Writer: Laura Aviles

Collaboration: Jason Harris.

The journey has begun! Our team consists of four Thunderbird Master of Global Management 2017 students: Jason Harris, Aaron Rockwell, Juan Carlos Quiroga, and me (Laura Aviles) who have travelled to work as consultants for Rio Tinto (the second largest mining corporation in the world) and CARA (organization created by Rio Tinto and the World Bank). The focus of the project is capacity building for coaches and CARA staff with the goal of helping the organization become a self-sustaining incubator for small and local business.   

Thinking back on the longest flight of our lives, the sprinting through airport terminals, and the dirty looks from Manhattan metro passengers as we pushed our way through the packed subway crowds in an effort to arrive at JFK airport on time. After more than 26 hours of flight, more than 70 hours of pre-departure preparation and training, we had finally arrived in Madagascar and it has all been worth it!

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Stopover in Manhattan, New York

Our first stop in country was Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, where we stayed two nights before departure to our final destination, Fort Dauphin.  

Team Hiroborobo (meaning prosperity in Malagasy) arrived as scheduled to Antananarivo (Tana) Madagascar at 11:45 pm Saturday May 20, 2017, linking up with Melissa Gaylord (Master of Arts in Global Affairs & Management 2017), Alex Marino (MAGAM 2017) and Donna the Dog in Paris the day before. We certainly knew that it would be an exciting trip being that Juan Carlos met in person the real “Patch Adams” during his flight from Paris to Tana and it can truly be said that he is a unique individual who cares tremendously for his patients regardless of their circumstances.

The perception of Madagascar is nothing like the cartoons depict. The images of wild animals blissfully roaming aimlessly in a remote island paradise is not what we found. Don’t get me wrong, FT Dauphin is still a paradise; however, the fact of the matter is that Madagascar is the third poorest country of Africa where Malagasy people live on less than 3 dollars per day. The income inequalities are most apparent in the capital city but are also obvious in FT Dauphin. Nevertheless, the kindness and welcoming nature of the Malagasy people must be mentioned. Everywhere you go, as you make an effort to speak their native language you are met with a smile and a handshake. Even in midst of the meager situation in which the majority of Malagasy people live, they are still a happy and generous people.

On our second day in country, we attended the country’s premier industry trade show. 

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Industry Trade Show, Antananarivo, Madagascar

During the trade show, we met for the first time, Volatiana Tombotsiory, the director of CARA, and various representatives from the local enterprises. We built rapport with them and in turn they were very welcoming to our team. Moreover, we had the chance to see other businesses operating in Madagascar, some that are owned by foreign investors and others that are home grown by Malagasy entrepreneurs. The diversity and variety of businesses was surprising. As we toured the trade show it was obvious to see the marketing strategies and products that are being targeted at the “bottom of the pyramid” as was taught by Professors’ Olufemi Barbarinde and Richard Ettenson last semester at Thunderbird. Many local businesses are tapping into what make them unique and are undergoing expansion, and just as many foreign entities are taking advantage of the growing market as well.

After the trade show, we spent the afternoon touring the city as we observed aspects of the country's vibrant history manifested through the architecture, food, and the people. We saw the Queen’s palace and viewed the capital city from the tallest vantage point high above the bustling streets below. Later that evening we were invited to dinner with Monsieur Enrique Paz, Chief Ambassador of UNICEF Madagascar. This dinner was the result of coordination between Mr. Paz and Juan Carlos who are close family friends from Bolivia. This dinner meeting was a great networking opportunity and provided valuable insight into the Malagasy culture and the challenges that Madagascar faces as a country on a regional and global scale.

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Overlooking Antananarivo, from the Queen’s Palace, Madagascar

The following morning began by taking care of necessary tasks such as purchasing cellular phones for use in Madagascar and extracting funds in Ariary from the local bank in preparation for the impending flight south. For lunch, the team scheduled a meeting with Volatiana where we made formal introductions and learned more about her, CARA’s mission, purpose and how it is organized. Through coordination by Volatiana, after lunch we had a very informative meeting with Monsieur Christian Rasoarahona, an entrepreneur who operates an accelerator and crowdfunding business called Capital ++ & Century Capital Partners (CRP) in Tana. The meeting was insightful as he explained his business model and the processes that he has put in place to find, fund, and grow existing small businesses in Madagascar.

The next day we packed our things and headed to the Tana airport for our flight to FT Dauphin. From the air the countryside was impressive and incredibly beautiful. The team overall was surprised at the geological diversity and the immensity of Madagascar as a whole. Once the blue hue of the Indian Ocean had been identified the town of FT Dauphin quickly came into view. Situated at the base of large mountain covered in lush vegetation to the west and the white ocean spray of the crashing waves to the east, we had finally arrived at FT. Dauphin. Our first stop at our coastal home was to one of the local seaside restaurants where we experienced the taste of the local seafood.

The journey, the laughs, and the friendships have already begun to form. It has been clear why Thunderbirds stick together, and why the program is set apart from the rest. Though we settle into our new home, we still fondly look back and joke about the days, students, and teachers back at Thunderbird. But more than the nostalgia is the arrow that points forward, the drive to improve our place in this world. Fort Dauphin, get ready!

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Port Beach, FT. Dauphin Madagascar

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