Thursday, May 29, 2014



Well not really! I am originally from Zimbabwe and in Ethiopia for the summer, so technically no, but in a lot of ways yes! I have not seen my family in Zimbabwe in 4 years. However from the moment I arrived at my terminal at  Dulle’s airport, I started to feel right at home! From the insane amount of luggage that people had, (where 2 of the bags are usually your fellow countrymen using you as a courier service), to parents  threatening a beating to their kids who were running around the airport, and the chit chat all around me in languages I did not even understand, I felt a sense of familiarity with my surroundings! At that point it did not matter that I was not going to Zimbabwe, but to Africa, my home!

Solyana and I just off the plane!
On the plane I made an Ethiopian friend, Solyana, who was on her way to visit her family in Addis.A recent graduate of UC-Davis, Solyana is on her way to public health school ,so we had a lot to talk about right from the start! To add to our great chance encounter, no-one claimed the seat between us so we got to occupy a prime piece of real estate in the plane; a 3 person back seat that we took turns to stretch our legs on and steal a few minutes of sleep over the course of our journey! In addition, courtesy of Solyana, I breezed through immigration and customs, because she knew where exactly I should be at any point in time, from experience and being able to communicate faster in Amharic. Solyana delivered me safely to my host Belen, a good friend from public health school back in Michigan who has been my host for the past 5 days.

Although my internship does not start officially for another week, I decided to fly in early so as to get a head start on getting to know Addis Ababa, get over jetlag and get a chance to experience Ethiopia though the eyes of its natives, Belen’s family. Belen “warned” me of the differences, like how many of her big family I would meet, and that I might be sharing everything including a bed, and I did not mind at all! Since I moved to America, I might be a visitor to Africa once in a while but I am no stranger to it, and its ways, something I  have to keep reminding the people I meet of;  at times unsuccessfully. At my last African summer in Capetown, no matter how many times I explained where I am from to my work colleagues at Tygerberg hospital, I was still known as the American and I entertained the nurses with my “antics” of taking public transportation and going to places in town they deemed dangerous for foreigners! In response I would tell them, you can take the African out of Africa but you cannot take Africa out of them!

Belen and I!
I have had the most wonderful 5 days ever with Belen's family! From the airport, Belen and her uncle  had already planned out my day, complete with  my first taste of Ethiopian coffee(which is amazing), procuring a phone and a sim card for me, and a hair appointment that her uncle had found someone to come to the house before my arrival. Nothing beats the warmth and skilled hands of an African on my head at a cost of about 400 Birr (about 32 dollars) as opposed to the $200 that bankrupted me every few months in America when I had to get my hair done!For the last few days I have fallen in love with Belen's family and the Ethiopian culture that they have exposed me to. I have already started to learn about healthcare access in Ethiopia from many conversation with different people who are so eager to impart their experiences to me. I have seen parts of the city from driving around it, and learnt a great deal of history about it from Belen's uncle. Most of all I have enjoyed some amazing Ethiopian home cooking from  Belen grandmother which I already miss sitting in my guest house : (! 

Cannot get enough of this new hair!

Belen's uncle Assefa, our driver and historian!
  How much Belen’s family opened up to my presence is a yet another mark of African culture; amazing hospitality : )! In our culture, we are communal people who  take care of their own, in this case a fellow African. Every African knows the experience of a relative visiting without notice and staying for months on end! Belen’s grandmother raised 7 children, and countless cousins who came in and out of her home in a 2 bedroomed house. No matter how little people have, it is always enough to go round for everyone in the house! We extend this hospitality to non-Africans as well! On my last day with them, Belen's grandmother sincerely told me she loved me, in her first full sentence of communication in English to me since I have been with them!, and it warmed my heart to the core! I cannot wait for what else this summer is going to bring for me : )!

Waking up  to a cock crowing  and breathing in the soil after the heavy rain of the night, one thought runs through my head...

Belen's grandmother's amazing cooking!
Belen, her grandma and I, saying goodbye!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Welcome to Hanoi!

The first thing that hits you in the morning is the heat. It’s a moist, dense heat that carries with it a mélange of odors from a market that wasn’t there the night before. This is also when you start to sweat, and efficiency of movement becomes the name of the game. One mistake as you navigate the maze – dropping your keys and the required effort of picking them up, for example – might send you irrecoverably into the throes of excessive perspiration. Plan in advance and glide smoothly and you might not need to towel off when you arrive at work.

