Class of 2012 Service Blogs

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Growing up in India can be an interesting experience for various reasons – opportunity to live in constant chaos, contradictions and anomalies every day in life are among my favorite ones. Dealing with ambiguities comes as a second nature to most that have lived that life. There is much to be felt than seen the mystical order in the chaos that one can experience in India. This is powered not by machines but humans.  I have always been fascinated by the efforts and impact of grass root startups  that have rose to the challenge of solving some of the most complicated and critical problems  faced by more than 70% of 1.2 billion people strong country.

For Service Immersion, I worked with one such start up in India called Inkind . Inkind is trying to establish itself as a movement majorly targeting to youth who want to give back to society and have access to resources but lack time and information to best utilize their intentions. Inkind works as platform to connect people who want to contribute and donate to organizations and individuals who are in most need of the available resources. I contributed to the strategy of scaling up to other cities, expanding the NGO network and enhancing the web enabled platform to make the entire process more transparent and credible to end user.

Through service immersion in Smeal and the experience of working with one of the founders of this startup, I am convinced that in people, in beliefs lies tremendous power which can bring about big changes.

Noopur Sahu

Smeal MBA Class of 2012

Penn State University

 


Participants:  Ajantha Korukonda, Alina Pospelova, Sylvia Shank, Yordan Pankov

Organization: NutrAfrica

Ethiopia is widely considered to be the birthplace of coffee, yet the nation has not been able to make its mark in the world coffee market like Brazil and Colombia. Ethiopian coffee is of the Arabica type, which is very rich coffee that can get a good price anywhere in the world compared to other coffees. So the question remains, why has the country been unsuccessful in this market?

Our APEX project focusses on one of the primary issues within the Ethiopian coffee market – the little value the coffee farmer receives from the sale of their coffee. Currently, the farmer receives less that 1% of the price from the sale of a bag of coffee sold in the world market. As a team, are addressing this issue and are developing a viable solution to add value to the farmer. From our research so far, we have found that there is a significant amount of information asymmetry amongst the players in the value chain. Poverty and the lack of communication have led to the farmer being exploited by the middleman. In the coffee-making process, the roasting of the green coffee bean is a critical process. The few big players who source coffee in the world primarily control this process, sourcing green beans from all over the world.

Ethiopia is a country that relies heavily on coffee, forming 50-60% of its exports. The Ethiopian government has made steady efforts to protect the farmer and in turn their export revenue. The Ethiopian Commodities Exchange now regulates the sale of green beans for export in an effort to stabilize prices. Since the farmers need a means to sell their coffee beans, the aggregators take advantage of their despondent situations and exploit them by paying the farmer a low price. The farmer, unaware of the actual value of the coffee, and desperate to provide for their families sell their beans at very low prices.

Our project included two of our team members traveling to Ethiopia.  On our trip to Ethiopia, we were able to see firsthand the challenges the Ethiopian coffee farmers are faced with and learn about other issues that we did not fully consider prior to our trip.  We also had the opportunity to listen to many presentations addressing these issues at the East African Fine Coffee Association Conference. We visited the Sidama and Yirgacheffe coffee regions where we saw washing stations, a processing station where the dried coffee cherries were being pulped, processed, and bagged for shipment and coffee farmer co-operative unions. We observed just how remotely located the coffee farmers are and how easily they can be taken advantage of by the aggregators with coffee prices. This situation only exacerbates the cycle of poverty in which they live.

The lack of sufficient number of training centers makes it very difficult to educate the coffee farmers. The resounding message at the EAFCA conference was that the tools, technology, and knowledge are available; it is just difficult to get them to the coffee farmers. Due to these barriers, Ethiopia has the lowest productivity yields per hectare of coffee trees than any other country in Africa. We learned that many organizations have found successful platforms to disseminate tools, technology, and knowledge to coffee farmers in other countries; however these platforms will not easily or necessarily work in Ethiopia.

Through our trip and research, the team has developed a plan to address these challenging issues to bring more value to the Ethiopian coffee farmers.  We look forward to the implementation of our business plan and the future result of the goals of NutrAfrica being realized.


