Sunday, March 20, 2011

The end and a new beginning

Team Philippines arrived yesterday morning back in Chicago. Since we got into Seoul so early, I think our luggage was the first loaded onto the plane. It left plenty of time to watch the NCAA tourney on the computer, though the ND win occurred somewhere in flight. We were surrounded for hours by travelers heading to various parts of Asia (Vladivostok, Shizouka, and more) who seemed to have no interest at all in the games. And since our baggage was first on in Seoul, it was the last off the plane in Chicago. After dropping off Ben and Bridget, I made it home around 2 (of course we did have a stop for coffee). That ends the travel phase of the project.

Now we transition to the tough work of putting together everything we learned into something that is beneficial to CRS.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The long trek home

Its been a busy couple of days. On Thursday we ventured to Benafacio Global City to meet with GE. Ten years ago, the Philippine's Army occupied the area, now it is a growth of buildings housing MNCs. We had a great visit and the head of ASEAN for GE flew in for the meeting.

Of course, since it was St. Patty's Day, we had to go out and celebrate for a bit--and an Irishman from Belfast took us to the only decent Irish pub in Manila and bought us a round of green beer.

We couldn't stay out too late because we had to be on the road Friday morning early to head up to San Jose City. It was a 4+ hour drive, but afforded us an opportunity to meet with a co-operative that sells a majority of their onions to Jollibee which is the fast food restaurant of the Philippines. Its a success of a large corporation partnering with local producers, MFIs, and NGOs.

After all those hours on the road, we had time to grab a bite to eat then head to the airport. We're now sitting in Seoul, Korea for a six hour layover. We'll be back in Chicago in the morning. Somewhere during the flight, we missed ND winning against Akron--but I assume someone has it DVR'd. There's always Sunday.

Thanks again to CRS for organizing such a wonderful trip and learning experience.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Photos from the gorilla trek

Update from Rwanda

On Monday, Team Rwanda was excited to meet CRS/Rwanda country representative, Jennifer Nazaire. We spent the day with Jennifer and Muthoni Nyoike, GE’s Middle East and Africa Compliance Leader. Muthoni shared GE’s strategy in Africa, and its current involvement in both business and corporate social responsibility programs in Rwanda. We then had the opportunity to travel to Nyamata Hospital to observe the medical equipment that GE donated.

As we returned to Kigali, we took a sobering visit to the Nyamata Church. The church is now a memorial for the 1994 Rwanda Genocide. A museum representative explained in vivid detail the horrific events that took place in the church where nearly 10,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutus were brutally murdered after cramming into the small space in hopes of finding refuge. Monday evening, we sat together to reflect upon our visit to the memorial. It made the development that we have seen and the experiences that we shared in the villages even more amazing. We had a lot to discuss, and thought about what we could learn from Business on the Frontlines, and the implications the class had on our roles as future business leaders. One of the ideas that came through was that perhaps ‘good’ was less of a designation, but more of an aspiration – we can hope to be good, it’s something to strive for, but not something to expect.

On Tuesday, we split into two teams to meet with the Rwanda Cooperative Agency (RCA) and Rwanda Agricultural Development Agency (RADA). Both teams had the opportunity to speak with the Director General of each agency. Mariana, Justin L., Israel and I learned about the RCA’s role to promote, register and regulate cooperatives. We also had the opportunity to hear about RCA’s savings and credit cooperative organizations, which were developed to help ease vulnerable people from low level savings to more organized financial institutions. Justin W., Rob, Ahmad and Adam learned about the challenges that RADA is addressing throughout the agricultural industry, such as population growth and land mass.

Tuesday afternoon we visited the Genocide Museum in Kigali. It was another heart-wrenching yet thought-provoking experience. The museum was even more of an education in the history of genocide around the world, and inspired a lot more thought on the topic. Seeing the photos of children killed during the terrifying days, and looking at the last mementos of lost family members really hit home. The thought that these were some of the only memories people had of their family put the team into a somber mood. Feelings brightened later as we went out to the best Indian restaurant in Kigali, Khana Khazana. We gorged ourselves on delicious naan and curries, while Justin W. struggled to avoid any spiciness approaching his tongue, and Mariana and Justin L. celebrated the extreme spiciness of some of the dishes.

After concluding our field visits with government agencies yesterday, we spent this morning exploring the various artisan shops in Kigali. It only took the guys about five minutes, while Mariana and I marveled for quite a bit longer. But, in the afternoon we got down to business. We look forward to presenting to our partners at CRS/Rwanda tomorrow and reuniting with our family and friends in a few days!

Gorillas in the Mist

Saturday March 12th. 11:30 am. Team Rwanda starts their journey to visit the high Mountain Gorillas driven by Robert –or Roberto Anderetti as we usually call him. After 2 hours traveling along winding roads on the edge of a 2-miles down precarious views, we arrive at the Asoferwa Kinigi Guest House –our lodge for the night.

After a short walk, the team heads to the guest house’s restaurant where they play spades and eat local delicacies as they watch the skies go from blue to black in a matter of minutes. The volcanoes, that earlier loomed high above, disappear into the dark clouds. The team enjoys card games and local Primus beer in front of the communal fireplace, while pouring rain bangs loudly on the roof. At 10 we all go to bed since we have an early appointment with the next part of our adventure.

