Cal Poly’s “Learn By Doing” motto is practiced not only on campus, but around the world. Business administration professor Chris Carr traveled to the North African country of Tunisia to advise students from the University of Sfax in southern Tunisia on entrepreneurship, innovation and development last December.
“I was invited (to Tunisia) to focus on just the university education aspect, but it turned out that my visit ballooned into a discussion of entrepreneurship outside of that arena,” Carr said.
A recovering economy
Tunisia is currently recovering from a revolution that started in December 2010 and overthrew a longtime government in October 2011. Since then, the country has struggled to grow strong in the fields of new business and innovation.
“Things like this are always very complicated and driven by a lot of factors over time,” Carr said. “With history, economics, location, culture, business and government, there’s an awful lot that goes into building a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
It’s not as easy to build a business from the ground up in Africa as it is in other parts of the world, according to a Wall Street Journal article last week.
“Africa is one of the few areas of the world where investors can put a dollar in the ground and watch it grow to two dollars in four to five years,” Peter Baird, head of Africa private equity at Standard Chartered bank, said in last week’s Wall Street Journal article about how tough it is for a Tunisian entrepreneur to begin their own business with the country’s current state.
With Tunisia needing attention in the field of new business, Carr was chosen to be one of 400 professionals and faculty members to visit other countries as part of the Fulbright Specialists Program, a program sponsored by the U.S. State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs which allows chosen specialists to travel abroad.
According to the Fulbright Specialist Program’s website, “the program is designed to award grants to qualified U.S. faculty and professionals, in select disciplines, to engage in short-term collaborative two to six week projects at host institutions in over 100 countries worldwide.”
As a professor of business law and public policy at Cal Poly since 1998, Carr has published numerous business and legal journals both alone and with colleagues, and also served as the Orfalea College of Business‘ associate dean of graduate programs and faculty development.
Not just a vacation
While in Tunisia, Carr traveled between two cities — Tunis, the capital, and the southern town of Sfax — visiting courts, small businesses and hospitals.
“Medical care in hospitals is very, very good in Tunisia, and the pricing, in comparison to U.S. medical care pricing, is shockingly cheap,” Carr said.
He found that the entire cost of having a child in the clinic cost the patient no more than $600 for a one-night visit.
“That in itself creates some entrepreneurial opportunities for both Tunisians and outsiders,” Carr said. “Other parts of the world are much better at providing services to poor and middle class people at a much more effective price point than the West is.”
Unlike the U.S. in certain aspects, services being so affordable in Tunisia opens doors for new opportunities.
“Sometimes Americans don’t appreciate some of the constraints that these emerging markets have been under for several decades, if not more,” Carr said. “Not everybody in the world is as enamored with Apple as we are, and other places get this. Tunisia gets it, China gets it, India gets it. They are able to build products that a person that doesn’t live in a place like San Luis Obispo can afford.”
Carr is excited to bring back new information and experiences to use as a learning point to the students at the Orfalea College of Business and Cal Poly as a whole.
“I wish we could have a class in the business school titled, ‘How to Sell to Poor People,’” Carr said. “Not from the standpoint of taking advantage of them, but how to build a product and a service that a poor person can actually afford.”
Professors, such as Slim Choura, at the The University of Sfax were very grateful to have Carr bring so much experience and information to share with their students.
“Professor Carr is an outstanding colleague and scholar,” Choura said. Choura is a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Sfax and one of the faculty members who helped bring Carr to Tunisia.
“Chris offered some wise strategic advice and recommendations to help us get to the next level,” he said. “We were impressed to learn of Cal Poly’s striking successes and some of its best practices.”
Not only did Carr share his expertise with students at the University of Sfax, he experienced the Tunisian culture as well. Carr said he plans to bring back what he learned from Tunisia to share with the Cal Poly community.
“Overall, it was a very favorable and positive trip,” Carr said. “I learned as much from them as they learned from me.”