Ohio State MBA Students Test Sustainable Business Model in Tanzania

Each year, over 2,000 Ohio State students travel abroad to conduct research, learn about themselves and others, and better society. In May, Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business Global Applied Projects Program sent six of its Master of Business Administration students to rural Tanzania to investigate a proposed franchise business model that would help Ohio State’s Global Water Institute (GWI) improve clean water access there.

Funded in part by Ohio State’s Office of Energy and Environment, students Alec Sichko, Jeff Martin, Jacob Kuss, Andrew RIchlen, Tyler Roumas and Dadrien Barnes (photo: above) spent three weeks in Tanzania. They were meeting with public officials, private companies, NGOs and community members to gather information that would support GWI in the development of a water services franchising concept in rural villages. In past years, GWI has engaged both students and faculty in assessing problems associated with clean water access in Tanzania.In Tanzania, a large portion of people living in rural communities do not have access to water and sanitation that meets international standards, and water-borne illnesses account for over half of the diseases affecting the population. This is due to a variety of factors, including lack of access to replacement parts, insufficient funds, and lack of knowledge and training to manage water systems. Pumps and distribution systems continue to fail, and efforts to improve access to safe, potable water have been ongoing for years without enduring success.

This is where GWI’s Sustainable Village Water Systems Program comes into play. A national water system rehabilitation effort, the program focuses on providing sustainable access to water, sanitation, and renewable energy. Alongside physical infrastructure including solar-powered water pumps and sanitation facilities, the program will establish a for-profit business model that will allow villages to maintain their own water systems. The model ultimately strives to spur economic development from the successful maintenance of each water system that will create long-term, sustainable changes in the affected communities. The students’ trip served as an investigation for this facet of the program.

“We were on a fact-finding mission to test the assumptions of the Global Water Institute’s franchise model,” said MBA student Jacob Kuss. “We all agreed that GWI had a solid structure to their plan, but the execution will take a lot more effort with a much larger in-country presence.” Kuss noted that education and training on management practices and accountability must be addressed at the village level in order for the model to work as desired. Engaging Tanzanian women is another central focus of this project, largely in part because women bear the primary responsibility of gathering water in their respective villages. By training and encouraging them to become franchise-owners and operators through the economic activity resultingfrom the program, these women will benefit the most from its success.

Student Andrew Richlen testing out village water system

Between meetings, research, and identifying findings for this model, the students were able to explore the country by enjoying a safari ride in the Serengeti, exploring the Ngorongoro crater, and spending a day in a Maasai village near Arusha. Ultimately, however, interacting with villagers was the most rewarding part of the Tanzania experience, according to the students.“My favorite part of the entire experience was getting to meet and establishing friendships with the local people,” said Tyler Roumas. “Their hospitality, hard work, and desire to be the best that they could were immensely inspiring. Meeting people who have a completely different perspective on life is always fascinating to me and I think we learned as much from them as they learned from us.”

Alec Sichco added, “While I’ve always been fairly socially minded, being on the ground and seeing the situation firsthand definitely increased my motivation to stay involved in these types of causes moving forwards.”

Jeff Martin believes his time in Tanzania helped foster a personal commitment to sustainability alongside his career plans in the healthcare industry, and would like to take more trips to Africa in hopes of working with other organizations like GWI.

“One of the greatest takeaways from the trip for me was a better understanding of poor economics and the difficulty of providing clean drinking water to villagers in rural areas of Tanzania,” he said.

Thanks in part to the students’ final report, GWI will continue to develop its franchising model as part of its Sustainable Village Water Systems Program, which stands to reach nearly one million people in 125 villages as part of its first phase.

A link to the students' blog about their experience can be found here.

MBA students with Tanzania officials

Written by Natalie Michalski, student communications assistant