Updated: Sep 23, 2020
In this episode, we talk with Kristie Seawright, a former professor at Brigham Young University. As a professor, Kristie led many study abroad programs to East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Kristie shares with us her experiences and lessons learned while conducting humanitarian projects in Malawi. We also discuss her thoughts on international bribery and corruption.
Guest: Kristie Seawright, a native of Southern California, received her undergrad from Brigham Young University. She then received a second bachelor’s degree, MBA, and a Ph.D. in Operations Management and International Business from the University of Utah. After 18years of being a full-time homemaker, she taught Marketing and Global Supply Chain at BYU and has been heavily involved in many international study activities while there.
Kristie can you tell us where you’re from and give us some background on your work experience?
I grew up in Southern California, which I love the weather there. I’ve never quite adjusted to the Utah snow, but it is gorgeous here.
I did my undergrad here at BYU and then I did some graduate work at the University of Utah. I actually ended up getting a second bachelor’s degree there because I switched to business. Then I got an MBA and in the process of MBA, I moved into the PHD program in operations management and international business.
Then, after I finished my undergraduate degree in Provo, I was married and I was actually a full-time homemaker and mother for 18 years. Then, as my kids grew, I came to BYU visiting for a year and then I stayed for 25 years. I was a professor in the Global Supply Chain group in the Marriott school. I was very involved in some international activities with students and with some consulting.
There are a few different kinds of activities. My family and I, my husband and one son, lived in Belarus for about half a year doing a Fullbright Fellowship, and that was quite fascinating. It was 1996, and the Belarus constitution was written in 1993. So, it was a very young country and they only had one presidential election that that president proclaimed himself president for life and is still in power. So, that created some very interesting business scenarios.
I also spent, well a couple of years total, in Asia Pacific. It was about two months at a time over a period of about 15 or 20 years. Some of that was with BYU students. So, we did several study abroad programs there for business students to have the opportunity to go to 3 to 5 different countries so they could observe business in different environments, different economic environments, different political situations, different cultures and learn from business leaders how business was done.
Then the last several years, I just retired last summer. But the last several years before I retired, we spent a lot of time in Africa – a couple months a year. Maybe 2 or 3 months a year – some with consulting and some with students. We had a great program there. Let me just tell you how it got started. We were in a village, in Malawi, and we were just asking some people what some of their problems were. They would explain to us through interpreters what some of their problems were.
And the main problem was, that the women were discussing, was that they had to walk further and pay more money for firewood. And so, of course my curiosity got to me and I started looking into some of the reasons why that was the case. And I was aware that they used firewood for cooking their grain-based diets in most of sub-Saharan Africa. But I didn’t realize that the trees and some of the forests were starting to disappear. In fact, in Malawi, 4-5% of the forests are disappearing every year because they’re cut down for fuel. They don’t have electricity in the villages and petroleum-based fuels are very expensive.
So, we got together with some students who decided, let’s do a study abroad and part of the study abroad we spent a couple of weeks in Malawi working in two villages to work with them and determine ways to produce charcoal. And they grow maze, that’s their main staple flour. And about 80% of the population are subsistence farmers. There’s a lot of corn grown in Malawi.
And the corn stocks at the end of the harvest they just burned them. It was actually quite a cause of air pollution. I remember driving down the highway and we’d see these big piles of corn stocks ready to burn. For the bonfire. The massive bonfire. the students developed a method for making charcoal out of those corn stocks. Now they found a lot of information online from other efforts but then they had to adapt it to the conditions in Malawi. They found that they were able to build a kiln of bricks, made from mud. They make their own bricks in the village and they just use mud as the mortar.
So, it was free basically. And then they carbonized the corn stocks and got a binding agent which is kind of like a water-based pudding with starch. And carbonized, and then put in the carbonized corn stock material. And then they went to a welder in town and for just a couple dollars were able to get a press made. And they made some small charcoal, square charcoal briquettes that were about, ¾ of an inch thick or something like that.
And the exciting part was that we went back the next year with your group. And found that they had found different binding agents that originally, they were using starch that was food. And they don’t have enough food. So that’s not an appropriate use of edible starch. But they had found several other things that worked. They used fruit that was not edible and were able to use that starch. And what else did they use?
