We’ve been very impressed with our students and their business ideas – some have even launched their business already! An exemplary case of this would be of one of our students, Sajal. She has founded a water filtration business that aims to provide Kathmandu households with purified drinking water – a real issue in the city. By offering individual filtration units and extended payment terms, their business is able to allow households to breakeven on their investment in 3 years and access water for a much lower price going forward. This is an innovative solution to a rampant problem in the country, made possible by spreading the household’s investment over their payback horizon.
On Thursday, we got the opportunity to attend a Nepalese wedding of one of our student’s cousins, an 800-person affair of excellent food, drinks, and dance. Our team was grateful to be invited by the family and even took over the dance floor to learn Nepalese dance moves. What a unique cultural experience!
On Friday, our host and partner the Nepalese Young Entrepreneurs Forum (NYEF) hosted their monthly social and meeting. We were lucky to be invited and got the chance to sit in on a Q&A session with a local politician and then interact with the members at the social that night. It was fascinating to meet with members who have operations in diverse businesses such as tourism, energy, movies, construction, and finance.
This weekend we travelled to Chitlang, staying at a nice resort in the countryside. It was a relaxing break from the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu and a good chance for us to bond with Sweety and Cheteze, two NYEF employees who joined us for the weekend with their friends and family. On Saturday we were taken around a small reservoir near our hotel by canoe. After docking, we took an hour to explore the picturesque backdrop of the reservoir, which included forest-covered mountains and a large suspension bridge. We then returned to a relaxing night around the campfire where we enjoyed playing the local game called Carrom, listening to music, and had great conversations. For dinner we had a seemingly endless supply of chicken, paneer (a vegetarian cottage cheese dish), and vegetables roasted over the fire pit. It was a great meal and a good night of bonding with our new friends.
The next morning, we woke up early for what we were told was a light three-hour hike up a Nepalese mountain. Our expectations of a laid-back trek were crushed within the first hour of the hike. The porter took us on a crumbling dirt path that was no more than a meter wide, where any misstep could have led to painful tumble down a steep cliff. Needless to say, it was an exciting journey. After three hours of exhausting uphill climbing (and a few scrapes later), we made it to the summit. On the way back down we decided to take a more relaxing route and explore some local farms.
On Wednesday, we wrapped up our program with our student’s final business pitches. It was a great day all around, with many interesting businesses being presented. We are very confident in their ideas and look forward to seeing many LEADER alumni starting businesses in the country. We hope that we will see many more years of fruitful partnership with NYEF.
Our team arrived one by one in Ethiopia with a sense of excitement and knowledge of very few words in the local language, Amharic. We later discovered we were mispronouncing the very few words we did know, but our students and locals always appreciated the effort. The airport was located in Bole, a newly expanding area southeast of the city centre with a lot to offer culturally, entertainment-wise and with endless dining options. The drive home from the airport to our hotel made us anxious to explore the city.
We had our first true cultural experience at Yod Abyssina, a traditional Ethiopian restaurant accompanied with traditional Ethiopian dance for entertainment. True to Ethiopian tradition, meals are preceded and end with a hand-washing ceremony called sen’na bert, during which water is poured over the hands with a basin held below to catch the water. The team quickly grew fond of the various Ethiopian dishes that are accompanied with injera bread, a spongy sour dough made from teff.
Ethiopia has a very strong café culture and life seems to take a slower, more relaxed pace in general. This was a very warm welcome to our team given our busy lifestyles back home. We discovered cafes that doubled as art galleries and tasted some of the best coffee in the world in the country of coffee’s origin.
Some of our best memories were formed inside the classroom, as there was nothing more rewarding than seeing the development of our students. Our students were initially very shy and reluctant to participate. As our friendships grew stronger, so did the engagement of the class. Business plans were slowly beginning to shape and the enthusiasm of both our team and our students mounted for each following class.
During our first weekend, the team made arrangements to go on Safari outside the city to Awash National Park. Accompanied by a trusted tour guide and a scout, we saw many animals, bathed in a natural hot spring and relaxed by the raging Awash Falls. It was incredible to imagine that baboons, warthogs, wildebeest, tortoises and other exotic animals were common sights for the locals.
It had only been our first week and we had already made many friends in the area. The students quickly became close friends of ours and it became routine for them to stay behind after class to socialize and share stories when they were not working on their business plans. Over time, our vocabulary grew as well thanks to our Amharic for Beginners guide and we were well on our way to becoming Ethiopian.
