Friday, September 12, 2014

My Summer Work: Business Incubation Curriculum for Agriculture Technologies

When I accepted the offer to work with Land O’Lakes International Development Division, as a summer Enterprise Consultant, I could’ve never imagined the impact I would have on a group of farmers turned agriculture technology entrepreneurs, and more importantly, the impact that these inventors would have on me.

Land O’Lakes is a recipient of an award from the US Agency for International Development, USAID, to implement Innovations in Gender Equality (IGE) to Promote Household Food Security. This is a two-year (Sep 2012-Sep 2014) program that aims to develop local capacity for building and sustaining women’s empowerment in Tanzania’s agriculture and food security arenas.

IGE, in conjunction with the Coalition for the Advancement of Women in Agriculture in Tanzania (CAWAT) facilitated a series of competitions entitled ‘Women’s Agricultural Innovations Awards’ (WAIA). These competitions were designed to target locally designed innovative technologies that address the needs of farmers, with an emphasis on the needs of women farmers in Tanzania. As a result, 21 women-friendly agricultural technologies were selected as sub awardees of these competitions.

The task was to travel to Tanzania for the summer to design a business incubation curriculum for the sub awardees. I have worked with start-ups in the past through previous employment and my current experience on the Social Venture Fund, a student-led impact investment fund at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. However, I have never worked with companies that are pre-revenue, and as early as the blueprinting phase of business development.

Before traveling to Africa, as a true MBA student, I did my due diligence. I talked to successful entrepreneurs, business incubators, and researched key authorities of agriculture development in the region including Feed the Future and ANDE. It was the initial consultations with different sub awardees that directed my work the most.  Below are some of the main insights that I gathered while conducting my research:
  •   Many of the business development resources, from funding applications to mentorship opportunities were geared toward English speaking participants, which excludes a large segment of the Tanzanian population that only speak Swahili.
  • All sub awardees that I came in contact with expressed a desire to gain access to financial resources. Many lacked the collateral needed to qualify for traditional loans and were looking for ways to raise, maintain, and save enough capital to run their business
  • None of the sub awardees that I came in contact with viewed business as a 2-way conversation with customers. They were creating amazing products, but not consulting their customers to provide valuable feedback to make their technologies even better.

The curriculum I compiled provides a general framework for starting a business including: Business Model Overview, Customer Discovery, Marketing, Finance and Partnerships. There are 17 sessions that make-up 5 days of training in total. I split the pilot trainings up into two workshops in Morogoro, Tanzania during the months of June and July 2014. Even though the trainings are based off of highly credible frameworks such as the Lean Start-up methodology, the curriculum has been modified to relate to gender-specific, agriculture technologies in developing nations. Some of the highlights of this training include:

  • Rural Technology examples to relate to participants
  • SWOT Analysis specific to Agricultural Technology Landscape
  • Gender Specific questions & reference
  • Speaker series session featured representation from a self-made local female entrepreneur & micro-finance consultant
  • English & Swahili translated materials
  • Market externalities specific to agriculture technology sector in developing nations to highlight reasons that farmers may not adapt technologies

Below are a few pictures from the pilot training this summer.
Teaching the sub awardees about the business model canvas 

Participants calculating the cost of their technology taking into consideration all factors including: labor, raw materials, equipment, overhead. One participant previously calculated costs to be 30% less than the actual value.
Handing a certificate of completion to one of the participants at the conclusion of the training

As far as next steps, – The Land O’Lakes IDD Technical Team plans to submit a proposal to ANDE’s 6th RFP for the Capacity Development Fund, supported by the Lemelson Foundation and Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women. The goal of the Capacity Development Fund is to increase the productivity and effectiveness of ANDE members, as well as to encourage increased collaboration between organizations, while creating tools and insights that can help the SGB sector as a whole. Selected proposals are eligible for a grant up to 18months and $50,000.
If selected, Land O’Lakes plans to produce a guidebook and best practice report on accelerating enterprises – specifically, technology/invention-based enterprises in the agriculture sector in emerging markets. The business curriculum would be included in the guidebook, with potential to influence the broader ANDE community and industry as a whole.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Great thanks to WDI, Krishi Star, fellow interns, and lastly Bandra for the wonderful memories...!!

Krishi Star Retreat to Chopra Farmhouse

Figure 1: Trip to Chopra farmhouse
The team spent a weekend retreat at the Chopra Farmhouse, farmhouse belonging to the company Director Agastya’s family, located close to Vangani. Our journey there took us by paddy field plots and farmers were seen tending young paddy shoots. The peak of monsoon season now is perfect growing this Khariff crop. We started with sessions identifying our personal values and how that corresponded to company values and Krishi Star’s value to customers. I shared with the team, important takeaways for me this summer. Other activities included are: visit to nearby farms, team building sessions, river swim, cooking dinner with Krishi’s tomatoes, and a night of singing together by the garden with fireflies. It was a weekend of great learning, team building, and lots of fun times.

