Michael Strange, Langone MBA Class of 2014
DBi Costa Rica (CR) could not have arrived soon enough for our NY-based students stranded in an endless, harsh winter. Escaping the remnants of the 2014 “Polar Vortex” combined with the allure of classes shrouded in the glow of tropical sun had all 17 of us eager to set off. Dbi is “Doing Business in” at Stern and is a great way to immerse oneself in a culture with a host university and faculty; the core focus in CR is sustainable business.
Upon arrival the warm air and bright sun greeted us immediately and winter became a distant (2222 mile) memory. None of us had ever been to the ecological wonder that is CR. Day dreams about zip-lining, rain forest and volcano tours and pristine, remote beaches captivated our minds and vitamin D deficient bodies. And Costa Rica delivered on its promise of natural wonder over the course of our week. Activities ranged from the adventure of ziplines and surf lessons to the calm of a rainforest tour.
But let’s not forget that this was indeed an academic program. Several sunny days were spent inside the classroom attending lectures on sustainability and eco-tourism, in your average dim, cold, and sterile lecture hall. We found ourselves staring out tinted windows, somewhat trapped just near what the locals call “Pura Vida”… or Pure Life consistent with the warm tropical climate and the laid back mindset of the locals.
Although we made it challenging at times, members of the INCAE Business School faculty led by Dr. Michael Metzger, who co-teaches at the University of Michigan, engaged us in interesting discussions surrounding the Costa Rican economic situation. Despite being a small Central American country, CR is a model for sustainable development. Costa Rica’s historically agrarian economy has in recent years shifted to manufacturing and highly automated processes. These advances have allowed the country to competitively satisfy the global demand for bananas, pineapples and even butterflies with minimal land use. While agriculture used to account for 90% of GDP, new industries have taken hold in this near-shore nation that offers a highly skilled labor force and a stable political regime. For instance, Intel currently employs over 12,000 people in CR and over the years 40 medical device manufacturers and high tech/aerospace firms have also taken refuge in the tax favorable free zones.
While economic growth has compounded over the last 20 years, CR has upheld its vow to grow sustainably. Sustainability aims to provide positive gains to the current generation while ensuring that it leaves the environment healthy and productive for the future. Although the concept of sustainability can seem obscure, CR has demonstrated that it is much more than just a feel-good idea. It can yield positive externalities while also minimizing negative impacts. CR’s goal to set a global example in sustainability is evident through its pledge to become carbon neutral by 2021. Private industry has teamed up with the government initiatives, as Costa Rican citizens work to minimize their footprint and find ways to grow responsibly. Altogether, CR is on course to become a leader in the global effort to marry economic growth and production with sustainable practices.
Our DBi group returns to New York carrying unforgettable experiences such as catching a first wave during surf lessons or overcoming a fear of heights flying across a 1000 foot zip line. And while ecotourism remains a strong draw, we return with more than a validation of CR as an adventurer’s paradise; we return with an awareness and charge to incorporate sustainable practices into our own lives, our communities and our companies.