An IDBM Industry Project student team travelled to Zambia to learn about the local business environment together with local students. The project partner, Trinity Super Nutrition, based in Lusaka, aims to provide affordable, nutritious food to everybody with precooked and dehydrated beans. At the same time, their goal is to lessen deforestation, which causes erratic rain patterns and other severe issues.
A major in International Design Business Management at Aalto University teaches a lot about designing sustainable transitions, but this challenge was even more complex. Three Master-level students – Apeksha Ravi Kumar (tech background), Paula Juntura (business background), and Tomi Rantanen (design background) – accepted the challenge and began researching many previously unknown territories. What is it like to do business in Zambia? What do we know about agriculture and beans, the main product of the company? Gladly, Aalto Global Impact and AgriSCALE made it possible for us to visit the destination to gain a better, human-centered understanding of the pains and gains.
What is it like to do business in Zambia? What do we know about agriculture and beans, the main product of the company?
We landed in Lusaka on February 12th, tired after over 15 hours of travelling, but very excited about the upcoming field research trip. We were greeted very warmly, not only by the sun but also by our collaborating university UNZA (The University of Zambia) faculty. “It felt like coming back home to India. The traffic, landscape, scenery, everything reminded me of home,” Apeksha comments. In addition to students from UNZA, we were joined by students from Mulungushi University and formed a diverse team of 14 students, ready for the vaguely defined challenge.
Days started with fun icebreakers. Yose Photography
Long days at the UNZA campus were filled with workshops, fun icebreaker games, and laughter. What really brought the team together was an evening of learning to cook traditional Zambian dishes, from nshima (a thick maize porridge) to caterpillars. “We offered a lot of unintended comedy when struggling to stir nshima, that was so heavy I cannot imagine how they do it daily. But also, it's SO good,” Tomi says.
First picture: Zambian cuisine cooking class. Second picture: Nshima, a Zambian staple dish, served along with meat and vegetables. Tomi Rantanen
Zambians eat beans regularly as a side relish, but when cooking on charcoal, it tends to take from 4 to 6 hours. In comparison, Trinity Super Nutrition’s precooked and dehydrated beans take less than 30 minutes. Despite language barriers, the team headed to different marketplaces in Lusaka and Mumbwa to learn more about locals' thoughts regarding the product and agribusiness. Interestingly, there are 7–8 different (depending on who you ask) native languages in Zambia, and you could never guess who speaks which. Fortunately, our fellow students were fluent in multiple languages, and we were able to get an empathic understanding of different problem areas. “Having a 2-minute chat with somebody could change the whole course of the project,” Paula adds. Indeed, this happened multiple times.
“Having a 2-minute chat with somebody could change the whole course of the project”
Interview with farmers and co-operatives in Mumbwa. Tomi Rantanen
Not everything on the trip was about research. Visiting Mosi-oa-Tunya, “the smoke that thunders” (also known as “Victoria Falls”, but we were told one should never call it by that name) was on our must-do list. After a hefty drive of 7 hours, we reached the famous falls, but heavy rain watered down the experience. Although, at times, it was hard to know if the water came from the sky or the falls. “We should have listened to the people and took the slides offered for K15 (0,71€), but we were stubborn, and our shoes were completely wet for about 3 days instead,” Tomi laughs. Yet another lesson learned.
Weekend trip to the Victoria Falls. Tomi Rantanen
The biggest takeaway from the trip was that talking to different stakeholders is crucial in every project. One might think you know something through desk research, but our assumptions were challenged right away. Especially, if you are in international business and not familiar with the society at all. Participating in an event organized by AGS and the Finnish Embassy in Lusaka taught us a lot about the local government’s upcoming green policies and how Finnish companies are seeking new markets in Zambia, where circular economy and sustainable practices are seen as essential, and most importantly, profitable future opportunities.
The biggest takeaway from the trip was that talking to different stakeholders is crucial in every project. One might think you know something through desk research, but our assumptions were challenged right away.
Discussions before the final insights presentation. Yose Photography
We spent 2 weeks in Zambia gathering data and trying to make sense of multiple layers of wicked challenges. The flight back almost felt like the project was done, but the real work is only beginning now. We will proudly present our work at the annual IDBM Impact Gala on May 17th, 2023. More details about the event will be announced here.
Group Picture with all the students from Aalto University, UNZA and Mulungushi University along with the respective mentors, taken on the last day of the trip after insights presentations. Yose Photography
Written by Apeksha Ravi Kumar, Paula Juntura, Tomi Rantanen