Feature Image

Trekking to Harer

Each day in Ethiopia has been an adventure, and today was no exception. A serendipitous pit stop en route to meetings in the town of Harer (not to be confused with the Hararghe region) brought us upon Neyemz Ahmed, the leader of one of many agricultural co-ops cultivated by HCS and CRS. Neyemz (pictured below with her little boy) greeted us with a big smile and although we didn’t speak of the market value of her crop, her empowered spirit and proud demeanor indicated her work as something to be noted.Some 50 miles from Neyemz’s co-op down the windy cliff-heavy road we arrived in infamous Harer to interview Marmaya University and CISP staff (both organizations help HCS implement development and aid projects). Harer is surrounded by a gate that our HCS partner said was built some 500 years ago as protection from domestic enemies and is host to hyena’s that eat food out of your mouth (we plan to test out this rumor on Sunday), diverse trade, and, as per most of Ethiopia, a great deal of poverty and drug abuse (chat being the poison of choice). As visuals tell a story better than any words in this case, we’ll let the pics below speak for themselves.



Look ma…I ate all my vegetables

Greetings from Cairo gang,

While other teams are toughing it out with there five star breakfasts and their fancy-pants dinners, team egypt is taking it to the streets of Cairo.  We kicked off today at with a 6am team meeting, 2 hardboiled eggs, and some cheese.  By 7am we were on the road to Sekem Farms in the team van, which has become our home away from home away from home.

Understanding Egyptian traffic requires a certain familiarity with big city life, real big city life.  There are 20 million people in Cario, they all have cars, and they all think that you are in their way.  We’ve been pretty lucky to spend on average about 5.5 hours in traffic per day, pretty reasonable considering mostly all our driving is around the city (insert sarcasm here).  We have realized that it truly impacts the speed of business and have factored it into our problem.  Needless to say, its quite the hassle but interesting nonetheless – the variety of car horns make the radio obsolete.

When we arrived at Sekem Farms, we were greeted by several employees and were given an unbelievable tour of the facility.  Sekem Farms is a real success story in Egypt.  Its a massive organic farm that is a leader in CSR practices within the region.  The Sekem Group provides healthcare and education for employees and their children.  They also have theaters and other forms of entertainment available to employees as well.  Their holistic approach to employment has really set the standard in Egypt.  As a company they are wildly successful, exporting to the EU and US, providing high quality produce and other items.  We were lucky enough to sample some produce right from the ground during our tour.  They offered Stevia, Egyptian Rocket (which we were told was very useful), fennel, celery, and even fresh broccoli – they all tasted amazing, and I don’t know if you know this but I’m not one for veggies.

Then we met with CARE after a 2.5 hour drive that normally takes 15 minutes according to our driver.  CARE is another leading CSR NGO in the region, and surprisingly enough they focus on agriculture.  They are helping implement a great program that like Danone (Dannon for us with a country code of #1) with local dairy producers.  It was a great experience.

Tomorrow is real big day for team Egypt…we’re sleeping in for one.  We have a 9am departure to Giza and the pyramids.  To celebrate, our stellar photographer/reporter/hero Ed “the honey badger” Cohen took us out for a traditional Egyptian dinner.  Everything on the menu looked awesome, particularly the beef leg with rice that Joe Sweeney and I ordered.  Well, turns out beef kneecap isn’t as tasty as it sounds…lesson learned – next time I’m splurging and ordering the stuffed pigeon.



Are you married?

We left the Bishop’s residence in Kidapawan after a 5 star continental breakfast and a warm hospitality, to head to Columbio, a province 1.30 hrs away from Kidapawan. After a bumpy road and a couple of checkpoints that we were able to ride through without being checked because of the CRS logo on out cars I guess, we arrived in Columbio to meet with some community leaders.

