Consulting put into practice
When the chance to compete in a real-life consulting scenario involved in growing a Kenyan pig farm presented itself, business students from Brandeis and Babson College enthusiastically embraced the task. But the daunting nature of the problem quickly became evident: how can a group of university students in America devise a business model for farmers living thousands of miles away in a country most of them have never visited?
This past semester amid final exams and other end-of-semester responsibilities, four teams of Brandeis undergraduate and graduate Business students, as well as a team of undergraduate students from Babson, competed to produce a business model for a woman named Eunice Atieno. Participants were given under a month to complete their plan—April 5 to May 1 for Brandeis students and from April 15 to May 5 for Babson students.
Atieno is a Kenyan woman living in Miami and has been saving her earnings for over two years in order to build a pig farm in Kisumu, Kenya with her family.
“The Kenya Challenge” or “Project Eunice,” as it is interchangeably termed, was judged by Alex Oliver, founder of a prominent international management consulting firm called Oliver Wyman. Prof. Carol Osler (IBS) and Prof. William Oliver (IBS) and Professor Amy Blitz from Babson served as assisting faculty to the project. Ohad Elhelo ’16 oversaw the project as its student director.
The idea for the competition formed when Alex Oliver learned of Atieno’s aspiration to build a successful farm and rejoin her family in Kenya. Although she was dedicated to the project and had already put $20,000 out of her own pocket toward the initiative, she did not have a clear business plan. He wanted to help and realized that students, as well as Eunice’s family, could benefit from her predicament by putting their theoretical consulting knowledge into practice. Oliver decided that the students would compete to offer the best business solution, and Atieno could implement the best plan.
The Kenya Challenge was a special and rare opportunity. “Usually students do not work on real-life business cases. They practice business cases about things that have already happened.” Elhelo said in an interview with the Justice. “Here is a rare opportunity to partake in an initiative that has implications in reality. ... For the students it was great opportunity to practice consulting. Most of them want to do this in the future,” Elhelo said.
Better yet, the project has wider implications beyond those directly involved. “Once this farm is working it will be a model for other community members,” Elhelo said. Additionally, the chance to work with someone as successful as Alex Oliver is, as Elhelo stated, a “huge privilege.”
The approach teams took during the research portion of their project varied. Many teams attempted to assess the future profitability of the pork industry in Kenya. Some teams contracted with Farmer’s Choice, a butchery based in Kenya that At plans to sell her pigs to about their standards and contract requirements. Others reached out to Eunice about her relatives’ farming skill sets.
The students also regularly corresponded with William Oliver on the project and submitted various components of their findings in stages.
By combining their research, both qualitative and quantitative, the groups then analyzed their findings to provide Atieno with a financial model that would maximize earnings and prevent future debt.
Team C, consisting of team leader Benjamin Sirois M.A. ’15 and team members Levan Mzhavia ’15, Justin Chu ’16 and Daniel Brog ’14 was selected by Alex Oliver as the winning team.
A first-year Master’s student and co-president of the Consulting Club at IBS, Sirois was intrigued by the concept of the project and excited to put consulting to work. Sirois added that “it was a good experience to meet with people from the other side of campus.”
Sirois said that his team’s initial approach was to get a grasp of what it takes to raise pigs in Kenya. According to their calculations, it is most strategic for Atieno to focus on one pig house initially before building a second one. “In our model, we predicted that it would take two and a half to three years before she had enough profit on her own to build a second building,” Sirois said.
The four other teams that competed were Team A, led by Radina Arnaudova M.A. ’14 and composed of members Linh Nguyen M.A. ’14 and David Maher ’16; Team B, composed of team leader Lingfeng Zhang M.A. ’15 and members Caojingjing Qu M.A. ’15 and Pokuaa Adu ’14; Team D, consisting of Babson business students Tamerlan Bakhtiozin, the leader, and members Yana Bliznakova and Elizabeth Holmes; and Team E, with members Tian Lan ’14 and Bowen Li ’14.
In the coming months, Atieno and her family hope to incorporate the suggestions of Team C. Elhelo indicated that he has been in touch with StarTau, the Tel Aviv University Entrepreneurship Center, about the possibility of making Atieno’s farm the subject of a case study in a six-week course titled “Doing Business in Emerging Markets.”
These students would pick up where Brandeis and Babson students left off by providing support in the implementation of Atieno’s pig farm.
Atieno is hopeful about the future of her farm. In her words of thanks to the project participants, she expressed her positive outlook on the future of her business and community.
“You might not know it, but you are already changing the lives in some small village in rural Kenya. So far, you have made a few people in that neck of the woods sleep easy. There certainly is nothing as invigorating as hope, and because I am extremely hopeful now, they are too.”