By Kelly McKenzie (’16) with Sean Keegan (’16), Elias Rangel (’16), Jenna Gu (’16) and Ronnie Wise (’16)
Applied Management Research Team 12 comprises Class of 2016 MBAs Elias Rangel, Kelly McKenzie, Sean Keegan, Jenna Gu and Ronnie Wise. We come from diverse backgrounds, both in terms of geography as well as industry, but none of us had previously traveled to Africa. In fact, it was the only continent (other than Antarctica) that we had not traveled to, and we were very excited to become immersed through our work with our client, BeadforLife.
BeadforLife is a nonprofit organization based in Kampala, Uganda, that helps raise extremely poor women out of poverty through business education. Originally, BeadforLife worked by training women to make jewelry from paper beads. It purchased those beads from the women and sold the final jewelry to customers in the U.S. and other Western countries. BeadforLife then trained these women in the two-year-long Beads to Business program, teaching them business fundamentals, so that they could eventually “graduate” from bead making into running their own businesses.
BeadforLife has begun a new venture called the Street Business School, which works to consolidate the learning from the two-year training into a six-month program that focuses exclusively on training to increase levels of self-efficiency and income. Our assignment was to help BeadforLife in their expansion efforts, specifically around social franchising.
We’re gratified to report that that BeadforLife implemented most of our recommendations and are launching the SBS Global Expansion now, using an adapted version of our framework.
Team 12 member Kelly McKenzie was fortunate enough to travel on both the team’s African trips, first to Kampala and then to Accra, Ghana, for the Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights:
Sean, Elias and I traveled to Uganda last November. I recall that on the drive from the airport in Entebbe to Kampala we kept exclaiming how green and gorgeous this country was — a lush tropical wonderland full of noise and colors.
After a few hours, we made our way to the apartment that we would be calling home for the next few days — the so-called “BeadforLife Resort” — where we met with our client representative, the multi-talented Carlyla Dawson.
We spent our first full day in the country on a whirling tour of sights, smells, tastes and sounds that are all uniquely Kampala. From Hindu temples, the largest Mosque in sub-Saharan Africa, a Bahia temple, Idi Amin’s former palace, markets, car parks that functioned as public transit hubs, and the Lake Victoria fish market. We saw it all.
Sunday morning we were greeted early by one of the BeadforLife teachers, Joanita, who would become our guide for much of the week. We were venturing out into eastern Uganda to visit a town called Bulogo to see one of the Street Business School implementations in action. As we left the hustle and bustle of Kampala we found ourselves in a region dominated by agriculture. Vast swaths of green, uninterrupted by electrical lines, were occasionally dotted by shops, vendor stalls and dwellings. We interviewed Joanita throughout the drive, using the time to gain further insight into our client.
When we arrived in Bulogo, we were welcomed into the home of Esther, the leader of the Bulogo Women’s Group. We started to interview the leaders of this group. After the women began to arrive, we conducted interviews and focus groups (through the help of Joanita’s translations) with current Street Business School students and recent graduates. We heard stories of successes and struggles, and marveled at the progress that these women had made. One of the recent gradutes, a woman named Monica, had successfully started a banana pancake stand though she had never previously worked. She was able to make enough money from her pancakes to help pay her children’s school fees.
We spent the next four days in and around Kampala, interviewing employees, students, alumni and even competitors of BeadforLife. On both Monday and Tuesday we accompanied Joanita to a local bar just outside of town, where, at 11 am, BeadforLife was conducting its Street Business School training. It was really interesting how similar in many ways the classes were to our own MBA training. They discussed analyzing the market to see if there was a need for the product, how to differentiate yourself from your competition, and how to appeal to customers. Of course, there were some major additions, including a module on how to keep enough capital in the business (including, sometimes, how to keep the money away from your husband!).
We also interviewed alumni of the program at the BeadforLife offices, where we had lunch most days. They spoke of their desire for additional training, as well as how the training has had impact on their lives so far. We spoke with Devyn, the CEO of BeadforLife, about long-term goals for the company, and Rachel, one of Joanita’s colleagues, about her experience working there.
We were really lucky to find out that there happened to be a conference on entrepreneurship in Kampala that week that was being hosted by one of BeadforLife’s competitors. The vendor fair afforded us the opportunity to conduct competitor analysis, and panel discussions inspired us to set up additional interviews with companies later in the week. We gained a great deal of insight relating to our client’s position in Uganda’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
When the weekend came, Elias and Sean visited the northern part of Uganda for a mini safari that BeadforLife had organized for them, while I stayed for some more meetings with BeadforLife and additional competitors and potential implementers before traveling to Tanzania and Rwanda for my own side excursion.
Our experience in Uganda was critical to our research and our process working with our client. In addition to gaining an understanding of the company and its market and competitors, we became acquainted with the women BeadforLife trains. Seeing BeadforLife’s impact first hand accentuated the overwhelming need for this type of entrepreneurial training.
On a personal level, very few things that I can recall have ever impacted me in the way that our first trip to Africa did. I’ve never been quite so grateful for our mostly functional government, paved roads and stoplights. And while I have never experienced the kind of lives that some of these women are living getting to know them on their own terms, got me one step closer to understanding how we can help them.
Jenna and I arrived in Accra, Ghana, the week of Valentine’s Day. In Uganda, we were working closely with our client, who organized almost all of our accommodations, transit, food and so on. By contrast, we were now traveling to a country that our main point of contact had, like us, never even visited before.
We found ourselves in Ghana specifically for the Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights. Our research in Uganda led our team to focus on looking into the health and microfinance segments for potential growth and implementation partners. But in addition to this conference, we utilized Anderson contacts through the Johnson & Johnson Management Development Institute to meet with other locals, as well as friends of friends of friends. We essentially spent our week on an interviewing spree that added more value to our project than almost anything else we did.
A few key contacts really helped us out, introducing us to colleagues, taking us to meetings and helping us navigate this new country. Maxwell, an IT wizard from GIMPA, became our go-to guy for just about everything. He even took a day off from his busy schedule to introduce us to a microfinance lender and hospital contacts, as well as one of my new favorite foods, Red-Red with fried plantains! Public health workers Bismark and his friend Gideon also made us feel at home.
Ghana in general is a much wealthier nation than Uganda. While still struggling in some areas, Ghana has greater development of infrastructure and an overall feeling of progress than in most of Uganda. The women wear more modern attire (“Whatever I want,” as one women put it to me), whereas in Uganda, long skirts and dresses are expected. In Ghana women were more likely to give us their opinions in a forthright manner, and it provided an interesting contrast. It’s a country with hipster burger bars with sweet potato fries, as well as bagged water you can buy from a person on the side of the road for less than a penny.
The conference was attended by the President and First Lady of Ghana, as well as dignitaries from the UN and around Africa. Their appearance took place in the nicest hotel in Ghana but was contrasted by the main conference venue, where those on the working panels and vendors went afterward — an old conference center that lacked air conditioning and appeared to be in serious need of repair. The dignitaries never came to this part of the week.
AMR has been an exceptional experience. I got the chance to work with my friends on a meaningful project that I care about. We were able to provide value to our client and, by extension, help enterprising women in need. The travel that the Center for Global Management so generously helped fund provided a tremendous opportunity that I will remember vividly.