9/27/16 – GSSE MBA student Alex Anderson is on the team of students in the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program who spent their summer conducting market research in Tanzania. This reflection is the 2nd post by this team – you can read part 1 here.
For the first time in my life, I am living in a country with a developing economy. This has been confusing and frustrating at times, but has also been exciting and has provided insight into this way of life that I couldn’t get from a classroom. Certainly I was expecting differences, but living here has highlighted many things that I take for granted in my daily life.
In Zanzibar, there are no retail store brands. When I first moved to Fort Collins, Colorado for the GSSE MBA, I was able to immediately find places to buy things I needed. I knew that there would be a Target for essentials, a U-Haul store to drop off my rented trailer, and a Taco Bell if I didn’t feel like having dignity for a day. On my first day, all I needed was a quick Google search to find out where all of those things were. Even if I didn’t know the local brands— Safeway for groceries instead of the Pick n’ Save down the street from my old apartment—they were easy to find and adjust to. In Zanzibar, the only things I’ve seen that even resemble American retail are banks and gas stations. Instead, Zanzibar is filled with small shops, sprawling open markets, and vendors walking around carrying their inventory in their arms. To find the things we needed, we would often ask a local resident for a recommendation. Although Dar es Salaam had more western shops (why is KFC so popular there?) and plenty of its own brands, it was still very unlike the US. Instead of Google searches and looking for large illuminated signs, we would need a more intimate knowledge of the area.
Another indicator that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore was mentioned in our previous blog post: everything here is recycled in some way, so the original owner is never the last person to use it. In Dar es Salaam, for example, one person mentioned this while we were talking about metal sheets used for roofing. He told us that once they were done with the sheets and ready to replace them, they would tear the roof down, go out to the street, and find someone to buy them. This highly manual and individualized approach is a common practice for all kinds of goods – and is very different from our highly automated, formal systems in the US. Although this makes it difficult to scale a business or increase market share, it may also signify compelling entrepreneurial opportunities, which we are excited to continue exploring.