Next Steps and New product

One of my next tasks is to determine whether Krishi Star should focus in single- or multi-crop in its product portfolio strategy. From my research on major agri players in India such as Pepsico, Hindustan Unilever, and Jain Irrigations, many serve the role as an Input supplier, supplying farmers with quality seeds, irrigation technology, pesticides and fertilizers and engage in contract farming. Some even collaborated with local Indian banks to provide loans to farmers. This alternate chain created new hope and channel for farmers to sell their produce. While we have seen this progressive option via contract farming, it is most relevant to processor actors with huge marketing capabilities and a stable and big market to sell to. For Krishi Star, the important takeaway from this exercise is realizing the importance of establishing appropriate backward linkages and determining target market need. Understanding limitation of production and financial capabilities is another important factor in determining next step strategies.

My final task is to evaluate product feasibility of the processed onion products. Four main types includes: Dehydrated onions, Onion powder, Preserved/Pickled onions, and Onion Paste. Dehydrated onion is the most mature category of all, with India exporting 118 crore (12% of all onion exports) of dried onion annually. The US is a major producer of dehydrated onion and in India, Jain Irrigations dominates. As mentioned in my earlier post, price hikes haunted onion prices lately due to shortage in domestic onion supply. In 2011, India imported onions from Pakistan and in 2013 from Egypt. This pose a potential for processed onion.

Bandra and memorable Hindu festival

Figure 2: Human pyramids

Leaving Mumbai and especially Bandra forced me to leave behind great sentimental memories that I would not have gotten had I not become a WDI fellow. Sad to leave behind people I have met in my neighborhood: the Frozen food shop Auntie, Gary from Pedro foods, and not forgetting Fruit seller Mama, whom I often buy bananas from. Despite living for a short time, I have witnessed few celebrations: India independence day, Hindu festival Krishna Janmashtami in Maharashtra. During the Hindu festival, locals form human pyramids to fetch a pot filled with goodies hung about 20-40ft high on local streets. It’s a competition and the team that fetched the pot gets awarded with real cash. 

WDI, Krishi Star and fellow interns...

Figure 3: Myself as WDI fellow undertaking my mission in India

I would like to extend my greatest thanks to the William Davidson Institute and Krishi Star (Bryan, Agastya, David) for a wonderful summer internship. Thanks also to other interns from Kellogg (Jason and Greg), IIT Mumbai (Aniket), Albert, and Remma for making work fun and enjoyable and for the  great times. One of the greatest takeaway is to be able to work in a team of people from various backgrounds held together by our common goal to empower farmers and end poverty. Will certainly miss the long and endless team meetings and not forgetting the Krishi Star post-it notes jokes!!!

Figure 4: Bandra station

Figure 5: Krishi Star team
Figure 6: Krishi Star team

Note to future interns #4:
1. If you are using Apple, you will want to know Maple, the local Indian authorized reseller and service center in case of computer breakdown. There is one service center in Santa Cruz.  My MacBook air wouldn't turn on and was checked in the service center. Although it took almost 2 weeks to repair, my laptop came back impeccable.
2. Cant stressed enough to bring mosquito repellent. Thanks to prior WDI fellow Rosser Ben Chen for donating his repellent to me! Those came in real handy!!! Go Blue!!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Tạm biệt Vietnam!

I turned 28 in the mountains of Northwestern Vietnam on the back of a Russian Minsk; a motorcycle older than me and wonderfully appropriate for the undulating roads that connect Hanoi and my homestay for the night in Mai Chau. My guide had done well to steer us away from the stresses of the country’s congested (and dangerous) highways. We took back roads that I would not have found on a map, and even stopped for tea at his childhood home in a village normally closed to foreigners. The trip was a birthday gift to myself, and as I would be leaving Vietnam in just about a week it doubled as a chance to reflect on my time in the country.

Resting along the way.
That night I sat cross-legged on the floor not at my homestay but at the home of a neighbor who had invited my guide and I for dinner. The power had gone out, as it often does, so the room danced with flickering candlelight. We drank rice wine poured from used plastic containers and I tried my best to navigate the traditional toasting protocols that dictate who drinks when. It was great fun. The food spread out before us was delicious and included a local delicacy that I only tried reluctantly – dog meat. I pretended that it was my birthday celebration, and my unexpected hosts made it a memorable one.