Sunday, March 13. 6:00 am. The six adventurers prepare for their journey by downing a simple breakfast of eggs and toast. After a short ride, we arrive at the Visitors office were we have a short security brief: 7 meters away from the Gorillas is the instruction. We are placed with a guide and he tells the group we will see the Bwenge Family consisting of ~20 members. As we ride on a very bumpy road to the base of the volcano, we silently thank our hosts for sending us with Robert on a sturdy 4x4. 30 minutes later we arrive to the base (which is at 2,500 meters above sea level) and our guide informs us that 2 hours of trekking up the volcano awaits us before finding the Gorillas. Welcomed by farmers and children we traversed for 75 minutes through Irish Potato plots. Upon reaching a large rock fence that marked the start of the National Park, we saw a radical change of vegetation: from farm fields along the mountains to dense and muddy jungle. We met one of the Gorilla trackers who lead the way chopping away the jungle vegetation with a sharp machete. Forty minutes –and several stinging nettles injuries- later we are told to stop and leave all of our bags, as we had reached the Bwenges. Nervously we prepare. “No Flash, no sneezing, no coughing, no loud sounds”, we are told, “leave your walking sticks and follow our lead”. We walk for a few feet and suddenly we hear a strong sound of shaking trees. Our eyes open widely as before us appear a baby Gorilla and its mother eating branches. We ogled for what seemed like eternity and then followed the guides to see more members of the family. The leader of the pack–a 24 year old silver back- ate plants followed by a dessert of berries. He then found a comfortable clearing where he attempted to remain awake for his guests, but eventually surrendered to his food coma and laid down for a nap. During this time we were able to see more baby Gorillas and females. Before long our hour with the Bwenges was over. As a parting gift, one of the babies jokingly beat his chest to remind us of who was in charge. Careful not to fall along the slippery, dark, muddy trail we rushed out of the Jungle taking a final glance at the thick vegetation and the towering trees. We walked down in silence in disbelief of the amazing experience we had been blessed to live.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Such a cool day. We sat down with CRS this morning and kind of sketched out our week 1 hypothesis. And we also got into the business of determining our next steps and how we and CRS Philippines were going to work together over the next couple of weeks. I think we all walked away with some good insights and a plan for going forward.

After a delicious take-out lunch, Team Philippines took off through the Intramuros district of Manila. This is the old part of the town surrounded by large stone walls. It is where CRS, Caritas, and many other reputable groups are based. We toured the Cathedral of Manila and then went down to the old fort that has a central role in not just the Philippine history but also American history.

Fort Santiago sits atop the river at the edge of Intramuros. Anyone who has controlled the Philippines also controlled this fort. It is also central to the history of the Philippines struggle for independence in that Jose Rizal was imprisoned and executed from there. He was surely not the last to die there as we got a special tour down into the dungeons. Our "guide" snuck us in where few tourist get to go to show us where at least 600 Americans and Filipinos died during the Japanese occupation. Needless to say we were grateful for the out of bounds tour, and it further highlighted the special relationship that an American organization like CRS has in the Philippines.

Tomorrow should be an equally interesting day as we completely shift focus from coffee for our visit with GE and then a lunch with the ND alumni club...of course this is all down around the business district of Makati. Go Irish!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Meeting the Future President of Uganda

During the same hike as our below post, Tic Tac Corruption, another
experience immediately contrasted the actions of the pastor and again
left us feeling hopeful for the future of Uganda. This optimism is
embodied in a young man we call the “Future President of Uganda”

Among the children we noticed one local boy in particular with large
eyes and a ripped t-shirt that appeared near the back of the group and
cautiously watched our every step, while politely correcting foot
placements. We introduced ourselves to each other, his name was John,
a 13-year-old in school and we continued on our way.

Once we reached the top and realized that many of the locals expected
some sort of “payment” for accompanying us, John told us not to pay
them and that he didn’t expect anything. In fact, he even told the
other (much older) men to leave us alone. He told Kirsten under his
breath that they weren’t speaking right and were probably drunk –
something that we have seen is all too common among the men in Uganda
during the later afternoon hours.

We began our descent to hopefully avoid any sort of confrontation and
my friend John stayed right with us. On the way down, we talked about
American movies, the beautiful Uganda countryside, and were in awe of
his impressive English. Closer to the bottom of the hill, we started
telling him how much we appreciated his help and encouraged him to
stay in classes. Very casually he thanked us for our conversation and
said he’d stick with our group as we headed back to the hotel so we
could keep chatting.

As we meandered back to the hotel, Kirsten asked him a very common
American question that is asked of young children, “John, what do you
want to be when you grow up?”. He replied, with full confidence, “I
want to be the President of Uganda.”

In a country where corruption is rampant throughout the
system, young people like John, with the desire to see change, give us
hope for this beautiful country.

Tic Tac Corruption

After a day of driving for hours to meet with villagers in the field, some of our team decided to venture out of our hotel to get a little exercise and marvel at the beauty of Uganda’s landscape. Mount Abim towered over our hotel and seemed like a reasonable hike for us to do in the couple of hours we had before dinner.

We started the ascent, but a crowd quickly grew of children and young men who were interested in watching four “mzungus” struggle up the hill that they have no problem climbing. Once we got to the top, we quickly we learned that their interests also lied in potentially receiving some kind of reward for “guiding” us up the path.

In Business on the Frontlines, we frequently discuss the difference between aid and development and realized this was an opportunity for us not to buy into the system and simply handout money, especially when nothing was agreed upon from the outset. We did not want to become part of the problem.

Nonetheless, we wished that we had something small, like candy, to reward the younger people for their enthusiasm and smiles as we climbed the hill. As we hiked down, Kirsten remembered that she had a box of Tic Tacs in her purse from the Amsterdam airport. We guessed that there were about 50 mints left in the box, but probably close to 60 children at the bottom of the hill waiting for arrival back on the ground (they, of course, we much faster at getting to the bottom of the hill).

How were we going to going to equitably share the Tic Tacs? We didn’t want to start a riot among the children over the candies and we also wanted to make sure everyone got their fair share.

As we got closer to the bottom, we saw a man amongst the crowd of children who had told us he was a pastor for the local church while on top Mt. Abim. We decided the best method for sharing the Tic Tacs would be to give them to him and instruct him to share them with the children.

After much clapping to celebrate our successful hike at the bottom of the hill, Kirsten carefully took out the Tic Tacs and clearly instructed the pastor to share the Tic Tacs with the larger crowd of children, which appeared to grow to 70-80 people.

The pastor smiled and indicated that he understood our instructions and outstretched his hand. Upon receipt of the box he quickly took out one of the mints, gave it to his own son, pocketed the rest, and walked away.

Shocked at what he had just witnessed we called the pastor back – “wait, no that’s not we went meant. Distribute the mints now, with us here.” The pastor ignored us and kept walking.

This may seem like an inconsequential story, but after everything we learned about corruption and authority in Uganda we failed to put our findings in practice. In a sense, we are glad that it happened because the lessons of “Tic Tac Corruption” keep entering our dialogue.

What should we have done differently? Should we have paid the villagers at the top of the mountain? What about telling the children about the candy so they could hold the pastor accountable? Is the pastor doing the right thing by looking out for his family?

