THE DISPATCHES: Lindsay Daigle, David Hall, Matilde Kamiya and Toshi Okubo

Brainstorming solutions and strategies; shopping the pirates

Day 8: Monday
It’s back to work for us today! Having been upriver to see the situation and gather background information for our project, we were ready to get into the details of the business plan. Our team met at 7 a.m. over breakfast to do a quick debrief from our river trip and to discuss what we wanted to accomplish during the week. Even with a day off, all four of us had to drag ourselves out of bed for the early meeting. We probably shouldn’t complain about the time since everyone eating breakfast around us has been up for 2 hours!

At 9 we interviewed the furniture expert we had first met on Day 2. He had accompanied our group on the trip upriver to do some primary research of his own, but despite spending several days with him, we still had not had an opportunity to talk to him about the details of the rattan furniture industry. We drilled him with questions on everything from the quality of rattan and how to harvest to the ups and downs of Indonesian furniture exports. Although he supports our project to increase the price farmers can get for their rattan, we had to keep in mind that his opinions were probably skewed because higher prices to farmers mean higher costs for his rattan furniture business. We wrapped up at about 10:30, as our expert had to make a flight to Jakarta.

Map of Indonesia
It’s actually pretty amazing to have the opportunity to do our project in Samarinda as opposed to Jakarta. Jakarta is a sprawling metropolis of about 15 million people, and is the center of the Indonesian business world. Samarinda, on the other hand, is much smaller, with only 600,000 people, and as you can imagine, is much more rural and much less of a Western tourist attraction. It is an interesting dichotomy – from the outdoor breakfast room of our hotel, you can hear roosters crowing in the morning, but at the same time, there are malls, an abundance of cars, and many restaurants (though very few foreign food restaurants). Even on the island of Borneo, Balikpapan (the city is where you fly in from Jakarta) would be the more likely spot for a group of business school students like us to end up tackling a project. In that sense, we are extremely lucky to get "off the beaten track," as Lonely Planet likes to put it, and see a place in Indonesia where we might have never visited were it not for this project.

At 11 we headed back to our familiar office at the NRM. With Ade’s help, we mapped out the "root causes" of the problems we observed in Kedang Pahu. We brainstormed on some of the solutions SEP could devise to address some of these problems. We also looked at the way the farmers and traders are organized, and at the volumes of rattan they deal with. One thing that came out of this session is that no one really knows the number of farmers that are out there, and it will be a huge challenge for SEP to organize these guys without more information.

Day 9: Tuesday
Today we met our client Ade for breakfast at our hotel at 8:30. Sadly, our office at the NRM was unavailable today, so we moved to the hotel lobby to work. The advantage to the hotel lobby was that we were at a small table where we could interact more easily. The downside was that there were more distractions, and there was no whiteboard to draw on (which upset Dave very much). Our team worked individually all morning, ordered Pizza Hut for lunch (woo-hoo!) and started to go through marketing strategy with Ade in the afternoon. We had another long day today and ate a late dinner at 9 in the hotel. It was very strange to not leave the hotel at all today!

Walking to work
Lindsay and Matilde walk to NRM along the busy streets of Samarinda. (Photo by David Hall)
Day 10: Wednesday
We are definitely getting into a routine here in Samarinda, and today was no exception. While Dave and Toshi like to work at night and sleep as long as possible in the mornings, Lindsay and Matilde like to get up before our typical 8:30 breakfast to work. Toshi is still amazed at the iguanas, cockroaches, giant flies and pineapple jelly; Matilde is still baffled by the lack of air conditioning in such a hot climate; Lindsay still refuses to eat noodles and rice for breakfast (but has switched from coffee to tea), and Dave still claims to be surprised by nothing. Breakfast again with Ade, then off to our favorite NRM to work.

Today we looked at the rattan supply chain and where Ade sees SEP fitting in the scheme of things. We originally thought SEP might be cutting out the middleman, but with further analysis have discovered SEP will be more likely to integrate several segments of the supply chain under the SEP umbrella (which is vertical integration). We spent a lot of time analyzing where SEP might want to locate its warehouses, processing functions and management team. The business plan is slowly starting to fit together, and Ade is starting to understand why all the details are so important to work through before starting operations.

Today, we wrapped up a little earlier than usual and went to the mall for dinner. We all were really excited about the shady software store which included copies of every kind of Microsoft program you can think of, plus movies and CDs, all for just a fraction of what they cost in the states. Toshi came away with Matrix Reloaded and Titanic. Matilde purchased an orangutan T-shirt that she keeps insisting looks like her husband. Doesn’t sound much like a compliment to the rest of us!