A team of Darden students recently traveled to Lusaka, Zambia as the conclusion of a Global Field Experience elective after spending several months consulting for World Bicycle Relief. Below, Darden student Paul Frederic Manlapig (MBA ‘13) shares his reflections from his time in Zambia:
So there I was, boarded on a plane back to DC from my week long trip in Zambia, Africa. The 4-month long consulting engagement with Buffalo Bicycles, a social enterprise providing affordable bicycles to impoverish Africans, definitely had its ups and downs making such memories all the more rich and vivid. There were 6 of us in the Darden team responsible for helping the organization raise capital from investors. I, together with another classmate Borja, was involved in developing a robust financial model to determine the capital funding need of the organization. It was a great opportunity for both of us to understand the operations of the business, learn about its tax exposures, and collaborate with senior management. Our other team members, on the other hand, were involved in drafting the investor pitch material and coming up with a list of potential impact investors.
The highlight of the project, however, was our trip to Buffalo Bicycles’ headquarters in Lusaka. Below is my rough account of our week long stay in Zambia:
Our team met with Dave Neiswander, Buffalo Bicycles’ COO, and David Major, Buffalo Bicycles’ CFO. Dave toured us around their Lusaka facility, and gave us an introduction of Buffalo Bicycles’ mission and history. We had lunch at a nearby mall, where we had our first taste of Zambia’s highly inflated prices. (Note: Although no Zimbabwe, Zambian prices were denominated in 1,000s of Kwacha, the local currency).Currently however, the government is redenominating its money as prices have stabilized. After lunch, we had an opportunity to build our own bicycles, which we would use to visit some local farmers later. It was a good change of pace from talking about how things should be done in my Darden classes to actually getting things done.
This was a work day for us. We spent the whole day working with Dave and David on fine tuning the investor pitch and the financial model. Borja and I worked directly with David who had several interesting stories to tell of regulatory blunders he experienced while working in several African countries (e.g., Kenya doesn’t have monetary restrictions in its airports, which led to an incident where a foreigner lost a bag of $2mln while leaving the country!). During lunch, we joined the Buffalo Bicycle staff for their yearend celebration, where we got to try their local cuisine and danced along some good Zambian hospitality.
This was a busy day. We started the morning at the Dairy Cooperative at Chongwe (about 50 km. away from Lusaka), and got an early morning peek at how milk is quality tested at the center. Some of us quipped on milking a male cow, much to the locals’ amusement of course. We then rode our bikes to visit one of the farmers. The unpaved muddy road and its hilly contour definitely made the ride challenging, which made me retire in the van at the middle of the leg. Arriving at the farmer’s home, he then toured us around his property where we learned about his sources of livelihood (i.e., milk, chicken, eggs, etc.). We even got to pump water for his cows at a nearby well, which is a first for some of my team members. We then headed off to World Vision, a microfinance organization, at Chongwe City Market. The main takeaway for me during the visit is that on-going business support and monitoring of local business borrowers are crucial to a successful microfinance model. We concluded the day visiting one of Buffalo Bicycles’ success stories, Albert, at the adjacent flea market. Because of the mechanic training he got from Buffalo Bicycles and his entrepreneurial spirit, he was able to set-up his bicycle parts dealership and save money to build homes for his extended family.
This was our final day with Dave. We kicked the day off doing yoga with several other expatriates at a school yard, which is a first for me. I left that place with several aching muscles and joints, which convinced me that I need to squeeze some exercise in my current Darden lifestyle. After lunch, we then visited Chikumbuso, a women and children’s orphanage in Lusaka. During the tour, we learned that the institution was founded by a generous US family to house and educate orphans, and provide vocational training to AIDS inflicted women as a means for a second chance in life. We left Chikumbuso with hearts full of inspiration from the heroic stories we heard. It was a great parting gift and climax to our visit with Dave.
Day 5 & 6:
Our visit to Zambia wouldn’t be complete without checking out the local sites. After 6 hrs. on the bus from Lusaka, we arrived at Livingstone. We spent the first part of the afternoon taking pictures of the majestic Victoria Falls, which is considered the world’s largest waterfall and a UNESCO World Heritage Site (got this from Wikipedia of course). In fact, the falls is so famous in Zambia that they even named their local beer Mosi-oa-Tunya (the Smoke that Thunders) after it. We then wrapped up the day on a ferry ride along the Zambezi River, where we saw some crocodiles, hippos, baboons, and a warthog along the river bank while the sun was setting in the backdrop – a great way to end the day. The following morning was a trip to the wildlife reserve with Greg and Leidy (our other team members had other plans in mind). We started the day riding and feeding some elephants. This was easily topped when we walked and petted some cheetahs and lions afterwards – hearing a cheetah purr while I scratch its head almost feels like petting our family cat. The trip justly concluded as a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all of us.
(Paul’s reflections on his experience continue in Part 2)