Below is an update from my fantastic colleagues Sara, Daniele, Elvin & Moto, who are up to great things with their summer in Africa.
It’s been one week since we arrived in Migori and it’s been simply mind-blowing! The IMD team on place is Moto, Sara, Elvin and Daniele, the four “crazy” students who decided to spend the whole month of July in rural Kenya to support the development of soya cultivation.
The project stems from the cooperation between UNIDO, the Japanese government, and Kenyan Industrial Research and Development Institute. It is run by a start-up called Ground Power Company, who’s CEO Tomoko Yakushigawa is our contact person. When we started discussions with her earlier this year, it became clear that the company struggles in a number of different ways: limited use of formal accounting (including P&L statement), difficulties in finding markets for soya products, challenges with customers such as unjustified delays of payments, low reliability among employees and farmers. We thought of this as a great opportunity to both support the company and get a chance to apply a lot of the lessons learned at IMD in the real world – although none of us is accustomed with an emerging market, despite previous international careers.
So far, we have visited the production facility, where Ground Power Company produces soy tea and flour, and we have spoken to many customers and other locals. We have also paid several visits to the suppliers, i.e. the farmers. The company sources soya from local farmers, many of whom used to grow tobacco until recently. All of them shared stories about the negative impact tobacco farming on their lives: a lot of work, low earnings, and danger for their health, as many of them have children or themselves sleeping in the tobacco storage room due to lack of other options. Hearing this, it feels good that we can help the company in their quest to offer an alternative to tobacco.
The whole experience really is a unique learning opportunity for us, both from a personal and professional perspective. It has been a reality check too. What we often take for granted at home is often a luxury in other parts of the world. The nice IMD restaurant, for example, seems like a memory from another world! From a professional perspective, it’s clear that although the four of us have different career aspirations after the MBA, we will all come back with new valuable perspectives that will help us reach our goals.
Over the next weeks, we will continue to work on helping the company to tackle their challenges, focusing on financing/accounting, operations and marketing areas. Stay tuned and we will tell you how it goes!