Hanoi’s alleyways are a web of corridors that are in many ways the lifeblood of the city’s vibrant communities. They can be quite narrow in places and signage is intermittent. Overhead is an alarming mass of electrical wire. It actually looks as though rather than fix any interruption in power a new wire is simply run alongside the old one, and that this has been going on since the invention of electricity. The alleys are uniquely Hanoian, and getting lost in them is a means of discovery. To find your way out follow the jumble of wires; they lead to the main road.

At 8 AM, when I leave for work, these passages are teeming with activity. While in other major cities that I’ve visited alleys are decidedly ominous places, in Hanoi they are where life happens. A barber might be giving a man a morning shave adjacent to a cluster of plastic stools where people stop for morning pho. Children ride bicycles too big for them and the morning market is buzzing. Butcher tables display any cut of meat one can imagine is edible, open to the air and certainly not refrigerated. There are barrels of snakes, small crabs, snails, and other still-living delicacies. Fruit is fresh and skillfully cut at your request. The pineapple is tremendous.

Through all this weave motorbikes that negotiate tight spaces with reluctance to yield to anything. For my first few days here I walked my commute, but I was quickly forced to join the stream of motorists out of necessity. Despite my preventative strategies, it became a sweat issue - though there is a shower at my office it might seem strange to my coworkers if the new guy needed to use it every morning. Riding through the alleyways is harrowing, but with cautious confidence it isn’t too difficult to get a feel for the wild traffic. Helmets aren’t often worn, which is probably because it’s hard to find one as nifty as mine.

Go blue!
I emerge from the chaos at the Van Phuc Diplomatic Compound, where I park alongside the rows of other motorbikes and seek refuge in the air-conditioned VBCF office. VBCF stands for Vietnam Business Challenge Fund, my employer for the summer. Challenge funds are unique impact investment vehicles that seek to promote a specific business innovation – the “challenge”. Prospective companies submit applications for funding of business ideas that are in some way innovative, have profit potential, and are inclusive of the poor. Inclusive in this context means that the businesses engage the poor either as producers, consumers, employees, distributors, or owners. Sustainable social impact is the goal. As these business models are inherently risky, challenge funds exist to help shoulder the risk burden and provide financing that hopefully leads to follow-on private investment.

Through a meticulous selection process, the VBCF has built a portfolio of 23 companies with promising and innovative ideas to serve Vietnam’s poor populations. The fund is transitioning to its management phase in which it will provide guidance to its portfolio companies through the end of 2015. It’s an interesting time for the VBCF, and I’m lucky to be involved.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Hello from Dar es Salaam!

This summer I am working for the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) in Tanzania with the Global Malaria team to improve private sector access to Malaria Rapid Diagnostic Tests.  I did not arrive alone for this experience, my wife Kimi and 1 year-old daughter Ava made the trip with me.

We took this in Africa- I promise.
This is my first time in Africa, although having only been in Dar it doesn’t feel like I have really seen a continent, but rather a city.   The Tanzanians I have met so far have been extremely friendly and welcoming-- having a cute toddler has probably helped more than I know.  I thought I would be more overwhelmed than I was on arrival, as I had memories of New Delhi shaping my expectations, but Dar is a smaller city, less dense and due to the amount of English spoken a tad more like home.  A major surprise has been the heavy traffic and the lack of alternatives to driving.  Dar is a city where you need a vehicle to get around, and although getting a taxi or bajaj is not difficult, it has added a new wrinkle to daily planning around even simple things like buying groceries.  My first two days on the job were spent meeting the importers around Dar, and one day I was gone for 12 hours and in traffic for about 7 of those hours.

My project will involve a lot of interaction with the importers of malarial commodities and hopefully some of the wholesalers within the country.  I have wanted to work internationally for a long time, and I think the biggest surprise has been how similar business operates here compared to my time in the US.  A lot of my work experience especially managing business partners, product launches, and incentive structures feels a lot more applicable than I expected.  I am looking forward to the challenge of building connections quickly and brainstorming solutions that can have a tangible effect on malaria management in Tanzania and the rest of East Africa. 

First time at the India Ocean
MBA 2015

Friday, May 2, 2014

2014 Internship Kick Off

We started our 2014 internship program with a Kick Off last Tuesday.  Participants met with WDI leadership, Research Directors and their teams.  After introductions, participants had a chance to mingle and share upcoming travel plans. This year's WDI Fellows will head off to Cambodia, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam in Asia; and to Ethiopia, Ghana,  Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda in Africa.  Several will be leaving this weekend to start their work Monday!