They also used manure in one of the villages.
That’s right. They also had some sawdust. I think sawdust as well. Which is kind of interesting because that’s cellulose not starch. And it worked. So, they tried several different things and improved on the process and then you went and helped them improve even more.
We tried to improve. You know get out the metal press that was kind of slow and cumbersome and kind of innovate on the actual press and making the briquettes. So, did you go back the following year as well?
What was that like seeing that process?
We went back a 3rd year, and we went to a different village. They told us that they had been sending spies to the other villages. And each village that you and the other students taught, they taught, they had previously agreed to teach to other villages. And there were other villages being taught and one of those villages came to us and said they wanted to be the teaching village.
So, they wanted us to come to them. Which means that’s exactly where we want to go. And we walk into the village and they had a kiln and we’re making charcoal but we needed charcoal for one of the new projects. And they brought out square charcoal so we knew they had been making the charcoal from corn stocks. And they had no idea that we had anything to do with that.
With the original idea? Or even with the adapted idea. Because they had been taught by other villagers not by us.
Were they making the charcoal for themselves? Or were they trying to sell it? I think one of the villages they said that they had been selling the charcoal to other villages. Did you see that?
You know what, yes. That’s another really important issue because in the villages where there’s subsistence farmers. The only way to get cash is to sell their food that they grow. Now sometimes they grow cash crops, the primary one is tobacco, but the tobacco demand coming from Malawi. Let me rephrase that. The demand for Malawi tobacco is dropping because they’re able to raise tobacco closer to the manufacturers and it’s less expensive for the companies that use the tobacco. I think it ruins the soil as well right. It completely leeches many of the nutrients that are needed to grow corn.
So, it does create problems. But many of the villagers who use to grow tobacco no longer do. They were looking for ways to generate cash. There are a couple of important reasons why, number 1, children can’t go to school without uniforms and school materials. And children aren’t getting educated, especially girls. But also, malaria.
There are supposed to be medications provided by the government, but that isn’t consistent. Especially in rural areas. Distribution isn’t good and there are some other factors…fairly corrupt factors that may impact that. But they can’t get their malaria meds.
And the statistics from 2017, I haven’t gotten the 2018 numbers yet, but in 2017, about 400,000 children in sub Saharan Africa died of malaria. And the malaria medicine which is quite effective costs about a dollar fifty. So, we were trying to help them generate cash. And they were able to sell charcoal for about a 100% markup. Because others have the same problem of needing charcoal to cook their food. So that became a source of cash also.
What are some of the challenges while doing these humanitarian projects abroad specifically in Malawi and Africa?
I think from my perspective, the primary challenge is figuring out how to help people in the villages to help themselves. Every village that I walk into, almost every village I walk into in Africa, and even in other rural areas in developing countries. The first question they ask me is often what’re you going to give us? And I’ve heard about numerous projects where people come in and give things or bring things away, and it makes life better for a short period of time. But for grassroots development to take place, people need to have something sustainable, economically sustainable from our business perspective.
But they also need sustainability in other ways. They need to have skills. You know when I walk into the village and they ask what we’re going to give them, you know, my first thought was to say nothing. We don’t give you anything. But then I realized no, we give you ideas, skills, technologies that you can adapt and improve your lives. And we don’t usually say this but at the end of our time with them, we usually find that it has also given them hope. Because they’ve discovered that the way that things have always been, doesn’t need to be the way things will be in the future.
They’re responsible. And they need to make the difference. And you know it’s really, quite astounding they’re very bright people. We love working with them. Because we’ll you know, present an idea, and then they’ll improve on it or they’ll say, could we do this?
For instance, another problem we discovered and we worked on it your year, with a couple of students. But then the next year we did a lot larger project. We’ve discovered that there are serious deficiencies, dietary deficiencies. Of course, one is protein. Which is because they eat a lot of starch, primarily starch. And there’s a lot of malnutrition associated with that. But also, iron, vitamin A, and vitamin C. and, they love mangos. The mangos grow for about 4 months of the year, maybe 5. And they can’t eat them all because they fall. They just can’t eat them in time and many of them fall on the ground and rot.
