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Rwandan President Paul Kagame greets HBS students.

From left, Jon Porter, Karisimbi Partners intern; Eugene Nyagahene, Tele-10 CEO; Colin Barry, HBS '12; Mariam Dombrovskaja, HBS '12; Dano Jukanovich, Karisimbi Partners, Monne Williams, HBS '12; Carter Crockett, Greg Urquhart, Karisimbi Partners; Dr. Nyagahene, wife of Eugene Nyagahene.

Photos courtesy Colin Barry.

Last month, some 500 students fanned out around the globe to participate in 13 IXPs offered during January break. First-year student Colin Barry was in Rwanda, where part of his time was devoted to a field study project with Karisimbi Partners, a three-person private consulting group that works with small- to mid-sized enterprises.

“The idea behind Karisimbi’s model is that sustained economic growth in Rwanda requires private enterprise, reform, and direct investment,” Barry says in a phone interview. “Their niche is the middle ground of companies that employ 50 to 100 people — somewhere between the nonprofit that would get help from USAID and bigger, for-profit firms served by traditional consulting companies.”

For his project, Barry teamed up with classmates Mariam Dombrovskaja and Monne Williams to work with Tele-10, a private media company and Karisimbi client. The group worked with Tele-10 to identify ways to improve its advertising sales process for radio advertising and to help improve customer service for its satellite television business.

“We ended up doing a lot of client outreach for the project relating to the radio company, which was completely fascinating because it gave us an excuse to talk to eight of the biggest firms in Kigali about their marketing strategy and to compare how they did business,” says Barry, a former infantry officer in the Marine Corps with experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Information gathering for the field project began before the team left Boston. The group’s on-the-ground experience, however, provided much-needed cultural context — the heart of any IXP experience. “Most of the renewals for Tele-10’s satellite television business are conducted in cash at the company’s offices in downtown Kigali,” Barry says. “So you might think, great, we’ll figure out how to get people to pay by check. But you start to understand the system better once you go to a Rwandan bank and see that it takes three hours to conduct a transaction. And there are reasons that paying by mobile phone hasn’t caught on, either.

“I think we had a lot to add in terms of ideas and exposure to different business practices,” says Barry. “But it has to be a partnership with the folks who actually understand and live the business context on a day-to-day basis. I did leave with a great sense that we had accomplished something concrete in the recommendations that we made.”

HBS professor David Thomas and Social Enterprise Director Laura Moon led the IXP, highlights of which included a three-hour private audience with President Paul Kagame and a visit with Sina Gerard, a self-made Rwandan agribusiness entrepreneur.

“There is a huge benefit in doing a trip like this through HBS,” says Barry, citing access to high-level thinkers and the additional perspectives of faculty and staff like Thomas and Moon. “That makes it an extremely valuable, meaningful experience.”

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Class of MBA 2012, Section B
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