Study Abroad Trip to Kenya Helps Maasai Learn Business Method

Posted: October 19, 2010 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: October 19, 2010 at 8:05 am

By Aisha Jamil

American students and Maasai students have a workshop together. Photo courtesy of Meg Brindle

This past summer, eight Mason students went to Kenya with Public and International Affairs Professor Meg Brindle as part of a Center for Global Education (CGE) course.

The course partnered with Light Years IP (LYIP), a nonprofit organization committed to alleviating poverty by assisting developing country producers gain ownership of their intellectual property (IP) and use the IP to increase their export income and improve the security of that income

Brindle has led LYIP’s education and training effort and conducted workshops in Uganda, Ethiopia, Zambia and Tanzania. An indigenous African tribe called the Maasai requested LYIP support to work with them and to do a peer- to-peer training of Maasai young people with American students.

The CGE course to Nairobi, Kenya, grew from this and enabled Mason students to learn about and work with the Maasai. The students were able to establish friendships with Maasai university students while being welcomed to Maasailand.

According to Brindle, there are approximately four million Maasai, and more than 80 percent of them live below the poverty level. They reside primarily in Tanzania and Kenya.

LYIP’s work is based on the fact that all over Africa, poor farmers, producers and artisans receive low returns for their distinctive products and cultural brands. Of the 14 countries LYIP has worked in, the profits average 3-5 percent.  This is true for the Maasai, as well.  LYIP has taught farmers such as the Ethiopian coffee farmers to use IP tools such as branding, trademarks and licensing and brought back more than $100 million to the Ethiopian coffee farmers.

Similar strategies that combine the legal and business tools of IP are possible and are making an impact on poverty. The Maasai were funded by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, part of a $1.5 million training and education grant Brindle co-authored under LYIP.

“Africans can take better advantage of the intellectual property tools long known to Western business,” says Brindle.

The Mason students spent two weeks in the United States learning about the IP Value Capture method, then spent two weeks in Africa partnering with Maasai in training workshops.  Several Mason students and alumnae are part of ongoing work with the Maasai, including Carita Marrow, MAM ‘09; Tiffany Williams, MPA ‘10; Allison Zimmerer, MPA student; and Kathleen Leonard, MPA student.

And the Maasai are eager to learn the trade, Brindle reports. They told Mason students that “their young people want to learn.”

The Mason students conducted peer-to-peer training to work with other young Maasai students and also participated in many different project-based workshops.

Near the end of their trip, the students were the guests in a Maasai ceremony held in their honor. The Maasai also took the students on a two-day safari.

“The Maasai are the most welcoming people I have ever met in my life,” Brindle says.

According to Brindle, the students formed lifelong friendships with the clan.

“This was a success for both sides. The students learned a lot and the so did the Maasai,” Brindle says.

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