22 Tips for Living in a New Country

MIIS and FMS Alumna Danielle Steer Shares Tips on Living and Working Abroad.

Over the course of the next two months, 21 Frontier Market Scouts (FMS) Fellows will be heading into emerging markets as scouts, business development consultants, and impact investing associates. FMS fellows come from a variety of backgrounds and have very diverse international experiences.  For some, the FMS field placement is a first exposure to living and working in an emerging market.


As an alumna of the Monterey Institute MPA program, I can’t begin to count the number of experiences my colleagues and I have shared about being a development practitioner including “how to cope” and “methods for success”.

I decided to enlist the help of fellow FMS and Monterey Institute alumni to give our fellows advice for living and working in the developing world. Their collective advice stems from experience in Nigeria, Cameroon, Rwanda, Peru, Ecuador, Philippines, and India.

Tips for Living and Working in an Emerging Economy

  1. Talk to your taxi driver!  They have some of the best suggestions for local places to check out and more generally just some great stories about life.
  2. Get close to a family or two, especially if you’re in a more rural area.  This will give you so much more insight than just hanging with the expat crew.  Have meals with these people a lot.  They will also look out for you.
  3. Invest in a good fan that oscillates, embrace crowded bus rides, and keep a good sense of humor.
  4. It’s okay to be homesick. There may be moments when you long for the safety of “home.”  Find a way to bring a piece of home with you to self-sooth when need be (i.e. a DVD, favorite book, cooking spices and ingredients, or Siracha).
  5. When family and friends visit have them bring you items from “home” like cheddar, mac & cheese boxes, and socks.
  6. Take part in four things that can expedite building relationships – playing sports, music/dancing, food, & drinking (albeit not to excess or to the point where you cannot make sound judgments).
  7. Be prepared for reverse culture shock.  Sure, there will be some initial culture shock when you move out of your home country.  But no one ever prepared me for the reverse culture shock.  It might hit you when you order a coffee in Swahili at Starbucks or when you are overly cautious trying to cross the street in your hometown.  If you can, get in touch with other people who might be experiencing it at the same time or who can sympathize.  That community of people “who get it” when you are stunned by consistent electricity or hot running water is comforting.
Sierra Leone Peacebuilding J-Term Trip
Sierra Leone Peacebuilding J-Term Trip

Money & Safety

  1. In a taxi, lock both back doors. Sometimes people try to open them while you are sitting in traffic.
  2. Keep your money in two places on you. If a thief tries to steal from you, pull out your stack with less money and say that’s all you have.
  3. Keep $50 USD in small bills stashed away in your luggage.
  4. Try to find out before arriving at your assignment whether or not credit/debit cards are commonly accepted.  More often than not, you’ll need to carry cash, so finding an ATM in a well-lit, secure location is key.
  5. Put together a thoughtful budget before you leave.  How much are you willing and/or expecting to pay for housing each month?  Groceries?  It adds up quick, and if you’re traveling with a fixed amount of cash in the bank, you don’t want to find yourself in a sticky financial situation without a backup plan.
  6. A steripen is a great small investment. You can use it anywhere and it saves a bunch of money as opposed to buying bottled water.  It’s also good for the environment.
  7. If you are a single (read: unmarried) female, regardless of having a boyfriend or not, be prepared to frequently explain your lack of husband.  (Side note: You’re not likely to convince an inquiring man to change his stance on the matter, but don’t let it keep you from sharing your point of view.  “Some of my female colleagues chose to wear fake wedding rings to avoid this, but I personally didn’t feel right pretending to be married just to avoid these conversations.”)
  8. Keep your bag or backpack in front of you down by your legs or on your lap when traveling or at a restaurant.
Lock the doors!

Keeping in Touch

  1. A picture is worth a thousand words.  Take as many pictures as you can of your community, your work, and your travels but know when to be discreet either out of respect or for your own safety.  It might feel vain, but ask people to take pictures of you in the field as well. It makes for better storytelling and helps your family and friends to better understand what you did. Not to mention when you’re feeling nostalgic upon your return, it’s nice to look back.
  2. Post about your travels via social media. Someone in your network will always have a good recommendation for a connection, place to eat, or site to visit.