Money and Manila

Today we visited two different groups which have different business models. Our first stop was to pick up Terry from the airport and then we headed off to meet Bote Central. They are producers of high quality coffee from various kinds of beans. Their big draw is marketing Civet (Alamid) coffee in Manila and internationally. But that is not what makes Vie and Basil Reyes unique. Basil used to be in the vinegar market when he learned about the civet that lived in the trees where he was working. Being an entrepreneur, he shifted his business. He and his wife run their entire operation out of the first floor of their house. He is a tinker and constructed his own small scale roaster with an integrated circuit that takes some of the expertise out of the process. This is unique because they want to push this processing capability down--essentially enabling clusters to capture more of the value from their produce. He's a big thinker so he sees a domestic and international market for these locally produced single origin coffees sold through the internet and the government is coming around to his idea by providing him with a grant to get the equipment out to the groups. They are not an NGO--they are business people and so are always looking to expand their marketing from opening their own point of sale roasters to possibly exporting their small scale processing technology in other countries. But they do it with a social goal in their mind as well.

Our second meeting introduced us to Nicholas, head of the Philippine Coffee Board. He represents the old-school business model. The government realized production was dropping, they needed a solution so they contacted the main Manila business group (in Makati, the central business district) and through those cultivated relationships came up with the board. Using government funding, the board distributed fertilizer out to the farmers and used those relationships to gather supply that they turned over to roasters to produce their own specialty coffees. They were successful in stopping and partially reversing the production drop, and they further want to develop the capability to produce coffee. However, their optimal endstate is not having small farmers in business for themselves as it is to create scale that could support a single operation to produce coffee for Manila and export.

So what do these two different perspectives show--Manila is still central to any plans for coffee in the Philippines even though none is grown here because this is where the money is. Relationships matter--a theme we've heard throughout the value chain, and when combined with money, there is a real power dimension that cannot be overlooked. Week 1+ is done, and tomorrow we go into CRS to get down to work.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Team Rwanda checking in; Day 7

At the half-way mark, the Rwanda team is in good spirits! After a marvelous first week, we spent Friday evening recounting events and developing our “week 1” hypothesis. Between our group members, we have traveled by car over 1000 kilometers to the corners of Rwanda and visited representatives from each of CRS’ project divisions. Our meetings have spanned from one-on-ones with co-operative directors and the National University of Rwanda’s Dean, to group meetings with villages of over 300 people who participate in the SILC program. Our first week introductions have led to several exciting ideas about direction for CRS and its programs. We are going to continue testing and improving those rough ideas as we continue meetings next week. But it’s the weekend, so enough about “work.”

After developing our first week hypothesis, we treated ourselves to dinner at one of Kigali’s finest Asian restaurants called “Zen.” We have all been delighted by the number and variety of places to spend our student loans (or sign-on bonuses - for some of us). The restaurant scene is wonderfully established and we have had several meals that would rival even the best dining in the States. We have also visited Bourbon Coffee probably half-a-dozen times for much needed caffeine boosts. Along the way, we have dropped in on Nakumatt (chain of super-markets) three or four times for house-hold necessities. To say we are roughing it would be a stretch.

We will be spending this weekend out of Kigali to visit the volcano park and wild gorilla reserve in Northern Rwanda. As this is being drafted (Saturday morning), our team is humming along the North-South highway route with our trusted driver Robert at the wheel. Our destination is near Musanze, one of the northern-most cities in Rwanda in the high mountains near the beautiful five volcano region. Musanze is much higher altitude than Kigali, and we continue to climb higher and higher into the mountains, while watching thousands of hectors of corn and banana trees pass. About every minute Robert taps his horn to alert pedestrians along the way that we are coming and they should move. This is important because there are pedestrians EVERYWHERE. Our team continues to marvel at the sheer density of Rwanda’s human population. Even in the high mountains far between cities, there is a constant string of neat, rectangular houses and constant foot traffic along the roadside. Each home is accompanied by clean, swept, red clay yards, children playing, plots of subsistence vegetables and droves of locals carrying goods along the shoulder of the road. These beautiful sites accent the rich vegetation and breath-taking mountainous landscape (pictures to follow).

As we travel north and anticipate the exciting visit to the mountain gorillas, our conversation is always drawn back to the events of our stay. On Friday night we spoke to a young Rwandan business man. He told us that of his original clan of 500, only 50 remained alive after 1994. His family fled to Uganda during the genocides, and he only recently returned to his native land. And despite that horrifying context, his fervor and excitement glowed in his eyes as he talked about business and opportunity in Rwanda. As for the future of Rwanda, his words have stuck with us, “everything you see here has happened in the last ten years,” he said “now give us ten more years and just see what we can do.”

It’s time to wrap this up and go see some gorillas, but we want to leave a few thoughts of our first-week, specifically about the people of Rwanda. In the past week, we have been privileged to meet one of the world’s more industrious, welcoming and beautiful people. We are pressed to find barely a foot of the country that is not cultivated, planted and growing crops. Roadways are clean and smooth. Homes are spotless and sturdy. And everywhere we go, we are greeted with warm smiles and strong hand shakes. Anyone who believes Africa is “stuck” in a hopeless cycle hasn’t visited Rwanda yet.

From a happy, healthy, and excited team in Rwanda – happy weekend everyone!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Nestle Demonstration Farm

So Team Philippines split up again for the day but with new groups. Ben, Bridget, and myself drove to Tagum City (north of Davao) to visit our third Nestle site. This time it was their demonstration farm where they train farmers on growing techniques and best practices, and propagate seedlings for distribution. On this small farm of 11 hectares, they expect to produce 3 million seedlings this year in order to help farmers increase production. The Department of Agriculture mandates they produce 1.5 million, but the demand is much higher and last year they ran out. We learned even more about the strains of Robusta that originated from the Ivory Coast that Nestle recommends that these farmers grow. It got us to thinking more about the various varieties of Arabica and various strains of these varieties which would have to be examined before production for an export market could be built.

Aaron, Michelle and Ross are off visiting with the banks to learn more about the financing aspects for coffee. They aren't back yet, so maybe another post later today.

We also bid farewell to Mindanao today as we'll fly back up to Manila later on. Its been a great trip down here so far.

