Emerging market: An adventure in Africa
Colleen Burns 120000C4RP firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  colleen_burns corporte_service_corpsani... csc market emerging emerging_market #traveltuesday
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If you talk about emerging markets these days, it shouldn’t be a surprise to hear Africa is a big part of the conversation. Recent news about IBM partnering with universities in Kenya and teaming with McDonalds in South Africa is a result of years of investment in this region. In fact, I am proud to say that I helped play a small role in this investment.
Four years ago, I joined eight colleagues from across the globe, for an adventure in Tanzania. I was part of the IBM Corporate Service Corps (CSC), a program designed to provide leadership development for IBMers, while delivering high quality problem solving for communities and organizations in emerging markets. Ghana, Tanzania, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa are just some of the countries that have participated in this program.
My assignment was by far, the best one could ask for (in my humble opinion). I was assigned to work with the African Wildlife Foundation in Arusha, and help them think of new ways to educate students of the Maasai tribe about the causes of HIV and AIDS.
Since this blog is really more about my #TravelTuesday adventure in this emerging market, I won’t go into detail about the situational analysis, other than to say it was fascinating. Take for instance that a large percentage of the Maasai tribe owned cell phones and used texting as their primary communication. Our volunteers had Facebook accounts and used Yahoo to listen to country music! This information certainly came into play as we designed a communications strategy! But I want to share another experience, one that really defined my thinking, even years later.
A large part of our research included meeting with the children of the Maasai tribe and learning what they new about HIV and AIDS. Using some guidance from USAID, it was recommended to host one-on-one interviews with the students, in private rooms. Perhaps, the guidelines suggested, even allowing the students to answer written surveys, to eliminate some embarrassment over a sensitive topic. So, as my Maasai-speaking local volunteers and I headed out on our two-hour journey to the Mbugwe Primary School (one hour of the trip was closer to being on a safari rather than a commute to work), I imagined the set up. We’d designate four private classrooms, one for each volunteer. It was best to keep the doors and windows closed, according to my research –as it allowed the kids to feel a sense of privacy. Perfect. We had our surveys translated. Pencils sharpened. Snacks and drinks ready. This was going to be the best conducted research assignment you could imagine.
The principal met us at the car. He was excited to see us and so were the students. As he gave us a tour of the small school, I couldn’t help but react to the goats that kept darting between my legs – and the fact that this school had only two rooms, with no doors and chicken wire on the windows. So immediately, while trying to get the song, “Mary had a little lamb” out of my head, I started to panic about how we’d set up these private interviews.
In a last minute change of plans, we grabbed a few desks and chairs, designated four trees far enough away from the school house, and set up shop. This looked nothing like the vision originally painted in my head. And now, all the time I spent on logistics seemed wasted.
But that’s exactly what this program was supposed to teach me. Sitting in my home office in Florida, I could have very easily built the perfect strategy. And it would never have worked. I might have translated the surveys into Swahili. Useless. I might have hired professionals to conduct the interviews. Pointless. I might have called the school master to set up the interview. Impossible. As I learned, it took many in person visits with the village leaders, before I was granted permission to visit the schools. Understanding and appreciating the culture was far more important than conducting the perfect survey.
I had high ambitions of changing the way things were done in Arusha, but instead, Arusha changed me. And for this, I am thankful.
Read how IBM has helped improve the medicine supply chain in Tanzania and is helping save lives.