Unpredictable. This is the best word that comes to mind when I reflect on my time this past winter in Peru for the Innovation for Humanity (I4H) program, an integral component of Johns Hopkins Carey Business School’s Global MBA program.
My team’s I4H sponsor, Asociación UNACEM, is the corporate social responsibility arm of the largest Peruvian cement manufacturer. With one of the primary project objectives to improve communication amongst their geographically dispersed teams, our sponsor provided us the opportunity to visit their location in Junin, nestled roughly 4,000 meters high in the mountains. There we were able to examine their technological landscape and observe how different the culture is in comparison to the location in Lima.
The drive was long but beautiful. After spending roughly 7 hours traveling on bumpy, winding roads, accompanied by picturesque views of lakes, mountains and llamas, we arrived at the unique plant tucked within the clouds. The employees in Junin welcomed us with open arms and fed us as we made plans to return the next day to complete the majority of our ground work.
But that did not happen.
“We’re not going anywhere today,” were words that I did not expect to hear from the English-speaking guide that accompanied my team on our adventure away from our fellow classmates back in Lima. I was already dressed in my only change of clothes and had checked out of the rustic hotel, burrowed between two hills, that served as home to hundreds of families. It turned out that the small group of protesting farmers, who had met our van the previous day for crossing their barrier, had grown into a much larger group of people throughout the night. Angry over how low the market price of potatoes had fallen, the farmers blocked the roads in and out of town; making transportation by vehicle impossible.
With the sounds of protests in the near distance and the large iron gates to the hotel closed and chained, we were unable to perform the on-site work we had traveled so far to accomplish. However, the manager of the Asociación UNACEM location in Junin, ventured from his apartment at the plant to our hotel, leaving his vehicle in the blocked roadway and trekking 7 kilometers on foot to reach us. We were able to interview the manager to obtain some of the information we needed before he took us on a walk around town. He explained the reasoning behind the protests and stopped at many of the cultural landmarks to reveal their importance. We were able to gain a far better understanding of the culture in the rural mountains and just how much it differed from the culture of those whom Asociación UNACEM serves in Lima.
While we were unable to complete the technology landscape survey, the onsite employee interviews or videoconferencing tests that we had travelled so far to complete, the trip was a success. The morning after the manager took us on our impromptu adventure, the farmers were able to come to an agreement with government leaders in Lima and subsequently allowed traffic to flow on the roads once again. After a full day of travel back to Lima, my team and I resumed working on our final deliverables with a newfound understanding of how different the needs of the communities that Asociación UNACEM serves are, creating the need for variance in the programs offered to them.
The knowledge we gained was instrumental in the development of an original key performance indicator (KPI) tool that allows management to quickly and easily assess the effectiveness of projects throughout their life cycle. While this tool was included in the project work plan that my team and I developed from Baltimore, its scope and execution drastically changed after our trip to Junin. No amount of prior research could have prepared us for just how different cultures around the world can be from one another, or how they can greatly influence the recommendations provided to our sponsor.
From being in the mountains of Peru to getting severe sunburn climbing one of the pyramids of Pachacamac to holding a Peruvian man during a traditional dance, the experience was instrumental to fully understanding how to best help my sponsor achieve their goals. Yes, a lot of the work we set out to accomplish on our trip to the mountains was not completed. However, the relationships we established, and the improved understanding of the culture ultimately made the trip an incredible success. Despite the fact that my team and I discussed various alternative forms of traveling back to Lima if the protests and road closings were to last any longer, I can say with confidence that we would make the trip again in a heartbeat. I am unbelievably thankful for the opportunity to gain this experience and advise anyone to make the most of the privilege that is Innovation for Humanity.