August 5th, 2011
Our TEM Lab project is nearing an end and although we still have one week left in Ghana and plenty of work to do, I have begun to reflect on the fantastic experience had thus far. Despite some speed-bumps along the way (thank you bacteria and weak stomach), the project has been interesting and my time in Ghana has been insightful.
Although I never imagined that I would work on a project in Ghana (until a few months ago when I was told: “You will be working on a project in Ghana.”), I have enjoyed having the opportunity to experience a new culture and surrounding with my team. This is not to say that I haven’t missed certain things from home or complained during our time here (sorry Team, even I am fallible). Nevertheless, I am extremely grateful for the amazing experience that TEM Lab has offered me and am happy to have been on a team with four other fantastic people (currently, Brody is patting me on the back and telling me that I am fantastic too – thanks Brody!).
It has been a great experience working with a client in an emerging market as well. Working with an organization in Ghana has definitely provided me insight into how difficult it can be to run a business in a place where information can be difficult to access and infrastructure is unreliable – before our trip, Professor Finney alerted us to the potential institutional voids that we may face in a developing market – yet, despite some of the difficulties associated with running a business in Ghana, things get done and people succeed. Hopefully, our team can be of assistance to CVSI/PALMS/MOFIL and help them to be successful.
Ghana is the first African country that I have been to and I am inspired to see more of the continent. An unfortunate aspect of our trip has been the lack of time to explore Ghana or the rest of Africa, but certainly, I will see more in the future. But before then, I will be back in Glendale enjoying the 120º F dry heat and the greatest density of strip malls and fast-food joints available in the world; unfortunately, none of them will have banku, fufu, red-red or meat-sticks… Well, they may have those.
August 4th, 2011
Living in a cushy ex-pat villa can be nice, but it can also be deceptive. The security gates may keep thieves out, but they in turn rob you of the realities of Ghanaian life. Don’t get me wrong, life here can be harsh: abandoned houses with squatter families are around every corner, and the air in the cities is so thick with soot and grime that you feel you’ve added a layer to your skin and taken a year off your life. But a few Sundays ago I had the rare opportunity to walk right into the alternative reality of Ghanaian life: the magic of its culture and people.
Dying to escape the ignorant bliss we had created inside the walls of our villa, I called up a friend on a whim and we decided to meet at a local coffee shop. Grateful to be doing something, but not expecting anything wild to come up, we sat chatting casually until we got a phone call from his friend who sounded like he was directly in the midst of a carnival – so of course we asked if we could join the party. A three cedi cab ride later we arrived at a huge crowd of people standing in a circle with the sound of pounding drums, clapping hands, cowbells clanging and female wails beckoning from the middle. We stood on tiptoes to peer in and through broken communication we came to find out that the chief of the local village was celebrating the birth of his twin boys and so had invited the chiefs from all around to this grand celebration. It’s hard to explain the energy that was erupting from that circle. Dozens of men in traditional garb pounding on every type of African drum with other instruments chiming in and the group in the center performing a dance that told a story. We stood in the back in awe – until all of a sudden we were recognized as obrunis and all eyes were on my friend and I. Suddenly we were pulled forward through the crowd and were given front row seats to the show; literally, they insisted on seats even though everyone else was standing. We were even moved to the head stage next to the chiefs! This went on for some time, with magic tricks and fire eating and members of the crowd brought out to dance – an incredible experience. Soon it was wrapping up and we met with the friend who had originally notified us of the celebration. He’s a professional photographer and was personally requested by the chief to photograph the event, so he needed to return to the chief’s house to pick up some of his belongings. As a group, we were escorted to the village center – how amazing!! The village itself was a site to see, but to make a long story short, we were invited as guests of honor by the chief so we watched what seemed like various soothsayers, village shamans and bards telling stories through song, singing praises to the chief and telling peoples’ fortunes. With the help of a village translator, the chief expressed his gratitude to our friend the photographer for helping to share his story. I later learned that the village we were in was a tribe from the north that transplanted to Accra, but was unrecognized by the government and therefore an ignored population.
