Category Archives: Projects

Reports from the field – SEID Action Learning Projects

SEID Project – ARTI-TZ – Dar es Salaam Tanzania

 

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Ali Kamil, Rajat Sethi and I (pictured left) are currently in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, as part of D-Lab Scale-Up’s Harvest Fuel Initiative (HFI). HFI is collaboration with the New York NGO, The Charcoal Project. The project was sponsored and supported by the Sloan Entrepreneurs for International Development (SEID) club at MIT Sloan School of Management.

We are working with Appropriate Rural Technology Institute, Tanzania (ARTI-TZ), a Tanzanian not-for-profit company that works to promote the manufacturing and use of charcoal briquettes from agricultural waste and other dry biomass. Our MIT Sloan team is assisting ARTI-TZ in strategizing its commercialization efforts.

The overall objective of the project is to enable a fuel switch from unsustainable charcoal to sustainable non-wood charcoal in Tanzania. Over 90% of Tanzanian households use wood charcoal as their primary source of fuel. However, traditional charcoal production has led to severe deforestation in Tanzania, causing environmental stress and degradation, compromising watershed management, and increasing vulnerability to climate change. Tanzania has lost approximately 15% of its forest cover and more than 37% of its forest and woodland habitat. About 70% of the deforestation is due to the harvesting of wood for fuel primarily by urban households. Dar es Salaam alone uses approximately 500,000 tons of wood charcoal annually and the amount of wood charcoal consumed is expected to rise further in coming years.

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Given this background, ARTI-TZ has been developing the non-wood charcoal industry in Tanzania on a commercial scale. It has been instrumental in establishing two Community Based Enterprises, which together will have the capacity to produce 2,000 tons of charcoal briquettes per year by September 2013. ARTI has also trained and equipped over 700 char-powder producers and will train additional 700 producers over the next six months, providing them with income generating opportunities. (A production site at one of the Community Based Enterprises in Bagamoyo pictured left.)

By replacing wood charcoal with ARTI’s agri-waste charcoal, it is possible to improve the livelihoods of millions of people, increase natural carbon sequestration and support communities’ ability to respond to the challenges caused by climate change.

In order to develop effective consumer awareness, marketing, and policy intervention campaigns for ARTI, we have been interviewing various stakeholders in the charcoal value chain.  In two weeks, we have interviewed 52 households and 12 institutions including hotels, retailers, restaurants, a school, and a hospital. We have also interviewed people working along the charcoal supply chain, such as transporters/suppliers, wood charcoal producers, and char-powder producers.

 

In the following week, we plan to complete the consumer interviews, collect user feedback on charcoal briquettes, and undertake brand perception surveys to establish a locally integrated brand for ARTI-TZ’s charcoal briquettes.  We also plan to interview 10 policy-making groups, which will help us evaluate the current initiatives being pursued by the government to support the charcoal industry.

One of the most rewarding moments for me so far has been receiving direct feedback from household users (one household pictured left) who have tried samples of ARTI-TZ’s agri-waste charcoal briquettes. Some have texted me back, wanting to visit our office to purchase a few bags of charcoal – a promising sign that we are heading towards the right direction.

 

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Team Bio

Ali Kamil is a first year student at the Sloan School of Management and School of Engineering’s fellows program. Prior to MIT he spent six years as a corporate strategy consultant advising leading Fortune 100 clients within the media, telecoms, and high tech domains. He is interested in social entrepreneurship and using ICT-based technologies for bridging the gap between developed and developing nations. He is a cofounder of BEEJLI Inc. that provides low-cost solar lighting solutions to Base-of-the-Pyramid populations in South Asia. A native of Pakistan, Ali has an undergraduate degree in Computer Science from Georgia Institute of Technology.

Rajat Sethi is currently pursuing a 3 year Joint Master’s program (2012-15) – MBA at MIT Sloan School of Management and Master in Public Administration (MPA) at Harvard University. He has been working as a social entrepreneur at the intersection of Technology, Policy and Tech-aided Development in sectors spanning across Rural Telecom Infrastructure, Clean Energy – Solar Power and its derivative products for Agribusiness. He is also currently working as a Short Term Temporary at IFC, World Bank Group on Impact Investment Strategy. Rajat, originally from New Delhi – India, has worked in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nigeria & South Africa.

Elli Suzuki is a candidate for Master of Science in Management Studies from MIT Sloan and MBA from HEC Paris. Previously, she worked at Citigroup, where she marketed multi-asset investment solutions to institutional clients from Asia, Europe and North America. She is interested in BoP clean energy investment in Sub-Saharan Africa and spent the summer in Dar es Salaam where she designed the business model for African Solar Rise, an NGO providing solar energy solutions and advisory service to small-scale farmers in Tanzania. She is originally from Japan and has lived in Japan, US, and France.