Beautiful Mai Chau from above.
The hospitality I found in Mai Chau I found everywhere I went in Vietnam. It was in the markets and the alleys of busy Hanoi, the beaches of Da Nang, and the terraced rice fields of Sa Pa. Vietnamese people are deeply friendly and welcoming, which isn’t the common perception at home. The question that I have most often received about my summer has been whether or not I felt any lingering anti-American sentiment from the war. The answer is decidedly no, despite the fact that two blocks from my homestay rests a downed American bomber in a lake, memorialized by an adjacent war museum. As far as I can tell from the friendships that I made and the conversations that I had, Vietnam is somewhat remarkably a pro American country. What this says about the U.S. Military’s misadventures in certain parts of the world is a topic for a braver blogger.

Vietnam’s friendliness was not new to me – I had been to the country twice previously. What was new to me, though, was the type of work that I would be doing: I had never worked for a non-profit before. I’ve spent my career in the private sector, and business school was my chance to gain exposure to the other side. My experience at SNV in Hanoi was an overwhelmingly positive one. My colleagues were all passionate about their work and the effort they put in to managing the Vietnamese Business Challenge Fund. The painstaking process they went through in selecting investments yielded a portfolio with significant potential. The portfolio companies are all positioned for both profitability and positive social impact.

Experimental rice production at a seed company.
It was visiting these companies that I most enjoyed about my work. Each was unique, and each was led by entrepreneurs passionate about making a difference in Vietnam. The funding they receive from the VBCF is critical to the viability of their business plans, which made the work I was contributing over the summer feel important.

I am so lucky to have had this experience, and I know that I will carry these lessons with me throughout the rest of my career!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Maraming salamat for the best summer!

My last month in Bohol, Philippines is not only about wrapping up my final report and presentation, but also traveling. It was very kind of my supervisor and his wife to invite me over their house in Cebu city. It took about two-hours riding on a ferry from Tagbilaran to Cebu. Cebu is the hub of the Visayas region. It is the most densely populated island in the Philippines and is second only to Luzon in its strategic and economic importance to the country. There, Cebu & Mactan City Tour took us to many highlights such as Santo Nino Basilica, Magellan’s Cross, Taoist Temple, Lapu-Lapu Shrine, a local Guitar Factory and Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House. We did some shopping at Ayala shopping mall, the biggest mall in Cebu and had a nice lunch at a Japanese BBQ restaurant, ending the day with delicious pizzas at Yellow Cab.  The next day they also took me to the Tops, looking out from a hilltop view over the city and had such a nice dinner at Busay Lantaw on the top of the hill.  I would say this last weekend making me relaxed from all the work over these last three months.
Hilltop view of Cebu City
Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House
Mactan Shrine
Lapu-Lapu Shrine
Taoist Temple
Magellan’s Cross

Besides, I could not close my blog without saying a big thanks to CEVI. They surprised me with a farewell party or what they called ‘despedida.’ They gave me a customized shirt, saying CEVI <3 Saranya, and some cute souvenirs. I forgot to mention that I already got a CEVI staff shirt as becoming one of their family too. They prepared plenty of food and desserts, and two giant cakes with my name on it!  I am very thankful for all of these.  Unfortunately, I only had time about ten minutes at the party since I had to leave to Cebu. I did not miss taking a last shot photo with all CEVI family.
My lovely shirt

CEVI Family
On my last day in Tagbilaran, I must say I felt very excited to go home after completing my internship. On the other hand, I felt really strange that I would not see my work partner, my team and my friends in the office everyday anymore. I am afraid that on the first morning in Bangkok I might be sleep-walking, trying to get a tricycle going to the office in the morning ..... hahaha.  Lastly, I never expected that my participation in the Global Impact Internship program with WDI will give me so much experience and knowledge. It also encourages me to be involved more in development area, not only micro-finance but also other potential tools or products that could help alleviate poverty.  

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Farewell to Arms

The work family. I miss them so.