Throughout the experience, the unmistakeable dichotomy of modernity in the midst of development (or lack thereof) was ever present. Cell phones with the familiar Nokia ringtone going off while the soothsayer is expelling truths, jeans and cowboy boots to match tops and hats made of animal skin and goats bladder, families huddled around the television watching soccer while rice cooked over a barrel fire made with twigs. Developing countries are rich with these juxtapositions and it’s exactly what makes doing business in these environments so challenging but also the source of so much innovation. As we continue our project, our challenge is to accept the environment we are in, so that we can identify the non-traditional opportunities that emerge. Information is scarce, realistic forecasting measures are weak, but if we can understand our client and create a tool that reflects the voids he faces, we can be the catalyst for better decision making.
August 2nd, 2011
The team traveled this last week to the eastern region, to Donkorkram, in order to meet with Ras Benji, PALMS’s agricultural operations manager. This short trip marked the halfway point of our time here in Ghana, and a turning point in the project as we switch our focus from research and discovery to deliverables creation. Looking back over the last three weeks, there are three different perspectives from which I can describe my experience: a student consultant working to add value to an aspiring and hopeful social enterprise; a teammate traveling, living, and working with four others who are working to do the same; an American experiencing the people and culture of Ghana, and also Africa, for the first time. Each perspective, although different, has made a substantial contribution to the fun and challenging dynamic that is likely typical of a TEM Lab.
Rather than trying to articulate this dynamic from either one or all of these perspectives, I have compiled a group of photos that, I feel, will do a better job of describing my TEM Lab experience to this point. Enjoy.
July 29th, 2011
Recently my thoughts have been largely focused on the terrible events that occurred in Norway on Friday. Fortunately no friends or family were directly affected, but in such a small country it is certain that at most, only two or three degrees often separate people. Such a tragic event that occurred…
Our experience in Ghana on the other hand has been calm and peaceful. In fact, in my opinion, Ghana’s greatest asset is the people. They are extremely friendly and it has been comforting to feel safely surrounded by kind folks. Incredibly, people seem satisfied here even though they don’t have Wal-Mart or TGI Friday’s (we did find Walf-Mart though!), and people even smile on days when they don’t witness double rainbows. Of course, you always encounter aberrations from the norm (more explanation later), but overall we have been welcomed in this new culture.
Cultural observations have largely consisted of meetings with our client, taxi rides, accommodation searching and grocery shopping. To this point, we have only done sightseeing around downtown and greater Accra, including a trip to the Makola Market and a local Rastafarian celebration (strangely a bruni dj with a Macbook “spinned” – or played reggae songs from itunes for an hour). However, an exciting trip outside of Accra is in the cards as we will be traveling to Donkorkram and staying there for at least three days in order to witness some of PALMS’ agricultural operations and speak to Ras Benji.
As for the seldom found unwelcoming locals: make sure to not take pictures of the gentlemen at the Makola Market who are selling remotes or the ladies selling vegetables – you may be verbally chastised or spanked on the rear. At least, that’s what happened to Carlos.
*note: this blog should’ve been posted on Monday, but poor internet access in Donkorkram prevented it.
July 24th, 2011
While not a religious person myself, I recognize that religion does a lot of good for a lot of people—it creates community, provides support networks and a safety net, and often gives back to society through service.
I am honored to work with Christian Volunteer Service International (CVSI), an NGO that exemplifies the type of positive influence that religion can have on the world—CVSI brings people together in the spirit of service, providing a forum where people volunteer their time and donate their funds for the greater societal good.
Unfortunately, religion also brings people together for other reasons. Check out this link: http://vibeghana.com/2011/07/19/ghana-police-ordered-to-arrest-all-gays/
Christian and Muslim communities unite… over hate. This article doesn’t make clear that the government of Ghana doesn’t actually plan to start rounding ‘em up; it is really just a lone MP mouthing off as a homophobe in response to mass protests against homosexuality.
Try reading the first few paragraphs of this article inserting the word “Jew” for “homosexual”. Scary. Similar vibes have surfaced in Uganda in the last couple years and culminated in the introduction of a brutal anti-gay bill, supposedly inspired by American evangelicals.