So, we thought maybe we could help preserve those. Mangos do have some iron content. They’re very high in vitamin A. they’re also very high in vitamin C. but preserving them does destroy some of the vitamin C. But we did some research and found that if we covered the fruit that was drying with a cotton cloth. Then the heat could get in to do the drying. But some of the destruction of the nutrients is by the radiation. And that blocks the radiation. But still allows the heat in and if it’s cotton it allows the moisture to leave. And they can dry fruit. And they can dry it in a day.
So, we had taught them how to dry. When we were there, mangos weren’t in season. We worked with some papayas which are very similar in nutrition content. And we tried some other fruits too. And then, one of the villagers showed us a pile of pumpkins that would probably be the size of 2 or 3 faculty offices here in the Marriott school. Wow, that’s a lot of pumpkins. Just hundreds of pumpkins that they had raised and just harvested. I guess pumpkins grow like zucchinis. But they had all these pumpkins and I love pumpkins. Their pumpkins are firmer, they’re not as fleshy and moist as ours are. And they steam them and eat them and get a lot of vitamin A and some other vitamins from them. And they said that, you know, last 3 or 4 weeks, because they have no cold rooms. It’s warm there. I mean when we were there in the dead of winter it was 75 degrees. So, they couldn’t eat them all. And they had no way to preserve them.
And they said, can we dry those? And it was like, they’re thinking. They’re taking this idea and generalizing it or adapting it. We did some dried pumpkin this year. And when it was dried, we crumbled it up into powder. And we provided some Ziploc bags. And told them how to get them when they sell their first fruit, to then buy a package of Ziploc bags. Because they could make enough to buy packages of small Ziploc bags.
But then we showed them how to reconstitute it. It was like instant mashed potatoes. I mean they have nothing instant; everything is made from scratch 3x a day. Women probably cook 2, 3, 4 hours a day. They could just pour boiling water in and there’s their relish to go with their Sima. Sima being the corn meal, that’s their staple. They always eat something with it if they have it. I mean this time of year is the hungry season because harvest is a short way off. Maybe just a couple weeks now. But before the harvest they’re very hungry.
Getting back to your original question of how-to best help when helping people improve their lives, development, is the major objective: we have to depend on them and learn from them how they do things. What they eat, how they process things, how they live their lives, what they have available. And they’re very open and they share that with us, didn’t you find that?
Yeah, they were very open. I mean I had an experience where we presented them an idea and they took that idea and kind of tweaked it a little bit to where that worked for them. Because they understand the resources available to them. We don’t. I mean I thought all the resources would come from a junk yard. But no, they knew about the markets, they knew what products were available to them to get and then use to their advantage.
Teaching principles is important rather than methods. Sometimes you need methods too, but they need to understand the principles behind it, why are we drying fruit this way? To preserve nutrients. But then, how do you store it? And what do they have available to store it in, it needed to be airtight. They used very dried out water bottles. Because the water bottles have a lid that keeps it airtight, and keeps the fruit dry. And then when they go forward to sell it, they can put it in a smaller container.
So, one of the main principles is get them to come out of their box and help them innovate on their own. Cause we’re going to leave.
And they do. And that is what I think gives them the most hope. Is that they see that they can make a difference. And they also see new ways to use those technologies or better ways to produce charcoal, or new things, new ways/fruits that they can dry and preserve. Especially items that only grow annually. And are harvested in the harvest.
There was another project that I thought was tremendously successful my year. It was with Bowen and David and the rocket stove. Did you see any rocket stoves in year three? How did that project go in the third year?
Let me just explain that a little bit. Yes please. We had asked again, you know a year later, what’re some of your major problems. And one of the major problems that the women mentioned was cooking. They said come and watch. So, we went and watched. And Lary, my husband, videotaped it. And they have cooking huts that are separate from the house because of the smoke. But they’re not ventilated. The smoke is all swirling around within the cooking huts. And the women are cooking there 3x a day.
In some of those regions, women were having lung problems. The number was rising of lung cancer and other lung diseases in their early 40s, because of inhaling all this smoke. But also, they have the tiny babies that are on their back that are in the cooking huts with them. So, when Bowen expressed an interest in going, and he has experience in construction management, he indicated an interest in working on that. And his father had built rocket stoves.
