Well hello!! I have been back in Boston for a week now and am just getting around to posting my update on how the second part of my trip went. Sorry for the delay… it’s “dedicated interview period” up in hurr so I’ve had other things on my mind. Rush told me that I am required to get a job this summer and bring in some cash, no more desparate housewives summers for me, so I have been focusing on that. I’ve had 5 interviews so far, I have 2 tomorrow, and then I have at least 2 next week (waiting to hear back on whether or not I get second-rounds with some companies). Oh and did I mention that it’s negative 7,023 degrees here right now???? It’s so cold my face hurts when I step outside. So there’s that.
But, MOST EXCITINGLY, we leave Friday morning to head back to [warm] TX for Wes and Crystal’s wedding. Can y’all believe it’s already here? My awesome big brother is marrying a sweet, beautiful, amazing, smart woman. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times – God is so, so good.
I wrote about the second half of my Ghana adventure on the plane on the way home, so I’ll paste that below along with some pictures. It’s long, but what’s new? Enjoy and have a lovely rest of the week!
Hi everyone!! I am headed back from Africa. Hooray! It was a wonderful and transformational trip, but also physically and emotionally exhausting and after 12 days away from Rush and way too many hours spent in airplanes with crying babies (seriously, surrounding me! on my flight today I can literally reach out and touch five babies) I am so happy to be headed back to Boston. Did I mention that I missed Rush like A WHOLE LOT???
The trip ended on a great note when we presented our recommendations to our client Monday of this week. Basically, our task while there was to help a struggling toilet paper manufacturing company figure out how on earth they were going to become cash positive (after four years, FOUR YEARS, of not a single cash positive month) and improve their product to maintain market share in an increasingly competitive tp market. To do this, we wanted to get very close to the consumers and talk to them about the product and what they like and don’t like and what they are really looking for in a toilet paper. Not only is that an uncomfortable subject, but the primary consumers of our product were low income people, people who could just barely afford to purchase toilet paper. All that to say, we spent two whole days last week walking around in hot-sunny-humid-dusty Accra chatting with Ghanaians. We went to retail areas, markets, middle-income neighborhoods, churches, and a few slums. We talked to many people who make just 40 Ghana cidi in a good week. The exchange rate is 1.85 cidi to dollar, so basically that is just over $20 per week of income. We had wonderful, long, thoughtful discussions with them (in English, mind you) and they were so excited to talk to us and share with us about their toilet paper preferences and their toilet habits.
We were instructed on day one to not tell anyone where we went to school, but rather just to tell them that we were “students from the US doing research”. We thought this was because we didn’t want people to feel like they couldn’t relate to us or whatever, but we found out later when talking to our guide that it’s only because if they knew, they wouldn’t want to talk about toilet paper but rather would want to spend all their time asking us questions about Harvard and American universities. Everyone seemed to really love Americans and they were so kind to us.
To make a long story short, all of our super-sophisticated-and-beautifully-complex analysis and consumer interviews basically allowed us to tell our client that they have to make their toilet paper WHITE. I know that just blew your mind, so take a minute to process. The truth is, the product is currently a bit gray and people view it as unclean, unsanitary, and actually even shameful to use and thus the product is rapidly losing market share in the face of cheap, very white, Chinese substitutes.
I think the most shocking thing about business in Ghana was the utter lack of infrastructure. We saw it all week, but it never lost its shock value. There is just a huge void that the government should be filling and they are not. In our big debrief session with our professor, many of us stated our shock and concern with this. We discussed how, in the US, it often seems that private businesses are so self-sufficient, and, frankly, better at doing just about everything when compared to the government. It is important to realize though that there has been and still is a lot that the government does behind the scenes to allow those businesses to perform as effectively as they do. You don’t really think about that angle until you see a country with so many bright people, so many good ideas, and so much energy that is completely unable to accomplish many of its goals because the government has failed to create an environment for businesses to thrive. They are working on it though, and I can’t wait to see what the country is like in five years, 10 years, and beyond.
Enough about work. We took a break from our “immersion” experience to have a pool party on Friday night at the hotel of the other 45 HBS students in Accra, the Movenpick. It was nice to get both groups together, and we hung out by the pool and had drinks and talked and listened to music, etc. It was a reality check too – all week we were able to kid ourselves as we walked around the slums chatting with people and acting like we were really tough and truly “immersed” in this third-world country (when actually our guides and drivers were around every corner). At the pool party, I looked around at one point and counted no less than six security peeps forming a circle around our little party and I remembered that I was American and not actually that tough and not actually doing anything by myself or for myself in Ghana. Oh well, we were thankful for the support that we were provided. I’m sure Marla was too.
Saturday we visited a village outside of Accra and learned about their trades (pottery and weaving) and played with a whole hoard of super cute kiddos. Everywhere we walked in the village, there were at least two kids hanging on my arms (and everyone else’s arms). It was a really fun day and we got to participate in a naming ceremony with the whole village and shake hands with the chief and stuff so that was neato. The chief said we were always welcome there and would be offered land and labor if we ever came back, and then when we were leaving our bus broke down and we got reallllllll close to testing that invitation. In the end though, we fixed it, and bumped back to Accra (bumped, because the roads are absolutely ridiculous…. infrastructure, people! infrastructure).
Ok another story, this one’s good, so you’ll want to pay attention. Although, I guess if you’re reading you already by default paying attention. ANYWAY, our global partner offered to hook us up with a local seamstress to make us traditional African dresses which of course we were like HELLSSSS YA (because that’s how American’s talk in foreign countries). So we go to the shop of this precious woman named Bernice and order our dresses and of course have to get measured. I go first, and Bernice measures my chest, then my waist… then… dun dun dun… the hips. And she looks up at me and goes “ohhhh… this number is big… you got the African booty”. And of course everyone laughed at me for like ever, in fact they are still laughing, and that just is what it is. I have the African booty, people.
I think that is just about it. It was a wonderful wonderful experience with great friends (shout-out to my wonderful and hilarious roomie Elise) and I’m so thankful to HBS and their generous alumni network for the opportunity. Our main guide gave a short speech the last day and said “I have been watching your teams all week, out in the heat, running around this city and working late into the night as if you are going to make a lot of money for this. We thank you so much, please keep doing it for Ghana, we are a great country but our businesses need help.” The HBS FIELD program is just a great addition to the curriculum design and I commend the leadership for the idea and the speedy implementation.
Above – chatting with some girls in a container store about TP and feminine products, and below – doing customer research with a taxi driver while he waited for the mechanic to fix his taxi. Above and below – sweet little kiddos in the village of Torgorme outside of Accra. Seriously, these kids are professionally trained to be adorable. Our whole HBS “cohort” in Accra – dinner the last night.My team with our awesome driver and guide/translator. They put up with us all week and were seriously invaluable.