made islands off Dubai’s coast. During our fascinating visit Wednesday morning, we learned about the company’s unprecedented development projects and toured the original Palm Island by boat. We learned that the palm tree shape was chosen because of its local significance, beating out a falcon and an old boat, as well as for the tremendous surface length that would double Dubai’s coastline, adding 70 kilometers of beachfront real estate. We watched a handful of videos about the civil engineering that went into creating the Palm, from projecting sand in a “rainbow” shape from nearby parts of the ocean floor, to vibrating the new sand masses to speed up the compression of particles closer together. Nakheel even transplanted coral that was located closer to the Dubai Port and was in the path of larger ships to its newly created barrier islands.

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Put simply, this was a fascinating visit. But it also raised a tremendous amount of questions. Nakheel doesn’t share information about the costs or profitability of the Palm Islands development. The company’s prepared response about the environmental sustainability is a bit unsatisfying, reporting that the islands could survive a half meter change in sea level and that the region doesn’t suffer from hurricanes or tsunamis. And Nakheel doesn’t share a timeline for the development of its latest reclaimed land mass Palm Jebel Ali, which is twice the size of Palm Jumeira.

Following the boat tour of Palm Jumeira with Nakheel, I visited the island twice to spend time at two different hotels. Some 15 years after the project’s development commenced, there are still portions of the Palm that are yet to be developed. And driving along the outer road that surrounds the palm tree branches one has no choice but to wonder where so many five-star hotel travelers come from. Driving past five-star resort after five-star resort, and as in many other parts of Dubai seeing more construction equipment than people, I really wish there was public information about the occupancy of the hotels or condominium complexes. The supply and demand curves do not seem to meet at a point that will create value any time soon for Nakheel or the Emirate of Dubai.

Zoe Fox ’17

Global Immersion: Economic Development in the UAE

5 Takeaways From Abu Dhabi

Halfway through Global Immersion: Economic Growth in the UAE, I feel as though I’m still being surprised daily about the country, its rapid development story, and the people who do business here. During the first three days of the trip and the portion of the program in Abu Dhabi, we visited the state-owned investment fund Mubadala, a family oil and gas construction business Alsa, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, consulting firm Strategy&’s first Middle East office, the Ministry of Climate Change and the Environment, and the Sheikh Zayyed Mosque, the largest mosque in the world.

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Here are my five most significant takeaways from Abu Dhabi, as we move on to Dubai:

  1. It’s great to be a UAE national. Making up just 11% of the country’s 9 million population, Emiratis have it good. The country really takes care of them, having been population whose land oil wealth was discovered upon. As a local, the government provides free health care, housing, and education, including many opportunities to study abroad. In turn, the UAE does not suffer from the “brain drain” phenomenon — its highly unlikely for an Emirati educated abroad to stay abroad because their quality of life is so good at home.
  2. Despite being on the largest economies in the Gulf and Middle East, the UAE is not and has never been a regional super power. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the most important regional player, despite having a much less wealthy population (per capita).
  3. The UAE’s development story is an anomaly. Many other countries, including regional neighbors Kuwait and Qatar, have tried to grow into economic powerhouses like the UAE, but they have not succeeded to the same extent.
  4. The secret to the UAE’s development success was diversification. When the country was founded 44 years ago, Sheikh Zayed famously said that the country could not rely on its oil wealth. Developing deep finance, real estate, aviation, and logistics industries, beyond the low hanging fruit of their natural resource wealth lying in oil and gas, is what has made the UAE the nation it is today.
  5. Abu Dhabi, however, felt somewhat like a ghost town. Many of the people we’ve met so far –especialy expats — have been commuters from Dubai an hour and a half away. Abu Dhabi is filled with skyscrappers and parking lots that appear to be empty. Some people have hinted to us that this is the result of the drop in oil prices over the past couple of years. But more than that there seems to be a “build it and they will come” feeling.

Zoe Fox ’17

Global Immersion: Economic Growth in the UAE

Arriving in Abu Dhabi   

We’ve all seen those side-by-side photo comparisons, laying photos of Dubai in the 1990s next to those from today. From the dusty dessert town on the gulf emerged a souring steal metropolis, whose modern skyscrapers are quite literally second to none other city on the planet. And just as the buildings grew into the clouds above the dessert, so did the land-filled islands off the city’s coast, most notably the infamous Palm Island resort, a global landmark visible from space. Before the semester began, I had a slanted perception of the UAE’s economic development story, assuming that the construction boom was a direct response to the oil boom. I’ve learned during the past six weeks taking Global Immersion: Economic Growth in the UAE that the story is a bit more complex. That the UAE’s darling development tale can also be attributed to astute decisions on behalf of the country’s leadership; most notably, to diversify beyond oil revenue.