So, he had some experience with that. And they were able to build a stove that vented the smoke out the back through a small hole that they had lined with bricks. But then the people came and put in small pieces of PVC pipe, because they had a better idea of how to vent that and how to get the smoke further away using the PVC pipe. But it also was more efficient because it drafted the air up from the fire to the pan so that there was more heat transferred to the fire from the pan then the way they had previously done it. They were now able to cook with less wood or charcoal. Because they were able to vent that out.
Yeah it was pretty fun. It’s a win win. And when they showed them how it worked and took them around the back to see the vent, the women cried. So then we went to Jacouyville, which is the new village we went to last year. They took us to see their rocket stove. And they had a sign that they had hand written on a piece of paper and they had taped it on the cooking hut that said, “stove with chimney” c-h-i-m-m-u-n-y. And we thought that was the best chimney we ever saw.
That’s a great story. I should tell you about some of the things we’re doing this year. Since I retired last year from BYU, another professor, Cassy Budd, is taking the group to Malawi. The group of students for study abroad. My husband and I and a couple others who have been volunteering a lot of their time, are working with an organization called extending reach international. It’s a new nonprofit organization that is doing some of these similar things. We have a group of 10 young adults who are UVU students, BYU students, BYU H, young professionals who have graduated many years ago, BYU I, and other individuals that have just approached us. We have a group of young adults going in about 2 weeks to Zambia, Livingston. It’s called Zungua near the river, there’s a place where all the trucks cross the river. Zambia is very rich in copper. And it’s being mined and being transported by truck to China, the world’s factory. They have to cross the Zambezi river to get to Botswana to get to Namibia to get to the port.
The trucks line up for two reasons. One is that the ferry that takes them across the river can take two trucks at a time. And often there’ll be a hundred trucks lined up in the morning. Some of them have to wait a couple days for their up bill of lading to get the permission to take the extracted materials out of Zambia and into Botswana. So different customs issues that they’re dealing with. There are lots of trucks lined up right there at the river. And there are several villages and unfortunately the poverty in these villages combined with this ready market makes for an unfortunate scenario of trafficking of daughters being taken.
We’re trying to find other ways to make their lives better, to improve their way of life. And to raise money. To earn money, much more money. We have four projects we’re working on. This year, the primary one they’ve talked about is wanting to increase the yield of their crops. Their maize crops are not very abundant. Low yields. Yes. Low crop yields. And trying to increase the yield of their crop fields, especially their maize, but also other crops. We’re going to be teaching them how to enrich the soil. We have a student who is a senior in biochemistry here at BYU who is putting together. He’s been talking with folks in Malawi and the school for agriculture for family independence: SAFI. He has talked with them and researched all these different trees.
Did you know that acacia trees have leaves that are very high in nitrogen? Well that’s perfect for enriching the soil. Who would’ve known? Because they need NPK and Euria. And he’s identified sources of all those. There’s so, in the ash from the cooking fires, in the goat and chicken and pig manure. Which we know is plentiful when you walk through the village. And he’s identifying. Well he’s working with a group who has done some of this identification. And finding now how to adapt those principles to the area in Zambia. And find out what leaves work best. And what other materials are readily available and inexpensive. That’s one thing they requested. They also requested to learn how to make charcoal.
They also want to learn to dry fruits. We took some dried mango last fall, fall here, when we were last there. Spring there. And we shared some of the dry mango with them, and they were not very animated for a while. And they tasted that mango and we couldn’t understand, but they were quite animated and excited and we actually heard giggles. And they came to us and said what’re the ingredients in this? And we said mango. Mango. We really want them to learn how to dry them. We have some crisps, banana crisps, that they tasted. They were quite excited to learn how to preserve some foods.
And then when we explained to them how all these truck drivers would probably be interested in dried fruit for their journey. I mean, they’re waiting in line so, they might as well have a treat. And there’s nothing there. I mean the town of is just a couple kiosks. I mean it’s just not a big town. There’s not a lot there other than people selling souvenirs to. The major traffic is truck drivers who don’t want souvenirs. We think they’ll want dried fruit. We actually have a couple of students doing an internship there. And they’re going to stay a little longer. And they’re going to work on teaching them how to package it, how to preserve the food. And the charcoal. And how to sell it. Because both of those items should sell to other villagers. But the dried fruit there should be a market, a steadily consistently replenished market of truck drivers every day.
