Author: The CEL

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About The CEL

The Center for Experiential Learning (CEL) provides students with the opportunity to engage in real-world, team-based consulting projects and experiences. Led by distinguished faculty, students are able to deliver actionable results to organizations, develop skills as a life-long learner, and establish themselves as credible business and community leaders.


This is the second post in a two-part series. Read part 1 here

One thing we witnessed throughout our meetings was how the people of central Africa work tirelessly to carve out a living within a complex market (we literally saw people selling beside the road at 2 a.m.). We also saw how they developed an impressive business sense through experimentation and determination. They taught us a lot.

The sitatunga or marshbuck is a swamp-dwelling antelope found throughout central Africa, centering on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. - Wikipedia

The sitatunga or marshbuck is a swamp-dwelling antelope found throughout central Africa, centering on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. – Wikipedia

Despite the long days of site visits and nightly debriefings, it never felt like work. For one, absorbing the culture and sights of a new country was a thrill for all of us. We had plenty of fun as we crossed the country for different meetings. We couldn’t help but soak up the gorgeous scenery of forested mountains, tea fields, Serenghetti-like plains and even a sign that marked the equator. In fact, we basically had a DIY safari as we saw baboons, antelope, sitatunga, a rhino, and elephants! And after our enlightening work week we relaxed with our clients at a jazz club featuring amazing live music every Friday. But not even that late night could temper the adrenaline on our last morning in Uganda as we crossed off something that should be on everyone’s bucket list: white water rafting the Nile!

When we recover from both the plantains and the rapids and reconvene in St. Louis, our Center for Experiential Learning consulting team will be armed with a better understanding of Mavuno’s operations and the plantain industry which they intend to enter. We can’t begin to convey all the things we learned from our international business crash course in beautiful Uganda and with our amazing clients, but one lesson stands out.

Whether in the halls of WashU or a farm in western Uganda, business can serve as a tool to break down some of the world’s toughest problems and lift entire communities.

We are honored to have the opportunity to use our developing MBA skill sets to contribute to the work Mavuno is doing and lift up people of eastern Congo.

Guest blogger: Cole Donelson, MBA ’18 Team Lead for Mavuno

CATEGORY: Global, Student Life



Our last day with The Women’s Bakery started off a little bit differently than the rest of our week in Rwanda. Instead of waking up and looking out over Kigali, we woke up to the sun rising over the hazy Congo, just barely visible across the beautiful Lake Kivu.

RELATED: Building bakeries and a new business model in Rwanda

Lake kivu

We made our way out to the Western Province the day before, climbing over a mile in altitude and watching the fauna become increasingly mountainous and green. This area of the country sees much more rain, which we learned first-hand in the village of Bumba while visiting one of three TWB bakeries in Rwanda. We experienced a massive downpour that came in quickly as we met with Ernest, a member of the cooperative that owns this particular bakery.

IMG_0555Ernest was one of the many people that we met throughout the week who is involved with The Women’s Bakery at all levels of the value chain. In addition to Ernest, we met with three other field partners, both men and women, who are helping to run their bakeries with their co-ops. We also had the chance to meet with and watch the women themselves in action.

In addition to visiting the bakeries, we were able to meet with partners of TWB. Atikus is a microfinancier who is working to make loans available to the women who go through the training program. And SMGF is a firm that is taking steps to become a hiring partner that will invest in building a bakery in the future. And finally, we spent a lot of time with the TWB team themselves, trying to figure out how to best help them.

IMG_0571As we met with all of these people throughout the week, we regrouped whenever and wherever we could as a team to unpack everything we had been hearing. These ad hoc meetings happened at restaurants, in our hotel, and in the car as we moved around the country. And now our task, as we sat in the lodge overlooking the water, was to bring all of the information together and figure out how to move forward.

We sketched out possible solutions to multiple challenges and debated the merits of each. We did a brainstorming exercise that was used in creating Apple products and addressing the financial crisis to bring out issues we may have missed. And when all was said and done, we were ready to present our preliminary thoughts and plans for the rest of the semester to the TWB team. It had been a long and tiring week, much of it spent in very close quarters, but it was all worth it to see the enthusiasm on the TWB team’s faces as we presented and celebrated over one final dinner.

Guest blogger: Erin Ilic, MBA ’17 

Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning (CEL) is committed to creating innovative learning opportunities that result in meaningful impact in the business and nonprofit communities.




As we stood under a canopy of banana leaves and listened in awe to a Ugandan entrepreneur who built her own plantation from nothing, I wondered why none of our classes ever included a business case study from Africa. Maybe it’s because much of Africa is what some people call a developing market. Well, this semester my Center for Experiential Learning practicum consulting team has the privilege of working with an organization on the front lines of that developing market. And it’s the best “case” I’ve ever had.

This is the first of a two-part report from the CEL Practicum consulting team that traveled to Uganda during spring break.

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Engaging with Ugandan entrepreneur

Our client, Mavuno, uses the principles of business to support farmers by organizing them into locally-led groups, educating them with optimal farming techniques, providing them quality supplies and seeds and allowing them access to regional markets. Mavuno is using business as a tool to end extreme poverty in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and stabilize one of the world’s most war-torn regions.

