Currently viewing the tag: "Internships"
Time to wrap up the reports on summer internships. Today, Ali tells us about her summer at YUM! Brands, a major multinational company that just happens to be located in her home town of Louisville, Kentucky.
When’s the last time you looked at a utility bill? What about 20,000 utility bills? That’s what I was doing this summer at YUM! Brands — the parent company for KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell.
- What is the role of a for-profit company in addressing global climate change and water scarcity?
- How do we communicate with franchisees about sustainability and cost tradeoffs in the supply chain?
- What’s the best way to collect and manage CSR (corporate social responsibility) data from places like the U.S., China, and Australia? Are we only responsible for equity markets, or are we responsible for franchisee markets, too?
- What do investors care about, and how does sustainability affect YUM!’s stock price?
- Should investors and governments encourage utilities to standardize units, billing cycles, and other statement features, as they increase their corporate water and greenhouse gas accounting requests, too?
Under the guidance of the Chief Sustainability Officer and YUM!’s Global Sustainability team, I collaborated with employees from government affairs, foundation, supply chain, IT, investor relations, and more, to author the company’s WDP (water disclosure project) report; develop its water stewardship strategy; select a new data management system; and engage employees, investors, and ESG (Environmental, Social And Governance) research agencies, around YUM!’s sustainability efforts and their connection to its stock price.
I enjoyed my time at YUM!, and this semester, I’m continuing my work from there through my involvement with Net Impact and my internship at Breckinridge Capital Advisors, where I’m learning about sustainability from the fixed income investor’s perspective.
Breckinridge actively recruits Fletcher students, and I’m grateful that coming here for my degree gives me the opportunity to shift my career focus and intern in different settings than I’ve worked in before.
I’m looking forward to reporting more about the great and final year ahead!
Thanks to the Leir Fellowship that supports Fletcher student internships, I was able to work in Rwanda over the past summer. It was my first experience traveling to Africa, but having spent time in India, the U.S., and South America, I felt as though I was well-prepared for what the experience might throw my way. In some ways, I was right: I wasn’t overwhelmed by the crowds, or paralyzed by the sight of poverty, or surprised at the presence of expensive restaurants and a thriving nightlife with international music playing at every club. In several other ways, however, I found that the experience was new in ways I had not anticipated.
The organization I was working with, Manos de Madres Rwanda, works in partnership with a local clinic that has worked in Kigali for over a decade. The patients are women and children living with HIV/AIDS. Several grew up orphaned, and most are desperately poor. The clinic provides its patients with physical and psychological care, and Manos de Madres offered to partner with the clinic to provide the women with livelihoods and skills training. The organization has a program manager, a marketing manager who I helped hire during my time there, and three young “Cooperative Agents” who are part-time staff and also patients of the clinic. This team runs a number of different programs with various cooperatives of women: an organic market garden called Baho; a screen-printing business called Dutete; a jewelry-making cooperative called Ejo Hazaza; and a microloan program for young mothers.
My day-to-day work consisted of visiting each of the cooperatives and participating in their meetings, followed by team meetings with the Manos staff. Although I was originally hired to start work on Manos’ monitoring and evaluation of its programs, it quickly became clear that the need of the organization was improved general management. I had to be responsive to the needs of the organization, and although I wanted to test my newly-minted monitoring and evaluation skills, I realized that it would be a far more impactful contribution to help the team with its daily management and putting in place systems and processes. I spent a lot of my time conducting trainings with the team—on business plan creation, so they could work better with the cooperatives; on reporting; and on using Excel. I created a new reporting structure for the Manos team to use and trained them on how to fill out and submit reports.
Living and working in Kigali was a mixed experience for me. It was my first time living in a country where I was absolutely unable to communicate with most people around me, and before this summer, I definitely underestimated the impact this would have on me. Being unable to communicate with the women we worked with was incredibly frustrating, as I always had to request translation or else be left out of the conversation. It made me deeply uncomfortable, and it has made me question the effectiveness of working in a country for which I have no local language or context skills. It will make me think twice about future career decisions, and tread carefully and think through my own assumptions before embarking on a career living or working in an environment where I do not speak the language.
Aside from the personal growth and thoughts about how I would like to shape my career, I had the opportunity to see a lot of the country. I hiked up a volcano to see a crater lake at the top, and went on my first African safari at Akagera National Park. The country was phenomenally beautiful, with the bus rides being more than enough of a treat to justify a disappointing destination, had there actually been one!
I was also very interested to see how Rwanda is changing its national image from a country scarred by genocide, to one that is increasingly a tourist and investment destination. The process of building this new identity while remembering and memorializing the genocide is a tricky balance, and one that I am curious to learn more about.
