By: Robert McCracken, Guest Writer
TIA. This is Africa. Everything here is done differently. What you learned elsewhere in the world or in your MBA usually does not work the same way as it does in Africa. Ask anyone who has been here. But this is also not the Africa you imagine when you close your eyes. It is neither the rolling desert plains of the Sahara or Namibia, nor is it the rainforest wet jungles of the Congo or Nigeria. This is Angola. TIA. It is a strange mixture of Atlantic coastline blended with a mountainous interior reminiscent of the American Appalachian mountains and tropical Hawaii. It is rural, virtually untouched by most western influences, and lusciously beautiful. It is also recuperating from the effects of Portuguese colonization followed by 27 years of civil war, and is learning to navigate the effects of newfound offshore oil resources. By African standards, this is a rich country, but it also suffers from basic infrastructure voids which prevent its people from attaining a higher quality of life.
As T-Birds finishing our last trimester, we participated in the TEM Lab program, which is organized by Professor Michael Finney and coordinated by Charles Reeves. Our team consisted of Julia Mitusova (Russia), Siva Palli (India), Muhammad Mustafa (Jordan), and Robert McCracken (U.S./Australia). Our mission was to evaluate four projects housed under the Rural Development Program, which is funded by ExxonMobil and administered by two NGOs. The projects were related to seed and fruit tree distribution, water pump distribution, and agricultural education. The team’s job was to conduct a gap analysis, evaluate how the projects contributed to filling the five voids (access to water, inputs, markets, education, credit) which were highlighted by the 2012 TEM Lab team and to make actionable recommendations for ExxonMobil and the NGOs.
The team spent three days in Luanda, the capital situated along the coastline, before heading out to the field for three weeks to visit project sites. In the field, they interviewed over 500 farmers across 21 rural villages and discovered that some of the programs were improving the overall quality of life of the farmers, while others were not. The team overcame multiple challenges, such as intermittent electricity and water, lack of hot water, lack of internet, and language barriers. Fortunately we had a great NGO support staff and came prepared with positive attitudes, some Portuguese language skills, and some great smiles which seemed to break the ice with everyone we came in contact with.
The team enjoyed the local food on a regular basis. Fungi (a staple food made of Cassava or corn), beans, avocados and local fruit, and hearty soups were eaten on a daily basis. The team also had the chance to visit some beautiful locations. The most spectacular was the Kalandula waterfalls, which are the second largest in Africa. For $5, we hired a couple of local 12-year-old kids to escort us to the base of the falls. It was the rainy season, and the water cascaded in an ever roaring and mystifying way over the cliffs that could be described as nothing less than majestic. Our time there brought a moment of Zen-like inner peace and rejuvenation.
The team wrapped up the trip with four days back in Luanda, in order to brief ExxonMobil on project findings. We were treated to a rooftop pool for one night, and a dinner at a Churascaria with a Thunderbird graduate. After staying in our 9th hotel, we finally boarded a plane for the 33 hour journey back to Glendale. Interestingly enough, after a month away from Thunderbird, our first meal back in the United States was Indian food.