Last winter Andrea Vidler, WG’15, joined a Wharton International Volunteer Program (WIVP) team in Rwanda to help revitalize the brand strategy of KZ Noir, a coffee company that supports the livelihoods of 10,000 local farmers. Her experience inspired her to plan, scope and lead a project of her own with WIVP this year. Find out why!
Why did you sign up for a WIVP project?
I like the idea of having real impact and sustainable results somewhere in an emerging market. I saw that the trip to Rwanda was working with a coffee co-op. Being Latin American and an avid coffee drinker, and having visited Juan Valdez in Colombia – all that made me excited about coffee.
Expectations before leaving?
I wasn’t sure we’d really make much of an impact in ten days.
How did you feel after the project?
In ten days we gathered a lot of market research on customers and why they buy coffee from KZ Noir. We talked to ten supermarket owners about KZ Noir compared to its competitors. We interviewed a ton of customers in a shopping center, we held a coffee focus group and a taste-testing survey.
How much work did you do?
We worked 9-5 everyday, maybe a little longer. A lot of the work was interactive. There was a portion of making slides, but every day we met with our client and he gave us direction on what he wanted and feedback. On the last day, we gave a final presentation and transitioned materials over to the client.
So did you have time to do anything fun?
At night we would go out to dinner and test the Rwandan restaurant market. It was always an adventure because the roads were bad, and Google Maps was awful. We would drive around in circles for an hour, and every meal was a three-hour event.
We had a weekend during which we drove to the countryside and the Congolese border. A journalist who covers different rebel groups in the Congo told us about the conflict.
What surprised you the most during the trip?
I expected this would be a business relationship, but KZ Noir’s managers invited us into their homes multiple times and told us about what it was like to live through the genocide, what Rwanda is like today, and how it compares to other African countries. I got a much richer experience than I expected.
What Wharton skillsets were valuable to the client?
We were a good thought partner. He shared some of the challenges he was facing, and we provided ideas on what kind of data we could collect to answer his question. We brought expertise in building surveys, running focus groups. We brought some international coffee expertise. We did some market sizing and projections, so we also brought financial know-how.
You’re leading a project this year for WIVP. What inspired you to take the role?
Of all the trips I’ve been on, this was the most meaningful because I was working with local people from the CEO all the way down to the farmer, across the whole supply chain. Because we were invited to their homes, I felt like we were really immersed into the business and social culture, and that’s why I am leading a WIVP project this year. I could travel to Africa on a trek, but I felt like after leaving Rwanda, I really understood what working or living in Rwanda was like.