Supporting Local Entrepreneurs in Mozambique in my Summer Internship

This post was written in August 2013 by Joaquin Brahm, a rising second year, who interned with The Tony Elumelu Foundation with the support of the Summer Internship Fund.

My story begins three months before starting my MBA at Fuqua. Knowing that I was coming to study at Duke, my wife and I decided to quit our jobs and started a backpacker’s trip around Africa. We traveled all the way from South Africa to Uganda, staying in small villages and having contact with local people. During our trip, we were impressed by the simplicity and humility of the people we met. However, although eager to improve their circumstances, many Africans face a lack of opportunities. After leaving the continent, I promised myself I would return.

When I arrived at Fuqua my expectations were high. Although previously an investment banker, I had been told that the MBA was the right time to explore new frontiers, to take risks and to try something different. At Duke this is completely true, as literally all doors were open. Some of my friends decided to switch careers, others to start their own business, and I decided to pursue the path of impact investing. The financial support of the CASE Summer Internship Fund allowed me to pursue this passion over the summer.

During my internship recruiting process, I discovered a non-profit project called the African Markets Internship Program (AMIP), supported by The Tony Elumelu Foundation. After a long process, I was selected by the Foundation to work as a summer associate for 10 weeks in Africa. Surprisingly, my promise to return to the continent was accomplished sooner than expected.

The AMIP’s objective is to help enhance the capacity of African businesses and promote competitiveness through impact investments. In this context, I was assigned to work with two local entrepreneurs launching a financial services company in Maputo, Mozambique. Nowadays, most of Sub-Saharan countries are facing a wave of foreign direct investment, mainly focused on natural resources. In order to play a role in this game, many local businessmen are creating services firms (focused on energy, construction, banking, etc) to serve multinationals. The company I worked for was one of those.

As in every start-up, I had multiple responsibilities from assistant to manager. My tasks included analyzing new business opportunities, coordinating financial rounds and negotiating with different stakeholders (government, financiers and multinationals). One of my greatest contributions was to bring to the table the best practices involved in structuring a new deal. Even though we were a small group, it was a great opportunity to build team cohesion and support ourselves in the many challenges we faced in our negotiating processes.

In the meanwhile my wife, who has a background in medical studies, had the unforgettable experience of volunteering with a local foundation. The organization is dedicated to supporting terminal patients in impoverished communities around Maputo. I also had the chance to work with the foundation some afternoons which was a great opportunity to see another side of the African markets. Unfortunately, there are many Mozambicans that likely will not have the opportunity benefit from the wealth created by the natural resources of their country.

The experience in Mozambique was truly transformational. The main gift we received was the happiness and energy of many Mozambicans that want to overcome despite their challenging conditions. I hope that my internship and MBA skills were able to help in some small way and bring hope to them as well.

The Summer Internship Fund (SIF) enables first year Duke MBA-Daytime students to learn about the rewards and challenges of social sector management without making a significant financial sacrifice. In addition, the program enables organizations that otherwise could not afford to hire MBA student interns to benefit from students’ expertise.  The SIF has supported more nearly 150 students, distributed approximately $430,000, and helped to further the mission of many nonprofit and government organizations. Funds are raised through student fundraising and from donors who believe in the mission of the program.  If you would like to contribute, you can donate online.