Speaking of Western influence, a friend of mine who grew up in Africa mentioned that some Africans view homosexuality as a foreign disease that came with colonialism. She also passed along an interesting article on the subject (http://www.economist.com/node/16219402 ), quoted here:
“In many former colonies, denouncing homosexuality as an “un-African” Western import has become an easy way for politicians to boost both their popularity and their nationalist credentials. But Peter Tatchell, a veteran gay-rights campaigner, says the real import into Africa is not homosexuality but politicised homophobia.”
People spend extraordinary amounts of time and money interfering in the lives of others… I’m embarrassed for people who involve themselves in these crusades of hate. Is it really a zero sum game to give others rights and respect? Futhermore, when people fixate on this issue… I often suspect irony. Surely the resources and energy focused on this issue could be better spent elsewhere. Like on finishing the Nsawam Road bridge in North Accra. The traffic is horrible.
July 20th, 2011
When we arrived last week in Ghana our team had prepped enough to know what it was we didn’t know. That way we could immediately start gathering the information necessary to develop a set of deliverables that would best meet the needs of our client. So we got on site, did just that, and showed up at our meeting last Friday confidant in our proposed deliverables that we were hoping to get our client’s sign off on. But of course, as a rule of thumb in consulting, we should have expected the unexpected. Despite discovering that PALMS’s moringa-focused business was still in the earliest stages of infancy and deserved our full consulting attention to get it off the ground, our client was very focused on having us work on developing a business plan for biodiesel production – something that almost seemed like a pipe dream from our vantage point. As our team sat around (admittedly a little frustrated and confused) collecting ourselves to determine how to go forward, I was hit by a wave of inspiration and excitement when I recalled something I had learned in Professor Ramaswamy’s Global Strategy class – one of the foundational principles of operating in an emerging market is long term vision. This was exciting for two reasons: 1) the ideas on the table were starting to make sense and 2) I could breathe a quasi sigh of relief that the tuition money was starting to pay off.
In a western environment where business plans are developed to attract investors who want an exit in two years or less and a payback period less than 12 months, planning is linear, we focus on the most immediate need and speed to market is king. These things are important in the emerging market space, but the institutional voids are many and barriers are high, so you have to be ready to dig your heels in and hold on for the ride – no matter how long it may be. Planning is systemic, you need to be open to the whole picture in order to plant seeds well ahead of time (literally and figuratively in this case) to reap harvest even years down the line. In Ghana, where savings and credit culture is only budding (both indicators of longer term thinking), our lead client, Pastor Brenyah, is truly a visionary.
As a result, we’re now on a massive learning curve studying the worldwide market for biofuels and creating a forecasting model that can be used as a tool to guide decision making for this plant in the future. As an alternative energy enthusiast, I’m incredibly excited to watch our project take shape.
On a more personal note, my cultural experience in Ghana thus far has proven to be equally rewarding. My excitement for riding tro tros, taking the back roads, and seeing Ghana for everything it is has led to some incredible experiences. I think it’s fair to say I’ve adjusted quickly and, as I’m probably the most open to experiencing life as a local out of my colleagues, I’ve had the opportunity to venture out on my own and experience the incredible street nightlife in downtown Accra, attend a very lively local church service with some of the hotel staff, make friends with school children on my morning runs and of course learn a little bit of Twi and Ga from every taxi driver. More on the fun stuff next time.
July 20th, 2011
My affinity for travel stems partly from the fact that I feel most like myself when I am on my way to somewhere. During these relatively brief moments in transit I am usually unburdened by the expectations of others or those that I put on myself. It is a feeling I have found difficult to replicate doing anything else. However, I did not have this same sense of contentment during our flight across the Atlantic. Instead, I sat contemplating my own preconceptions about the challenge we would face as outsiders working/collaborating in a high-context environment in Ghana, and more specifically, how I would adapt to it.
The informal discovery process can at times feel disingenuous and daunting to me. Nonetheless, on the ground in Ghana, one of the team’s primary goals during our first week has been to get to know the culture and build the relationships that are necessary to truly add value to PALMS. To this end, we have strived to take advantage of any opportunities to get to know the client, maximizing conversations during car rides, lunches, dinners, and even weekend activities. In Ghana, informal relationships seem to carry significant weight in the formal business environment, so even the most obscure opportunity to strike up a conversation can contribute more than what takes place in even the most productive business meeting.
