By : Craig Elkin – Client Communications
In the third week, with primary interviews wrapped up and filming taking center stage, I was finally able to secure a translator and driver for a few days to begin my survey of the local area’s economy and any potential competitors for the cookstove and water purification technologies being distributed in the villages. While budget limitations forced the adventure to take place so late in the trip, some of the key takeaways still managed to help shape the outcome of our final presentation to our client. While sometimes appearing tangential to our project’s cookstove and water purifier focus, the market analysis has a deeper impact for some of our other stakeholders, notably in regards to the employment landscape of the area around the seven villages.
The methodology used for the survey was kept flexible, as the transportation budget situation changed daily and the schedule of site visits and interviews had to fit the amount of time we had available at that point. Nonetheless there was an overall structure to the work, with interviews done at site visits targeting local and regional markets, as well as large employers in the area. The entire survey took four days, with 47 interviews conducted across 7 villages, towns, and cities.
My work was expedited by the presence of Isma, as translator, and at least one staff member of Farabi, volunteering their time to guide my inquiries. Flexibility, inquisitiveness, and politeness all aided both the speed and efficiency of the project as well as helping to uncover many new leads for both the market analysis and the project as a whole.
Also there was widespread uncertainty about my identity, purpose, and the intention of all my questions in the markets and villages. In normal circumstances, as my business intelligence class made clear to me, the degree to which I popped into places unannounced (with the exception of the employers, who required forward notice and often canceled meetings at the last minute), asking questions, and taking furious notes, would lend to a high degree of suspicion and noncompliance by the local people toward my questions. However, my larger-than-life presence was kept low-profile by the equally widespread assumption that I was working for MCL and my purpose was altruistic in nature. I made sure to walk a fine line of saying nothing and giving a shocked expression to our translator anytime anyone directly told me thank you for my work—the assumption encountered repeatedly was that I was there “to help them” and thus they were remarkably willing to entertain my detailed and extensively-recorded questions.
My other favorite assumption discovered after several appointment cancellations by the local cigarette factories was that I was an agent of Phillip Morris, interested in local cigarette operations ahead of some nefarious American scheme to, I imagine, flood the shareholders with money in exchange for a joint-venture—I am unclear why being from Phillip Morris was a bad thing. Regardless, no matter how suspicious I seemed, in spite of my business intelligence training, my longstanding, China-hardened policy of smiling, bowing, and saying thank you unnecessarily all tied together a web of charm and distraction that convinced even the most seasoned cigarette factory manager, shrewd market shop owner, and Indonesia cattle baron into revealing compelling sums of data to me over the course of my interviews.
The specific insights gained shall be saved for another day, as well as some of the adventures that occurred during the trip—notably almost being gored at the cattle market. That said, the survey was a success and will add a layer of richness and possibility to all the reports and presentations it touches. It was a business intelligence success, despite being some of the most obvious BI work I’ve ever done. Furthermore, I’d rather remember my investigative work less as blatant and more as transparent. Transparent and polite.