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With apologies for not revving up earlier in the semester, I’m happy to say that the Admissions Blog’s student writers are back in action. We have three returning bloggers — Liam (MALD), Diane (MALD), and Mark (MIB). Three first-year students — the “A Team” of Ali (MIB), Aditi (MALD), and Alex (MIB) — will soon be introducing themselves.
I’ve been fortunate that students frequently offer to write a post for the blog (as Aditi and Miranda did last week), and I sometimes give a new home to something they’ve written for a different medium (as I did with Colin’s Fletcher Fútbol report). For the six bloggers who write over the continuum of the two years they spend at Fletcher, their posts should go beyond a single moment and leave readers with a sense of their evolution and breadth of interests over time.
Tomorrow, we’ll start by bringing back one of our returnees, Diane, who will talk about the perspective she brings to her second year.
Tagged with: Student Stories
So here’s what I love about Fletcher students. They are very committed to their studies and careers. They offer support to undergraduates and they burst into the community and instantly create an organization and resource for students interested in technology. But they are also really fun people, and a frequent autumn rallying point is the Fletcher Fútbol team. Men and women with soccer/fútbol experience jump into their cleats and unite to compete with the teams from other area graduate schools.
When the team is successful, somehow the news even works its way to the staff. Or sometimes it isn’t a mystery how we know. Earlier this week, Colin, a first-year student, put his inner tabloid sportswriter to work with this Social List report on a match against Harvard Law School.
Chemistry may not be a course offered at Fletcher, but the members of Fletcher Fútbol clearly know a little something about it. Coming off a disappointing loss in front of a home crowd to the business suits of Babson College last week, it would have been understandable for Fletcher Fútbol to be plagued with fears about their ability win a game, let alone score more than one goal in a contest. However, buoyed by the enthusiasm that only a graduate school sports rivalry can create, and the camaraderie that can only be developed through shared struggle, they threw off the yoke of their previous shortcomings and played with a level of intensity that will surely leave the soccer gods pleased for weeks to come.
Upon arriving at the field, Fletcher Fútbol found the parking lot packed to capacity (somehow the stands were suspiciously empty though?) and intuitively sensed the magnitude of the game about to be played. The chance had finally come to avenge the memories of broken noses that had haunted them since the 2013 season. Only limited revenge would be possible though; certain members of the HLS team were supposedly unable to secure a legal injunction to protect themselves from the diplomatic wrath of Fletcher and thus they were only able to field 10 players for the game.
With the autumn air crisp and the stadium lights bright in the black night, it felt like all of Boston was watching as the game kicked off a little after 7pm. From the start, Fletcher controlled the play in all areas of the field, moving the ball around at will. But the team didn’t close on any of the opportunities they were able to create until Kiely unleashed a vicious volley from inside the eighteen that found the back of the net like a fish actively trying to be caught. Unlike previous games though, this is not where the scoring would stop for Fletcher. Albert and David would both score before the halftime whistle would blow.
In an attempt to reverse their fortune, HLS hoped to effectively counter Fletcher’s multi-pronged attack with a goaltending switch coming out of halftime. It was all for naught though. Minutes into the second half, Liam made a ballerina-esque run into the box and scored a goal, emphatically sending the message that the onslaught was not over yet. Two additional goals followed.
At the end of the night, the imaginary scoreboard read 6-0 in favor of the diplomats from Fletcher.
And there you have it. Sports is a natural focus for community building, and soccer/fútbol crosses international boundaries. More than many Fletcher student activities, Fletcher Fútbol pulls the community together, whether on the field or on the sidelines.
Although Fletcher is its own unit of Tufts University, it can also be seen as the graduate program for the University’s International Relations department. IR is one of the most commonly chosen majors for Tufts undergraduates and, because the major involves a relatively large number of requirements, the undergrad IR folks are pretty serious people.
Despite the occasional (o.k., annual) griping over undergraduates in Ginn Library, Fletcher students are genuinely supportive of their younger peers. Here are two examples.
