In January 2017, Layla traveled to both Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania as part of the Africa Immersive Field Course (IFC). This course challenged a group of second-year MBA students to investigate business solutions to three of the major problems of our time: (1) rapid and massive urbanization, (2) increasing scarcity of clean water, clean air, clean power, and effective transport, and (3) the apparent inability of federal governments to fully address these problems with their own capabilities and financial resources.

Layla and her team had a busy and exciting two weeks meeting in person with thought leaders in both Ethiopia and Tanzania to tackle these issues. Below she shares with us what she saw, did, and learned.

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We begin on a busy main street in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The weekend is upon us. The weather is perfect and we have the entire day ahead of us. Let the learning and cultural immersion begin! 

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Our first cultural activity was a visit to the National Museum of Ethiopia. 

Our guide (dressed in plaid to the right) ushers us through the various exhibits sharing insights about pre-historic artifacts, heritage and works of art with origins in Ethiopia.

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After making a stop at the Ethnological Museum, we arrive at the Holy Trinity Church. It was built to commemorate Ethiopia's liberation from Italian occupation and is the second most important place of worship in Ethiopia. 

In observance of religious customs and rituals, we removed our shoes prior to entering the cathedral. The diversity of shoe styles, sizes and colors triggered thoughts about the diversity inherent in our group and the corresponding perspectives we would bring to the work ahead.

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After spending a day learning about Ethiopia, in addition to its people and their customs, we were off to Reppie, Ethiopa’s first and only Waste-to-Energy plant. Here we talked “trash” all day – from how much of it is produced daily, to how it is transported, to creating value from it by converting it to energy. 

Our objective during the IFC was to learn as much as possible about various infrastructure sectors and ultimately to come up with opportunities for Public-Private Partnerships in these areas. Since my team was assigned the Municipal Solid Waste sector, we leveraged our visit to Reppie to hold our first meeting with local experts. Our contacts at this meeting connected us to other helpful contacts, who connected us to other helpful contacts, and so on, until our time was up and it became our turn to educate our contacts by presenting our findings.

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In-between meetings we carved out time for cultural experiences starting with eating local cuisine. This is Injera, the edible base of a typical Ethiopian mixed vegetarian plate. No fork and knife needed. 

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We visited Mercato, the largest market in Africa. While walking along the recycled goods segment of the market, I got a sense of resourcefulness, craftsmanship and resilience that characterizes Ethiopia and its people.   

At the market, I came across…mortar and pestle’s manufactured from recycled pipes; shoes made from recycled plastics; and enough recycled containers to fill a truck!

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We also paid a visit to the exquisitely skilled weavers near the Shero Meda market. While there, I had an opportunity to purchase a scarf of the very same pattern pictured here, woven by this exact woman. It was a very gratifying purchase. Look out for the scarf in pictures to come!

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Most mornings/ afternoons, we had meeting, after meeting, and after that, more meetings…

Even on those days we made sure to find a place and a time to capture the moment.

To the left is a group picture captured by our guide, Yigo, at the office building of the Addis Ababa City Manager. There we learned some of the most pressing municipal solid waste related challenges the city is facing.

To the right is a good ‘ol selfie captured by yours truly, just after our meeting with the Africa Union Commission. There we learned that organizations like African Union Commission could be instrumental partners for private companies to enter the Municipal Solid Waste sector.

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In-between meetings we had meals and coffee breaks. We’d often marvel at how our diverse social, ethnic, academic and professional backgrounds led us to the same place, while appreciating the bond that could only come from the uniqueness of an all-woman team working on a Municipal Solid Waste project.

On the bottom right corner is a photo captured at the original Caffe Tomoca, where our guide, Yigo, taught us that coffee is Ethiopia’s gift to Earth. Who knew that the coffee plant was first discovered in Ethiopia?

Since caffeine was sure to have an effect on me, I kept it light and ordered coffee with my milk instead. On the upper right corner is a photo of a Layla-approved macchiato, which I consumed just in time for non-stop work on our final presentations.

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On our last day in Addis Ababa, a week’s worth of meetings, guest speaker panels, cultural experiences and memories to last a lifetime, culminated with a presentation to an audience of peers, industry experts, academics, government officials and prominent business leaders. Here (upper left) is the Intercity Transport sector team.

After our presentations, we were off to what I would call a very memorable final dinner. There were endless selections of local dishes, a variety of local drinks (can’t forget the honey wine!), and fascinating performances that lasted through the course of the night. The fun and laughter continued all night long and into the wee hours of the morning. Shout out to my IFC roommate Ashley M. (pictured in the gold skirt) for keeping me accountable!

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After a week in Addis Ababa, it was time to say good-bye and head on our way to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. Shout out to our Program Manager support staff, Gabe and Agni, for managing to move a group of 40+ students from one country to another without so much as a single issue!

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Hello Tanzania! Hello Indian Ocean! Hello sunshine, heat and humidity!

We received a very warm welcome from a group of children we came across during our first adventure (our quest to find lunch and a subsequent afternoon walk) in Dar Es Salaam.

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In true IFC fashion, the day after we arrived, we kicked off our time in Dar Es Salaam with a few cultural immersion experiences. We boarded two vans from the hotel and headed to Bagamoyo, Tanzania, a town founded at the end of the 18th century. It was the original capital of German East Africa and was one of the most important trading ports along the East African coast. Now, the town has about 30,000 inhabitants and is the capital of the Bagamoyo District, which was recently considered as a World Heritage Site. 

While in Bagamoyo we…toured the ruins of the Coral Mosque at Kaole and ancient graves from the 13th century; captured unique photos from the local fish market (can you spot the baby?); purchased artisan crafts at the local art market; and enjoyed a meal and afternoon stay at the Oceanic Bay Hotel & Resort, where we were pleased to find a beach.

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On our fourth day in Dar Es Salaam, we embarked on an AfriRoots Reality Tour that exposed us to the less travelled parts of the city. This “Reality Tour” was easily among the most memorable moments of the entire IFC course. 

While on the tour we…took a ride on a Tuk Tuk (mototaxi), a popular, local mode of transportation; met prominent women entrepreneurs from the community; enjoyed local treats such as fresh crepes and rice cakes, coffee and peanut brittle; and shared laughs with the children [pictured in the center is my teammate, Miryam, meeting a local child – coincidentally named Miriam!]  

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We also learned about some of the real challenges: illegal dumping, polluted waterways, limited access to clean water, and under-resourced primary education…

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Despite the sobering realities however, we also had the privilege of meeting several young leaders on the ground who are working tirelessly to make a difference. They see a bright future, poised for growth and development.

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On our last day in Dar Es Salaam, yet again, a week’s worth of meetings, guest speaker panels, cultural experiences and memories to last a lifetime culminated with a presentation to an audience of peers, industry experts, academics, government officials and prominent business leaders. Here (upper left) is the cover page of our PowerPoint deck – can’t claim having made a presentation without it.

After our presentations, we were off to another very memorable final dinner. There we were greeted by an endless selection of local dishes, a jazz band and a sunset like no other. The fun and laughter continued throughout the night and into the wee hours of the morning. Shout out to my IFC roommate Ashley M. (pictured in the green dress) for keeping me accountable, yet again! 

It was definitely an experience to remember. Until next time, Tanzania!