Zambia: A Once in a Lifetime Experience (Part 2)

Below, Darden student Paul Frederic Manlapig (MBA ‘13) shares his conclusions from his experience in Zambia as part of a Global Field Experience elective in Fall 2012.  You can read his daily reflections in Part 1.

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Looking back, the following are the insights/themes I was able to draw from this experience:

  • Agriculture is the foundation to a country’s path to development.

Zambia and the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa are, by and large, agricultural-based economies. Its people know agriculture and low skilled labor. In order to develop, its governments should promote innovation and entrepreneurship in the agricultural sector where these countries have an advantage in terms of natural and human resources. A competitive agricultural base should lead to income growth and a savings glut in these economies to finance the infrastructure needed for their industrialization. Social enterprises can help in the development process by providing the tools to facilitate human progress – case in point, providing Buffalo Bicycles to help farmers be more efficient in their tasks.

  • Sustainable social enterprises will be those that are able to adapt to the changing needs of society.

Buffalo Bicycles has been successful thus far because it is able to provide a product that addresses a need of impoverish Africans (i.e., an efficient cheap mode of transportation) at a competitive price. As Africa pursues its path of economic development, other social inequities will take the forefront such as uneven income distribution and gross disparities in the quality of public and private healthcare. In order to continue to be relevant, social enterprises will have to be perceptive and flexible to changing societal needs, and will necessarily face drastic changes in their business models throughout their lifecycles – case in point, proliferation of institutions such as Chikumbuso.

  • Finally, it is INDEED a journey; not a race.

For some highly ambitious MBAs, achieving life’s mission includes giving back to society. Others may feel a bit conflicted that the career they’re pursuing post-graduation does not easily lend itself to a career in social service later on. One can perhaps take comfort in the fact that Buffalo Bicycles’ COO, Dave Neiswander, was an investment banker for 10+ yrs. before he decided to take a giant leap to lead a fledging organization in a country where, he admits, he couldn’t even find in the map at beginning. One thing that I took away from my meeting with Dave is that life goes by in chapters. It is meant to be a potpourri of decisions and self-discoveries. So go ahead. Live large as an investment banker. Enjoy the sexy lifestyle of a consultant. And then after all is said and done and you have become wiser in the process, go out and save the world in style.

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