Work Life

  1. Patience is a virtue: In Peru, everyone is late, and people have different professional standards. In the end these are all cultural differences and shouldn’t be taken personally.
  2. Take your colleagues out to lunch!  You’ll get a taste for local cuisine, build relationships, and hopefully pick up on some local slang!
Team Peru- Youth in Cacchin
Team Peru- Youth in Cacchin

Final Advice

  1. During rainy season, don’t walk through flood water in the street. There may be a hole in the ground that you don’t see.
  2. Don’t be scared to rock a fanny pack!
  3. Never travel without the following:

                            Pocket knife & sewing kit                                                                  
                            Small padlock
                            Charcoal pills (for tummy aches and intestinal issues)
                            Calendula cream (for mosquito bites and burns)
                            Duct tape (It really fixes everything!)

Have any intriguing travel tips or stories of your own? Please share them via: professional.dev@miis.edu

FMS Alum makes Headlines with his Social Enterprise in Brazilian Favelas

Elliot Rosenberg

FMS alum Elliot Rosenberg has had great success with his own social enterprise, “Favela Experience.”  This is a way for tourists to stay in Rio de Janeiro’s Favelas and experience the local culture. Elliot’s personal experience staying with host families is what inspired his business model. By staying in the authentic and culturally rich Favelas, tourists gain a unique perspective and learn about the way of life of their hosts. Additionally, the local hosts earn a sustainable income and get the chance to meet culturally diverse guests. With the World Cup approaching, his business is growing and was featured in Next Billion Blog.http://www.nextbillion.net/blogpost.aspx?blogid=3670

When asked why he decided to start Favela Experience, Elliott remarked, “When I first visited Rio’s favelas, I was overwhelmed by the exciting culture and hospitable people.  I knew I had to open these communities to the world in an immersive way that contributes to local development.” By promoting tourism within the favelas, the negative connotations are also improved. Bloomberg Businessweek reports that during the World Cup, over 600,000 tourists are expected to visit Rio and compete for 55,400 hotel rooms. There lies an excellent opportunity for business and sustainable development within Rio’s favelas. Hotels are rapidly increasing prices, and tourists are even willing to pay more to stay in the home-stays.

When asked about the role of profit in a social enterprise, Elliot reports that, “Social enterprises should aim to be wildly profitable, in order to have the most social impact.  Profitable businesses get the best talent, they garner the most investment, and they expand.  If people can improve the world and become incredibly wealthy at the same time, why shouldn’t they?  It’s a destructive cultural norm that we censure social change agents who make a lot of money; it’s backward how we accept that the people who most harm society and the environment have the highest salaries. If we can reverse that mindset, we’ll see a radical shift in capital toward ventures addressing the world’s most pressing problems.”

Elliot’s social enterprise has been mentioned in CNNBloomberg Businessweek, and the Wall Street Journal. To learn more about the Frontier Market Scouts training, visit go.miis.edu/fms.

Reflection of my Time in India

HampiThere is nothing I can write about India that hasn’t already been written.  The land of a thousand paradoxes.  What I can do, is write the truths that I have seen in my time here.  I think I have seen humanity at its ugliest and most beautiful.  The visions of families, hard-working with low wage jobs, sleeping on the concrete on the side of the road.  Making dinner over coals on the sidewalk.  There is no privacy in a country of 1 billion people.  All the bodily functions are seen, people defecating, vomiting, urinating, spitting, farting, burping; nothing is masked behind frivolities of manners.  Children seem to grow up too fast, working jobs washing dishes at roadside cafes, or begging in traffic, or just being left alone for hours to care for themselves or more often a younger sibling.  A four year old girl that is left to care for her toddler brother who is pants-less and covered in the pollution of the traffic rushing past.  The stench of chicken and fish being sold in noon day Indian heat out of the back of a miniature van with no refrigeration or even Styrofoam cooler.  The sewage that rises during the monsoons and floods the streets, until the sun evaporates the liquid, leaving just the traces of solid sewage pieces behind.  Honking, constant honking.  Loud, unruly fireworks and prayer calls and dog barking that occurs at all hours of the day and night.  This is the daily street scene.  This is what I glimpse as a passing foreigner.

But, as my time has continued on here, I have also seen beyond these shallow scenes.  I have seen the humanity of families that have very little giving and sharing amongst themselves.  I have been shown kindness in the simplest acts.  An old man in line at the post office, trying desperately to assist in his broken English.  A family sharing their chocolate biscuits with me while on a long, tired train ride.  The stares and curious glances melt away when school children run up to say “hello” and practice their English skills – giant smiles on their faces.  The aromas of delicacies pouring from homes and huts, recognizing the scent of now familiar spices, wondering if the family is making chapatti or paratha to eat alongside their paneer and subsi dishes.  The beautiful colors that are woven into every aspect of life here; fashion, home, scooter, art, religion.  Flowers decorate homes, offices and roadside altars.  The sight of so many species of birds.  I have never dreamed of so many different bird and lizard species that are present while walking from home to work.  Some are songbirds, some screech, some drive me crazy with their whiny pitch, but recognizing the birds with their calls is a first.  Being welcomed into home after home with such sweetness.  Seeing a classroom full of children that have never met a foreigner before, where the concept of a country (like India but different) is hard to imagine and seems funny.  The scenery so breathtaking… paddy fields, boulders, valleys, mountains, exotic forests with palms big and small.