Our discussion with the indigenous community leaders was very informative. They shared with us their experiences with two mining companies that wanted to start exploration and mining in their area.They explained their opposition to mining adding that the benefits from mining would not compensate for the environmental challenges that they would face as a result of mining. Added to their environmental concerns which also took into account inter-generational responsibility, they shared their disappointment in the government and the structures established to protect their rights such as the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples for failing to do so. For the communities that we talked with, agriculture and not mining seemed to be the best way out of poverty in a way is environmentally and culturally sustainable.

We then went to the City Hall to talk to the Mayor and the Vice-Mayor who talked to us a lot about the potential of Columbio for coffee and their expected partnership with Rocky Mountains (as mentioned in Ben’s presentation in class). We also had the opportunity to taste the coffee… and it was really good! (this coming from me, a person from an Arabica coffee growing country should tell you something ..:P)

This said, and this explains the title of this post, we have been getting quite a few “are you married” questions. People here are very curious and don’t shy away from asking you how old you are and if you are married or not… so far nobody has tried to marry-us off…or may be somebody is and we just don’t know about it yet. But if any one of us gets married, stay assured that there’ll be very good dowry for our BOTFL class… and son’t underestimate  dowry from Mindanao. It might come in gold, copper and nickel… I mean, this is one of the world’s mineral rich regions in the world!

Breaking up is hard to do

[Author’s note: due to technical difficulties at the bishop’s house this post is a day late…and this is Team Philippines]

Despite what those back home think the Business on the Frontlines experience isn’t all glamour.  Yesterday (now 2 yesterdays ago) we (Team 1: Carole, Lidet, Drew) spent 8-10 hours in meetings and travel and today we were in meetings for 5-6 hours plus 3 hours of bumpy road travel.  Still an amazing opportunity and none of us would trade it for the world (well, maybe the world).

Earlier today (again, now yesterday) we had to say goodbye to our lovely friends in Team 2 (SuHan, Chris, Lerato) as they headed to Marbel (4+ hours of travel) while we came to Kidapawan.  We already miss them so…

Our original schedule called for us to have a dinner meeting with the Bishop De La Cruz and Fr Gus then adjourn to our hotel.  However, Bishop De La Cruz insisted we stay with him so tonight we are all squirreled away in rooms at the Bishop’s House.  I have to admit that is pretty glamorous and I think we’ll all check this off our bucket lists.  Dinner was a lovely affair with a giant lazy susan and plenty of great eats: tuna steaks, beef & broccoli, chicken soup, etc… plus good company.  Both the mango and pineapple were excellent and we had durian fruit (smells like hell, tastes like heaven) ice cream for dessert.  Tomorrow we’ve been promised the best cup of coffee of our lives.  We’ll see if it lives up to the hype (Drew from the future says it was really good but not the best).  On a side note, the access and welcome we’ve had with CRS have been phenomenal and we owe them many debts of thanks.

Beyond the good eats and gracious hospitality, today was an eye opening experience and potentially the most emotionally exhausting of the week (at least for me).  We spent almost 3 hours this morning with 2 representatives from an indigenous group in Zamboanga [Google Map this] who had traveled 2 days(!) by bus to meet with us.  They shared with us a multi-layered morass of deceit, violence, conflict and desperation.  Basically their homeland had been turned into a warzone, their elders coerced into corruption and their people so frightened that they set aside budget to arm both women and children.  Local government is useless because their 19 police officers are no match for the 300+ private security forces amassed by various players including government forces, ex military officers and the NPA, an armed communist rebel group.  One last hope lay before them: finalizing a document through the government that would give them some legal basis for evicting people from their land.  The situation was so hopeless it was almost comical: for levity we all joked about how the real issue here was the outrageous inflation that had taken Coke from 20 pesos to 65 pesos.

We talked in Innovation about gaining empathy as a way of truly understanding a problem and finding excellent solutions.  I can think of no way in which I could understand how a person in this situation feels: violence is a daily fact of life and there are no options for leaving.  If you speak out you get shot and if you keep quiet you might get shot anyways.  How can we hope to truly understand that life?  How do you fix such a seemingly intractable problem?  What role can business play in creating peace where up to now it has only created chaos?

