Student Cultivates Businesses in East Africa
As he nears graduation this spring, Carlson School undergrad Austin Hermann wants to "go save the world." His passion for cultivating small businesses in developing communities began when he journeyed to Iringa, Tanzania for a once-in-a-lifetime internship.
Business in the developing world
From April through August last year, Hermann advised farmers in Tanzania how to fortify their processes to yield the most benefit for their communities. He shared lessons from the Carlson School classroom to help entrepreneurs identify weak links in their value chains to strengthen their businesses.
"Many of the farmers we were working with have never had a formal business education. So it's about being able to teach some of the basic skills they need to build a profitable business," he says.
In some cases, making small changes to farmers' processes can increase food yields and stimulate the surrounding economy.
A new breed of international aid
Hermann volunteered with Cheetah Development, a non-profit focused on investment in developing nations. The organization's approach differs from traditional aid efforts: Cheetah makes investments that range from $5,000-500,000 in developing communities.
"Cheetah Development has a radical business model that is revolutionary in the aid world. Cheetah doesn't give to the poor or lend to the poor. Cheetah buys from the poor," he says.
A transformational experience
For the entrepreneurial management and applied economics major, the opportunity in Tanzania was a perfect fit. It offered him meaningful experience in the development field, fulfilled his curiosity to explore the economic climate in East Africa, and empowered him to experience a culture completely unlike his own.
"After taking an amazing freshman seminar on water scarcity, I became interested in development work and grew a sort of 'go save the world' attitude," he says. "I wanted to see what the developing world was really all about. All the signs just said Tanzania. It was kind of a gut decision."
Looking back, Hermann's best memories include scaling Mount Kilimanjaro, giving impromptu English lessons to the kitchen staff in a Tanzanian hotel, and glimpsing a cheetah on safari. He documented the best moments on his blog.
"I've really become a believer in Carlson's requirement that students go abroad," he says. "I know it's expensive, and can be a challenge to plan, but at the end of your college career, it is probably going to be one of your best memories and something you will cherish forever."