I just returned from another trip to the Dominican Republic where I'm working on a new project. This time, along with a friend in the MBA program, I'm developing an international branding, marketing, and distribution plan for a female-owned chocolate co-op called Chojoba located in Joba Arriva, DR. It's my capstone project for my MBA, and I'm thrilled to end on such a high note.
The 100+ all female owners have spent the past three years volunteering their time to plan and get the chocolate factory up and running, and only recently did they get all of their equipment delivered, their molds purchased, and the generator running to keep the lights on. The enthusiasm the group of 10 ladies who were present for my interview of them (through a translator, because I stupidly still don't speak Spanish) was palpable, and the plant manager, Domatila, was incredibly sharp and showed exceptional business acumen.
Working on these projects is such a good way to keep reminding myself (and by extension you who read this) about the things we commonly overlook in our businesses. Here's what I learned from the ladies of Chojoba:
- Hard work doesn't always yield immediate financial reward. Yep, sometimes people work for little to nothing because it's their passion, because they believe in the mission, or because it just feels right. No one at Chojoba has received a penny for their labor, and they won't until they make enough money to sustainably pay back their loans and pay a reasonable wage to all workers.
- Collaboration among competitors can often yield better results than isolationism. The nearest chocolate co-op facility is over two hours away, but they have acted as mentors for the ladies at Chojoba. They willingly gave advice for how to start up, shared recipes, and agreed to help each other with production capacity should either of them have spare production capacity when he other can't meet their demand. Instead of trying to put each other out of business, they see helping each other as a way for everyone to do better.
- Americans don't always know better. When we go into developing countries to consult with locals, we often take our American demeanor with us. We know better because we're big and rich, because our economy is so much bigger, because we have the secret formula for all things business. Well, not quite. If we begin dictating, no one wins. If we don't listen to others, why should they listen to us? If we don't respect cultural differences and preferences, how can we possibly know with certainty how to help them?
I can't wait to research and develop a plan for Chojoba to reach markets far beyond the DR, with their help, understanding and feedback guiding the process.