Reflections from Northern Uganda

Team Uganda apologies for the lack of posts. We have been up in Northern Uganda with no access to internet. We have had an amazing couple of days with a lot of moving and impactful moments, hope, and a strong desire to find a sustainable solution to the water situation we have seen first hand here. But as a team, we believe this opportunity is bigger than water.

Since our last post where we visited our first SILC group we have had the opportunity to travel to four more villages in Northern Uganda. Most of these villages are people who were in the in the IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) Camps for the last 20 years and have now returned back to their villages with in the last 2 years. These people are starting over with a threat looming of the rebel army coming back.

We had incredible meetings with all the villages. Each village we visited we would further perfect our method for running the meetings. In the end we began the meeting with the whole group – our team, CRS, and the men and the women of the village attending the meetings. From there we would break out into small groups, each with a translator – a women’s group, a men’s group, and a mixed group. We felt that we got the best insights from these breakout sessions where the groups were smaller and the people, particularly the women, felt more comfortable opening up to us.

We have so many stories from these visits that we thought we would just share a few insights and stories in this post:

  • As mentioned earlier, many of the people in the villages we met with had been living in IDP camps up until about 2 years ago. Within these villages, we met some incredible powerful people that were orphaned or abducted from their villages by the rebels. Their stories impacted every member of our team. We are still processing these interactions
  • We all felt the frustration of the opportunity within the villages. So much of their focus is on obtaining basic needs (getting water, food, etc) that planning for the future is not taken into account. In fact, the word future doesn’t exist in some of the local languages.
  • There is so much potential and hope of the people in the communities we met with this week.
  • One amazing aspect of all the villages we met with was the strength of the communities and their interest in working together to become better and help each other out
  • We’ve been eating a lot of local food such as ground hogs (edible rats), goat (including goat intestines), chicken, beef… Greg wins the prize for the most adventurous eater.
  • Oscar was the first to test out the sanitation practices of the village and the first ever to receive a standing ovation from the entire community upon exiting the latrine.

We are now headed out for Indian food in Kampala to decompress from our intense week!

So a priest walks into confession

and after two hours and no parishioners, finally someone comes. "Did you hear" they ask of now Archbishop Capalla.
"It's a tie"

That is Capalla's first exposure to Notre Dame during a game against Michigan from his time living in New York as a priest back before any of us were born. We learn all this and more during his first visit to Jollibee after mass this morning (he usually goes to McDonald's). Archbishop Capalla is an great man. One of the original members of the Ulema-Bishops Council in Mindanao that has built ties between the Muslims and Christians, he is full of interesting stories. His brother was in the NPA (Communist army) and now is an prominent businessman, while his brother-in-law was in the Filipino Army. Recently he was invited to Pakistan to help advise on minority issues and reshaping blasphemy laws. So went our interesting morning.

After a great start to a Sunday, we couldn't beat going out to the island off of Davao for a little sun and relaxation at BlueJaz (yes only one z). 3 of 7107 islands visited. We still have some work cut out for us on this visit yet.

Conversions in Northern Uganda

We have successfully converted James, our peace studies student to the “dark side” and we have evidence by the following comments:

-In discussion about how we want to create a PVC (plastic piping) business in Uganda, James offered to be an exporter and most importantly wanted a really cool name for our business.

-Then in a discussion about how our business would run James asked how would we get the capital for that. To which he followed up his capital comment with, “I can’t believe I just used the word capital. I didn’t know what that meant 7 weeks ago!”

James, you can now share this with your father-in-law so he can see all you have learned in grad school!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Peace and Justice

Team Philippines took a break from coffee today (research, not drinking) and gives a big thanks to CMEM in Columbio for their generosity in hosting us. CMEM is CRS' partner for peace-building in a tri-community (Christian, Moro, and Indigenous People). We were warmly welcomed to their community. Aaron, Ross, and Ben posed for pictures with our special police protection that has come from better interaction between the group and government. Michelle, as always, was the big hit with the locals.

We learned about their unique history and early activism starting with the "Jail Family". That was 19 farmers, a priest, and a lawyer who broke open the government rice depot during a famine. Since that time, the tri-community has tried to band together despite incursions from all 4 armed resistance groups in the Philippines and the government military units battling them. That is one aspect that makes CRS's efforts in this community unique in that they are building on a strong foundation of civic action groups that cut across religious divides. We were even joined today by the Italian priest who was among the "Jail Family".

While the community of Columbio must manage difficult tensions to build a stronger society and effective government, they are also dealing with another issue central to our course. Columbio sits atop immense natural resources which has gained the attention of foreign mining interests. CMEM has been able to unite different civic groups behind the effort to keep mining out of the community and made some inroads through the legal system. What they, the various government institutions, and the foreign company are failing to do is to adequately address the issues and interests through open and meaningful dialogue. The situation seems like a discussion right out of class on all the wrong ways for business and NGOs to interact. That is largely where our discussion with CMEM left off and lunch began. CRS has some difficult work ahead of them on this issue.

After leaving Columbio, bumping down rocky roads, and weaving through crazy traffic, we're finally at the terminal end of our Mindanao travel. Between the two teams we've literally traversed the entire island over the last week and now are in Davao, the big city on the island. It feels a bit different to be among the hustle and bustle of a big city again after being in some rather remote areas.

Have a good night/morning back in the states.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Philippines team's prayers with Japan and Islands of the Pacific

Team Philippines is safe in Sultaan Kudarat which is in the middle of Mindanao, safe from the shorelines of Gen San. We were meeting with the CRS peace and recon team and Par Johns when news broke of the earthquake in Japan. The team prayers go to the people of Japan and have been monitoring the tsunami and praying for the islands in the Pacific.

We enjoyed a night together as a team and preparing for a full weekend of meeting with groups the peace and recon team works with and The Archbishop Capalla for mass on Sunday.

God bless,
Aaron, Andy, Ben, Ross, Bridget, and Michelle.