Last night, the Ralph Bunche Society (RBS) at Fletcher invited undergrads to learn about their experiences in the IR field. RBS seeks to shine a light on the contributions that minorities and people of color have made in the field of international relations, and also to encourage students of color to consider educational and career opportunities in international affairs, which means this event was tied directly tied to the RBS mission. The RBS Facebook page provides some nice descriptions of the presenters, who sought through their comments to pave the way for the undergraduates to follow in their footsteps.
On an ongoing basis, Fletcher students also guide undergraduates via the “Fletcher Mentors” program. The program matches IR majors with Fletcher students who share similar academic or career objectives, in order to help the undergraduates develop their interests. They might have one-on-one meetings, or attend group networking events, and there is an online discussion group.
Of course, having a robust undergraduate IR program also opens opportunities for Fletcher students to work as teaching or research assistants, and to attend relevant events sponsored by other units of the University.
Recently two new (first-year) MALD students, Aditi Patel and Miranda Bogen, contacted me to ask if they might write about their interest in technology fields and their decision to attend Fletcher. Today I’m sharing their great introduction to the field at Fletcher. I should note briefly that while Aditi and Miranda are writing about their experience as MALD students, the opportunity to build in technology content is available to all students, especially those in the MIB and PhD programs.
We came to Fletcher because it is one of the leading schools of international affairs — but we also chose Fletcher because of its forward-thinking attitude toward technology, and its willingness to adapt its curriculum and resources to a changing world.
For us, it was critical to find a school that recognized the importance of technology in international affairs; from policy decision making, to crisis mapping, to the facilitation of international business. It is almost certain that at some point in our careers, we will need the skills and vocabulary to communicate with both engineers and clients to ensure that technology is deployed correctly, regardless of whether these clients are governments, non-profits, or businesses.
Fletcher has ample opportunities for students interested in technology in international affairs. Having recently created Tech @ Fletcher, the student club of the Hitachi Center for Technology and International Affairs, we decided to help students uncover those opportunities by gathering together some of the tech-related resources that we’ve discovered in our own application process and in our first few months on campus.
Fletcher’s flexible curriculum is ideal for “Tech MALDs” — students who are interested in focusing on technology. Students can choose to complete one or both Fields of Study in a related discipline (International Information & Communications is a good place to start), you can focus on a different primary Field of Study with a technology angle by petitioning for tech-related coursework to count for your Fields (or using them as electives), or you can petition to create your own field of study.
Courses that have a significant technology component include International Communication (which includes a heavy dose of internet infrastructure and governance, digital media, and intellectual property), Social Networks in Organizations (this is hard-core social network analysis, not Facebook 101), GIS for International Applications (mapping technology), Foundations of International Cybersecurity, Innovation for Sustainable Prosperity, Financial Inclusion – A Method for Development, and others that are added from semester to semester depending on visiting faculty.
Fletcher students can also cross-register for courses at Harvard Business School like Launching Technology Ventures, Entrepreneurship and Technology Innovations in Education, and Strategy and Technology, or take advantage of the proximity to MIT with courses such as Corporate Entrepreneurship: Strategies for Technology-Based New Business Development or Fundamentals of Digital Business Strategy.
At Fletcher, we’re lucky to have the Hitachi Center for Technology in International Affairs, which acts as a hub for tech-related events and resources. The center is very responsive to student involvement and will happily support student-proposed events that have something to do with technology. The Hitachi Center hosts lectures, film screenings and even brought Google’s Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen to discuss “The New Digital Age” last spring. The Hitachi Center also offers summer funding for students and faculty researching topics related to technology, which is a great resource for students looking to write their capstone on a topic in the field.
We were overwhelmed by the support we received from our professors and the administration to think about technology in the field of international affairs. Professor Carolyn Gideon, who teaches International Communications and manages the Hitachi Center, focuses on information and telecommunications policy; Professor Jenny Aker is the deputy director of the Hitachi Center and studies the impact of information/information technology on development outcomes; and Dean Stavridis even moderated a panel of Fletcher alumni at the South by Southwest conference on “Foreign Policy in the Digital Age.”