Whoever is driving through who would be interested in dried fruit, whatever they have. Last year, one of the students, BYU students who went with us on the study abroad, had gone the first year. So she went every year but yours. She had sat down with the women; you saw the women. They dry the corn out in the field and then they only bring in the ears of corn. And stack them way up. And then they take it with their hand and remove the kernels with their thumbs. She looked online and found something that she was able to 3D print. That would take the kernels off by rotating around the cob to take those kernels off in a matter of seconds.
But of course, there aren’t 3D printers in the villages. But they developed, they tried several different things. And she and another student, Jake, figured out how to use a piece of PVC pipe that’s maybe 4 inches long. And put 7 screws around it. And it worked. It worked really well. They did some timing and found that it’s at least 10x faster than the women. They were really excited and they also could make those and sell them. For probably 75 to 100 profit. The problem is you have to buy the whole PVC pipe. Which is, the initial capital that you need up front. It’s a dollar fifty which is a lot of money, but if you can make one and sell one. And then pool them, half of their money they can buy another PVC pipe together and each get two that they make. So, one to keep for themselves and the one they sell they could again, reinvest. And keep it going.
We’re going to try to help them learn that. That may take another group of people. That’s great.
So, what is Malawi like? Maybe we can start out, what’s the government like?
There are actually layers of governing bodies. Because there are the traditional leaders which are villages and within ethnic groups. And then there is the political government of the countries. And the borders of the countries, many of them were drawn by European countries who were invested in Africa. And then most of them left, most of these countries gained independence in the 60s or 70s, around that time. So many of these countries are quite young. But the indigenous governing villages and there are villages and then there are collections of villages and then there are collections of those. There are several layers of indigenous governing, which covers a lot of things. The local, actually the role of a headman of a village is traditionally to make sure that everyone in the village is taken care of. And if someone runs out of food, then the head of the village might talk with others in the village to make sure everyone has the basics that they need.
The headman of the village controls the cemetery. We found one village that had been doing some projects to improve their soil and their way of life that the headman of the village basically made it mandatory. And those who did not participate could not use the cemetery. And when I heard that, my first thought was is that a huge incentive? But I didn’t realize that the use of the cemetery, every family needs it, once or twice a year or more. With cousins, or aunts or children. Their life expectancy is much shorter. So, it was an important aspect of their lives. This is how life, how there has been order in these organizations in these groups of people for many years.
But some of these groups span across different borders. For instance, in Malawi, the vast majority are Chichewa. But part of that group also expands into eastern Zambia and into northern Mozambique which is on the east. And the actual country lines which were drawn by foreigners tend to not be drawn around ethnic groups. There’s still that layer. There’s a king of the Chichewa people, he’s in eastern Zambia, his home is there. And then there’s a president and parliament in Malawi that comes from all over the country of Malawi.
It’s only been around for maybe 40-50 years. I don’t have the dates on that exactly. And it has become more influential over time. And the political entities because they are gaining in influence and power in their countries. A lot of that is because they control funds. Some of which comes from foreign governments of NGOs to influence aid. Has empowered some organizations.
When we were there and we were at the parliament. One of the representatives from a certain area of Malawi had to leave and it was fairly interesting to watch. They’re modeled after some of the British government institutions. They have a large ceremonial vase which they carry in and it means now parliament is in session. Well the head of the parliament, this individual that was speaking turns out was wearing his headdress that was indigenous to his area and his village and his people. And that was against the rules of the parliament. Because the parliament is supposed to represent the country. And this represents a rural indigenous people meaning he is not allowed to wear that. And it turns out a week or so earlier, he had been invited to leave because of the headdress. He was suspended for a week. And he came back wearing the same, it’s like a fur crown. And he was asked to remove it and he would not and he was speaking. And so, the head of parliament invited him to quit speaking and leave and he would not stop speaking and he wouldn’t leave.
Of course, we didn’t understand everything that was being said so they got this ceremonial mace that they carried and a couple folks that played a role such as sergeant in arms carried it over and stood by him and escorted him out. And that kind of represented I think these two layers of governing that takes place in sub Saharan Africa and many parts of Africa.