Team Uganda Reporting in for a few minutes

We have five minutes of internet access so we wanted to share a few photos!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Kirsten's Post

We have had limited internet access so here is a quick update. So far
this has been an incredible journey with lots of insights,
frustrations, beautiful and inspiring people, and many unanswered

We left Kampala on Tuesday and went to Lira in Northern Uganda today.
We drove over the Nile River to get there! We had a really interesting
day in Lira. Half the day in this village with this amazing group of
women who are part of a group called Savings and Internal Lending
Communities (SILC). SILCs are a group of no more than 30 people in a
community who form a group with operating guidelines and a buy in and
serve as a “bank” and group savings. These are people that don’t have
enough money to receive loans from banks so they form their own
lending community. With this group of women, each member contributes
1,000 shillings per week which is less than $0.50 per week. They have
to attend a weekly meeting and are fined if they are late or do not
attend the meeting. If a person in the group has an idea they can then
borrow money from the SILC. (Some of us agree this policy should be
implemented at Mendoza meetings!!) Typically the loans are for no more
than 3 months at a 10% interest rate. They also can use their saving
on collective goods. For example, this group bought 8 cows that they
collectively share. There was actually one man in this SILC group. But
this particular SILC mostly women and really empowers them in the
home. Interestingly enough, having a woman treasurer is one of the
rules that some SILC groups has implemented due to trust issues in the
past. Women and children are the ones fetching the water, doing the
farming, preparing the meals etc. But this group of women were able to
get what they needed for their homes and work together. We then went a
visited their bore hole (well) which was broken (unfortunately no
longer a surprise to our group at this point).

Yesterday we met with the Lira CRS group and a district council
chairman and the water committee. Today we traveled to two villages
and gained more insights. One interesting thing we have learned in our
travels and meetings with each group is around the control the Ugandan
government (specificially the Ministry of Water and Sanitation) has
over the materials used for the bore holes and wells. Unfortunately
the pipes that the government requires typically break down after two
years and the villages do not have the funds to replace them.

Our remote travels have led to some internet connection issues, so
please stay tuned for more updates. As a quick advertisement for
future postings, here are some of the group highlights:
- Greg was offered (and declined) a local village wife
- Our group became the first white visitors to a remote village
- With the help of some locals, we summited and admired the beautiful
scenery of Uganda from Mt. Abim

We will report more from our last two days at the next internet connection!

Just taking the goat for a walk, no big deal

Today we reunited a bit early with the Northern Mindanao team after their itinerary was cut short due to 'activity' in the area. It's fun to have the team back together to compare notes.

Our second day in Mindanao began with a fruitful visit to Mr. Fred, a local buyer of coffee who supports his farmers with machinery, cultivation training, and subsidized social services. This on top of his time as the local pastor and chairman of the board for an orphanage. We had a great meeting with him learning about his successes and challenges while enjoying our first cup of Civet coffee. That afternoon we visited one of Nestle's mobile buying stations to better understand what the holder of 90% market share looks for when purchasing coffee. It has been fascinating learning so much about a product we all use every day, yet knew so little about. It seems like there is some real potential for a revival in Filipino production, it'll just be up to us to figure out how to do it.

Outside of our project scope we have had a very impactful visit. Travelling from Manila to Mindanao was like night and day. Manila is a bustling Asian hub compared to the much less developed, much more rural Mindanao. Even more surprising was the stark difference across provincial borders into Muslim provinces -- the difference is immediately noticeable. We were able to pass by the site of the "Maguindanao Masacre" and heard from our guides what happened in its aftermath.

We've really enjoyed the opportunity to meet with so many of these farmers and understand how they live day to day. Their strength, generosity and sense of community has been inspiring. And in return we give them the entertainment of Michelle's height. In addition to the constant stares and smiles, my favorite comments have included: "How high are you?", "What are you?" and "whooooaaaa".

Tomorrow we are meeting with coffee traders and then being passed off to the CRS Peace and Reconciliation team for two days. Should be an exciting change of pace!


We checked out of Malaybalay today and started driving further south. It took awhile to get out of Malaybalay because of the festival parade today. The entire town was packed with people (they started lining up on the streets at least as early as 5:45 when I first looked out. By 7:30 it was a solid mass).

We had one stop to make today up in Bagong Silang to an association (not quite a full co-op, but a registered grouping of 6 clusters totaling 119 farmers). This association already had two multipurpose courts (play basketball and dry coffee, corn, etc) but were in the process of building an all-weather raised drying station. It rains often in Mindanao, often sunny only 5 days a month during harvest time, making it difficult to produce quality coffee. We were joined by CRS’s partners Kaaniib who help with the implementation of the projects.

We said goodbye to Terry after lunch (he went back up to CDO) and we traveled on to link back up with the other group. For the first sunny day, it was sad to spend so much of the day in the car. But on the other hand, we have a full team now. Ross just popped into our room to see about getting a computer to type up some notes and maybe he'll blog some on what their team has been up to. Till tomorrow...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pictures from Rwanda

Pictures from our drive through Ruhango district; Panfilo, Father Anatole, Justin W., Mariana, Amy, Jean Paul and Janvier at Caritas Kabgayi; the volunteer field agent with cassava and showing us a SILC group savings box as the farmers share their stories.


From JW via AK's blogger account...

Today our team split into two groups. The first group, comprised of Justin L., Ahmad, and Rob, traveled to the Koakaka farmers Cooperative and the University of Rwanda in the Nyamagabe and Huye provinces (southwest Rwanda). The remaining team members, Amy, Mariana, Israel, and I, traveled to visit a SILC group gathering in the Kibungo province (southeast Rwanda). Justin L. Ahmad, and Professor Easley will be staying overnight in Huye, and we are looking forward to hearing about their experience tomorrow (3/10) at the CRS-Rwanda office in Kigali; however, this blog will detail group two’s experience at the SILC gathering in Kibungo.

This morning group two was picked up by our driver for the day (Robert) and met our CRS assigned liaison (Anthalie) just before 8am. From there we travelled nearly 2.5 hours southeast through one of the most picturesque landscapes in the world. The entire countryside was green with vegetation. We saw fields full of banana, pineapple, coffee, cassava, maize and other crops. Mountains and hills surrounded the road which was filled by endless clusters of pedestrians on foot, motorcycles, and bicycles. One unique observation our team noted during the drive was that the rural areas are densely populated; this country is literally bursting with activity.