 

Energizing the team: MIT Sloan MBAs visit Dar!

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Post from Caroline Mauldin, MIT SEID

It’s a particularly warm day in Chanika, Tanzania.  I’m standing outside of an EGG-energy “station”—a simple storefront boasting an orange sign that bears the company’s logo.  A young boy, maybe 12 or 13, glides up on his bicycle with a bundle secured tightly to the handlebars.  Taking the bundle, he walks through EGG’s open door and sits down in front of the station’s lone desk.  He is here  to swap his family’s battery, a new source of energy for homes and businesses living off of Tanzania’s utility-scale grid.

I’m traveling with a classmate for two weeks, wrapping up a semester-long project with EGG through MIT Sloan’s Entrepreneurs for International Development (SEID) club.  Along with two other classmates, who weren’t able to join us on the ground, we worked with EGG’s management team to review and refine the company’s sales process.  After three years in operation, EGG is cognizant of the need to ramp up their sales and institute a structured training and development program for their growing sales staff.

As with any start-up, sales are the backbone of growth and profitability.  Without an increasing customer base, companies do not live long past their 3rd or 4th birthdays.  For EGG, sales have proved challenging for many reasons, both expected and unexpected.

Among the expected: doing business in semi-urban and rural areas around Tanzanian’s dispersed geography is simply time-consuming.  Roads are unreliable and the distance between villages is significant.  Then there’s the matter of convincing new prospects that EGG’s products are better than their existing electricity solutions (typically kerosene for lighting), and that they should spend their spare shillings on such a seemingly grand investment.

Once EGG establishes a foothold in one area, customers inevitably follow, but rarely at a pace that promises scale—at least not yet.  The challenge, unexpected or not, is to tap into the social networks of existing customers, effectively turning them into spokespeople for EGG’s products.  Whether through social, business or religious circles, the expectation is that an EGG client, who has already embraced and experienced the advantages of battery or solar-powered energy, can bring others to the light, so to speak.

EGG has started down this path by aggressively increasing the number of “EGG Distributors” or independent agents in key villages and towns.  Typically the proprietors of small shops or kiosks (“duka” in Swahili), EGG agents simply allot shelf space to EGG batteries, serving as a swap spot for clients in the area.  As EGG expands this “distributor” or agent network, so too will the company’s footprint—and its potential for long-term sustainability.

After spending two weeks between the office in Dar es Salaam and their remote stations, our team developed a workshop for EGG’s staff.  Our goal was to energize the team as much as to impart some of that golden b-school wisdom recently absorbed in our Cambridge classrooms.  Translated into Swahili, we covered the elements of a successful pitch, the “funnel” of customer acquisition, and the four P’s of effective marketing.  But mostly, we got everyone talking (also in Swahili) about what was working and what wasn’t quite there yet.  Like any thoughtful start-up, EGG’s success is due in part to its ability to assess and iterate on its sales model.  For two days, EGG’s headquarters were filled with just that—the chatter and real-time iteration of a team committed to bringing affordable power to off-grid families and business.

As the company expands their distributor network and continues to train their staff, EGG will have plenty to celebrate when their 4th birthday rolls around.

SEID projects with Vision Spring

Who knew that eye glasses could be so life-changing? Over the course of the semester, we had the opportunity to work with Vision Spring, an innovative social enterprise that seeks to alleviate poverty through the sale of affordable eye glasses. The organization recruits locals to work as Vision Entrepreneurs who conduct community outreach and educate people about the importance of good eye sight. Vision Spring customers range from house wives in El Salvador to farmers in rural India. Nonetheless, after having interacted with Vision Entrepreneurs, all customers cite the life-changing nature of eye glasses. With their new glasses, they can achieve higher levels of education, do their jobs more effectively and achieve their full potential.

Despite this innovative business model, Vision Spring has experienced demand generation problems and asked us to develop a marketing strategy that they could implement across their global offices. While we initially struggled to come up with a strategy that would succeed in all countries, we focused on design of effective marketing materials, market segmentation and partnerships with organizations that would help Vision Spring access these specific markets. We also provided a case study on how this strategy would work in El Salvador so that Vision Spring could see how our marketing guide would work in action.

We are so pleased to have had this great opportunity and look forward to hearing more about the amazing work that Vision Spring is doing around the world.

Marcus, Natacha, Nori and Akhil

SEID project with Sanergy


For the past six months, our SEID team has had the opportunity to work on an expansion strategy for Sanergy, a Nairobi-based social enterprise working to provide improved sanitation in East Africa. From the beginning of the project, our team was super excited to be working to support the Sanergy team. We had no idea, however, just how amazing of an experience we would have.

