Natalie Reese wanted her business education to be unique. She feared being seen as an MBA from a “cookie cutter” program with a resume lacking passion.

Now, less than a month from graduation, she can look back at an experience that included world travel and — perhaps — front line input on a poverty-fighting wine industry in Ethiopia.

“The prospect of saving the world through wine is definitely a romantic one and one I thought was great,” said Reese, one of six Goizueta students who traveled to Ethiopia to conduct a feasibility study on an economy-boosting wine industry. “I loved it. For me, also, it iwas a really neat opportunity to take on a project that was not typical for a business school… I could go off and do something entirely different and have this amazing experience and really learn from it, have my eyes opened and my horizons expanded.”

Six months of work went into the feasibility study commissioned by the International Society of Africans in Wine (ISAW). The report concludes that — with proper funding and manpower — an economically sustainable, high-quality wine industry can be created with an ability to combat poverty.


Reese was on hand at the Embassy of Ethiopia in Washington, D.C. March 24 to answer questions but the study is already coming to life.

Sandhya Deshetty, also an MBA candidate at Goizueta, recently founded SPARC Development — an agency charged with getting funding to take the wine project and similar university research to the field.


“In working through this pilot project it’s becoming even more evident that, as social enterprise is growing in universities across the nation, there’s this tremendous amount of knowledge that is just not being utilized and taken advantage of,” Deshetty said at the embassy. “There’s a tremendous amount of ideas coming from students, coming from faculty that really just needs a push forward to make it happen.”

Wine has been made in the Ethiopia since the 17th century but now, with the availability of land and the right partners, the region is ripe for wine industry growth. Deshetty’s plan, built from the study, calls for a co-operative system modeled after the Ethiopian coffee industry.

The research team, led by Associate Professor of Organization and Management Peter Roberts, estimates domestic and international demand for any wine produced. For instance, existing studies point to a growing demand for wine within Ethiopia. Moreover, a preliminary survey of Ethiopain restaurants in the U.S. revealed an approximate demand of 9,500 cases per year.

“Right now we have every relevant person in place ready to go as soon as we have the funding,” added Deshetty, who presented to a mix of alumni, Ethiopian government officials and philanthropists at the embassy to formally launch her nonprofit’s first project.

Students on the research team met with the prime minister and other government officials last August. “Quality” was stressed for success of any wine industry.

Almaz Amaha, Minister Counsel of Economic and Business Affairs at the Embassy of Ethiopia and Solomon K. Mekonnen, Senior Economic Officer,  said they look forward to supporting the project and appreciate the efforts of students and SPARC Development (LinkedIn).

“They have a huge emphasis on using a market-driven economy as a means to development [and] a focus on value-added agriculture,” adds Deshetty, who will serve as the first in-country project manager. “The goals of this project are aligned with the over-arching goals of Ethiopia… “
Access to capital, a lack of industry knowledge and limited market access could prove challenging but the team hopes to mitigate concerns with government involvement and support from foundations, social impact investors and universities.

Individuals at the University of California-Davis and Cornell University have already pledged support to the project.

Deshetty said a trip is planned for September to start site visits. Partnering with the Debre Zeit Agricultural Research Center, the team will examine areas where significant varietal testing has been done and survey farmers on the possibility of forming co-ops.

Goizueta’s active support in the realm of social enterprise could present other opportunities as well. But perhaps none, as Reese puts it, could be as romantic as building a poverty-fighting wine industry.

Deshetty said she hopes drinking a glass of Ethiopian wine is just the start.

“Ten years from now I hope SPARC has little pockets of activity going on around the world,” said Deshetty. “We see our immediate involvement with these projects being short term but always having a long-term affiliation. We want to be able to take similiar projects like this — feasability studies coming out of schools — that just need that extra little push; we’re that spark that moves it forward.”

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