For every dark cloud there is a silver lining (or rainbow or whatever) and today we found a bit of that.  Through our discourse with the Bishop and Fr Gus we discovered that it is possible to do mining responsibly.  Not only that, there is a great example right here in the Philippines.  This Filipino-owned mine makes a nice profit, pays royalties to the various levels of government, and has setup a blind trust to manage the royalty stream for the barangay (village) so that they are only spending the interest, not the principle, on smart infrastructure projects.  Our team is excited to follow up on this and see how this mine and profit sharing system could potentially be used as a model for the nation.  Plus the guy running the whole thing, David M Consunji, has survived 4 plane crashes, including one where he landed the plane himself.  Empowering people one day, defying death the next….awesome.

So what’s the take away here?  We really are doing Business on the Frontlines; people are dying every day here.  We know it’s not a problem we’ll be able to solve in 2 weeks but we have the chance to make at least a small difference….and that’s pretty cool.

Faces From Other Places

“Faces from other places are the most beautiful thing. We might not be able to travel to you, but you have come to us and we are grateful. We are always expecting your visit.” – Member of the Cooperativa Todos Hermanos

From left: Luis, our CRS contact, Marco, the best driver ever, and Emilio.

Holly: "I trust Marco (driver, middle) with my life."

We walked up a mountain today.

Jay: "I ran out of hair product this morning."

And then we met with a co-op member family.

Chris: "That's some good coffee. Where did you get it? Oh right over there OK."

They demonstrated their coffee mill – removing the pulp from the beans…

Eddie: "How does this work again?"

And showed us how to sort the beans by quality and size.

Dave: "Emilio. Are you trying to tell me that if I eat raw coffee cherries, my tongue will go numb?"

Group photo with El Jefe and his wife.

Kathleen: "Thank you for all the coffee! And the tortillas. and eggs. and beans. and bread. and sugar cane. and flowers. Oh, and of course 50 pounds of bananas."

Anton with half of our parting gift.

Anton: "Oh BOY this is heavy..."

Our hosts gave some of us a lift back.

Karla: "Yeah I see you Kathleen. Good Job."

Day 3 of Adventures in Zacapa – check plus.

Buenas Noches.


Guat’s up?


Four things we learned today from our first trek into the mountains of Guatemala to visit the campesinos (coffee and banana farmers):

  1. The reality on the ground is never what we expect.
  2. Everyone makes value judgements differently.
  3. Humility and pride bring hope.
  4. Don’t try to go four-wheeling in a two-wheeler 12 passenger van up a muddy mountainside in “where the heck are we” Guatemala.

Please enjoy the photo of us eating again. 

Fried chicken and coke on the side of the road - yes please.


Team Mindanao: Photo Gallery

Our Mission: How can advocacy groups and mining companies partner to build peace in Mindanao?

Traveling in Style #1

Traveling in Style #2

Discussions… Conversations.. Info Sessions… Lectures…

Chris beginning his Mining Empire (Meeting with MGB)

Team Picture @ CRS Mindanao

Filipino Breakfast

Native Chicken BBQ Baby


Team Egypt kept up its busy schedule of meetings and traffic today. Our morning started with this brilliant example of transportation in the agriculture sector:

Yep. That’s raw meat in the trunk. Apparently it’s not at all an unusual sight in Egypt. It’s possibly also why the whole team subconsciously chose to eat chicken for both lunch and dinner.

Our first meeting of the day was a prime example of a key difficulty facing business operations in Egypt. We arrived at the Egyptian Junior Businessmen’s Association about 30 minutes late due to traffic only to find that the person we were supposed to meet with was also stuck in traffic. We managed to find a stand in at the office and managed a quick meeting before heading back into traffic to head off to our next meetings. The team split for the afternoon with half the group visiting the Population Council and the other half heading off to American University of Cairo for a meeting with one of the Assistant Deans of the Business program.

