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