 

Samuel Felix Ankrah

Location of Immersion: Marfo Children’s Home, Tema, Ghana (www.marfochildrencare.org)

Activities: Tutoring the children at the home after school. I spent three weeks assisting the children at the home with after school projects.


Green Light, New Orleans LA

Green Light New Orleans invests energy in people by assisting New Orleans residents in-person, one household at a time. Volunteers install free energy efficient light bulbs to demonstrate that a mass movement of individual actions creates a significant impact on our environment and community. They connect New Orleans residents to relevant, local opportunities and encourage individual actions so that everyone can benefit from a vibrant, resilient, and sustainable community.

In a single day we installed 41 Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL) light bulbs that helped residents conserve 16,154 kWh of energy, save $1,886 in energy cost, and reduce their carbon footprint by 18,327 pounds of CO2.

One of the great parts about this project was the opportunity to provide concrete cost savings numbers and to educate the residents about Green Light initiatives, means to reduce energy consumption and ways to involve friends and relatives in such programs.

Meals on Wheels and More, Austin TX

Meals on Wheels and More seeks to nourish and enrich the lives of the homebound and other people in need through programs that promote dignity and independent living. Meals on Wheels and More celebrates 40 years of service in the Greater Austin area.  What began as a program of eight volunteers serving 29 seniors has now expanded into a multi-service organization of nearly 7,000 volunteers reaching more than 5,000 of our Greater Austin neighbors in need.

Aside from preparing an average of 967,495 meals in 2011 year, MOWAM also offers many other programs designed to keep people healthy and living in their own homes.

After we received a very warm welcome from Meals on Wheels and More staff, we were directed in a nice conference room where we sat through the Orientation. During this time we have learnt the importance of volunteers and the fact that they guarantee freshly cooked meal delivery to, an average, 2,500 clients daily.

We delivered fresh, hot food to 11 houses to clients who are homebound. The highlight of the trip was the chance to interact with the clients, to bring them warmth with our smiles and to give them a point of contact with the outside world. They were waiting for us with smiles and kindness in their eyes.

 

It has been such a great way to dedicate our time to great causes, to have an impact on people’s lives, and to realize how blessed we are to be part of Smeal MBA family.

By Adina Craiut and Abdul ALMogren



Name: Moulik Desai

Organization: Quetsol, Solar energy social start-up enterprise serving the ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’ customers.

http://www.quetsol.com/

Other Participants: Alex Rosenthal, Amanda Hahnel

The Experience:

“Land of the Eternal Spring” …is the phrase used to describe Guatemala for the beautiful spring-like weather all year round. Tall peaks lined by golden sunshine, picturesque blue skies sprinkled with powder puff clouds in Quiche, to mid-west like flat lands of Peten to black sand beaches. Guatemala is a land of diversity not just in is geography but even its people, comprising of 23 indigenous Maya tribes who all speak different languages, and not Spanish!

Little known may be the fact that over 55% of Guatemala’s population lives below the poverty line. The rural tribes are scattered in remote, hard-to-access villages, tucked away in the beautiful valleys far away from modern development, which is concentrated mainly in Guatemala City. People in villages rely on subsistence farming and supplement their basic needs through a meagre income stream from cash-crops (like cardamom, bananas etc) thereby exposed to market price fluctuations. They money earned is spent on necessities, one of which is candles. Yes, candles – to provide them with enough light so that their children can study and they themselves can be productive preparing for the next day, to earn an honest living. Many rural villages, around 500,000 households do not have access to the electricity grid, and thus spend a major portion of their income, around $160 a year, on candles as their sole source of light.

Our APEX project is with a social enterprise, a micro-solar startup company called Quetsol, primarily aimed to improve the lives of rural Guatemalans by providing solar-powered electricity kits that can power two bulbs and charge a cell phone from a day’s worth of sunlight, and thus help replace candles and save some money that can be used towards improving their lives. Along with the founders of Quetsol, two extremely bright, young individuals, we visited one of the offices of their sales and distribution partner, a micro-finance institution in Guatemala, to deliver kits for a group of 70 people who had mustered the will and signing up for a somewhat expensive loan for the purchase.