Professionally and personally, this summer in Rwanda has helped me solidify how I want to build my life and career post Fletcher — it was a perfect way to tie together my first and second year at Fletcher.
Fletcher is not the type of school where everyone hopes to spend the summer as a consultant or banker in New York. Ask a dozen people here what they did for their summer internship, and I bet you will get a dozen completely different answers. With people scattered across the world doing everything under the sun, it would be quite difficult for me to describe the average Fletcher internship. Instead, I can at least provide you with one data point by telling you about my summer, spent in the most unlikely of places for a Fletcher student: Boston.
My internship was with a rapidly growing solar energy project development company in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, which I secured with the help of one of my professors. I worked to build out their “Community Solar” offering, which is the hot new thing in the industry: instead of mounting panels on their roofs, anyone can subscribe to centralized solar installations, effectively opening up the market for the 80% of people who could not go solar previously. As you may remember from earlier blog posts, I am interested in innovative business models and financing mechanisms for clean energy infrastructure, so this was right up my alley. Furthermore, working on the development side provided a good experiential addition to my internship with the wind energy private equity firm last semester; now I know both the money side and the project side of the deal.
Actually getting to build out a new product offering, with all the requisite business processes, was a great opportunity as well. In my previous role as a strategy consultant, I was generally looking at the bigger picture instead of tackling all the nitty-gritty pieces of building something new. It was an eye-opening experience, which brought some concreteness to my thinking.
The size of the company was another aspect I enjoyed: at 45 employees, it was much smaller than Monitor Deloitte and much bigger than some of the start-ups I have worked with in the past. At this size, a company has the expertise and basic processes in place, but does not yet have the silos that beset many larger organizations. I felt empowered to reach across the organization, make decisions, and execute as I saw fit, which I greatly enjoyed. Also, I was excited to be surrounded by experts in all aspects of building our energy sources of the future.
So, while I have to admit I was jealous at first of all my friends jetting off to cool and exotic places for their summers, I ended up being happy that I kept mine local. One of the great perks was my commute, which included biking along charming Charles Street in Beacon Hill, through the verdant Public Gardens, and then down bustling Newbury Street in Back Bay. I feel lucky that I was one of the few who got to stay in Boston, and appreciate the opportunities and beauty of the great city in which we live.
Summer has finally arrived in Boston! After a grueling couple of weeks for finals, I’m done and can enjoy the beautiful weather for a little before I leave for my summer internship.
This summer, I will be working with a small NGO in Kigali, Rwanda, on their monitoring and evaluation plans. Another Fletcher student worked with the same NGO last summer, and was responsible for hiring me and training me; she was an incredibly useful resource for learning more about the organization and its work, her experience working with them, and Kigali generally. I’m really excited to be in Rwanda — it will be my first time in Africa! — and I’m lucky enough that I will have the company of five other Fletcher students who will also be doing internships there.
I was fortunate to receive funding from Fletcher, through the Office of Career Services, to support my work over the summer. My research partner and I also received a grant from the Hitachi Center (which I wrote about earlier) to conduct research for our capstones, which we will write next year. The research will lead me to Nairobi, Kenya for a week after wrapping up my summer internship. And once that’s done, after heading home to India for a week, I’ll be back on campus in mid-August as the teaching assistant for the Design, Monitoring, and Evaluation (DME) series taught by Prof. Scharbatke-Church.
What I’m most excited about for the summer (in addition to beautiful Kigali and exploring a new country) is the chance to put my DME coursework to use through my internship. Looking back to August 2014, I’m so glad I took the pre-session course and went through the series all the way through Advanced Evaluation this semester, because it gave me new tools with which to think critically about development and the underlying logic behind it. It’s an excellent class for anyone who has worked, or wants to work, in development or peacebuilding. In addition to giving you a set of in-demand skills (because, jobs), it also helps you understand how much higher the bar should be for good development work that can create change, and what steps we can take to reach that bar. It’s an incredibly challenging course that makes you question your assumptions, but the hard work and heavy reading load is completely worth it. If it interests you, definitely consider taking it.
In the meantime — have a wonderful summer, and I’m looking forward to meeting all of you who are new students come August!
Ali started contributing to the blog last fall, and now, with two semesters behind her, she is pursuing her summer internship. Today she describes how her internship plans came together.
The “first years” are done with our first year of graduate school! It’s an exciting, sad, and anxious feeling — all at the same time.
We’re excited that we survived, and that we get to meet the new first years in the fall. We’re sad that the graduates are leaving Boston, and we won’t see them as often anymore. Finally, we’re anxious to succeed at the summer internships we’ve landed, most of which start in the coming weeks.