All of our fellow students we’ve met have slightly different interests (technology and governance, cybersecurity, ICT4D) and we are excited to be bringing these quickly-evolving issues into the wider Fletcher community. Over the rest of the year, we plan to use Tech @ Fletcher as a platform to create a curriculum guide for students hoping to create their own field or simply to build a solid foundation in tech as a part of other fields, work with the Office of Career Services to create more resources for students interested in a career involving technology, provide workshops and discussions on the tools we will need to manage technology-related issues in our future jobs, and communicate with our classmates and professors about the importance of technology, no matter what their main fields of study.
We both came to graduate school because we were convinced that we needed to better understand the implications of technology in our areas of study. With all the support and encouragement we have received from Fletcher, we know we made a great choice in picking a school that meets these needs!
There’s fresh information on the Office of Career Services page of the website with details about the internships that students pursued in summer 2014. The headline: 161 internships in 51 countries! Of those, 19% were with the U.S. government. Students provided the information directly via a survey.
I was chatting with a student last week, and she said something about her “180″ meeting. I had the vaguest sense that I had heard of this 180 thing before, but I needed to dig through my email to find information.
Having done the digging, I can report that Tufts is one of a small number of U.S. universities hosting 180 Degrees Consulting. Students from throughout the University were invited to apply to join as student consultants and team leaders. 180 Degrees Consulting emphasizes social impact, making the program a great fit for the Tufts group, which was especially interested in Fletcher students to serve as team leaders. Here’s some additional information from the group’s email to students:
What is 180 Degrees Consulting?
180 Degrees Consulting is the world’s largest pro-bono student consultancy. 180 Degrees Consultants work with nonprofit organizations and social venture to maximize their social impact. Groups of University students identify and overcome organizations specific challenges, developing innovative, practical and sustainable solutions.
Across the world 180 Degrees Consulting has worked with over 2,000 highly achieving youth consultants working in teams to overcome hundreds or challenges facing real organizations each year. 180 offers a broad range of consultant services, including strategic planning, financial management, communications and social impact analysis.
180 Degrees recognizes that while raising revenue is crucial for not-for-profits, developing strategies to utilize existing resources most efficiently is equally important. This is why students at 180 Degrees apply management consulting principles to the not-for-profit industry and develop business solutions to social problems. Many organizations, constrained by a lack of resources, are unable to utilize for-profit consulting services. At the same time, many high caliber university students are willing and able to develop solutions to challenges many organizations’ face. 180 Degrees Consulting strives to connect this source of untapped potential to the organizations that need it most.
How it works
At 180 Degrees, the mission is to create value for both the organizations and students consultants. 180 Degrees selects the most talented and socially conscious university students across each of our branches. Students are given specialized training from a leading international management consultancy before being assigned to a project aligned with their knowledge and expertise. Teams of five — plus a team leader — work closely with key stakeholders in the organization to define the deliverables, understand the organization’s specific challenges and create final recommendations over the course of a semester.
At Tufts, 180 Degree Consulting’s mission is to strengthen the ability of nonprofit organizations in the Greater Boston Area to achieve high impact social outcomes through the development of innovative, practical and sustainable solutions. We hope to provide a transformational experience for Tufts University students as you gain invaluable real world consulting experience by delivering free consulting services to worthwhile organizations.
I always like applicants to know who it is who may answer the phone when they call or their emails when they write. This year we have a small group of four dedicated student interns working in the Admissions Office. They’ll introduce themselves in today’s post, but this won’t be the only time you’ll be hearing from them on the blog. I’ve asked them to write about their student activities, too. But first the intros.
Rebekah: Hi everyone! I am a second-year MALD student focusing on gender and human security. I am originally from San Luis Obispo, California and attended Occidental College in Los Angeles for my undergraduate studies. Prior to Fletcher I lived in Washington, DC and worked as an administrative and research assistant for an international trade consulting company, where I focused primarily on trade and investment issues in Latin America.
I spent this past summer interning with the conflict resolution NGO Search for Common Ground (SFCG) in Luanda, Angola, where I had the opportunity to work on SFCG Angola’s gender programming. This year at Fletcher, I am excited to be serving as the co-president of Fletcher’s Gender Initiative and as the second-year Student Representative on Fletcher’s Committee on Diversity and Inclusiveness. I also represent the Fletcher student body on the President’s Sexual Misconduct Prevention Task Force. When I’m not on campus, I enjoy cooking, running, and exploring the Boston area. I look forward to hearing from you in the Admissions Office this year!
