Friday, October 23, 2009

Project Kivu Fresh Chicken

We're in Rwanda working on our second project. This time our "client" is a friend from primary school named Mike. Mike worked in private equity in Chicago and served as CFO/COO of several ventures in the U.S. over the past 12 years before he decided to come to Rwanda ten months ago to start his own socially-minded entrepreneurial ventures. We've spent a lot of time with Mike discussing the failures of the traditional development model in Rwanda (large sums of donor capital, little accountability for effective deployment and limited resources with private sector business experience, resulting in tremendous wastage and unsustainable initiatives) and Mike fervently believes that building private sector businesses in partnership with local Rwandan entrepreneurs is the best means to have social impact in this country. He has created a fund to invest in this type of commerce and his initial area of focus is a set of businesses that manufacture protein, which is extremely lacking in the diets of most Rwandans and is a serious health issue that doesn't get nearly as much attention as HIV/AIDS or malaria. The first of these businesses is a chicken farm, but eggs and milk are the most inexpensive forms of protein so Mike has detailed plans to build a dairy business as well. Vertical integration is much more important in this market because it's difficult to control the quality of inputs unless you own them yourself so he's also building a feed business and a hatchery. The crazy thing is that prior to the chicken farm Mike had absolutely no experience in agriculture. Shows what can be done by a smart guy with a great deal of conviction.

Our work with Mike is focused on the chicken farm, and this time we're rolling up our sleeves and getting into detailed operations management. We spent a day at the farm with Mike and his General Manager Jean-Felix learning about the business, and since then we've been analyzing throughput, bottlenecks, maximum capacity and optimal configuration for the new buildings being constructed at the farm. Cranberry case, anyone? I actually love this stuff. I love the math and the problem solving. The recommendations are also extremely tangible. Perhaps I should think about abandoning digital media for manufacturing!

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