Shortly after Christmas, three of our teammates had the opportunity to join the Sanergy team in Nairobi, Kenya to finalize our market research. After celebrating the New Year with the Sanergy team, we then traveled into some of Nairobi’s slums to learn more about Sanergy’s current operations. After learning more about their sales force, construction, and waste processing, we then began our journey to investigate sanitation needs and challenges in the rest of East Africa. For the next three weeks, we met with a variety of social entrepreneurs, government officials, NGO workers, local neighborhood leaders and residents to learn more about the sanitation landscape in Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda.

Overall, our SEID project was an amazing experience and although we learned more than we could have ever imagined (and, perhaps, even wanted to know!) about sanitation in East Africa, our team feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Sanergy.

 

SEID project with Sproxil

Motivated by an interest in technology and global health innovations, our SEID team worked with Sproxil to improve consumer utilization of their mobile technology service to combat drug counterfeiting in Nigeria.  The technology allows consumers to authenticate their pharmaceutical purchase by texting an item-unique code to Sproxil for verification.  Combating counterfeit drugs is a pressing global issue; a report by the International Policy Network estimated that fake tuberculosis and malaria drugs kill 700,000 people a year.

Nigeria recently experienced a series of bombings and a nationwide labor strike and, as a result of the instability, our team wasn’t able to travel to Nigeria as planned.  We still managed to speak with local NGOs and government officials and interact directly with in-country project managers for multinational drug companies and their sales staff members.  These conversations helped us better understand drug distribution channels and the information needs of consumers.

We determined that both consumers and stakeholders, including pharmacists, sales reps and community groups, need to be better informed about the risks of counterfeit drugs and the benefits of Sproxil.  Our recommendation included a range of education efforts spanning print ads, radio dramas, street theater, as well as the creation of a pharmacy industry interest group and the integration of other innovative global health platforms.

SEID project with eLuma

In the last ten years, the word “sustainability” has grown in importance in the international development space. Sustainability has become a development category unto itself, and often refers to environmental considerations: how can we ensure our project has a neutral or positive impact on climate change? How can we encourage farmers to grow organic? At other times, it refers to generating positive social benefit.

But an original and oft-neglected meaning of sustainability lies in the simplicity of the word itself: how can our project be sustained, once we’ve moved on? This may be one of the greatest challenges of development work. Countless well-intentioned projects boast stellar outcomes, and five or ten years later are abandoned. Some critics of international aid (like Dambisa Moyo) point out that assistance from outside parties can often create dependencies and reduce incentives for local governments and entrepreneurs to stimulate lasting change from within.

eLuma, a project supported by IDEAS, was quick to identify this challenge, and has wasted no time in seeking a solution. The eLuma team is creating a business center in Yele, Sierra Leone which will leverage electricity to stimulate new enterprise, economic activity, and community development. eLuma realized that a rural business center not only had the potential for social impact; it also represented a good investment opportunity for utilities and energy providers. Enterprises, even when small, typically consume more energy than a residential household, and thus can significantly boost a utility’s revenues. The team called this the “eLuma effect” – the existence of a business center would absorb unused energy supply during daytime hours, when most residences don’t use electricity (check out the graph on the right). It would also stimulate the local economy as a whole, raising consumption (and thus, revenues) across the board.

As members of Sloan Entrepreneurs for International Development (SEID), a team of four of us set out to make the business case – in essence, the sustainability case – for eLuma. Our group came from consumer products, management consulting, and international development, and we’d all be stretched by the new assignment: build a financial model that shows the return on investment a utility can get from building a business center.

Sounds simple, right? We thought we had one of the most straightforward SEID projects. Two months, many meetings and much research later, we finally had a clear picture of what our model needed to answer, and what information would go into the model to yield that answer.

This was a fascinating process for us, and provided a hands-on lesson in how innovators turn ideas into reality. You get an idea, and you’re inspired; you tell people about your idea, and it takes on weight and momentum; then you try to produce something concrete from your idea, and are suddenly slapped with an onslaught of frightening practicalities. This last step can derail many fine ideas, and even in our mini-project, there were moments when we weren’t sure which path to take, or whether we could make something that worked. In the end, though, our persistence and some computational wizardry from my teammates produced an exciting return-on-investment tool for eLuma. The eLuma team has already taken it to Yele’s utility company, so we think that’s a good sign.

So what’s the takeaway from this experience?

