The numbers don’t make sense, do they? Welcome to our world.
Last week and part of this week were spent traveling the countryside conducting exhaustive interviews in which we could ask directly for any information we needed, and most often, if we phrased our questions right, we would get it. Using this information, we were able to map out the Anyue lemon industry in detail.
This week, we moved into the benchmarking phase of the project. Doing so has required tracking down comparative numbers and organizational details for lemon growers in other countries around the globe. This is significantly more difficult and time consuming when you can’t just ask the man in front of you for the answer. We’ve had to get creative when looking for ways to compare the level of detail gleaned from our interviews to the high-level data available in most research reports on the world wide web. Speaking of which, the internet’s claim of being “world wide” is sometimes put to the test here. It can be choosy in which sites it lets through. But that’s small potatoes. The real problem is that reliable data is hard to find – especially given the fact that our work revolves around a rural industry that has relatively recently started to see major competition. There are multiple sources of contradictory data for the same piece of information you may be looking for. Sometimes we find ourselves in a difficult spot, asking whether our interview data is wildly wrong, or is the U.N. FAO database wrong. Is it the U.N. data that is wrong, or is it the U.S. Department of Agriculture? And why do they include limes with lemons in the numbers? Don’t they know how bad that is going to screw up our figures for Mexico? Even the U.N. FAO data don’t match up with some of the U.N. ComTrade data for the same products. In many cases, we’ve had to collect numbers from a variety of sources, keep those that are most consistent, and discard the wildly different ones. It’s a challenge transitioning from primary data collection to secondary collection. The level of detail just isn’t there, and filling in the gaps takes a bit of numerical wizardry.
By the end of last week, we were exhausted mentally, and were looking forward to some relaxation. But on Friday evening, our hosts requested that we teach some English to the employees’ children. As tired as we were, we all agreed that part of being a Thunderbird is giving back to the community, wherever we may be. We had no idea what to expect. We were welcomed into a room of 20 smiling children, aged 6 to 12, who were very excited to see us. Even the mothers had come to learn. It was like a family event! Working our way through the next 90 minutes of basic introduction and greetings in English, we could feel the curiosity and excitement of almost 40 pairs of eyes staring at us. As we concluded the session, the children made their way to us and wanted to have their picture taken. The sense of appreciation we got from the parents was overwhelming and we felt special. Improving business operations and profitably is important, but giving back to the community in a positive way is what made us feel the true essence of being Thunderbirds.