From their standpoint, you may think of this as a huge capital investment, e.g. buying a new car where you need to convince your better half, perhaps even yourself in the hope that it serve you well in the long-term. When we arrived at the office, the village folk, Quetsol’s customers, were already waiting in anticipation, some of whom let out a sheepish smile when they saw our trucks with the Quetsol logo. We joined the Quetsol staff to help unload and move the kits from the back of the truck to the office. The next item on the agenda was the customer demonstration and training, which was done by the CEO and filmed by the co-founder. We stood back to observe the crowd and take notes about how it was executed and if there were opportunities for improvements. We probably should have had notepads, white labcoats and yellow hardhats! At the end of the session, we regrouped and debriefed with the founders – shared our feedback, opinions and suggestions, which very refreshingly were always welcome.

Our next task was to gather responses from existing customers, which was perhaps the truest experience of rural Guatemala. This 200-household village was nestled in beautiful mountains, amongst the clouds at an elevation of 7,000 feet, and a 5-hour ‘joyride’ from Coban, just one way! En route, we even had to ford a river in one point hoping that our car wouldn’t stall and that we wouldn’t have to call the Guatemalan AAA for trail-side assistance. On reaching the village, we visited several households and talked to heads of the household. Although Amanda spoke spanish, our questions were relayed through the founder as he engaged the customers in a dialogue. Some of the houses doubled up as one-stop-retail stores (much like the rural micro-Walmarts), which sold confectionaries to vegetables to mobile phone recharge cards. Some others were typical wood-houses, with ducks and chicken walking around the ‘living room’ with the authority of a respected grandparent! One of them was a 4-room house, a solid construction made of concrete, equipped with a modern mattress and frame – a mansion compared to other houses in the neighborhood. This disparity of income in the same village was quite intriguing! The owner worked for a political party – ah, of course! However, our exercise was not in vain – we discovered new information that would help improve trainings or customer demonstrations, ideas for providing warranty service for the kits, and even potential product improvements. All in all a productive trip for Quetsol!

Wherever we went, we received a warm welcome and the locals seemed quite content, contrary to the news reports… perhaps, we were just lucky. But it is only after a journey like this, that we get reconnected with our purest emotions, hopefully ignited and inspired enough to veer off the beaten path and make a small difference in the world… Godspeed!

Moulik Desai, Class of 2012.

 


Who: Lucas de Brito

Organization: Loaves & Fishes – Clarksville, TN  – http://www.loavesandfishestn.org/

The experience:

What better place to do my service immersion than the Volunteer State? Service Immersion week gave me the opportunity to fly back to Clarksville (a small town located about 50 miles northwest of Nashville) and give back to a community that welcomed me with open arms during my undergraduate years at Austin Peay State University.

I got in contact with an organization called Loaves & Fishes and explained that I wanted to join their team for a week of community service. Without any resistance, I was welcomed as a volunteer. Loaves & Fishes’ mission is to feed the hungry without asking any questions. They feed anybody that comes through their doors with a big smile on their faces. The organization serves meals from 10:30am to 12pm from Monday through Saturday. In addition, they also work as a distribution center where food donations are distributed to other legitimate agencies in the Clarksville area.

The meals are prepared and served by different teams every day of the week. Each team has a supervisor who assigns different tasks to each team member. Some of the teams that I met during that week have been volunteering for over a decade. The work begins around 8am and the food is ready at a little before 10:30am. A lot of thought is put into preparing the meals, the supervisor tries to balance different foods in order to provide our guests with a combination of carbohydrates, protein, and vitamins. The menu is different everyday and given that I was the newbie, my job duties varied each day. My jobs included:

– Mastering the can opener

– Slicing and cutting different types of food

– Moving boxes – a lot of boxes 🙂

– Serving drinks

– Taking out the trash

– Counting the number of food trays

– Serving ice cream

– Cleaning

– Etc…

Although this may sound like a mundane experience, it was very rewarding when I saw how people really needed the meals that we were serving. It made a difference to them! There is something so unique about helping others! It just feels so good!

