In January 2017, ten students, one faculty member, and one Mizzou alumna, traveled to Nicaragua on a project to consult with a women’s coffee cooperative. For details on their trip, check out parts 1, 2, and 4 . The following is a reflection from one of the participants, first-year MBA student, Megan Babyak.
I Can Handle This
I knew I had to go to Nicaragua from the very first time I heard about the opportunity. If you ask those who know me, they’d tell you that I’m notorious for traveling. I live to experience new countries and to immerse myself in different cultures. Having never been south of the border, I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to learn a great deal about Central America.
Preparing for the trip was slightly stressful. Not only was this my first time traveling to a developing nation, it was also my very first time participating in a consulting project. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Our team performed extensive research on the country, its politics and people, and way of living before we left, and luckily, a consulting professor within the school of business gave us great insight on how to develop a structure and ask relevant questions.
Once we arrived at the cooperative, the team did our best to understand the coffee-making process thanks to the help from Panorama Services Expedition. It was extremely important that we were exposed to how coffee gets made, starting from picking cherries all the way to grinding the beans. This was probably my favorite part of the trip, as I really got to experience how difficult and time-consuming the process was. This gave me a greater appreciation for the women before I even began to work on the project.
After we felt as though we grasped the process from start to finish, we began asking questions. This was the most time-consuming and cumbersome part of the project, since asking questions only led to more questions. I’d estimate we had 3-4 Q&A sessions with the women. On our last one, we found out that not all women in the cooperative grow coffee as we had originally thought. This was an eye-opener and really taught me to let go of any assumptions before beginning a project.
One of the more fun parts was splitting into our respective teams to work on recommendations. I was part of the manufacturing/equipment team. It was nice to leverage each person’s strengths in the group and come together to create realistic solutions. Our first step was to map out the entire coffee-growing process – we did this to see how much money and time go into each step and if we could make it more efficient. Although we didn’t have anything tangible to give the women at the end, we were able to suggest little tweaks here and there to help them improve their process. One example was to use a tarp and water bucket when de-pulping the cherries, as we noticed that a lot of cherries were getting lost and water was being wasted. We also recommended getting a hanging scale to weigh the finished product – the scale they were currently using required the coffee bag to be tipped sideways, spilling grounds if they were not careful. I think our best recommendation, however, was to suggest the women wait on buying an industrial grinder. We believed that until production was up, the grinder wouldn’t be very beneficial.
Jumping into an international project for my first exposure to consulting was tough, and dealing with a language barrier made it more difficult, but I now feel like I can handle anything!
Megan Babyak is a first-year Crosby MBA Marketing Analytics student. She currently serves as Service Projects Director for the MBA Association and is an active member in the Mizzou Analytics Society and Crosby Ambassador Team. Megan assists in the pre-screening of early-stage companies and organizes the system for evaluating investment opportunities as an Entrepreneurial Scholar with the Centennial Investors.