Justin: Hey! I am Justin Peña, a second-year MALD student at Fletcher. I’m from New York City, having grown up in the lower east side of Manhattan. I graduated from Wesleyan University in 2012, where I majored in Government and International Politics. My current interests revolve around U.S. Foreign Policy, with an emphasis on U.S.-China relations. I’ve had a long interest in Chinese politics and society, which stemmed from my study of Mandarin in high school. This had led me to study abroad in Hangzhou, China during my undergraduate years. Prior to Fletcher, I interned for a Beijing-based NGO, the China Development Brief, which reported on civil society in China. In Beijing, I also spent some time advising Chinese high school students seeking to matriculate in U.S. colleges.
While at Fletcher, I have decided to concentrate in Security Studies and Pacific Asia. Outside of the classroom, I have tried to remain engaged in a number of ways. During my first year, I worked as a research intern for the Center on Conflict, Development, and Peacebuilding, examining the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement process. I had also worked with PRAXIS, Fletcher’s journal of human security. My work with the Office of Admissions began in the latter half of that academic year. Over this past summer, I interned at the State Department’s Office of Chinese and Mongolian Affairs, which exposed me a bit to the world of diplomacy. This year, along with continuing my work with the Admissions office, I am one of the co-leaders of Fletcher’s China Studies Society.
So that’s about it for now, but I look forward to sharing more of my experiences at Fletcher as the year rolls on.
Emma: Hi! I am a second-year MALD student from Cleveland, Ohio and Portland, Oregon. Here at Fletcher, I focus on International Security Studies and International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution, with a particular interest in strategies for confronting non-state armed groups in the Middle East. I spent last summer in Beirut, Lebanon assisting a peacebuilding and conflict resolution organization and eating all the fattoush I could.
Living close to Davis Square, just a few T stops from Cambridge and Boston, means that I get to explore my new city, eat a ton of delicious and diverse food, and indulge my love of U.S. history. Outside of the classroom, I’m a senior staff editor for our foreign policy journal, The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs. I look forward to hearing from you all soon and hopefully welcoming you to the Fletcher community!
Allison: Hi everyone! I am a first-year student in the Masters of International Business (MIB) program. I started at Fletcher last January, so I am one of about 40 “Januarians” at Fletcher. For my undergraduate degree, I studied political science at Tufts. After graduating in 2009, I moved to Geneva, Switzerland to work at the World Economic Forum on its social entrepreneurship initiative. I later joined the Peace Corps as a Water and Sanitation volunteer in Peru. Upon concluding my time with the Peace Corps, I returned to the social entrepreneurship team at the World Economic Forum. When I arrived at Fletcher, I planned to focus on the role of the private sector in international development, but my interests have shifted as new professors and courses have given me the opportunity to explore new areas of study. My Fields of Study are International Finance and Banking and International Business and Economic Law. When I’m not studying, I love hanging out with other Fletcher students, going running, and cooking.
Our final IBGC post comes from Anisha (currently a second year MIB student) and Julia (who graduated from the MALD program in May 2014). Their research examines the impact of digital innovation in enabling urban mobility in Nairobi, Kenya. Their post was written in July.
Navigating Silicon Savannah: Do Digital Innovation and Urban Mobility Go Together?
Urban mobility is defined as the degree of ease with which people and goods can be moved in an urban center. As an expanding economy and East Africa’s technology hub, Nairobi has seen rapid urbanization in recent years. According to the government of Kenya, population is set to quadruple from 3.1 million in 2014 to 12.1 million in 2030. New construction is sprouting up almost every day. Rural to urban migration continues to be high. Internet and mobile phone penetration have brought along the emergence of digital commerce. With these developments, the demand for urban mobility in Nairobi has increased much faster than in the rest of the country.