Why is the USA so messed up? I’ve come back to Black men being dead in the streets, assaults in elevators and retaliatory assaults for those same Black men lying dead in the streets. At the same time, there are beheadings of American citizens at the hands of fundamentalist terrorists because of the political stance and interventional actions of the US government. Again, why is America so messed up? Why am I intrigued enough to view the leaked nudes of celebrities who apparently had no complicit behavior in their release? Why is this so sensationalized? When did TMZ become the official trusted source for our news? Why is it that Chicago had 16 murders and 72 shootings during the fourth of July weekend  (“Independence Weekend”)? Where have we lost ourselves as a country? Where has the moral aptitude gone and when was it replace by despondency, complacency and general apathy? We’d rather be entertained by the latest reality craze…”The Real Something of Something or Other”.  I remember my first introduction to “reality” television when ABC came out with the show “The Bachelor”, featuring 25 women lining up to get a chance to be with what I imagine was one of America’s most eligible bachelors. Since then, there have been numerous spinoffs or ideations on how to capture an audience so hungry for contrived reality.  I fondly recollect the days when reality television was the news and it accurately portrayed what has happening in my community.
Why am I here ranting you ask? Good question. This summer, for eleven weeks, I was fortunate enough to spend my time in a country that maintained a fine appreciation for reality in the particular forms or morality and civility. From the beginning of my stay, I noticed the incredible impact religion/spirituality has on the country’s residents. Every district I visited had a visible commonality- almost all taxis/buses had religious sayings on their back windows. These sayings were not limited to the Christian majorities’ beliefs, but also included Islam and Judaism. This was not some one-off where a religious zealot was publicizing his ideology, but a consciousness that exemplified existence. While in Ghana, I did hear of the Chicago shootings and decided to compare them with Ghana’s violent crime- particularly homicide. During a three week period of interest, I managed to find they had 1 murder in the news and the reporting was continuously about the efforts of the police to solve it. Wrap our head around that nugget for a second. The reporting was not only to provide awareness of a homicide, but successive follow-ups on efforts to find the perpetrator. That absolutely floored me, particularly being a NYC resident who reads about /views reports on substantial numbers of murders.
With respect to the highly sensationalized leaked celebrity nudes, I will say this….Ghana had some leaked nudes and when I looked on the site (yes I looked, like a true American), nearly all of the comments were critiquing the individuals for their initial acts of photography/filming. That is a stark contrast to the lustful commentary seen in comments sections for our own leaks. I mean, people are making money off of leaked content in the states, so I personally hold myself at fault for being incredulous at this difference. People have made bona-fide livings off the catapult of monetized sexual imagery. We have to look no further than one Ms. Kim Kardashian-West, whose celebrity was built off of gratuitous exposure of her assets. As a disclaimer, I am not solely limiting this issue to women, as men have a significant hand in this as well, albeit consumer or subject.

So, what is the significance of this post? In a few words…GHANA WAS AMAZING! There are a few moments in life where you can view the sum of occurrences as inflection points. I previously viewed my time in South Africa, a time spent experiencing culture, history and brilliant minds, as one of those life changers that provided me with a paradigm shift and now I have experienced another. The totality of the experience left me wanting more and needing to do more, not only when I returned home but for my duration as a global citizen. I cannot express myself in these limited words, as this would become an extremely long blog post, so I will attempt to relate my experience through visual imagery….ENJOY!

On the plane headed to Ghana

Roommate in Ghana. Also a U of M student.
Housemate who stayed up watching the NBA Finals at 2AM with me.

Hurt my arm falling off a motorcycle my 4th day out there. Still one of the best days I spent there.

Guys I stopped on the street on their way to their daily soccer match. Everyday at 4pm, they were at the field (on the pitch) religiously- rain or shine.

My guy from the Chinese-Ghanaian fusion restaurant around the corner from my residence. Cool guy who, when I told him I would put him on my American blog immediately agreed to the picture.
Movie night with the neighbors down the hall and from the church group.
Ruth. My coworker, mentor and friend.

Mr. Rahman, my unofficial guardian at the hostel/dormitory where I stayed. He made sure to call me when I arrived in the States to ensure my safe return. He holds a place in my heart. Can never forget good people.
Period piece at Ghana Institute of Art. 

Saw this little guy playing ball outside the hostel. Couldn't resist taking a picture and then playing kickball with him.
On the way to church.

Korle-Bu Community Chapel. Mostly medical personnel/families and med students.
On the way to the beach. We had to take a boat there!

In the boat headed to Bojo Beach. This is one of the nicest beaches in Ghana as you can see, hopefully.

Father and newborn at the beach. I thought she was the cutest thing, so it was only right to capture the moment.

Beautiful family spending time at the beach. I must have taken 50 photos of them after having conversation with the matriarch on the far right and playing football (soccer) with the kids and some other folks,
People lining up for gasoline during a government imposed gasoline shortage. All those yellow containers are peoples' gas cans. This was the scene whenever a station announced they were releasing gasoline. Reminds me of NYC a couple summers back.
Pics from the Kente weaving village. Top- Master weaver hard at work. Bottom- Unofficial Boss.

Elephant in the background you say?

The Ga festival in Accra. Celebration of the harvest. The gentleman in the middle is the Ga chief in this district.
Had the opportunity to meet up with the Ghana M-Trek. Go Ross!

Hundreds of feet up in the rain forest walking through the canopy.

This is cocoa in its natural form. This is one of Ghana's primary exports and it tastes wonderful in this natural state. MMMMM....cocoa!
Playing with crocodiles up close and personal in the crocodile sanctuary. 
At the entrance to the male slave quarters at Cape Coast Castle- home of the "Door of No Return". Take note of the plaque on the left commemorating President and First Lady Obama's visit.
Staring out over the Atlantic at the inception of the Middle Passage and the potential grave-site for many who were either thrown overboard or willingly jumped ship to avoid the horrors awaiting them.