2019 SMART program reflections: Cau Chocolates, Indonesia

By: Katelyn Godoy
Students look at plants with their guide

The Student Multidisciplinary Applied Research Team (SMART) program is a unique service opportunity and part of the Emerging Markets Program at the Dyson School. SMART brings together teams of both graduate and undergraduate students, faculty, and staff from across the university and pairs them with small companies, organizations, and community groups located in developing countries and emerging economies. SMART teams work to address a specific need identified by their international partner and students work on well-defined assignments—challenging them to apply classroom knowledge and skills in real-world international settings.

About Cau Chocolates

Cau Chocolates is a small, private, and family-owned business with headquarters in Tabanan, Bali, Indonesia. The company began by offering rural tours to international visitors in an agro-tourisum format, but they soon found that their chocolates were the most viable part of their business model. Cau’s missions is to produce high-quality, organic chocolate with ingredients sourced from local farmers using sustainable agricultural practices. The company also educates young people on sustainable farming systems using cacao plants.

SMART team challenge and tasks

Students talking near cacao plants

The team was challenged to investigate how Cau Chocolates could upgrade its offerings and provide value-added products in rural Indonesia. Tasks assigned were to:

  1. understand and document Cau’s value chain from products to services;
  2. carry out market research analysis, centering around potential local and international markets; and
  3. benchmark other businesses in selected locations within Indonesia.

Cynthia Istanto ’20 (Dyson)

Cynthia is majoring in applied economics and management and concentrating in finance.

“I really enjoy participating in the SMART program because it allows me to interact with various business stakeholders in emerging markets. The program has also showed me that only by combining people’s firsthand experiences with frameworks taught in class that we can comprehensively understand and analyze a problem.

This past winter break, I had the opportunity to lead a team to my home country, Indonesia, to investigate the structural attractiveness of the chocolate industry. In addition to doing secondary research, we talked to many people in the space: cocoa farmers and cooperatives, chocolate startups across Bali and Jogja, as well as food science and public policy professors. I enjoyed this part the most, as I get to listen to people’s stories and perspectives on the chocolate industry. Even as an Indonesian, I would not have the opportunity to interact with such a diverse group of people.

After the interviews, we identified that there are production barriers and low local demand for chocolate, which makes it hard for local businesses to grow. However, while I personally was skeptical at first, our analysis pointed out that overall, chocolate is an attractive industry with a lot of growth potential. This finding inspires me to one day contribute in growing these underdeveloped sectors through my own business or supporting existing startups, not only back in Indonesia but possibly in other emerging markets around the world.”

The group poses for a photo in outdoors

Anshuman Gupta, MPA ’20 (CIPA)

Anshuman is concentrating in international development.

“Working with Cau Chocolates gave me the opportunity to understand the key issues and challenges of the cacao industry in Indonesia. Especially enriching was being a part of a multidisciplinary team of students with very different perspectives to analyze the structural attractiveness of the industry. Interacting with multiple stake-holders, right from farmers to primary processors and chocolate manufactures, helped us get a sense of how these components fit together to form a complicated agriculture value chain. Moreover, mapping these interactions using frameworks learnt in the Emerging Markets class was useful in gaining a holistic view of the industry. In the process, we also learnt how these frameworks could be applied to frame a comprehensive strategy for our community partner.

Thus, the field-work in Indonesia helped us appreciate the complexities of the real-world that we will eventually have to operate in. Moreover, the learning continues beyond the field-work through the associated course-work that we take at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. Case-studies developed as part of the course-work will facilitate engagement with a broader audience to contemplate on these issues and develop solutions for. The SMART program was thus an excellent opportunity for me to use my past experience and knowledge in a completely different context and culture and has helped me broaden my perspective tremendously.”

Cacao plant
Chocolates on a plate

Sheren Leonita Winarto, MPS ’19 (CALS)

Sheren is majoring in food science and concentrating in food chemistry/product development.

“Being a part of this journey with an incredible multidisciplinary team have rewired my own perspectives of my country and enriched my knowledge in fields that were outside of my study such as economics, policies and environmental. Growing up in Indonesia, I couldn’t possibly imagine experiencing the hands-on research that I did with SMART on my own, much less lead the in-depth learning of the unfamiliar but greatly recognized cacao industry. Being able to go on the field and have meaningful conversations with cacao farmers and chocolate manufactures made the learning experience much more impactful, benefits that exceed exponentially than learning about them remotely.

Student cuts down a plant

Since we were a multidisciplinary team consisting of members from various disciplines including finance, public affairs, environmental science, food science and computer science, there were many to learn from each other’s point of views. Though some views at a certain point may have conflicted with others, we were always respectful and open-minded towards others. This mindset would ready us for the working world where there would be many instances that would require us to work with others of different backgrounds. Hence, being a part of the SMART program was an exceptional and memorable once-in-a-lifetime experience, one that I would recommend everyone to be a part of.”

Mahrusah Zahin, MPA ’20 (CIPA)

Mahrusah is concentrating in international development.

“Going to Indonesia was an eye-opening experience, and taught me a lot about the importance of cultural context in problem solving. We were fortunate enough to interact with all levels of stakeholders, and realized that every group from farmers to executives are looking for solutions they can carry out on their own. As a policy student, it was enlightening to learn how cultivating and maintaining personal relationships between these groups are integral to a small business’ success when policies are not able to fill the gap in supply chains.

Studying cacao in Bali specifically also gave a unique insight as to how traditional values still have a place in modern day. By way of Hindu teachings, farmers and cooperatives are concerned that their farming practices do not unduly harm the environment, and chocolate manufacturers encourage such best practices. However, the value-addition process faces a challenge when new practices are introduced. With farmers resistant to changes, premium chocolate businesses like Cau Chocolates have to come up with complimentary products to supplement their bottom line, such as agro-tourism. Instead of band-aid solutions like bans and taxes, policy needs to tackle how all groups can capture value-addition moving forward, so that the changes are sustainable. Being on the ground through this SMART project has allowed me to understand how micro-level events need to inform policies, and I will use this experience to better engage with various stakeholders in the future to facilitate maximum positive impact.”

Read more about the team’s experience in their detailed travel blog.

The group in a boardroom after presentations