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Blogs · Elena Simpson, HBA '18, MBA '23 candidate

MBA International Study Trip | Costa Rica

Dec 19, 2022


Elena Simpson, HBA ’18, is an MBA ’23 candidate who went to Costa Rica as part of the MBA International Study Trip. The study trip is an optional component of the Ivey MBA Program that gives students on-the-ground exposure to some of the world’s most dynamic and exciting economic regions.

I had the absolute pleasure of travelling to Costa Rica with my classmates this December for our week-long study trip. Prior to this trip, I had only ever studied in North America. I was eager to learn about business in the Latin American context, and to challenge myself to take a new perspective. Throughout the week, our excursions allowed us to learn about both the business and economic landscape, and the way of life in Costa Rica.

While I was ready for the warm weather, the national parks, and the world-renowned coffee, I came out of this trip with three key learnings that I was not expecting:

Execution is everything

As students in a classroom, we often assume that our ideas can easily be implemented, but our eyes were opened wide in Costa Rica. During the trip we took on a business challenge for Martec, one of the largest fish processing companies in Central America. The company is developing a micro-financing program to support local fishers, and we were to find the funding sources and develop the logistics of the financing program. After meeting with a company executive and conducting our own research, we quickly learned how difficult it would be to account for even a small percentage of the industry nuances. How, for example, can you collect the debts from the fishers when they simply don’t respond to your messages? Or don’t show up to meetings? How do you determine who to loan to when the fishers don’t have banking histories? This project showed us how difficult and nuanced executing a strategy can be in Latin America, and taught us that wherever we operate, we should not take execution for granted.

Sustainable business

Approximately 98 per cent of the energy in Costa Rica comes from renewable sources, and after visiting the country, I can now see how this works. Costa Rica has taken a unique approach to protect its environment, even before sustainability was ‘trending.’ Before this trip, I couldn’t help but wonder how a country that is so much smaller and less economically wealthy could be faring so much better than Canada. What we learned from our speakers was astounding.

First, in Costa Rica, businesses share innovations in order to sustain industries. For instance, the Starbucks coffee farm conducts research and development and shares this valuable information with local farmers so that coffee can be grown and picked sustainably for years to come.

Second, they find unique ways to break through their economic barriers. Rutas Naturbanas is a non-profit working to develop city walkways to protect nature. Despite limited funds, the organization partners with private banks to use their land to complete the projects.

Lastly, Costa Rica thinks internationally. When we met with HP, we learned that their Costa Rican operations were already carbon neutral. Despite this, HP has lofty goals to help the entire supply chain achieve neutrality. The company even has a program in Haiti to collect plastic water bottles and use these to create printer ink. In Costa Rica, we met businesses across industries that are environmentally and socially sustainable at the core. I hope to transfer this passion and this approach to my work in the future.

Pura vida

This mantra, which means “life is good,” was the first thing we learned upon arrival. It is used constantly in conversation. Despite the challenges in the country, the individuals and businesses as a whole seem to always find the positive. Perhaps this stems from Costa Rica’s history as a country that abolished its army, or perhaps it's just a result of the great coffee. Whatever it is, we could see the strong effect this mindset has during our short visit. I hope to bring a little more “pura vida” into my everyday life.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t share a thank you to my classmates, professors, and the speakers in Costa Rica. An experience is only as great as the people you share it with, and I was very lucky to share it with such wonderful people.

Below are more photos from the MBA International Study Trip in Costa Rica.

MBA Study Trip - Costa Rica