Upon arriving in Kibungo we met the priest of the local parish and then traveled 15-20 miles on rocky dirt roads to the SILC gathering. During the drive we heard the children on the road yelling, “Muzungu! Muzungu!”, which means white person (according to the locals I’m a Muzungu). Eventually, we pulled up to a huge gathering of over 300 people underneath a group of banana trees in a small area next to the church. The people crowded around us, pulled up a bench, and asked each of us to stand on it and introduce ourselves. They enjoyed our humble attempts to say “thank you” in their native language. Next, our team sat with one of the 17 SILCs comprised of over 30 people in attendance and watched them meticulously account for their savings and loans. The success of the SILC program in these farmer groups was undeniable, members used funds to buy a cow, purchase goats, open a salon, and provide a mobile phone charging station in the village. Before we left, Israel played with a large group of children, Justin W. staged a massive race, Mariana and Amy were tailed by young and old alike, and we all were humbled by the chance to experience the culture in this wonderful community.
At the end of the day we each were served goat brochettes and fried banana with Coca-Cola and Sprite (yes Coca-Cola bottling company is everywhere!) and we were sent back on our way to Kigali.

Until next time…Amy, Mariana, Israel, and Justin W. (aka group 2)

P.S.– Group 1 we miss you guys!

Rain shower and speed race...


Today we went out into the field in Rwanda to visit one of CRS’ projects, the Farmer Field School (FFS). FFSes work in coordination with Caritas to provide health and nutrition education to farmers who own very small plots of land (.4 hectares or less)

The FFS attendees were very friendly, and we met with their group leader, Marius (on left), and the local Caritas field agents. A very grateful thank you (“Murakoze”) goes to Zacharie (on right), who patiently translated and guided us while we learned about the efforts and results of CRS and Caritas in the local community.

We also stopped by Lake Kivu before returning, and saw the lands of the Democratic Republic of Congo in the mists across the lake.

On our way back we got caught in a short rain shower, and entered a speed race with a few bike messengers (shown passing us in said downhill race).

--Ahmad, Justin L., and Israel

Cassava, what?

On Tuesday, Janvier traveled with Mariana, Justin W., Rob and I to meet representatives from and farmer groups participating in the Great Lakes Cassava Initiative (GLCI). Cassava is a plant grown in the Great Lakes region and is widely used by farmers for household consumption and sold at market. Some years back cassava was very vulnerable to disease, which devastated the farmers and their families. Father Anatole, Panfilo and Jean Paul welcomed us at Caritas Kabgayi and explained GLCI’s work to partner with organizations such as CRS, and local civic and government groups to identify farmers who would benefit most from participating in the initiative.

The GLCI organizes farmers into groups, provides several varieties of disease-resistant cassava seed to famers, as well as agricultural training related to planting the crop, crop rotation, and monitoring for signs of disease. Through GLCI, those farmer groups who receive seed and successfully grow healthy, quality cassava provide root cuttings to other farmer groups. This multiplication effect has helped the most poor and vulnerable farmers to achieve food stability. Laptops help facilitate trainings to the farmers related to more effective agriculture techniques and savings and internal lending communities (SILC), as well as to record and report project progress throughout the region.

In addition to the cassava multiplication efforts, CRS’ SILC project has been implemented across several farmer groups. SILC provides a means for the farmers to save small amounts of money with fellow groups members and then to borrow funds from the group for household needs or new business ideas. The SILC group, as a whole, agrees to lend funds to members with agreed upon repayment terms. With the help of field agents from CRS, the group makes its own rules and keeps its own records. At the end of a year, a group share-out returns funds to the members with accrued interest.

We had the opportunity to meet with over 30 farmer group members and SILC group members in their fields. We learned a lot about cassava farming and the hopes that the farmers have for their futures. The good planting materials and training provided through the initiative have helped the farmers achieve food stability, as well as to have enough cassava to sell at the market. Members were happy to share their stories from participating in the initiative and in SILC. Many women spoke to the positive impact SILC had on their ability to improve the livelihood of their households and to empower them within their communities.

Muracoze to Janvier, Caritas Kabgayi and all of the farmers who took the time to speak with us today!

Oh, and Mariana tried the cassava…only after was she told the bark is poisonous. So far, so good.

-- Amy, Justin W., Mariana and Rob

Farmers Lunch and tour in Bukidnon

When a Hilux can’t get you to the top or back down

Another busy day in northern Mindanao. Last night we stayed in Malaybalay in the Bukidnon province and today we ended up having four meetings. First stop was the municipal center where we talked with Romeo, the municipal administrator. Everyone thought we were either the Australians (who had a meeting later that day) or with the USDA. They were shocked that American college kids would have an interest in the area. He recalled back to the 60s and 70s when his municipality grew all kinds of coffee and he is happy to see the industry coming back with the renewed emphasis on the local farmers after the large multinationals made many inroads with pineapple and bananas. On the way out, we ran into the mayor who was glad to have us there as well and informed us to check in with the police chief (the military was running an operation in the highlands and wanted us to stay away).

The second stop was across the courtyard to the Ag office where we talked with a technician responsible for a zone above 1000m--prime Arabica land and a non-cluster farmer. We learned so much from their different perspectives on the difficulties getting farmers to grow coffee, mono-cropping, the influence of traders, and some of the hesitations of entering into clusters/co-ops especially among smaller farmers.

Our third stop was up to a CRS cluster and this was another great insight into some of the benefits of a cluster. Getting there wasn’t easy--we had to get out of our Pajero because it couldn’t get up the hill, so we jumped in the bed of a Hilux. That even had trouble sliding around on the slick red clay. At the top, we talked to two cluster leaders and several of the members. Since joining the cluster, they’ve improved their yield and the ability to sell it to Nestle at mostly grade 1 and some grade 2. That has meant a significant increase in revenue for them since they no longer have to sell to traders at below market rates. They then treated us to a great lunch--a coarser version of corn grits and boiled chicken. Getting down the hill was a bit trickier after the downpour as the truck slide off the road several times and we ended up walking several kilometers.

Finally, we were treated to a tour of Monk’s Blend coffee by Nicholas. Monk’s Blend is a locally sourced Robusta-Arabica coffee that serves a primarily domestic market. They buy above Nestle’s price so that they can get the highest quality around and churn out about 96 metric tons of coffee per year. The coffee has some fame as people in Manila ask for relatives and friends to bring it back if they travel to Mindanao. I bought a few bags of the blend and Ben picked up a bag of their Arabica beans.

