This semester I have worked as an interdisciplinary analyst for OU’s Center for the Creation Economic Wealth. I chose the social entrepreneurship team and have been lucky enough to work with an education-focused microfinance institution that is based in Zimbabwe. While much of the work has been typical of a CCEW project, such as financial modeling, market research, and cold calling for research, it was very exciting to do all of this work in an international context. The next few posts will discuss some of the challenges and benefits of this type of work, and what it means for the future.
Some of the challenges on the Zimbabwe project have been navigating the differences and trying to learn the unknown, both in Zimbabwe and the surrounding countries. Here is a list:
- South Africa’s higher education system is currently enveloped in protests, making it difficult to understand why students might have trouble financing their education, and difficult to assess a potential market size
- The quality and type of schools can vary greatly depending on the province or whether in urban or rural areas. This makes sense and is similar to the US, although more difficult to get a feel for in other countries.
- Policy is constantly changing that can affect the project. For example, Botswana just made all public schools free, drastically affecting the distribution of school children in the country.
- People often want to do business with other native Zimbabweans, not outsiders, making it difficult to gain rapport when calling for research.
- The vast majority of Zimbabweans are informally employed, meaning that their income is often variable and undocumented.
- Despite recent economic countries, Zimbabwe has among the most literate population of any country in the world.
- Businesses must be careful to navigate their relationship the government, which can nationalize a business if the government so decides.
These are just a few insights and challenges from the project. I am excited for many more once we visit.