The latter subject is the topic of my final blog post for the year. When I last wrote, I promised to update you on the summer position that Fletcher and Net Impact helped me land. I’m happy to say I’ll be working with the YUM! Brands sustainability team in Louisville, KY (my hometown!) this summer — performing data analysis and reporting for the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), and updating the company’s sustainability strategy with new goals and partnerships. YUM! — better known as KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell — is facing a lot of industry-representative sustainability challenges right now, regarding its use of antibiotics, palm oil, and forest fibers, and I’m excited to help them develop innovative solutions responsibly.
Prof. Rappaport’s Corporate Management of Environmental Issues class, Net Impact’s new SolutionsLab series, and Fletcher’s alumni are three resources that have been useful to me in securing the position.
Prof. Rappaport’s class — offered in conjunction with Tufts’ Department of Urban and Environmental Planning — exposed me to many of the corporate challenges and trends that I discussed in the interview for my internship position. Her class also provided me with multiple opportunities to expand my sustainability network. For example, she invited a former UEP student who is now the Senior Sustainability Manager for DirectTV to speak to our class, and she allowed me to invite Walmart’s Director of Product Sustainability to speak to our class after I met him at a conference.
Net Impact’s SolutionsLab provided me demonstrable experience in food business issues with large corporate players like Monsanto. Because Fletcher’s Net Impact chapter is an active network participant, we were selected to host the series’ first SolutionsLab event on our campus. The event highlighted my ability to form and execute successful partnerships and was reported on 3bl Media just one day before a post about an upcoming Twitter event with YUM! and Triple Pundit.
Finally, as always, Fletcher’s alumni prove to be an invaluable resource. When I found out I’d be helping YUM! with their CDP reporting, I sent a note to a Fletcher alum at CDP. It turns out, there are multiple alumni there, and the YUM! Liaison at CDP is a Fletcher alumna, as well. It’s nice to go into my internship knowing I have a broad network of support.
So, that’s it. I’m off to my hometown to spend a wonderful and productive summer.
Thanks for following my story this year, and see you in the next.
To keep track of each other’s whereabouts, students created and populated this map with their summer internship destinations. While not covering the complete planet, they’re certainly spread far and wide.
The biggest group will be found in Washington, DC, though they’ll be distributed across sectors, organizations, and agencies, including:
Department of Defense
Department of State (various divisions)
Catholic Relief Service
U.S. Trade and Development Agency
Middle East Institute
Delegation of the European Union, Trade Division
Save the Children International; Education/Child Protection Division
Center for Civilians in Conflict
Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
Internet Education Foundation, Google Policy Fellowship
Catholic Relief Services
There’s a surprising little cluster in the Bay Area (San Francisco) at:
Concur Inc., Environmental Conflict Resolution
Gap Inc., Supply Chain Division
Allison+Partners, Global China Practice
Beyond those friendly groupings (lunch, anyone?), other selected internship sites include:
United Nations and other international organizations
International Labour Organisation, Regional Decent Work Team for North Africa, Egypt
UN Women Headquarters, NY
UN Department for Peacekeeping Operations, NY
UN Office of Sustainable Development, Seoul, Korea
UN Action for Cooperation against Trafficking in Persons (UN-ACT), Bangkok, Thailand
Asian Development Bank, Manila, Philippines
European Parliament, EPP on Committee for Strategic Dialogue with the U.S., Brussels
International Committee of the Red Cross, Senegal
U.S. Government, outside of the U.S.
U.S. Embassy, Ouagadougou
U.S. Mission to the European Union, Foreign Commercial Service
USAID Maputo, Mozambique
USAID, GIS Fellow, Lima, Peru,
Department of State, Beijing
NGOs, large and small
Manos de Madres, Kigali, Rwanda, M&E internship
International Crisis Group, Beijing
Faire Collection, Otavalo, Ecuador
Center for Democratic Development, Nigeria
The Asia Foundation, Dili, Timor-Leste
Impact Investing, Lima, Peru
Danish Refugee Council, Turkey
China Foundation Center, Beijing
Center for Democratic Development, Ghana
Danish Demining Group, Juba, South Sudan
The Awethu Project, South Africa
Mercy Corps, DME intern, Mali
Development Innovations, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Resonate, Kigali, Rwanda
The Akanksha Foundation, AIF Fellowship, Pune, India
The Advocacy Project, Peace Fellow, Lima Peru
Private sector organizations
Johnson & Johnson, Marketing Division, Tokyo
Ernst & Young, Chicago
A.T. Kearney, Dubai
The ASG Companies, NY
And some others that I wasn’t sure how to characterize:
NATO Defense College, Rome
Legal Aid Clinic, University of Namibia Law School
Economena Analytics, Lebanon
This is not a comprehensive list, and the information each student added to the location pins wasn’t consistent, but I hope the message is clear. Students pursue a wide variety of internships and they may be found anywhere in the world.
Tagged with: Internships
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.
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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