I was part of the AUC delegation, which turned out to be one of the most informative meetings we’ve had so far this week. Not only did we receive a terrific rundown on the challenges facing education in Egypt, we also were given an in depth analysis into many of the business problems we are addressing in our project. He supported our idea that high unemployment is due to a combination of lack of opportunities, lack of proper training, and lack of communication. We had been hoping to pin it down to one of the three, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to be the case. We also asked his opinion on using co-ops in the agricultural sector and got very positive feedback on the potential impact in Egypt and the general efficacy of the model. As we are providing a basket of recommendations for strategy and projects to CRS Egypt, some form of co-op model to bring small agribusinesses together will almost surely be one of them. We’ll have the chance to dive deeper into this recommendation in our site visits early next week.

The trip to AUC was also eye opening in regards to the income disparity in Egypt. It was a stark contrast from our trips to the slums yesterday. The New Cairo area near AUC looks like a typical affluent American suburb complete with McMansions and glass-walled corporate offices. The AUC campus was built all at once and has only been in use for about 3 years so it is beautiful and sparkling.  


Tomorrow is another full day of meetings including the Social Fund for Development, the Food and Agriculture Organization (UN), the Egyptian European Organization for Training and Development, and a sociopolitical interview with a top academic. All of our meetings have helped to give the team insight and perspective on the challenges in Egypt, but I think our site visit yesterday really spoke to the heart of our purpose here. In the slums, CRS is helping people work and bring dignity to their communities. When they started clearing trash and rubble so that children wouldn’t have to walk on the train tracks to get to school, the community pitched in with neighbors bringing the workers tea throughout the day and a local business providing access to water for the project. When CRS provided a group of women a machine and enough material to produce plastic overshoes for 10 days, they used their own contacts and made new ones so that they could continue producing and selling long after the 10 days were up. Now, they produce in two locations with close to 50 women and also produce full length plastic gloves, in addition to the shoes. While the total number of people involved in these projects is small in comparison to the unemployment problem in the country at large, it provides a small snapshot of what the dignity of work brings to people and how CRS actively makes a difference in their communities. Hopefully our final recommendations to CRS will help expand their good work into the agriculture sector and serve more Egyptians.


P.S. Go Irish, Beat Huskies!

Injera and Incense and Insight, Oh My!

The aroma of incense and fresh baked injera (a delicious Ethiopian bread that serves as a staple and silverware substitute in most meals) permeates the air, while the sound of Christian and Muslim calls to prayer broadcast town-wide via loud speakers. Locals take us to back-alley restaurants omit of forks or napkins and provide insight into how business functions in this Horn of Africa country, which houses not a single franchise or chain. These experiences, combined with a day’s worth of insightful discussions in the capital of Addis Ababa with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and its NGO partners define the first day of active work for this Notre Dame Business on the Front Lines team.

CRS, one of the largest international aid organizations in the world which serves those in need regardless of creed, has invited us here to learn about its operation and that of its partner, Hararghe Catholic Secretariat (HCS). We’re gaining insight into how an NGO manages relationships with partners and donors, as well as how financial reporting, program quality, and human resources function. We’re deriving through interviews and brain-picking sessions the opportunities that exist in development and emergency relief in increasingly global yet underdeveloped countries. Further, we’re beginning to fully grasp the vast opportunity that professionals in business, law and beyond have to use their knowledge and time to empower others. We’re learning why it’s important to re-examine the business as usual mindset and move towards one that is more focused on creating shared value for both companies and communities.

As we trek to Dire Dawa to explore water and agriculture development project sites and the inner workings of HCS, we prepare to gain new take-aways and develop more insight to share with our NGO friends. We prepare to ditch assumptions about what we’ll discover and where it will take us, and we hope you’ll continue to join us on our continued path of learning.

Peace to all!