The Kenyatta government recognizes the need for urban mobility in Nairobi, and is making improvements to infrastructure, urban planning and regulatory frameworks. Yet, as urban mobility demand outpaces supply, Nairobi’s private sector is creating innovative solutions for problems arising in transport and logistics today.
Our research looks at what digital innovation exists to address issues in transport and logistics, who this digital innovation is benefiting, and how the government and private sector are engaging each other. In this blog post, we’ll discuss our research process so far.
Ask the right question, and get the right answers
Back in January 2014, when we started a literature review of urbanization-related challenges in Nairobi, we identified transport, water and sanitation as our key areas of focus. Early into our fieldwork on the ground, we realized the need to narrow our research question further. Two weeks of informal interviews with subjects from the private sector and technology space showed us the tremendous amount of energy around transport and logistics. Issues in the sector range from usual suspects like traffic and parking management and bad roads, to finding locations physically because Nairobi does not have a numbered addressing system. This experience showed us how important it is to be on the ground and talk with people personally to craft your final research questions.
Trial the methodology, and know how to revise
This period of interviewing also validated the qualitative, in-depth interview methodology we had chosen for our primary research. The rich answers we got from our in-depth interviews were exactly what we were looking for to get insights. At the same time, we recognized that completely open-ended interviews would give us a lot of disparate data that we would not be able to organize into themes. Hence, we used the first two weeks to listen to subjects and construct our structured interview guide that would make data aggregation and analysis easier after the fieldwork.
Listen, and become a better researcher
One of the most critical lessons we learnt early on was to make our subjects comfortable and to listen actively in our conversations. As much as this sounds like a soft skill, it has been crucial to making our research better. We have developed an understanding on how to ask questions and pick up points to probe deeper. We always functioned with one of us as lead interviewer who could keep to the structure of the interview guide, while the other would listen for insightful answers and delve into them.
Network, and get a representative sample
Our research methodology required us to talk with players in the tech ecosystem, and transport and logistics sector. While we diligently surveyed all players and reached out to them through a combination of contacts and cold calling, we found out soon enough how crucial snowball sampling was to our participant recruitment process. We also realized how important it was to meet as many people as we could by going to events, conferences, and spending time at community spaces for tech enthusiasts.
We must note that we were incredibly fortunate that our subjects were forthcoming in providing names of people and organizations to speak to, and went out of their way to make introductions for us. We even had some subjects telling us to talk to their competitors!
Be patient, because there will be highs and lows
Our fieldwork experience has been like Nairobi weather — mercurial. We have had days when none of our contacts have come through, and days when we found ourselves scrambling to squeeze all our subjects into our schedule. It took us the first three weeks to understand the nature of fieldwork, and to be prepared for the highs and lows. Thereafter, we planned in a way that if we had a bonus number of interviews in a short span, we would stretch ourselves to complete them. At the same time, we recognized the value of patience on days when we were unable to have a full schedule or when last-minute meeting cancellations happened.
It also made us realize that fieldwork was a 24/7 job for the brain. Even when we were at social gatherings or dealing with vendors, shopkeepers and the like, we kept our eyes and ears open for information that could help us with our research. We also spent countless hours discussing (and redefining) the exact wording of our research together, often stuck in traffic in Nairobi or when Internet speeds were too slow to be sufficiently productive (the irony was not lost on us).
Hope for an amazing research partner because it makes research a million times better (and fun)!
There have been innumerable times when we have represented each other and our team as whole, to subjects, contacts and other people we have worked with on the project. So, it is really important to have a great level of trust and understanding. This really cannot be underestimated or overemphasized! Our disparate skill sets have fused together nicely to craft a project that has thus far been immensely rewarding and informative.
The second of our IBGC research posts comes from Michael and Trevor (both second-year MALD students), who were based in Indonesia.
What if, in areas underserved by formal financial services, mobile phones could function like debit cards and local corner stores like micro bank branches? In the same amount of time it would take to send a SMS text message, you could check your bank balance, transfer money to a friend, pay your utility bills, or purchase your groceries, all enabled on a mobile handset. The local agents that you use to top-up your mobile airtime could also function as agents contracted by banks or mobile network operators (MNOs), providing you with access points to deposit and withdraw money from your accounts. This is one vision of how mobile money could reshape the way people use money and access financial services.
