First You Must Listen In Order to Consult
As part of my project, I went and worked for a company with very limited access to internet. A company who one day aims to replicate their business model and expand to other countries across the world. Now, we probably both had the same reaction when coming to terms with that statement- one of confusion. As a group, we struggled. A week in, our project has changed, developed, progressed and then changed some more. From the very first description we received in February, our project has grown into an almost entirely different project. While we were initially focused on expanding the business model, getting to South Africa and understanding the business culture a little better helped us to realize that expansion will come later and right now we needed to just listen to Sibu and realize that what we really needed to give him was a fresh perspective and an idea bank.
The biggest takeaway that I received from my experience abroad in Cape Town was being able to look at ideas from various perspectives and knowing when to take a step back and just listen. Throughout our very short time in South Africa, our project was all over the place in terms of what our end goal was. We went from having a heavy focus on more of the numbers and financials, to switching to operations and building a standardized model to eventually working on ways for Sibu to network his business to potential customers. The more time we took to listen to our entrepreneur and understand not only what struggles he faced, but why he faced them, the more we ended up learning and being able to tailor our work to something more suited to South African culture.
Sibu, our entrepreneur, runs the entire business mostly himself. He has partners in Germany, but they have other day jobs and only contribute to PMP when they can. With so much of his time invested into the community project and his Airbnb experience, it leaves little time for him to do comprehensive research on new markets and new target markets. So, that’s what we more focused on in the second week. We were doing the research, the idea generation with hopes that in the end, that’s what he would need to push his business to the next phase.
Overall, spending two weeks here working on this project opened our eyes to many new perspectives, ideas, lifestyles and just different business cultures in general. We faced many challenges here that we take for granted in the US, such as having reliable access to internet, having resources available to us and having specified guidelines and timelines. Working in Philippi for a couple weeks allowed us to learn that you need to be able to adapt and figure out how to use internet time productively, know when to stop talking and start listening, and how people do business when establishing a relationship is a bigger priority than the business itself. And to establish a relationship with someone, well, that’s something that does not require the use of internet.