That is so interesting. What was it like going to these Malawian villages?
They were so warm. Of course, the villages we went to asked for us to come. We were invited guests, rather than any other type of person appearing on the scene. We were guests and they greeted us with song and dancing. Especially the women did a lot of singing and dancing. And came out to the vans to greet us as we arrived. Then we always have a meeting when we arrive, and when we leave. and in that meeting the chief, or head person of the village discusses the agenda, what we’re doing, our purpose and everything. Then we broke into different groups to start on projects.
But they were just so warm in greeting us and of course for the head of the village, there are ways to show respect. Like you clap with your hands cupped. It’s not a flat hand but a cupped hand. Where you clap with both hands cupped. Which makes a very different sound. And shows respect. It’s always fun to learn the different cultural aspects and customs that you find in different areas. I’ve had people ask me, “what’s the culture of Africa like or what’s the culture of Asia like?” and it’s like there are many cultures even within individual countries, there might be different cultures. And of course, there’s gender differences in acculturation. It’s always enjoyable. And they teach us as we work with them.
You know why are we doing it this way. And they’ll explain why and it makes no sense until they explain and then it makes total sense. Especially, it helps us better understand their perspective. The first year we went to a couple of students had forgotten to clap with the cupped hands for the chief and he joked about fining them each a chicken. So that they had to pay a fine of a chicken that would go to someone who needed food in the village.
For our listeners, could you do the chief clap?
Sure, well, let me do the flat hand clap so you can hear the difference. Here’s the normal clap. And then here’s the chief clap. Makes a very different sound.
Perfect. Thank you, Kristie. In your travels, in your work abroad, did you ever come across bribery or corruption or other ethical dilemmas while in those countries?
Bribery or corruption is pretty universal whenever there’s opportunistic people who are anxious to take advantage of the opportunity. In developing countries and especially, such as many of the countries we’ve been in in sub Saharan Africa where the poverty is quite extreme, especially in the rural locations. The life is desperate, just trying to hold life together is desperate. These young countries don’t have well established institutions that can help to alleviate corruption. Or prevent corruption. It’s very difficult to control. And you find it with anyone in a gatekeeper role. You really have to work to find honest people. Which is challenging because salaries are low and poverty is extreme. I was in Cambodia with a group of students many years ago and they had all gone into the market to shop.
I had had plenty of shopping time for me so I just sat with the tour guide. And the tour guide is a really good job because for instance, at that time, government jobs were being paid $40 a month. But tour guides every group that came gave them one or two hundred dollars in tips, usually. And they could have one or two groups a month. So that was usually perceived as a really good job. And I was sitting with him. And we were chatting. And he was telling me about Cambodia etc. and then he got a phone call and was speaking in his native tongue so I didn’t understand him. But I could see him getting happier and happier and happier as this phone call went on.
And so afterwards I said to him that must’ve been very good news. And he said oh it was very good news; I just got the job of a policeman. And knowing that civil servants are so poorly paid, I said, why would you give up the job of a tour guide to be a policeman? And he said oh because you can stop people on the road all day long and hold them until they make it worth your time. And it had never dawned on me, I mean we experienced that in Malawi. In Malawi, we had someone who stopped our van going north, coming back south. The same one stopped us. And wouldn’t let us go unless we paid a bribe.
This is one thing I’ve learned. I’ll talk about this in just a minute. But you just have to have zero tolerance for bribery. Because if you pay it once, it’s more the next time. And more the next time. It’s a very slippery slope. The problem is you’re corrupting someone. You’re you know, increasing their expectation for handouts, for unearned compensation. We’re in the van going north. And they checked all of our licenses, this is in Malawi? In Malawi, and just held us, and wouldn’t let us go. We sat there for about 20 minutes. And we said no, we’re not going to pay. And we just sat there, sang some songs. Got out of the car and stretched. And they kept coming back looking for something they could find. And they couldn’t find anything illegal. After another 20 minutes they let us go. But boy were they looking for us. And it was like 4 or 5 days later when we came back that they stopped us coming back. And it was the same police person.