The juxtaposition of old and new in every feature of life here is dizzying.  It seems beautiful and magical and at the same time disappointing.  It’s troubling to see so much development abutted to despair.  I read a novel while I was here that was set in an anonymous Indian city in the 1970s.  The descriptions of daily struggles in the character’s lives, the corruption, reliance on underworld financing, government bullying, can be seen today.  It’s hard to reconcile that in the 40 years that has seen the rise of Indian technologies eclipse that of the first world, that the social struggles of yesteryear remain.  Troubling still is the feeling of powerlessness to even act.

Tech4Impact workshop #2 has wrapped up!

IMG_1765I had the pleasure to help organize and run the second installment of Tech4Impact, an accelerator program being run jointly by CIIE and Village Capital.  Entrepreneurs go through a 3 month accelerator and are taught how to evaluate one another’s businesses, and multiple times during the program entrepreneurs publicly rank one another according to the Village Capital investment criteria.  The accelerator focuses on technology ventures operating in the agribusiness, livelihoods, cleantech & sustainability, healthcare and sanitation, education and mobile/ICT.

Entrepreneurs had the opportunity to speak with business professionals, mentors, customers and peers to shape their business model and develop their ideas.  The ventures worked hard and had several 15 hour days using the time to meet with business professionals and refining their pitches.


Ranking the cohort pitches

Pitches were presented on the fourth day, where the ventures ranked their peers in regards to 6 categories: Team, Product/Service, Customer Validation, Profitability, Impact and Scale.  Each category is ranked from 0 – 5, with a maximum score of 30.  After the peer ranking, the top two enterprises from this round are:  Sanchayan and Aakar.  Sanchayan, delivers comprehensive financial planning, literacy & financial services like savings, banking, etc to low-income BOP populations.  Aakar is producing a biodegradable sanitary napkin product for the BoP woman consumer sold by women in a hub & spoke model across India.

Chatting with a co-founder of Sanchayan

Chatting with a co-founder of Sanchayan


Personal Reflection on Workshop #2

The workshop ran fairly smoothly, but I would make some major changes.  Firstly, it seems that the cohort doesn’t quite understand the criteria still which they are ranking each other on, which is an enormous problem.  For example, the ventures did not present on an exit strategy, even though this is 1/6 of the grading criteria.  I find this to be an enormous flaw.  Another major issue is that the ventures are not able to properly quantify their social impact.  In my opinion, too much time of the workshop has been spent on “MBA course-like” work – which can be supplemented by any incubator program.  CIIE and Village Capital needs to do a better job at distinguishing their accelerator program by preparing the cohort better to pitch to impact investors.  Lastly, I believe that this cohort needs to learn brevity when speaking about their enterprises.  A diatribe about poverty in India is NOT the way to begin a pitch to investors and the cohort needs to learn perspective on audience.

Areas of focus for final workshop:

  • Social impact measurement
  • Brevity in presenting
  • More storytelling to convey mission and impact of business

Different Approach to Social Change… Same old problems

While doing research for my MIIS capstone project, I have come across readings referring to the birth of the social enterprise sector. Many of the readings refer to the growth of the third sector leading to social business. The third sector is what falls between public, government run, and private, pure profit business. First, non-profits formed to bridge the gap that the market left behind; educating and providing health care for those left out of the traditional market. Then, large non-governmental bodies began to take over projects that sovereign governments failed to produce, namely infrastructure in developing countries. Social business has been a relatively new construct – becoming more popular in the 1980s with the widespread popularity of Dr. Yunus and others. The mission of a social enterprise is to solve social issues with traditional commercial business practices. Just as the NGOs and nonprofits fill a market gap, so does social business.

third sectorHowever, the more I see social businesses operating in developing countries, the more I wonder just how much impact the businesses will make, and how different the challenges are from traditional nonprofits. One of the greatest challenges nonprofits face in the developmental world is implementing programs that reach the root of the problem they hope to address or rather trying to solve for issues that are really effects of a greater problem (For example, mobile health clinics, which get short-term relief to otherwise unmet health needs, but fail to address the larger issues as to why certain populations are not receiving the health care needed regularly – poverty, rural underdevelopment, etc.). Here, I see similar social enterprises entering into a space that hopes to make an impact on short-term alleviation, but I have seen few that are working on interventions that cause long-term behavior change.