 During the six weeks leading up to the trip we were introduced to the complexity, and at times simply incongruous business landscape and history of the United Arab Emirates. We heard from experts on the GCC oil countries, the burgeoning Islamic financial hub in Dubai, and migrant labor in the UAE. But perhaps most interestingly, it became clear that the narrative we’d hear in meetings would not necessarily be the one we’d witness, or have read about in the news. The UAE’s success can be attributed to its oil and its untold stories; its foreign workers who build its skyscrapers and amusement parks.

If I learned one thing in the six weeks leading up to the trip it’s that in this hub of business — where just 1 million of the country’s 9 million population are citizens — there will be the stories we’re told by businessmen and government representatives and the ones that we may not see. I’m excited to gain a deeper understanding of the country and its business landscape over the next week, as we visit Abu Dhabi and Dubai. We will visit local companies such as Emirates airlines, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, and Nahkeel, as well as meet with the Ministry of the Environment, tour the monumental Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and Emirates Palace, and visit some of Dubai’s world famous shopping malls. Stay tuned for what’s in store!

Zoe Fox ’17

Global Immersion: Economic Growth in the UAE

 

 

Taking Tunisia Home

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It’s been a week since we returned from Tunisia and I’ve had some time to ruminate over what we saw during our time in country. If I were to distill what I observed over the week into one sentiment it would be empathy for the country, which has so much potential to be a regional leader yet is very much haunted by three terror attacks in 2015.

I was truly convinced during our visit that Tunisia has the potential and is well positioned to be a regional leader — it has a booming entrepreneurial scene in Tunis; quality exports shipped across the region, to Europe, and to the U.S.; and tremendous natural and cultural beauty that should attract tourists. Yet the country’s reputation has been severely damaged, which understandably detracts tourists and investors alike. Exporting crops (like olive oil) and manufactured products (like paper goods) are the only industries that we observed that are not hurt by the recent wave of terror in the country.

What will it take for the country to recover from the three attacks — two of which explicitly targeted tourists? Perhaps it will just take time, or perhaps the country’s tech entrepreneurs or quality produce (often sold around the globe under the label Italian) will begin to rewrite the country’s story in a more favorable light.

An U.S. embassy official told us that when he brings potential investors to visit the country it has just one shot to appear ripe for investment — they won’t come back for a second time if they don’t like what they see on their first visit. I found this to be disheartening, and am hopeful that as a professional I will strive to see more of a market and its story than these fly-in, fly-out investors. AfricInvest, a private equity group which hosted us for a significant portion of our business told us that their key to success is that most of their investment team lives locally. If I take away nothing else from the trip, it will be that in order to be successful working in a market like Tunisia, a superficial quick trip will not show me the real potential of a country. I’ll need to invest time and dig deeper.

-Zoe Fox ’17

Global Immersion Tunisia

Trabi Safari and Final Thoughts

The final day in Berlin began with a late start in the afternoon. Having completed our company visits, we dedicated our remaining days to exploring the city.  A number of us went to watch a local soccer match and others went on their own to explore various museums and historical sights such as Checkpoint Charlie.

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The Trabant was once the most common car in East Germany

A small group decided to rent several east-German made communist era Trabant Cars for a tour around the city. With an ignition system resembling a motorcycle’s and an unconventional manual transmission, the Trabi was not only a vehicle of questionable safety but a moving piece of history.  While driving through the city we were educated on German history through walkie talkies provided to each car.

In the evening, to cap off our trip we all met for dinner at Spindler Klate- a waterside restaurant that turned into a night club.  After a series of toasts we had our final celebration before leaving for New York the next day.

As we boarded our respective flights back to New York, we began to reflect on the week long trip.   We were able to see German production excellence and innovation applied in different settings, we became familiar with several institutions (UnternehmerTUM) that were resulted in these products, and we learned how this commitment to excellence and process was applied to the world of startups.  Moreover, we learned how the German companies communicated their history and how they looked to the future.  Finally we were able to engage in open dialogue with very business leaders on issues ranging from corporote strategy to career paths.  While we all had different takeaways, it was clear that we all had learned a tremendous amount.

Starting in the industrial heartland of Bavaria and ending in the entrepreneurship capital in Berlin, we had lot of ground in a very short time (14 companies in 5 days).  I cant help but feel that my curiosity regarding this amazing country has only increased.  I leave Germany with memories to last a lifetime but armed with some new theories and techniques to apply to my own career.  Truly an unforgettable trip.

Diego Cuenca ’16

Chazen Germany 2016