And she kept us for about 35 minutes. And she took our driver’s license. So, he couldn’t leave. and after about 35 minutes I was like is this a game of chicken, who’s going to blink first? So, I just got out and pulled out my phone and started to take a picture of her ID, the policeman’s ID, hoping I wouldn’t get put in jail. And she said, what’re you doing? And I said, I mean I didn’t really take the picture. But I intended to take the picture and I could have if I needed to. And she said what’re you doing? And I just said I thought I’d get a copy of your ID so I have your name and everything. Why do you need that? And this is true, we had a meeting set up for the next day with the minister of justice, it ended up falling through, he went out of town.
And I said we’re meeting with the minister of justice tomorrow who is her boss. Her boss’s bosses’ bosses’ boss. And we just wanted to ask him how this works. And what the expectations are and why we’re being detained and oh. This is just a misunderstanding. But I don’t think that’s a wise thing to do very often.
But that solution worked in this instance.
It did. And I didn’t want to terrify or threaten her. But I just wanted her to know that we don’t pay bribes. And I just came out bluntly and said, we don’t pay this kind of money. We don’t pay inappropriate fines; we don’t pay inappropriate service fees. But I am going to see, I will ask the minister of justice if there’s a law we need to know about. That we’re doing incorrectly, or what we need to do in the future. But it was just very hot, and we were going to be late for a meeting. And we just needed to go. I did have that discussion.
In many cultures, giving gifts is seen as essential to continuing the relationship, would giving gifts be ok in certain circumstances if the dollar amount is immaterial?
Now that’s an interesting question, because gifts in different cultures make a big difference in the relationship. And in some countries that I’ve been in, in Asia for instance, the value of the gift actually communicates the value of the relationship to you.
In the US sometimes, a sentimental gift is more important than the $ amount. It might be the opposite, where because the dollar amount is so low, it appears we don’t value the relationship?
Yeah. Here we have the saying, it’s the thought that counts. That’s not universal. Sometimes it’s the price or the value that counts. There are ways to have something unique in your company that you give that isn’t expensive but is unique and valuable. To create value outside of dollar amounts. Financial…
Interesting. Moving on now, to me it sounds like bribery and corruption, it’s not necessarily. I mean obviously there’s gift giving and that element of the culture. But it sounds like there’s bribery and corruption where there are no institutions to police it. Or low living standards. You know, where we don’t know where the next meal is coming from. So, I’m going to take this bribe.
Well and the suffering that results from a small number of people improving their lives makes it very difficult for others. For instance, there are some countries where medications are provided by the government, it’s part of their social services system. But it’s very hard for people especially in rural areas to get the medicine, because the people who were charged with delivering it or the people who order it ordered less and got kickbacks or took some for themselves to sell on the open market to make extra money. You know just different gamekeeper functions where they’re empowered to serve themselves rather than the population for which they’re hired to do. Or which their position would indicate they should do.
It’s not just power plants and businesses, but it can get into distribution of malaria pills.
Or fertilizer that’s provided for coal farmers. Or I was told of a situation where the government provided fertilization to extra poor farmers every couple of years so that they could improve their soil and increase their yield. The truck drivers delivering it, usually when they got to the distribution point, there weren’t as many bags of fertilizer on it as when they left. But left town to go out into the country. They had police escorts added and they had the same problem. That the police were improving their standard of living too. It’s just difficult when the people empowered or entrusted to enforce the law or protect the citizenry are equally involved because they have access to assets, they have access to individuals who can help line their pockets. It’s very tempting and very challenging to not participate in those kinds of activities when their future is not certain either. Their economic future is not certain.
And that is not to say that everyone in these positions does this, it’s just much easier to happen there.
Thank you so much for being with us today Kristie, do you have any final words of wisdom for those who are traveling or working abroad?
I think I would just say that I don’t think I’ve been anywhere in the world that I haven’t fallen in love with the people. That our brothers and sisters around the world are dealing with the same issues as we are. They have the same challenges. Sometimes they have more challenges or different challenges, but we’re all in this together. And I think the more we interface with each other around the world, the more we realize that we’re all from the same family. That we’re all citizens of the world. Of course, we love our country, but we’re also citizens of this big beautiful world.