My Origin of Purpose

July 2nd, 2012 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

I have been back from Sri Lanka for a week: back to work, back to my 30 minute commute, back to central air conditioning, back to driving on roads so well maintained that you can easily accelerate up to 80 mph without really noticing because everyone else is going just as fast- back to stop signs and traffic lights, and life via credit cards. I’m still processing my two week experience in Sri Lanka. I can tell you that I loved it. I can tell you that I thought the people were just wonderful and that I never felt unsafe. My head still resonates with the predictable barrage of singsong questions that always started with a big smile and a very friendly, “Hello Madame”, and continued with, “How are you? Are you on holiday? How long are you here? Where are you from?” And then continued with the effort for the sale: “Would you like a taxi? Would you like a tour? Would you like to see the temple or the fish market? Would you like to buy some beautiful dresses?” And when my colleague, Valerie, and I needed to say no, we were met with persistence: “How about tomorrow? I can give you a good deal. How about Saturday? Would you like to buy some souvenirs? I know a good shop.” When we did not want or need what they were selling at the moment, we would have to say “no thank you” many times, when finally, as friendly as the conversation had begun, it would end with a smile and an, “Ok. Thank you Madame. Have a nice day.”
Valerie and I spent the majority of our time in the city of Negombo, which is about an hour north of the capital, Colombo. The city bustled with shopping stalls and both foot and motorized traffic. Our hotel was on the beach and monsoon season loomed. Every day the sky was overcast; the sea seemed surly and churned with waves that appeared unable to decide on a direction or size. The wind blew constantly, caressingly, making bearable the heat and humidity. Every morning we would sit in the restaurant, open to the elements but for the roof, and have breakfast. Every morning we watched the staff chase crows and witnessed chipmunks steal their morning sugar packets from unattended tables, to the delight of guests. I would drink coffee and Valerie would have tea and we would talk with the staff. We learned from one waiter that he traveled seven hours by bus to his job. He would stay in Negombo for his shifts in a place he shared with others, and on his days off, he would travel the seven hours home, excited to see his family. Another staff worker traveled six hours by train and also only returned home for the days he had off.
Everywhere there seemed to be commerce, entrepreneurship, competition, and struggle.
One tuk-tuk (a small, three wheeled taxi) driver we hired to take us to the grocery store came in and helped us with our shopping and cart, taking customer care to a new level because he also wanted the return fare. While this may seem terribly assertive, he could not have been nicer.
It was these human encounters that accompanied us to the office at Aqua ‘N Green and these encounters gave our work greater purpose. Anura, the CEO of Aqua ‘N Green, obviously wants to run a successful and profitable business, yet when we had conversations with him and his wife about the business model and company vision, it was crystal clear that it is also very important to them to provide value back to their community and to contribute to the economic development of their country.
They have a great story to tell: Aqua ‘N Green is a business in aquaculture and they currently produce Asiatic Sea Bass, otherwise known as Barramundi, or locally, Modha. Here is their current vision statement:
“Aqua ‘N Green is a socially responsible firm that specializes in the development and application of cutting edge aquaculture technology and sustainable processes to grow and deliver high-quality seafood naturally, safely, and efficiently.”
Right now the company is small, but they have big plans and are working on big things. They are building their own processing plant, scheduled to be completed in just a couple of months. From there, they plan to continue growing, eventually planning for full vertical integration. To help with economic development in the conflict afflicted Northeast region, [and with the help of USAID, VEGA, and IESC] the company is training local fishermen in the cage culture techniques of raising the sea bass. Aqua ‘N Green provides the cages, fingerlings (young sea bass) and training to qualifying fishermen, guaranteeing them a set price at harvest for the fish they raise. There are many challenges ahead, and initially the idea of marketing to the U.S. seemed daunting, but after much research, Valerie and I realized there is a lot in Aqua ‘N Green’s favor: Aquaculture is growing and the technology is continually improving. The demand for fish, as well as the global demand for food is also growing, yet our wild fisheries are being over harvested. Consumers are beginning to understand the importance of sustainability in food production and are generating demand for it. As a result, many international organizations have gained credibility for certifying agriculture, aquaculture included, as sustainable. To provide Aqua ‘N Green with helpful recommendations on a marketing plan, we not only had to understand the vision and plan for the company, we also had to work hard to understand the market and trends for both aquaculture and sea bass in relation to the U.S. market and global competition. This was no small task and we are still compiling our report. What I have learned in my MBA program at Smith has been invaluable in this process. Valerie and I were able to focus on the vision for the company, identify a sound value proposition, analyze the market and the competition, evaluate Porter’s five forces, detail critical steps in the growth of the company, articulate the great story that Aqua ‘N Green has to tell, and with their plans to control the full value chain, we were able to reveal a long term strategy and the potential to develop and build a truly powerful brand. While our findings may not be telling the CEO of Aqua ‘N Green anything that he does not already know, by organizing all our realizations and ideas into a marketing road map, we expect to provide the company with clear points of focus that will help with strategy and marketing for selling their product long term, and in building and protecting the Aqua ‘N Green brand.
So, while the task initially seemed a bit daunting and intimidating, when we dug in, it became challenging, gratifying, and purposeful. It was a real treat to have such a smart, thoughtful, and fun colleague as Valerie, and we had great fun brainstorming and beating on ideas. It was also a great pleasure and gift to work with Aqua ‘N Green and share, however small, a part in Anura’s vision for both his company and Sri Lanka.