We’re starting to settle in now that it is getting dark--might even have another cup of coffee since our hotel serves Monk’s Blend. Have a good night.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

CDO, Mindanao

Mabuhay from Mindanao

Our group had a little bit of a later start leaving the hotel at 7 this morning and flying to Cagayan de Oro in the north of the island. It was a beautiful flight looking down on the various islands of the Visayas. CDO is a totally different world from Manila. We were the only plane at the airport with a single baggage belt inside of an open air terminal.

So after landing and meeting Terry, we headed off into the hills for our first meeting of the day--a lunch meeting with the Mindanao franchisee for Rocky Mountain Arabica Coffee Company. Bobby and his sons are working to sell their single serve brewing machines into restaurants throughout the island. Right now they only have a few but are working on expanding. One of the main issues is that brewed coffee is associated with poor farmers while Nescafe instant coffee is the predominant choice. RMACC has an interesting model where they seek to control the quality from seed to cup.

Then it was off to meet Tito at Nestle’s Cagayan de Oro Processing Facility. It is the Philippine’s only facility for making Nescafe Classic and it serves the whole domestic market. If they are short on beans, they import first from Nestle Vietnam and then Nestle Indonesia. Not only is it a processing facility, but CDO is also one of their buying stations so they do an inspection there as well. In addition to defects and moisture levels, they also taste test the coffee which Ben and I tried out today. It was interesting that both companies are primarily trying to serve a domestic market in two different directions. Both are coping with generating enough quality supply, but RMACC is trying to change tastes and perceptions.

Now we are up in the hills in Malaybalay City. While the drive was not that far, the road is twisty and slow with traffic. A great dinner and then it’ll be an early night to get some sleep. Till tomorrow night...

Monday, March 7, 2011

Just another strategy session

It's 4am, 85 degrees, 100% humidity, and Aaron and I are sitting around our coffee table frantically scratching down notes and debating what role micro-finance institutions can or should play in developing a Filipino coffee industry -- BOTF is officially underway.

Today we split into two groups and flew to the southern island of Mindanao, the focus of our project. Team southern Mindanao drove two hours from General Santos (home of Manny "pacman" Pacquio) to a small coffee farming community on the base of a volcano. We had great interviews with a few farmers, and learned about their process from tree to market. They were gracious hosts and great sources of information. Tomorrow we'll meet with the single purchaser of their beans and hopefully have our first "cupping" session. We're also pushing to try some of the exclusive "civet coffee", a blend of beans that are eaten by small jungle cats who ferment the beans in their stomach and poop out a blend that goes for upwards of $150 per pound -- delish!

A couple shots from our day in Kampala...

Traffic signs are merely suggestions

We hit the ground running this morning. Ben and I were up by 6 and out for some breakfast and a stroll through the neighborhood before it got hot. It turns out that we all went out in pairs, but we didn’t see each other. At 930 we all met down in the lobby for our ride to CRS. It was only a few miles, but the traffic in the city is amazing. A couple quick honks on the horn to let someone know that: a) they are drifting into your “lane”, b) let them know that you intend to drift into their “lane”, or c) you are in my way and better get moving. I think everyone’s favorite so far is the Geepenee’s, which are half buses/half jeeps that are painted all kinds of designs that seem to be the most prevalent form of city transport. Not surprisingly given the traffic, they have some serious bumpers on them. I think we'll have plenty of pictures of them when we get back.

At CRS we were introduced to the staff and then Lionel treated us to a brief on CRS’s initiatives. Of course after all our research, everyone had a thousand questions and he could barely get through a slide without a dozen thoughts popping into everyone’s head. After a good morning orientation, we had a great lunch down in the restaurant--most of the dishes are named after the favorites of different Archbishops, Bishops, and Monseigneurs.

Heads up Uganda--we’re bringing you some info on local water usage/control in place here in the Philippines.

After lunch, we were off to APFTI, Advocate of Philippine Fair Trade. That took us to Quezon City which is part of greater Manila. We were treated to one of the largest round-a-bouts in the world--8 lanes wide circling 2 hectares (5 acres in the middle). Mr Vicente Roaring and Danilo “Danny” Ocampo gave us a great two hours of their time. Their organization focuses on the small entrepreneurs that serve a mainly domestic market. As such, the cost of obtaining the international fair trade label for each product is prohibitive. APFTI (and several other Filipino groups) have filled in that gap. Besides the craft and small processed foods industry, they have also been working on a project to see if they can put the value of roasting coffee beans into the hands of smaller clusters and co-ops so the farmers can serve a developing domestic market without having to go through traders and MNC buyers. It offers our group an interesting alternative to explore as before we had assumed that our go to market was to sell to either exporters or local roasters instead of the co-ops controlling the whole processing chain. Question your assumptions.

We also hit the local wet market this evening--plenty of small merchants selling everything from electronics, to vegetables, to meats and fish. The “butcher blocks” really caught my eye--they were tree trunks cut in 4 inch slices. Then it was off to the mall for some dinner. Of course this “smaller mall” is about double the size of the UP in South Bend. All this in close proximity to each other, but then again, when you’ve got to fight traffic like you do in Manila, it is much better to having everything close.

Tomorrow our team splits up as we head further south. Group 1 is myself, Aaron, and Ben and Group 2 is Bridget, Michelle, and Ross. We’ll be apart for a couple of days so look forward to some great posts as we get out to the coffee farmer level.

Middle of the Night

Team Philippines has made it to Manila. Korean Air was good--definitely worth it for the Bibimbap and a good movie selection. It was the middle of the night when we finally arrived, and that’s probably good thing because traffic wasn’t so bad coming from the airport. We might have made it sooner, but Ben got hung up in the immigration line--chose the wrong one. He should have been like Michelle and slipped through the short diplomatic/official travel line. Ryan from the Davao office was waiting in the hotel when we got here so he had about as late of a night as we did, but didn’t have to travel as far. We were all glad to finally make it.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sunday in Kigali

Team Rwanda is now in Bourbon cafĂ©, for some of us it is the second time we will eat here. The ambiance is peaceful and looks like an African inspired Starbucks. Wifi is free and the coffee is delicious! This morning we shared breakfast with Fortune, the Management Quality Coordinator for Catholic Relief /Rwanda, and learned all about his 12 years with CRS. He told us about how pleasant and reserved people from Rwanda are. After breakfast he drove us around the city for a while – we saw CRS offices, President Kagame’s home and Parliament buildings. Kigali is a beautiful, hilly and green city. We marveled at all of the families leisurely strolling on Sunday evening all formally dressed.