The next biggest issue is revenue stream. Although some nonprofits rely on multiple revenue streams, the majority rely on receiving grants in order to maintain their projects. Social businesses, in theory, differ greatly in this aspect as they rely on customers buying their product or service in order to stay open. However, from the businesses I have encountered, there have been few that have not started with a grant, convertible debt (with generous interest rates) and/or alternative revenue from partner organizations. If we in fact believe that consumer behavior can lead to social change, we would allow these businesses to struggle to survive, rather than continue to promote ones that would not make it in a traditional market.

Which brings me to the third big struggle or both nonprofits and social enterprises – measuring impact and when do you call it quits? Obviously, all development projects should have a timeline. Millennium development goals have a deadline of 15 years, culminating in 2015. The idea is that if the organizations that pledged to those goals have not made significant, measurable strides, then they should bow out and make space for those that can. The tricky thing about social businesses is truly measuring their impact and then deciding when it is time for them to close up and move on. Traditional businesses would love to live on for hundreds of years, and continue to expand – there are no deadlines set. So far, the social enterprise sector has said very little about setting timelines and milestones for success, and has instead focused on “scaling up,” and out, which reflects the traditional commercial sector. Determining impact metrics and setting timelines for success I believe is going to be the greatest challenge for the social enterprise sector.

Does Scaling a Social Enterprise Compromise Impact?

SELCO, a leading solar energy company based in Southern India, has been producing and selling solar energy units to the rural poor since 1995.  SELCO works alongside state-owned andcooperative-owned banks in India, to provide loans to rural households in order to assist in the upfront costs of the solar lighting.  Families that switch to SELCO solar energy products experience both lifetime savings on energy costs and incalculable costs on healthcare that is prevented from cleaner burning energy.  In addition to providing homes with cleaner energy, it is also reliable; users cited that SELCO products increased productivity and quality of life.

Food Stall with SELCO lamp

Food Stall with SELCO lamp

The company model works by setting up centers in rural areas that are responsible for selling and servicing the products in their vicinity.  These centers are small enough that they know their customers and trust has been built between the consumer and the SELCO employee.  This is an important relationship since SELCO has taken responsibility for underwriting the loans the “unbankable.”  In addition, by placing their centers within close vicinity to the households served, SELCO technicians are able to respond within 36 hours if equipment is in need of repair.  It is important to SELCO’s founder, Dr. H. Harish Hande, that SELCO maintain a good reputation with their customers, as trust in the product is a driving factor in the consumer’s choice to buy SELCO’s products.

SELCO lanterns

SELCO lanterns

Six years after inception, SELCO broke even in 2001.  Since then, the enterprise has gone through several pivots, investing in R&D, building partnerships and trying to keep its products competitive.  Although SELCO hopes to continue to grow at a steady pace, Dr. Hande believes that real impact will only continue by keeping their small-scale model.  SELCO management would prefer to assist others in replication of the model (in the North, East and West of India), rather than scaling up their enterprise.  As Dr. Hande explains, “It is better if we focus on developing other SELCO’s suited to the context where they would operate, rather than trying to grow this SELCO.  Ideally we should create an organization that can become investment partner for entrepreneurial entities – the SELCOs’ of the future. We can provide the seed capital and pass on to them our knowledge, things that we learnt the hard way. However, the new entities will have complete independence in the way they would develop their business, because their specific model needs to be suited to their context. We would like to do this in other parts of India first and thereafter, maybe, across the globe.”

Often, impact investors searching for investable social enterprises seek out businesses that have eventual scalability.  Profitability and impact are often examined hand in hand, and evaluated with the same weight, therefore making scalability a vital factor.  However, culture context is just one of a slew of issues that prevent many industries from scaling up.  Customer trust, social capital and depth of impact are challenges that scale may pose on a social business.  Perhaps, as SELCO’s management team would suggest, impact investors should re-evaluate their terms of measurement, examining the real trade-off between scale and impact.

Note: Information gathered and quotes are taken from: Mukherj, Sourav. “SELCO: Solar Lighting for the Poor.” UNDP Case Study: New York, NY, 2011.

New Year – New Social Enterprise Incubator

CIIE… And new change of scenery.  Last summer, I was working for a social enterprise incubator in Bogota, Colombia.  This Spring/Summer, I am working at the Center for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE) on the campus of India Institute of Management – Ahmedabad, India (IIMA).  CIIE, in collaboration with Village Capital is hosting the Tech4Impact Incubator.  The incubator has a cohort of 14 start-ups, which will participate in the 2 month long business incubator in which 2 companies will receive funding of at least $50,000.