By the end of the second week in Addis, we were getting accustomed to life in Ethiopia. We were taking the local “big taxi”, which were large vans that had set routes around the city with an “assistant driver” who shouted out the route/destination out the window. Understanding the way these taxis worked was confusing, but we quickly mastered the basic Amharic words required to take them, and really started to feel like locals.
In the classroom, our students were really beginning to understand the case method and warm up to us. We were able to get our quiet students to start debating against each other in front of the class, and the business plans were really starting to shape up. By this time, the students all had their ideas, business model, and marketing strategies thought out. They covered everything from educational services to spas to advertising – we had a truly ambitious group.
In our second week, we also met with Dugassa and Hanna from the Entrepreneurship Development Centre (EDC), our site partner along with the Addis Ababa University. We were able to tour their office and understand more about the work that they are doing for entrepreneurs in Ethiopia. EDC offers training, workshops, mentorship, and advisory services to entrepreneurs all over Ethiopia. It was inspiring to hear about the work that they do every day to serve entrepreneurs.
Our last week in Addis cumulated in two big events for our students: a case competition and their business plan presentations. For the case competition, we did a case on a canoe company and had the students come up with solutions. It was amazing to see how far they had come since the first class, confidently standing at the front of the room and owning their presentation.
Our LEADER team trickled into Macedonia one by one from different parts of the world. I was the first to arrive. After backpacking for 7 weeks in Israel and Eastern Europe I was a bit travel-weary and was happy to have the night to myself. Once I had showered and unpacked, I flipped through the welcome package from our site partner, Macedonia 2025 (MK2025). I was surprised to find the LEADER project was heavily featured as one of MK2025’s capstone events. When we met with MK2025’s site director a couple of days later she told us the LEADER project is one of the best business courses available in the country. Then I read through the bios of our 42 students. Many of them had MBAs or specialized degrees in economics, accounting, and marketing. Ok so... no pressure! Having finished MBA classes eight weeks earlier naturally I had already forgotten everything I'd learned. I couldn't imagine how I was possibly going to teach these people anything. But I was motivated to try.
Our first teaching day was heavily administrative. We spent four hours talking about the case method, introducing ourselves, and having each of our students introduce themselves to the class. I felt confident it was an important part of everyone getting comfortable in our classroom, but I didn't feel we’d exactly captivated the students. The next day wasn't my teaching day (each day two of our team of four instructors taught – one for the lecture, one for the case), but I went just to sit in class, get to know the students, and see how our classroom norms were shaping up. I was SO nervous. But watching the students’ eagerness to contribute and my colleagues’ skills at running the classroom made me more comfortable. Tomorrow it was my turn. Marketing lecture. I could handle that.
I went home (after our requisite post-class culinary plunge of course) and worked until the wee hours of the morning tweaking my slides, practicing which parts would be interactive and which would be more lecture-based. I tried to remember how I felt a year earlier before I took my first marketing class. I reminded myself to be comfortable with silence, and resolved to be challenging but supportive. Then called my husband, snuck in a few hours of sleep, and woke up feeling excited. Here goes!
And go it did. Having worked as a camp counsellor for years I was used to standing in front of a group (although I was usually singing ridiculous camp songs involving a great big moose or the like. I wasn't sure that would play well here.). I paused, planted, and projected: “What the hell is marketing, anyway?” Apparently I swear a lot as a teacher. But I think it broke the ice and made the students more comfortable to see that I was being myself. It turns out I'm a pretty bossy teacher too (not a surprise because I can be a pretty bossy everything in life). I’m not sure my style was ideal for every student, but it helped manage the classroom of students eager to talk over each other. Nonetheless, off we went together, the students and me. They took the material everywhere I hoped they would and some directions I didn’t anticipate. Thankfully my Ivey training had prepared me more than I gave it credit for. Knowledge came rushing back as I needed it and the students and I explored market analysis, marketing strategy, and marketing tactics in 90 minutes or less. They were champions. And I was hooked. We went on to explore more complex cases and lectures as our two weeks went on. I could tell they were gaining knowledge and confidence with each passing class. And so was I. When I got to watch some of their business pitches on the last day in front of a panel of highly respected Macedonian business leaders, I got a little teary-eyed with pride.
LEADER is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever participated in. I am so grateful to Ivey for giving us the knowledge, the LEADER program for giving us the opportunity, the students for challenging and trusting us, and MK 2025 for supporting us on the ground. Finally, I owe a big thank you to my colleagues Matt, Anna, and Jeremy for being great teachers not only to the students but also to me, and for making this experience such a blast!