Being able to see some of my teammates begin to build these important relationships has certainly made it easier for me to do so. I am now less concerned about the challenges that will arise over the next four weeks, and am more focused on building relationships. I am confident that this will better serve our ultimate objective, which is to help PALMS succeed.
July 17th, 2011
Having spent time living, working, studying and traveling in several places around the world, I have been able to see and experience how different people live and interact. My international experience has improved my ability to adapt somewhat quickly to cultural differences when they appear. Coming to Ghana, in my mind, would be no different in that I would be able to “hit the ground running” by quickly adapting to the local culture and communication style. I must admit that having never been to Africa prior to this project, I have found that the Ghanaian culture is unlike any other that I have experienced. It has been surprisingly difficult to gain a grasp of cultural communication norms, but that being said, I love a challenge and am having a great time.
The Ghanaians themselves are similar to South Americans in a lot of ways. They are extremely kind and accommodating and are always willing to help. One of the major differences however is the Ghanaian communication style, which is what myself and the rest of my team are struggling with the most. Ghanaians are very high context communicators, meaning they are the polar opposite of being direct or blunt. Even though we are speaking the same language it is sometimes difficult for our team to determine exactly what someone is trying to tell us.
I can vividly remember Professor Leclerc, Professor of the Cross Cultural Communication class at Thunderbird, teaching on the very subject of high context communication when you come from a low context communication culture. Asking lots of questions is key to pinpointing meaning and understanding what is being said. The questioning technique of triangulation is something that we are aggressively pursuing. I admire and greatly appreciate the patience of our hosts at PALMS for bearing with our incessant questions, which must be getting old!
PALMS has been extremely accommodating and helpful which has aided in our ability to make significant progress on our project despite our difficulties. Slowly but surely we are adapting and making life easier for our hosts and other locals. PALMS is an amazing organization that is actively working to make a difference in the lives of the locals here. We are all very happy about being here and being a part of the growth of this remarkable organization.
July 15th, 2011
I am the team member that has been MIA due to “extended calls” recently (see Eric Ams’ blog). Although the negative aspects of my illness are numerous – e.g., being unable to attend meetings, not going on after-work excursions, sleep deprivation, and being prevented from my usual 3 hour 350 lbs. squat and dumbbell workout – certainly the silver lining in my condition has to be the cultural experience of visiting a medical clinic in the outskirts of Accra.
I went to a private clinic because we were told that the local public hospital was not of high standard and it would take too long to receive treatment. Thus, Ams and I took a taxi to the St. Moses Clinic in Pokause, which is one kilometer away from Fise, our current residence. Situated behind a house, a few shacks and a large sinkhole, the clinic was a two story concrete structure with dilapidated white paint. Under a 9 square meter unenclosed roof, sat close to 30 people, most of whom were women. As expected, Ams and I were the only “brunis,” or white people.
Observing the clinic and its operations gave insight into the medical options available in our area. Although the toilet didn’t function, and there appeared to be only one doctor on site, the care given to me was enough to get me back on my feet. Some inefficiency in communication was apparent and there certainly was a thick bureaucracy (perhaps not so different from the US!). But for the time being the medical attention was suitable for my needs and surprisingly affordable; I paid a total of 28 Ghanaian cedis, or about 18 USD for administration of an IV of saline solution and a supply of metronidozole and tetracycline.
Initially, I thought my ill condition could be due to eating moringa seeds – we have been told that moringa seeds may act as a laxative – but it is highly unlikely that it is the cause of my gastrointestinal problems because they have been so severe. Nevertheless, I do not intend to eat moringa seeds for the foreseeable future (but I will be drinking moringa tea and using moringa biodiesel in my car).
On a final note, my nickname here is “Red.” It has been useful to use this name since I share the same first name as Ams. The name is also fitting because of my red hair and beard; it is even more appropriate now since my face is getting sunburned due to its heightened sensitivity caused by the tetracycline.