We have spent the past two months in Indonesia exploring how mobile money might add value to the financial portfolios of low income market segments. (Our research was inspired in large part by the book Portfolios of the Poor, by Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford and Orlanda Ruthven.) Indonesia is the largest market in Southeast Asia and a member of the G20, yet it has one of the largest unbanked and under-banked populations in the world. Formal financial services have the potential to improve livelihoods, protect assets, and provide security from the unexpected. Yet, according to the World Bank Global Financial Inclusion Index, only 20% of Indonesians were fully banked as of 2011.
Indonesia’s geography poses a major barrier to expanding financial access, with its 250 million inhabitants spread across 13,000 islands. The infrastructure investment in brick-and-mortar branches and ATMs that would be required to substantially expand financial access is prohibitively expensive, especially if the access points reach only low-income communities. One promising solution that is receiving widespread attention is using mobile phones as a tool to offer branchless banking services to the underserved. Under branchless banking schemes, financial services are distributed by agents contracted by institutions to process customer’s transactions away from physical bank branches.
Major stakeholders, including the Government of Indonesia, commercial banks, and international development agencies are dedicating considerable resources to foster the nascent mobile-enabled branchless banking market. The Bank of Indonesia (Indonesia’s central bank) and the Financial Services Authority (which is responsible for micro-prudential oversight) have issued a series of increasingly clarifying and progressive regulations to govern the emerging branchless banking and mobile money market. There are a number of interesting mobile money offerings already on the market, notably Telkomsel’s T-Cash, Indosat’s Dompetku, XL’s Tunia, and Mandiri’s E-Cash. Thus far, however, these products have seen only limited uptake concentrated among middle and high-end consumers.
Amidst all of these efforts and the exciting potential, it is easy to lose sight of the most important stakeholder: the end user. Regulatory bodies should be weighing the best ways to maintain a stable financial system while protecting the consumer and promoting financial inclusion. And commercial banks and MNOs ought to be concerned that regulations should enable them to utilize latent networks of agents already imbedded in low-income communities (such as mobile airtime re-sellers or modern mini-market retailers, for example), while also turning a profit. However, all is for naught if the end-users — the customers — do not see sufficient value in mobile money services to make the switch from their current mix of financial management tools.
Our research rests on the presumption that the poor lead complex financial lives. Despite their position on the outskirts of the formal financial universe, low income segments have developed, adopted, and adapted formal and informal tools that help them manage their incomes. Mobile money and branchless banking services must compete, then, with a rich assortment of product offerings that are already socialized, trusted, and tailored to the poor’s specific expectations and needs. So, scaling-up mobile money is more than an access issue. In order to be adopted, products must add value above and beyond those services that the poor are already using to save, insure, borrow, and transfer money.
Our efforts are an extension of previous research conducted by the IFC, TNP2K, Microfinance Opportunities, e-MITRA, and CGAP, among others. We hope to contribute to this body of knowledge by exploring not only how low income segments manage their financial lives, but why they manage them in the ways that they do. Understanding the attitudes, norms and behaviors of end-users, including the perceived strengths and weaknesses of their current mix of financial intermediation tools, can inform more rational regulations, better product design, more targeted marketing, and the establishment and maintenance of an effective sales force of agents.
Over the past two months, we’ve immersed ourselves in three communities in Jakarta, Bandung, and the Ciwidey Regency in order to create ethnographic profiles of each that detail the rhythms of their economic and financial lives. We’ve held focus group discussions, in-depth one-on-one interviews, and ideation workshops, as well as broken fast with members of each community and even farmed in one location. Naturally, we do not seek to generalize insights that are specific to a time and place. Rather, we hope to share how new products can be tailored, marketed, and delivered to specific low income contexts that will ensure adoption and continued usage.
Our efforts will result in a report that will be published in late September. While we’re focused like lasers on the needs of the end-user, we are equally focused on ensuring that our findings are actionable for both regulators and the businesses responsible for designing and deploying profitable mobile money products. We want to know how mobile money might be integrated into or displace existing formal and informal services. It is also our hope that our research concept and design will be of relevance to the wider financial inclusion community.
