Lessons from the Land of 13 Months of Sunshine

Today, which marks our last day in the country of 13 months of sunshine, has been filled with goodbyes to new ጛደኛ (ggaa-da-nyaa, or friends), last sips of Fanta (the orange delicacy that is enjoying a second coming outside of America) and much delight in thinking about all that we have seen, heard and experienced over the past two weeks. This diverse University of Notre Dame team, whose countries of origin include Africa itself (Liberia), Columbia, Mexico, Canada and the United States has experienced in Ethiopia a culture that is prouder than any we’ve known and had our hearts warmed by the magnanimous hospitality that drove our host organizations ((Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Hararghe Catholic Secretariat (HCS)) to make us feel not like the outsiders we are, but rather family.

We quickly learned as our inaugural days working with CRS and HCS hosts stretched beyond the planned 8am to 6pm office time to include friendly late night noshings on injera, pizza and spaghetti (Italy briefly occupied Ethiopia in the 1930s and its culinary influence remains strong) that this was more than a service/business consulting engagement.  Rather, this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to truly understand what serving your country, community and fellow men and women is truly about. To understand what drives NGO workers to accept jobs that pay less and sometimes prove thankless to give back through their work, and what it means to make lifelong friends and empower a people out of poverty in the process.

Community members that benefit from a water security project hard at work digging a well.

Our visits to development and food aid project sites (see pics above), conversations via more than 70 interviews with NGO workers, the Ethiopian government and community partners, and the review of 50 plus business documents kept us busy, while hugs with camels and close encounters with hyenas kept us smiling. We’ve loved and spat with our Notre Dame team mates in the process, and will take home countless memories.

To conclude this trip diary, we’ve included below our most memorable moments, as well as a few notable pics. Thanks for following us in this adventure… we hope you’ve enjoyed reading as much as we’ve enjoyed sharing.

Notable Moments:

  • Ashley Bernard (MBA Student): The realization that no matter what country you call home or what religion you’re called to honor, the drive to serve weaves a common thread that binds… and that I’m moderate to high in neuroticism and appreciate an occasional sense of urgency.
  • Emily Block (Faculty Advisor): When one of our fearless HCS hosts noticed a booger in the nose of our Notre Dame teammate Mary Claire and ferociously picked it out for her so she would avoid embarrassment.
  • Mary Claire Sullivan (MBA Student): Our experiences in the field, in the communities that housed HCS’ and CRS’ work. The extent of collaboration between HCS, the Ethiopian government and community members was beyond impressive. These collaborations, combined with the passion of the HCS staff and its communities’ desire to improve impacted me deeply.
  • Ezekiel Freeman (Masters in International Peace Studies Student): Lime has a health value beyond that previously known…
  • Adlo Leal (MBA Student): Visiting the Notre Dame K-12th grade school and meeting the children that attended it. We visited twice and it reminded me of my school in Columbia. I learned from speaking with the children that, although we come from different countries, we have much in common. We laugh, share jokes and dream just the same.
  • Jose Luis (MBA Student): I loved how people at HCS were so motivated about their work. We have the opportunity to see their results on the field and they were impressive. On one of the field visits, we experienced how they created an oasis in the middle of the dessert to cultivate potatoes, onions and even papayas. They are really helping people find their own route out of poverty!

 Friends we made along the way…







The End of the Road

[To properly enjoy this post you should be singing Boyz II Men – End of the Road in your head]

Here we are at last, after meeting with 30 organizations over a total of more than 43 hours, we have reached the end of the road here in Manila. Today we gave our final presentation to the CRS colleagues we have come to think of as dear friends.  Afterwards we shared a short lunch and joked about the cherished moments of the past two weeks as we visited a variety of metropolitan and rural areas.  It was hard to say goodbye but we were comforted by the fact that one of our new friends will be coming to visit Notre Dame soon.

So many

'Thank You' Cards Galore!

My favorite memory of the trip was meeting with the Bishop Dela Cruz in Kidapawan. After having heard so much about how anti-mining the church was, it was a pleasant surprise to find that our assumptions around the stance of the various clergy were not only challenged but proven false. For me (and our team), the Bishop represents more of what is needed here in the Philippines: moderation.  People to take the middle ground and approach issues with open minds and ears.  People who aren’t afraid to talk to both sides without fear of being labeled as pro or anti.  People who make smart, fact-based decisions.  Team Philippines felt this was the greatest weakness in the process but was also an area where CRS can contribute much through its networks and dialogue engagement capacities.

Our group also identified a real need for alternative business opportunities beyond the current agriculture vs mining debate. We still felt like the key was empowering local communities to make well-informed, smart decisions. For a lot of the people we came to serve, identifying opportunities outside of farming can be difficult because it’s all they’ve ever known. Since they only see two options, the decision is often black and white.  Alternative businesses such as eco-tourism and agricultural support services/processing, among others, can provide those options that empower communities to make better choices about how they leverage the resources they have.  The key here is to identify those businesses most appropriate to each community and provide them with the support services, such as financing and training, that will enable these communities to reach their potential.  Again CRS is nicely positioned within the NGO space to bring in the proper actors to help.

Over the last two weeks we got a little taste of not only the Philippines and the passionate, vibrant Filipinos but also what it’s like to operate in and face the challenges of doing Business on the Frontlines.  Far from being easy or simple, the issues here tend to be complex with hidden actors and long histories as well as many competing and often entrenched interests.  While  it would be easy to get mired in the turmoil, we sensed that there is much hope here that things can and will get better.  People are active and passionate about what’s going on in their country and view the future optimistically. It’s an exciting time to be in the Philippines.

Check out how excited we were at Karaoke!

Team Philippines out.

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.



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.

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!

Ethiopia, the Beginning.

??? (Selam), friends. Today we (some pictured below), a team of four University of Notre Dame MBA students, one Masters of International Peace Studies student, one Law student and one management professor as part of the course Business on the Front Lines embark on an exciting two week journey of learning in Ethiopia. We are trading the comforts of our community in South Bend, Indiana (and happily a hectic and sleepless week of finals, for some!) for the opportunity to combine the knowledge fostered during our studies to better understand the work of Catholic Relief Services and Hararghe Catholic Secretariat in Ethiopia. Through our visits to Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa and beyond, we hope to broaden our world views and discover what defines Ethiopia’s NGO context and populous, which includes more than 84 ethnic groups, some 50 percent of whom are under the age of twenty years old.

As we trek to Ethiopia via Istanbul, we read about news of Ethiopian Prime Minister Zenawi embarking in peace talks with Somali leaders, as well as of continued negotiations to free international journalists recently jailed in Ethiopia.  Clearly, this country (see the map below for geographical context), which is thought to be the birthplace of humankind, has much to teach us about both peace and conflict.

Tune into this blog and our Twitter page for regular updates on our journey. We’ll paint a picture of our insights, adventures, struggles, and hopefully a few noteworthy epiphanies. We’ll chat about the people we meet, the things we eat (lots of delicious injera bread, we’re told!) and the lessons and excitement that result.

Thanks for joining us on this adventure… stay tuned!

Team Ethiopia,

Ashley Bernard (MBA,), Aldo Leal (MBA), Ezekiel Freeman (Masters of International Peace Studies), Emily Block (Management Professor), Jose Luis Lopez Amador (MBA), LaDawn Burnett (Law) and Mary Claire Sullivan (MBA)