Greetings from Ghana! You may be asking why an admissions intern is blogging from 4,500 miles away in the middle of the summer. I was a recipient of Babson’s Internship Sponsorship Grant and wanted to share my summer experiences and show the Class of 2015 as well as other prospective students why the Internship Sponsorship Program is so great (This blog also has the added bonus of keeping my mother from constantly emailing me while I’m away).
So now that I’ve settled into my surroundings here in Kumasi, Ghana I’ll catch you up on why I’m here. I was lucky enough to be accepted into the International Development Design Summit which is described by IDDS organizers as “an intense, hands-on design experience that brings together people from all over the world and all walks of life to create technologies and enterprises that improve the lives of people living in poverty” (iddsummit.org). After spending nearly a week here in Ghana (I arrived on Monday), I can attest to the truth in this statement. Not only have I met people from sixteen countries aside from the U.S. (Brazil, Cambodia, Guatemala, India, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and Uganda to name a few) but I’ve also gotten a chance to improve my manufacturing skills at a local workshop within the informal manufacturing district here in Kumasi and to participate in a market activity that was a lot like FME in twenty-four hours. It’s already been an extremely busy trip and I’m sure that the intensity will only continue to escalate as the weeks tick by. In the rest of this blog entry I’ll elaborate a bit about each of my days here at IDDS and hopefully give you a better idea of what I’m doing and who I’m doing it with.
Day 1: Arrival
After arriving in Accra we met Habib and Miguel, some of the organizers, who quickly got us on a tro-tro (a passenger van style taxi frequently found in Ghana) and on our way towards the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology–the site of this year’s summit. After a six-hour drive we arrived at KNUST and were greeted by smiling organizers who helped us to get situated and comfortable.
Day 2: Mat-Making
After lunch, Carla, an organizer from Brazil, held a workshop on creating art using industrial waste. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but Carla had created small, interlocking, multicolored, puzzle-like pieces from “foam rubber” better known as the padding inside sneaker soles. We sat down and began small pieces of “art” by creating different patterns with the interlocking pieces. It was a lot of fun and a nice way to get to know Jim, a British engineer who now resides in Tanzania; Narbeh, a product designer form Pasadena, CA; Abigail, a teacher from New Longoro, Ghana; Ashley, a former peace corps volunteer who recently returned to his home in Asheville, NC; and Ben, an Olin student from NY. It was amazing to see what a beautiful work of art our small pieces became when we combined them all together. We ended the night with a potluck dinner. This was a great opportunity to get to know my suitemates Mensah, Daniel, and Ashley better as well as Annmarie, a businesswoman from CO; and Oscar, a professor from Olin. Oscar kept us laughing as he taught us to make tostones–a fried plaintain dish– while Annmarie prepared spaghetti and I cooked up a rice dish.
The Mat-Making Crew
Day 4: Suame Magazine
We traveled to Kumasi’s informal manufacturing district, the home of KNUST’s Informal Technology Transfer Unit (ITTU). The day at ITTU allowed participants to sharpen there manufacturing skills by making wooden cooking spoons by hand, creating water pumps, building charcoal-briquette presses, casting aluminum corn shellers, and constructing stoves. I got a chance to build a water pump from a meter of pvc pipe, several plastic pipe fixtures and two marbles. It was a fantastic chance to get a better understanding of how many bore hole pumps work in rural communities and how to build one by cutting, welding, and sealing pvc. My time at Suame Magazine had been one of the highlights of my last trip to Ghana and seeing the team of experts that taught me how to find my way around a workshop without hurting myself or getting in the way was great.
Top: Some friends we made in Suame
Bottom: My partner Emma demonstrates our water pump
Day 5: Market Activity
Today as we were sitting in our project groups (I’m a member of the malaria prevention working group) we were given small manilla envelopes with a random amount of briquettes (IDDS monopoly money) and were told that as a group we had to create a product to sell at the “IDDS Market” which would be held the next day. The only rules were that we had to create our product using only the materials and tools available at the “IDDS Shop” and that we had to limit our products or product lines to a specific focus (if you were going to make bath mats you could not also make sunglasses). After several hours in the shop (literally hours deliberating on what to buy in a one-room shop with forty items for sale) we decided to purchase twenty meters of nylon rope, five meters of nylon string, sixty paperclips, and two bracelets made with Ghanaian style beads. We went back to our workroom and began to decide exactly what our lunchbox decorations would look like (lunchbox identification has been a problem here at IDDS and we were hoping to solve this issue and cash in at the market). We finally decided that we would make nylon braids with unique bead placement that would allow people to identify their lunchbox and keep the top and bottom of their Tupperware containers together. We also decided to create decorative straps to go along with the new water bottles we had been given. As time went by I began to realize that my abilities to braid, loop, and knot were below par so I started recreating the miniature paperclip clothes hanger that Becca, another member of our group, had shown me out of the paperclips we had purchased. After struggling with a few I was finally able to make one and after making another it was decided that we could sell the mini-coat hangers as earrings (a novelty item based on the fact that none of us can hang our clothes up due to the lack of clothes hangers at our hostel). I made several more pairs as the braiding, looping, and beading was finished up and we called it a night.
Olivia models our earrings
Day 6: Market Day
We began the day by bringing our wares to the market. It was exciting to get a chance to see the other groups products. I was really looking forward to practicing some of the techniques that I had seen sellers in the local markets such as referring to each new customer as “my friend”, drawing them aside to shield our conversations from passersby, and assuring them that “for you, a special price”, and even throwing in “but this deal is between us, if anyone asks you how much it costs tell them you paid (add ten briquettes)”. It was also great to see how excited people got when they saw our products, the hostel employees, who had been given briquettes and invited to purchase products at the market were some of our best customers, frequently returning to get another pair of earrings or to buy a bracelet (the beauty of multipurpose bottle straps!). We were also able to get around the market and purchase products from the other groups. I was able to buy a small Ghanaian flag and a super-scrubber which I hoped to use while hand washing my laundry. After all of the sales had been completed we had made 683 briquettes in revenue after subtracting the cost of goods we had a profit of 440 briquettes which put us behind a group that had made actual coat hangers, and a group that sold a number of different “housing enhancements”. It was a great way for participants who were unfamiliar with business to learn about markets and to give them an idea of what it meant to create a venture.
The Ghanaian Flag I purchased at the market.
In the next few weeks I will continue to blog about my experiences. I hope to get a chance to interview some of the other IDDS participants so that you can get an idea of the diversity of nations, occupations, and experience levels here at IDDS. That being said, our internet here is not completely reliable and I’ll be spending most of next week in a village that most likely will not have internet access. But I hope to post again soon!
P.S. Thanks to Jaffer, a participant from Zambia who works for USAID, I was able to hand wash all of my laundry from the last week. In the words of Jaffer “all of this work forces you to be considerate of the way you wear your clothes”. That phrase is one small step for Rayshawn, and one giant leap for my mother.