Making the Most from Field Visits to Impact Enterprises

Photo by the author, taken during a field trip to cassava farms in 2016

1) Follow local etiquette

  • DO eat the snacks and drinks provided. If not sure, take a small bite or sip only.
  • DO record the conversations, after asking permissions.
  • DO ask before taking pictures, especially picture of people from the communities. Their privacy rights are the same as ours.
  • DON’T post the pictures from the trip in social media.

2) Be prepared, but keep an open mind

  • DO state our specific requirements for a trip agenda to Company management to arrange.
  • DO expect the companies want to showcase only the best aspects — this is normal and to be appreciated.
  • DON’T forget to ask for translation services to be made available, if needed.
  • DO respect the logistical arrangements and don’t make last minute requests.
  • DO familiarize ourselves about the industry and the Company beforehand.
  • DO try to understand the history of the land and their family/community issues beyond their interactions with the company, from news media and other sources. But also be aware that these accounts might be biased, especially if they are written by people outside of the community.
  • DO try to learn a phrase or two in local language or dialect — this will impress them and help as ice breakers.

3) Observe the enterprise’s regular business processes

  • DO ask to follow the Company’s field officers making their daily activities. It depends on the business model, but most companies have daily customer visits (e.g., in microfinance industry) or buying trips.
  • DO blend in with the field officers and stay silent while they are doing their job. Obviously, it might not be easy to do if you are foreigner with different skin colors or do not understand the language being used. After this order of business is completed, then we can start asking questions.
  • DO ask for the meetings in their farms or other places of work, with 4–5 people max to ensure effective discussions.

4) Use local perspectives and terminologies

  • DO small talks or ice breakers even if time is limited.
  • DON’T ask basic, general questions that we can ask the Company beforehand.
  • DON’T ask close-end questions, unless these are verification questions that we must ask.
  • DON’T ask questions that make them try too hard to recall the past or do mental calculations, e.g., even a simple question like “how much did you earn every week?”. Very few of them have steady monthly income that can be easily divided by four weeks.

5) Stay as an outsider

  • DON’T ask provocative questions that can strain relationships between the Company and the communities.
  • DON’T make promises on behalf of the Company, even if the Company is already an investee.
  • DON’T be defensive about the company, when the farmers are critical about their practices.
  • DON’T ever blame the Company on anything.
  • DO frame the visit so that wecan make suggestions to the Company based on the discussions with the communities.

6) Share learnings back to the Company

  • DO summarize the visit for the management of the Company, with suggestions based on the interactions on the field. Don’t add or subtract points. The best ones on understanding the situation are the community members. Let their voices be heard.
  • DO thank the Company for the trip arrangement.

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Venture Builder. In Medium to share perspectives on how industries are being transformed by digital technologies.

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Adi Sudewa

Adi Sudewa

Venture Builder. In Medium to share perspectives on how industries are being transformed by digital technologies.

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