Back at the guesthouse, Amy and I went for a run, which was more challenging than we thought given the hilly nature of the terrain. Nevertheless, we got a good 30 minute run before going back to the house. Soon after the rest of the team (J. Liu, Ahmad and Prof. Easley) arrived, and we got some time to speak to them before heading out for dinner, where we are currently.

We are very excited to begin work tomorrow with CRS!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Part of Team Uganda has arrived!

3 continents, 4 countries, 2 long car drives, 4 security checks, and over 27 hours later Kirsten, Greg, Joe and I have arrived in Kampala. We are waiting on the arrival of Oscar and James tonight. After being in cold South Bend for the last couple months we could not be happier about the 70 degree weather here!

We are going to have lunch today with a Peace Corps volunteer living in Kampala thanks to Greg's PC connections, dinner tonight with Kirsten's contact who works for the One campaign, and get our bearings in Kampala. Should be a good day!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Team Rwanda

Our partners at CRS Rwanda team with local agencies to build programs that support the most impoverished farm communities in Rwanda. CRS’ goals are to “improve family well-being through agro-economic development and environmental stewardship” and “to strengthen the capacity of local agencies and communities to take control of their own development.” As a result, CRS has asked our team to assess the sustainability and long term viability of the local agencies supporting CRS Rwanda agriculture projects.

Over 85% of the labor force in Rwanda works in agriculture, and a significant proportion of these individuals are subsistence farmers. In the remote countryside, farmers are challenged with little or no access to quality seed and fertilizer, nor capital to purchase the products. Additionally, minimal infrastructure and no means of transportation make it difficult for farmers to sell their products at markets.

We are excited to learn more in country from our partners at CRS/Rwanda, and we look forward to keeping you updated!

-- Adam, Ahmad, Amy, Israel, Justin L., Justin W., Mariana and Rob

They grow coffee in the Philippines?

Coffee is one of the largest markets in the world, second only to oil and gas, and is very diverse. Coffee growing is concentrated largely underdeveloped tropical and subtropical regions. Many of these areas have experienced conflict in the past and some more recently than others; the Philippines, and specifically Mindanao, are no exception. Where there has been more stability and the right conditions, large coffee plantations have evolved; however, most of the coffee worldwide is still grown by small land holders. With the growth of Fair Trade standards and a greater international desire for good coffee, a lot of attention is now focused on improving the lives of these many farmers working the soil.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS)/Philippines has asked us, Team Philippines, to provide them with a greater understanding of the coffee value chain and identify opportunities and weaknesses. The Philippines were once one of the coffee powerhouses of the world, but have slipped into obscurity during the past century. The desired end-state is to facilitate CRS’s ability to better design and implement programs that benefit Mindanao’s small coffee farmers and their co-ops, and perhaps restore the country to their former prestige. To prepare, we have been reading everything we can on coffee against the backdrop of the course’s focus on development for conflict-affected regions. A heartfelt thanks to Winston Roast at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and Scott Murphy, a former Dunkin’ Donuts VP for their great insight into the coffee world that has gotten us off to a great start.

Our goal is to learn as much as we can while in country, gain an empathetic understanding of the difficulties that the these farmers face, and help provide the insight that benefits CRS, the Philippines’ coffee market, and ultimately those farmers. And if we’re lucky, get a little cupping in while we’re there too.

We have a long trip ahead of us and we’ll be putting in many hours before we leave and while on the ground, but we’re all excited for this opportunity and experience. Wish us luck as we take off on Saturday and we’ll keep you posted.

Team Philippines

Aaron, Andy, Ben, Bridget, Michelle, and Ross

So a peace studies student and a MBA walk into a bar in Rwanda, Uganda, and Mindanao …

Seriously, though, what does business have to do with peace? And why are MBAs and peace studies students visiting these countries together?

We all know that resource extraction, labor abuse, and environmental degradation has contributed much to human suffering and war. This is the dark side of globalization and business, and it must be contended with. But this is not the end of the story; not by far. We are asking how business knowledge and processes might contribute to the building of a just and sustainable peace, and how business and conflict affect each other, both positively and negatively. This new partnership between the Kroc Institute and the Mendoza School of Business is beginning to explore many of these critical issues.

“At its core, peacebuilding nurtures constructive human relationships. To be relevant, it must do so strategically, at every level of society and across the potentially polarizing lines of ethnicity, class, religion, and race.
- John Paul Lederach and R. Scott Appleby, Strategies of Peace: Transforming Conflict in a Violent World (2010).

If this true, then it is just as important to include business in the peacebuilding conversation as it is to include peacebuilding in the business conversation.

Team Uganda!

Oscar, Kirsten, Greg, James, Joe, and I (Kristin) are off to Uganda tomorrow. We were actually originally slated to go to Lebanon but due to the situation over there, it was decided to send us to another location. We quickly got up to speed on Uganda and could not be more excited about the trip. We are going to be working on a water enterprise project in northern Uganda where we will be assessing and making a recommendation on how to create a sustainable method for the collection and management of fees at community water points.

In our research, we came across some astonishing statistics:

  • In Uganda, the National Water and Sewage Corporation serves less than 5% of the population. All others use springs, boreholes, wells, gravity flows, rivers, lakes, and/or unprotected wells.
  • 40% of the Uganda’s population has no access to “improved” water sources.
  • An estimated 50% of the wells built in Africa fail after two years.
  • In small towns in Uganda, the local government and private water associations/operators regulate the water supply.
  • 1 out of every 4 deaths under the age of 5 worldwide is due to water-related disease.
  • In developing countries, around 80% of illnesses are linked to poor water and sanitation conditions.

We have tried to learn everything we can about water prior to departing but we all feel we will have a better grasp on current water situation once we are there in person. We look forward to sharing our findings and journey along way!