Africa teaches two Rollins students the lessons of a lifetime.
By Leigh Perkins Brown
MBA student makes Tanzania his business
Sam Barns ’11 ’12MBA
Major: Critical Media & Cultural Studies
MBA specialization: Entrepreneurship & Marketing
Hometown: Falmouth, Maine
It used to be that a freshly minted MBA could think of only one destination:
But soon-to-be Crummer graduate Sam Barns has a plan that’s a world away from investment bankers and bailouts. As soon as he’s official in April, he is going to Tanzania to open an ecolodge in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro.
“The name we’re using right now is Tuko Pamoja Mkyashi, but we’ll leave it up to the village to decide what they want to call it,” he said.
Barns will leave it to the villagers because it will be their business, designed for local ownership and local benefit.
“I was always uncomfortable with the idea of going to some exotic place on vacation and staying in a fancy hotel, knowing that all of the proceeds were going to some foreign company instead of to the village,” he said. “The money generated by the lodge will go into community projects, and we will work with the people in the village to hand the business over to them. It will be village owned and operated.”
Instead of hunting down private capital to build the lodge, Barns has taken the nonprofit route, securing 501(c)(3) status, but with an entrepreneurial twist. “We plan to raise $100,000,” he said. “Charities require constant funding, but we’ll use just this one block of starting funds and then it will begin to generate its own income.”
In October, Barns and his future business partner Allison Crocker, who also will graduate from Crummer in April, got their website up and running, ready to take donations.
Because they have spent considerable time on service-learning trips in the village of Mkyashi, Barns said they have a strong network of local expertise to help them get the project off the ground. They have put a goodfaith deposit down, of sorts, on a parcel of land (by paying tuition for the landowner’s children to attend a good local school) and have plans drawn up for a lodge with five guest huts. They even have a game plan for itineraries, which are anything but standard resort fare: guided hikes to waterfalls, yes, but also lectures by local historians; tours of banana farms, yes, but also taking tea with villagers. “Traditional tourism intentionally removes you from the locals,” Barns said. “But we want to provide that chance for connection—cultural and emotional and economic.”
Barns emphasizes that Tuko Pamoja Mkyashi is not a charity. It’s a business with a soul. “My philosophy on service has changed,” he said. “It used to be doing something for somebody. Now it’s doing something with somebody. It’s a lot more dignified to use your education and your resources to help somebody help themselves.” mkyashi.org
Senior brings sweeter life to African village
Fabia Rothenfluh ’12
Hometown: Kuessnacht, Switzerland
An unexpected thing happened to Fabia Rothenfluh’s golf game when she returned
from two months of service learning in South Africa: Suddenly, she was crushing
“It’s almost like I found an inner balance,” said Rothenfluh, who plays for the women’s golf team. “Golf helped me with the service work, and service work helped a fan of handouts,” she said. “You can’t control what has already happened. You can just focus on the next thing and look for solutions instead of problems.”
Chosen by ThinkImpact Innovation Institute in Washington, DC to join a select group of 30 entrepreneurial scholars, Rothenfluh set a goal to train villagers to launch their own businesses. And they would do so with only 200 rand—roughly $33.
“I am really passionate about helping people, but I am not a fan of handouts,” she said. “I believe in helping people to be self-sufficient and to earn their own living.”
The first step after acclimating to life in the remote village of Huntingdon (bucket showers and limited electricity) was for her and a partner from North Carolina State University to brainstorm business ideas with community members. Soon, they had a group of 10 women and a sweet idea: the Sunshine Bakery.
“It was a good business plan to sell to the local people so they didn’t have to travel to town for bread and meat pies,” Rothenfluh said.
None of the local women had operated a business before, so they had to learn accounting, sales, and even baking from scratch. The limited funding required the group to be creative. As Rothenfluh wrote in the blog she posted during her service, they didn’t have proper utensils such as rolling pins, whisks, or cookware, so they had to improvise, baking muffins in a sardine tin. “After all,” she wrote, “difficult situations call for innovative solutions, and we will do our best to start businesses from scratch and grow them from very small—even if it means baking muffins in can halves over the fire.”
Despite the challenges, Sunshine Bakery procured a building to work in and quickly generated the greatest marketing tool of all: local buzz. “Sometimes they are in a larger town nearby and they email me,” Rothenfluh said. “They’re still baking and still very proud.”
This social entrepreneurship experience has inspired Rothenfluh to apply to graduate schools to study economics, sociology, and inequality in international development.