During our slowest day, we served 144 meals. During our busiest day we served 210 meals.

I am grateful that the Smeal MBA program encouraged me to do community service. Now that I have done it once, I can do it again, and again, and again…

The world constantly reminds business leaders that they must think about their communities before making decisions. The Smeal MBA program provides students with leadership development opportunities that are often not found in other programs.

Thank you,

Lucas de Brito

With Anne Doherty, Board Member of Loaves & Fishes.


 


  • My name:  Ross Shutt
  • Service organization:  Centre County PAWS
  • Other participants:  Kolika Chatterjee, Simone Moniz, Kelly Burns, Shane Hetzel, Jorge Quezada
  • What we did:  “Centre County PAWS is committed to finding forever homes for cats and dogs, educating citizens on responsible pet ownership, providing spay/neuter assistance, and ending pet overpopulation.”  As the proud owner of two former PAWS cats, it was my pleasure to participate in the Woofers Market fundraiser on Sunday, March 18, 2012.  MBA classmates and faculty came together to donate treats, crafts, and time in order to raise over $500 for this wonderful organization.

Volunteer: Damon Fisher

Client: Mifflin-Juniata Dental Clinic (MJDC)

I did my service immersion at the Mifflin-Juniata Dental Clinic. The MJDC serves the area’s (Mifflin, Juniata, Huntingdon, Snyder counties) low-income patients under medical assistance. The primary patients range from ages toddler-18 and the elderly.

The assignment focused on productivity and breakeven analysis based on historical financials (P&L data from Eaglesoft and Quickbooks) and cost data in order to provide decision support. I developed a simple target profitability model in Excel as a decision support tool for management to set daily production targets in order to reach profitability goals.

It was gratifying to be able to provide support to an important local organization needing assistance. In addition, it’s rewarding to know that I made a difference in the viability of the organization by providing better visibility of the clinic’s production, profits and losses.


The Smeal MBA Trailwork Crew, led by Ezra Nanes, partnered with the Nittany Mountain Biking Association (NMBA), The International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) to tackle a critical rerouting of the “Old” Maguire Trail in Rothrock State Forest. The Maguire Trail was a fall-line trail suffering from severe erosion. A reroute was needed to make the trail sustainable and to improve the user experience for hikers and mountain bikers. The trail connects two of the most popular trails in the area, Bald Knob Ridge Trail and the Lower Trail, and so it is an important link in the trail network. The MBA trailwork crew logged nearly 300 person-hours of hard physical labor – cutting through brush, clearing debris, moving logs, raking topsoil and digging and leveling some of the toughest land imaginable. The “New” Maguire Trail is now open to riders and hikers. Huge thanks to Terri Rudy Pontzer, Dave Pontzer, Frank Maguire and Jacob Mazzei for all the support and for making this project possible! And a SUPER HUGE THANK YOU to the MBA Trailwork Crew who put in such a great effort!


  • My Name: Viswanathan Adinarayanan
  • Service Organization: Nittany Mountain Biking Association
  • Participants: John Carlton, Kory Kiefer, Albert Lee, Paul Shotto, Terry Lin , Ying Yan (Jill) Chen , Gregory Hylinski, Raymond Morrissey, John Schaffer, Andrew Butler, Viswanathan Adinarayanan, Nathan Peruch, Tim Pace, Matthew Marler, Jorge Garcia, Erlend Wegger, Ezra Nanes
  • Project: The project entailed cutting a new trail for two sections of the Maguire trail and closing a section of the old trail in Rothrock State Forest, which is located close to Tussey mountain in State College. The old trail had eroded and further usage of it meant that sediments of erosion were contaminating one of the water sources of State College. Such trails for recreational activities like hiking and biking in the area are maintained primarily on a volunteer basis. We were excited as a group to be on this project which brought us amidst nature and away from spreadsheets and powerpoints. The tasks that we undertook as part of the immersion was brush cutting, tilling, raking and leveling the trails. We are happy to have given back to the State College community in our small way and hope that the new trail will enjoyed by nature enthusiasts.

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