Lessons Learned In A Third-World Economy

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After the Emerging Economy class trip to Liberia wrapped up, many of us sat on our trans-Atlantic flight trying to process everything we saw and accomplished while in Africa. There are few words which can accurately describe the experiences, but the lessons will stick with us for some time now. Liberia is a country 10 years into reconstruction from a brutal civil war. Whereas Liberia was once the economic leader of Western Africa (if not the continent) it is now a world away from its past.

While the challenges for this country are many, there are also many assets working in the favor of Liberia. For one, there has somewhat of an influx of Liberians who fled abroad during the conflict. Many of these returning natives were educated in the US and learned an educated method of running businesses, etc… There is also a lot of passion among the local business leaders. They understand the country’s past (both good and bad) and are committed to seeing Liberia return to its former self.

I could write for pages about the experience, but here are a few of the lessons we learned on this side of the world:

  • The challenges we face in America are not unique to us: The team grappled with issues including an accurate price structure, lean process analysis for patient treatment, and defining a marketing plan. You could open the doors at almost any American business and find executives tackling the same problems. The difference in Liberia are the tools available to solve those problems (lack of government structure, no IT infrastructure, etc.). The real challenge was to think of a solution without the conveniences of home.
  • Small victories are BIG: There is no shortage of problems and issues at the JFK Medical Center, and it is easy for the staff to get mired down in everything that is not working. We were able to take a moment to encourage them on their progress. For example, a year ago, the hospital (which collects ~$8 million in revenue each year) was using paper and pencil to complete its accounting processes. When the new CFO took over she immediately began implementing QuickBooks. While long term, QuickBooks is not the solution, moving its finances to an electronic format was a big step forward for the operation.

Other lessons learned include:

  • Never underestimate the value of asking someone their perspective on the business. Many of our ideas came from the people who know the organization the best — the employees who work there every day! It is easy to think you know it all and very humbling when you realize you don’t.
  • Show your passion for the work at hand. Once the employees saw our genuine excitement for their success they were more willing to share information and give us the “real story”.
  • Lastly — it is important to find a good bar with a cold beer to share your stories with your teammates.

Without a doubt the Emerging Economy course has been a highlight of the Kelley MBA experience and I highly recommend it to everyone!