We took off from St. Louis the day after our last midterms, still groggy from our 4am alarms. We arrived in Entebbe, Uganda after 48 hours of traveling, anxious to start soaking in this foreign business landscape in the country that is the world’s second largest producer of bananas (a crop very similar to plantains). Throughout the next week, we traveled all across southern Uganda learning about all pieces of the banana value chain (while also getting a lesson on the expertise and generosity of the Ugandan people):

  • Andrew and Robert, a scientist and researcher respectively, illuminated R&D that the National Agriculture Research Organization is doing to create the best-yielding banana varieties and techniques in the lab and the field.
  • Gorette, a local farmer, demonstrated how she built a very profitable banana plantation with plenty of resourcefulness and dedication.
  • Multiple traders at the market showed how bananas get from the farmer to the hungry consumers in the capital of Kampala.
  • Ronald, an engineer, explained how farmers could alternatively sell their bananas to a government plant to be transformed into value-added banana flour.
  • Dipesh, a seasoned business man, related why his biscuit (cookie) factory had doubts about the feasibility of producing banana biscuits.
  • Matiya, a young entrepreneur, told us how he built his successful snack business that converts raw plantains to value-added plantain chips.

RELATED: Lessons from banana biz, part 2

Guest blogger: Cole Donelson, MBA ’18 Team Lead for Mavuno. 

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Meeting with local children.




Saidah Anderson, PMBA 40, has been a part of the Olin/United Way Board Fellows program this past year and shares her experience in this blog post:

lessiebates davisThe Olin/United Way Board Fellows program has been one of the most valuable leadership experiences I have had. I chose to partner with the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House over the past year because I really liked their mission, which is to “empower individuals and families to move out of poverty and achieve self-sufficiency.” I am a firm believer that educating the community is the foundation to improving current conditions and aiding a better community.

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Saidah meets a representative from the Lessie Bates Davis organization at Olin.

As a new resident in the St. Louis area, I was unaware of the poverty conditions across the river in East St. Louis. When I volunteered, I was able to observe firsthand the conditions in which the community lives. It let me know that Lessie Bates is a pillar in the community and is a much needed nonprofit in the area. Much of the community relies on Lessie Bates resources, so it was a great feeling to be able to give back to a community similar to my upbringing and really interact with the families.

As a corporate professional and future leader, I believe I have a responsibility to give back to my community and to be the change I wish to see. The Board Fellowship program has allowed me to have a valuable role in community leadership and has taught me valuable skills about being in leadership that impacts the lives of thousands of people. It has taught me that with power comes great responsibility and it must be used appropriately.

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Saidah and other board fellows present an update on projects.

The Board Fellowship has been, hands down, the best real world experience thus far in business school. No amount of case studies could have prepared me for being in the board room as the Board Fellows Program has. This course was connected to my passion and purpose in life, something I don’t think I could get from any other course.

The Olin/United Way Board Fellows program, students learn about nonprofit
board governance first-hand while growing their professional network. The program lays the foundation for building lifelong passions and becoming a better citizen. Learn more on the Center for Experiential Learning website.

CATEGORY: Student Life



For the second year in a row, a CEL Practicum team is traveling to Rwanda to consult for The Women’s Bakery (TWB), founded by Olin second year MBA Markey Culver. TWB offers women in rural Africa access to business education, life skills, and applied baking and nutrition skills. TWB’s training courses empower women to create and manage sustainable bakeries. This year, the CEL team is tasked with analyzing and reducing TWB’s financial overhead costs, while maintaining TWB’s social mission. Sara Berhie, MBA ’17, is a member of the CEL team and sent this account from Rwanda.

Rwanda, Africa 1We visited our first TWB site here in Kigali, Rwanda. Our morning started with a quick breakfast and then the team piled into our two cars and drove through the winding streets of the capital. The Remera Bakery, a branch within TWB, is comfortably situated with homes and other storefronts surrounding it.

At the bakery we were greeted by the team and quickly dove into updating our client with our work in St. Louis, and questions we had compiled from our research.

Of course, we were sure to take a break once our order of bread came out of the oven! The team, except for Avery who has a nut allergy, dove into our order and were sure to try a bit of everything. We all have our favorites: some loved the carrot muffins, others were partial to the beet, but the clear overall favorite was the honey bread.

We continued our visit with a tour of the bakery and storefront, meeting the women baking the bread and saw a sales team heading out for their daily routes. Some of the sales were pre-orders while others were based on orders of the day. Once the sales team headed out, the sidewalks slowly became full of elementary aged children skipping, jumping, running, and strolling down the street post-school. Their cheerful voices echoed in the café as we wrapped up our meeting.

With our first meeting with the entire TWB team under our belts, we’re excited for the rest of the week. Up next on our docket: visiting two other bakeries across Rwanda, meeting with TWB trainers, and checking out a local grocery store to scope out the competition. Based on this information, we hope to have a greater grasp of where we can reduce costs to make a more efficient system, empowering as many women leaders as possible!

Pictured above is the CEL team at the TWB in Remera, Rwanda