By Alex Marino, Staff Writer
All Photos courtesy of Neha Bandekar
Last week, we welcomed home some traveling T-Birds who had embarked on challenging business adventures in Romania, Senegal, and Tanzania. The Tem Lab teams all represented Thunderbird with the vigor, enthusiasm, and professionalism that makes this institution a globally notable brand. I caught up with a few of the Tanzania lab team members to get a first-hand insight into their experience consulting for a non-profit organization known as Solar Sister. Every project T-Birds venture to around the world have a unique flare and story that builds our reputable brand to higher levels, and I’m pleased to share one of those stories from an interview with MGM Tem Lab consultants Neha Bandekar, Caleb Campbell, and Tash Kovacs.
Neha: “We were working with a non-profit organization called Solar Sister. They work with women in the rural areas of Tanzania. These women are the ‘Solar Sister entrepreneurs’ who buy solar lamps from the organization and sell them to their community.”
Who were the relevant stakeholders?
Neha: “Solar Sister is funded by the Exxon Mobil Foundation. The COO of the company is a T-Bird alum who joined the company after a TEM lab with them in 2011. He now lives in Uganda. Our client point of contact was Solar Sister’s Country Manager, who we interacted with on a regular basis. We presented our final deliverable to the Country Manager as well as the COO.”
What was the initial deliverable expectation and scope of the project?
Neha: “Our project scope was to develop a plan to motivate the Solar Sister Entrepreneurs, and to benchmark last-mile distribution strategy. We also looked into their current onboarding and training program and suggested modifications to improve them. Lastly, we built an initial entry strategy for alternative distribution channels through school systems. Luckily, we were on the same page as the client throughout the project duration, making our deliverables clear and concise.”
How did you approach the initial discovery phase of the project?
Caleb: “We had open communication with the client, which helped us have a conversation to identify their expectations and our intentions early on in the process. We also tried to connect the Solar Sister Entrepreneurs with other resources in the region we thought would be beneficial to their mission, vision, and values. For example, we researched a bicycle NGO to figure out solutions for transportation issues they were facing.”
What was your final deliverable and do you feel it met your client’s expectations?
Caleb: “The final was a 3-tier deliverable broken down as follows: 1st tier – low cost and short time frame (one to three months); 2nd tier – medium cost and medium time frame (three to six months); 3rd tier -Highest cost with a grant proposal suggestion to cover costs, and longest time frame (six months to one year). Short term recommendations encompassed purchasing things such as name tags, business cards, and a portable tent to use at the marketplace for advertisement. Medium term recommendations included discounting products for employees, reaching sales goals for lamps, training the employees to share knowledge within the company, and occasional free meals to reinforce communication and relationship building principles. Longer-term recommendations included attending an annual national summit for entrepreneurial women to hear what other entrepreneurs are doing around the country and learn best practice processes related to sales, bookkeeping, and general business practices. In addition to access to the annual summit, we recommended that top performers be recognized with a safari trip to promote a team-building and recognition culture. We also emphasized the importance of including the entrepreneurs within the school system to share business principles with the upcoming generations.”
Caleb: “The client was very open and accessible whenever we needed them and always showed 100% willingness to participate, which made the work process very successful in terms of meeting expectations. The slow-paced culture did make the work process slower and seemed inefficient in regards to utilizing time.”
Is there anything specific you used in the field from your Thunderbird learning outcomes?
Tash: “We ended up coming up with mostly qualitative methods of gathering data in the field. We did use SWOT analysis to help gain a better perspective of the specific strengths and challenges at play with Solar Sister, but for the most part we relied on in-person interviews to gather our primary data.”
What is something unique you learned about Tanzanian culture?
Tash: “The Tanzanian people are kind and easy going. The major cultural factor that stuck out for me was their concept of time. Tanzania has a very polychronic sense of time, and the people in fact hold a great deal of pride in the concept of ‘pole pole’, which translates from Swahili to English as ‘slowly slowly’. It was humbling to be forced to slow down and smell the roses, if you will, and to get used to the pace of life there.”
Neha: “We had plenty field visits where we traveled to the rural areas to meet and interview entrepreneurs. One of the interview questions was specifically targeted towards understanding why the entrepreneurs decided to join Solar Sister. Some of the stories the entrepreneurs shared with us were truly horrific. One of the woman decided to join Solar Sister to spread awareness about solar lamps after her kid passed away when the hay roof of her hut caught fire from a kerosene lamp. Another woman showed us burn marks on her hands from the time she successfully rescued her kids from a similar fire incident. A few of them mentioned how solar lamps were helpful in keeping animals at bay. In the past, there had been incidents of elephants and hyenas wandering near human habitats in the darkness of the night.”
So there you have it, another Thunderbird Emerging Markets Laboratory project in the books. For all first year students, I encourage you to reach out to these participants and learn more about their experience if you’re interested in participating in one of these uniquely Thunderbird projects. To all the participants, thank you for sharing your story and representing Thunderbird to your clients in Tanzania, and, of course, welcome home.