We are grateful for the opportunity provided to us by The MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth and The Fletcher School’s Institute for Business in the Global Context. In addition to their generosity, both institutions have pushed our thinking and providing invaluable in-kind support, all while giving us the autonomy to design and execute our research, and analyze our findings. We look forward to sharing our findings soon.
The first of the blog posts from Institute for Business in the Global Context researchers comes from Sarah and Jennie, who studied the business practices and the most challenging constraints of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) in Turkey. Both Sarah and Jennie graduated from the MALD program in May. As background for their post, they note that:
SMEs comprise 99% of Turkish enterprises and employ nearly 80% of the workforce; thus they have the potential to contribute significantly to the long-term growth of the country. Currently, the government, followed by private banks and supporting institutions, have increased attention on SMEs, but there are still considerable constraints in the areas of finance, human capital, and enhancing competitiveness. Through our research, we seek to identify the gaps between existing products and services available to Turkish SMEs and the unmet needs of those businesses, and to uncover potential alternatives to narrow these gaps.
Here’s the post that they wrote midway through their summer.
The Making of a Team
After three weeks of finishing our literature review, piloting and perfecting our interview questions on nearby business owners, and speaking with many knowledgeable representatives of Turkey’s leading banks and supporting institutions, we took our first field trip as an entire research team to begin interviews with the businesses formally participating in our study.
Our research focuses on two regions of Turkey: the Marmara Region and Southeastern Anatolia. Istanbul is the primary city in the Marmara Region and that is where we have been based since mid-June. While we are of course interviewing SMEs in Istanbul, we are also interested in speaking to businesses in other, smaller cities in this region. Therefore, we arranged to interview SMEs in Edirne, a city where Turkey shares its borders with both Greece and Bulgaria.
We met our two research assistants, Mert and Abid, at the bus station, prepared for a three-hour trip, and took an evening for final preparations before our first interviews with business owners. To our surprise, it took over two hours just to get out of Istanbul proper, so the bus ride ended up being five hours, during which we learned that we actually had two interviews lined up that very evening!
We had a contact in Edirne scheduling the interviews for us, so while we knew we’d be interviewing four to six businesses over the three-day period, we didn’t have the exact schedule ahead of time. The realities of field research abruptly hit us as we scrambled to finish final details on the bus. Due to the importance of relationships and networks in Turkey, we realized that we were at the whim of our Edirne contact as to how many interviews we packed into one day, how much time we had between the interviews, and how long the interviews would actually last. While it was amazing to finally start interviews, we were suddenly inundated with many tasks such as transcribing, recording, and analyzing this steady flow of information!
While our inner-American spirits would have preferred more time to feel settled, our newly minted Turkish mindset, coupled with the many hours we had previously spent on interview questions, enabled us to complete very productive and informative interviews that evening and over the next couple of days.
In the midst of it all, however, we did get a chance to see a bit of the city, one of the former capitals of the Ottoman Empire. On our way to one interview, we stopped to explore some historical sites such as Selimiye Mosque, visited a horse stable on the Turkey-Greece border, and one of our research assistants realized his lifelong dream to ride a moped!
All in all, the trip was a rich learning experience and provided some lessons and insights which have already begun to influence the direction of our research. We are discovering that, despite a wide range of both financial and non-financial offerings by Turkish banks, SMEs are mostly concerned with loans, for which they consider the terms (especially high interest rates) to be quite prohibitive.
Furthermore, while the existing literature indicates that access to capital is the greatest constraint SMEs face, we are actually finding that businesses largely lack skills in cash management and financial accounting principles, which prohibits them from effectively using the available capital.
Last, these businesses also cite difficulties in finding, employing, and trusting qualified employees. There is a tension felt by business owners who do not want to relinquish control, yet aspire to expand and professionalize their business. When faced with the decision of whether to hire outside talent, particularly semi-professional managers, more often than not owners prefer to maintain a tight grip on all decisions.
We are now wrapping up our interviews in the Marmara Region, and we will be writing a second post from the opposite corner of the country, Gaziantep!
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