Meet the companies here.


Researcher – Entrepreneur

Researcher- entrepreneur

A great post from an entrepreneur researcher above.

One of the greatest challenges I´ve found while getting a PhD is the seemingly impossible integration between a career as a researcher and that of an entrepreneur. At least in the IE program at Penn State I can say that the main focus so far has been on preparing graduate students to work either in industry or in academics. Entrepreneurship is hardly ever mentioned. Moreover, when it comes to talking about jobs after graduation, I swear only once in all these years I´ve heard someone considering starting an enterprise. Maybe it is just my luck, or the program where I am at, or the department…but that is what I´ve found as a graduate student in engineering and basically in any other major not related to business management. I must tell this was surprising to me coming from a B.A. program that emphasized so much on the importance of etrepreneurship.

Once (at one of the rare talks held in our department on the topic), I approached the speaker asking him about his advise on how to take my research into a business enterprise. He plainly told me: “Don´t do it, there is so much risk into it for someone young like you”. =o… As you can imagine… I was shocked!!

I mean, I hadn´t got a minor and taken so many courses in entrepreneurship and innovation to be hearing this now…


But, actually, remembering some of my thoughts when I engaged in graduate  education, I recall realizing about the many great things being done within the walls of those labs and classrooms and the little talent that researchers in general seemed to have for pitching their ideas  or finding business opportunities (I mean for themselves, because of course their brilliant ideas eventually become business opportunities for someone else like…big corporations). And this, by the way, goes along with another good article I read today about green marketing.

I would argue that society  truly needs potdocs, graduate students and researchers in general to gain the skills necessary to “pitch” their work in front of people capable of helping them to generate practical applications and business models. Why not?

Does that makes them “less scientific”, “less credible”?. I don´t think so, but all the opposite, as Francisco Palao explains in his post above (sorry is in Spanish!), it could be a unique opportunity for actually doing the research you want to do and, best of all,  …have fun while you do it!!!.

Is there anything better than that?

The Challenges of Global Poverty

I started taking the online course offered by MIT through edx a few weeks ago. Esther Duflo and Abhijit V. Banerjee are offering this course mainly around the findings described in their book (which I haven´t finished reading yet). I signed up for the course mainly with the purpose of better understanding what I had read before in such book and also as an opportunity for dicussing my doubts and ideas.

So far, I´ve got a positive experience. It is not a heavy load, specially after I was able to figure out the class logistics. Also, we have access to great material, including to an electronic versión of Poverty Economics. Unfortunately I missed the first three topics and was not able to complete all the activities for the fourth one. In any case, my goal is to obtain a better grasp of the “logic of the poor”. I will keep you posted on my progress.

And still learning…

Every new opportunity to meet a social entrepreneur represents a great chance to be amazed about the resilience of human beings and…to feel thankful for this experience called life.

Also, it is an opportunity to come back to the essence of human beings, an essence which does not depends on where someone was born, or on the many or few resources a person had, or on its network of friends or family but…essentially… on its essence as human being. A human being with basic needs and with unsubstitutable talents,  capacity of amazement and inside beauty…

Everywhere, in its own  little piece of the world, there is someone fighting. Fighting for what they enjoy in life: the smile of a child, the piece of fruit that fills a stomach, the good moments with friends and family, the evening watching a favorite sport team. Fighting for accessing low or high quality education, low or high quality health systems, low or high quality food and whatever the best means of a person can afford.

Having many opportunities in our lives can make us forget that to millions of people around the world being in our place could  signify not less than winning the lottery. Therefore,…we might better live as if every part of our lives is a treasure. A treasure for us not to simply enjoy but, especially, to manage wisely and to better distribute it among the most  people around us. We are simply managers of the treasures given to us. Let´s ask God what was the reason, what good quality he could have seen on us, to put in our hands and not on someone else´s the big responsability of managing such treasure.

Also, I just watched this great Bono´s talk and I couldn´t finish this post without recording his final phrase:

We are going to win because the power of people is so much stronger than the people at power

Financing Playa Blanca’s Energy

PictureLast week, Don Domingo Morales, our primary contact in Playa Blanca, asked for a proposal that included all costs required to electrify the entire village.  Although we have always been clear to communicate that Lumeter’s principal goal during our time here is to test our technology, his request signaled that Jona and I should begin talking with each of the four families about paying for their renewable energy.
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