If you’re interested in development, innovation, or entrepreneurship, find someone who’s doing it already, and get on board. Find a way to volunteer or assist with an IDEAS team, or with any project that excites you. You’ll learn about working in a startup, and you learn to push through the difficult stages to produce something real. You’ll also directly experience the unique challenges that arise in a startup that pursues sustainability – of people, planet, and, well, profit (the last of these p’s may be as important for the sustainability of development projects as the first two). If you have an idea but aren’t sure where to begin, helping another project is a great way to get your feet wet.

The best part of working on our project, though, was the ability to take part in an organization’s growth and success. eLuma has just finished the first phase of construction for the business center, recruited a bank to open a branch in the center, and already received 40 applications from Yele entrepreneurs who are eager to open up shop. We’re excited to see what’s next!

Learn more about eLuma on their blog: http://projectyele2011.wordpress.com/

Action Learning Refreshed

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Every year, SEID fosters productive collaborations between MIT Sloan students and new ventures in emerging markets as part of our action learning projects. Teams of 3-4 MBA students spend the fall semester working with these organizations to solve important str

ategic challenges they are facing. In the spirit of the MIT motto, Mens et Manus, MBA students get an amazing opportunity to apply the theories from the classroom to have real impact on the ground.

This year, SEID has organized 8 projects for MBA students to immerse themselves in. Each project is an entrepreneurial venture with operations on the ground in a developing country. Our projects are spread throughout the world in Tanzania, Iraq, Ghana, India, Liberia and Nicaragua and cut across a whole range of industries.

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Enabling Rural Innovations in Tanzania

Many projects and new socially-beneficial technologies designed for the rural developing world fail to achieve sustainability due to a lack of local investment and an inappropriate infrastructure for project implementation. The Kwala LaunchPad will serve as a rural incubator for new ideas, generating income from entrepreneurs and student groups in need of a safe location and the proper infrastructure to implement self-sustaining projects in the rural developing world.

61% of Africans live in rural communities. Many of these small villages are rich in culture and community but lacking in economic opportunity, resulting in exponential urban migration. The introduction of new technologies to rural communities is not a new concept. However, many of these technologies fail to become self-sustaining during implementation because they were not suited for the local culture and economy or due to a lack of resources, information, and local markets. Further, the many enterprises and institutions that are designing such technologies are often left without a suitable environment to successfully test and implement their ideas.

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Building Low-Cost Cold-Storage Supply Chains in India

Promethean Power Systems, founded by MIT alumni, has developed a solar-powered refrigeration system for commercial cold-storage applications in off-grid and partially electrified areas of India. Their technology enables food suppliers to store and preserve perishable food items—such as milk, fruits and vegetables—without the need for expensive diesel-powered generators. The company believes that creating a cost-effective solution for cold-chain food distribution in emerging markets is an excellent business opportunity that could deliver enormous social and environmental benefits.

The MIT Sloan student team will help develop a market research and technology road-map that will help Promethean expand. The team will assess countries for expansion and determine market sizes for the primary markets commercial cold-storage.  In addition, the team will look at new markets beyond milk chilling and identify potential partners and acquisition targets. Finally, the team will develop a technology road-map for product development by recommending activities that will ensure Promethean is  constantly seeking out and applying the latest technology break-throughs for their chilling system.

Improving Child Road Safety in Tanzania

Amend develops, implements, evaluates, and brings to scale evidence-based public health programs to reduce the incidence of child road traffic injury in the developing world. Road traffic injury  is the leading cause of death for children ages 5 and over in Africa. Poor infrastructure, spotty law enforcement, bad vehicle maintenance, and ineadquate education, along with other factors, make Africa the continent with the world’s highest rate of road traffic injury. Research shows that over 4% of children in urban Africa are injured in road traffic in any given year. With operations in Ghana and Tanzania, Amend’s “See and Be Seen” program combines a variety of interventions to reduce the incidence of child road traffic injury in Africa. One of Amend’s interventions is the promotion of reflector use; the use of reflectors and other visibility-enhancing measures (“conspicuity enhancement” in the terminology) has been proven to reduce injury.

Over the last several years, Amend has developed a reflector-enhanced schoolbag made expressly for the African market. The bags are designed to be affordable, durable, and, of course, provide conspicuity enhancement qualities to help keep children safe as they walk by the road. As our goal is to reach as many at-risk children as possible with our schoolbags, simply giving them away is not sustainable. Most children in urban Africa, even ones from poor families, already use schoolbags of some sort; in other words, parents are already buying bags for their children. So Amend uses social marketing techniques to distribute and sell the schoolbags. Amend’s competitive advantages in the schoolbag market are as follows: they can lose money on the bags in the short term; their long term aim is to be financially self-sustainable; various services (design, advertising, marketing, business advice) are provided pro bono; and the quality of the bags is significantly higher than most other bags of a similar, or higher, price in the marketplace.

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