Alumni facilitating economic development
in emerging economies
Kristin O’Planick, MBA ’10:Making the Most of Tourism
Foreign investment is supposed to spur local economies and create jobs. Sometimes it does neither. In Egypt, for example, European companies built numerous tourist hotels, and then staffed them with non-Egyptian workers. As a result, 90 percent of all tourist dollars spent at some resorts ended up in Europe, says Kristin O’Planick, who works for the United States Agency for International Development as an enterprise development specialist.
O’Planick witnessed the problem in her previous job as a USAID contractor in Egypt. At first glance, foreign-owned tourist ventures reaped a bonanza. “They could say, ‘Look how many tourists we’re bringing to the country,’” says O’Planick. “But if you looked at capital flows, much of the money flowed to other countries.” In some cases, Egypt reaped little more than environmental degradation. “Egypt still has pockets that are undeveloped,” she adds. “And they are definitely looking to do future development differently.”
During her stint in Egypt, O’Planick supported the development of locally owned ventures that would attract tourist spending. They included restaurants that featured indigenous food, day trips on camel back, and handcrafting businesses such as jewelry, wall hangings, rugs, and leather goods. Woman ran many of these ventures to supplement meager family incomes. While these businesses were tiny, the impact was often large. “Some of the women tripled their family’s income,” she says.
O’Planick gravitated to economic development after her Peace Corps service in the West African nation of Guinea. “I got addicted to the idea of doing work that is meaningful,” she says. She admits that the road to progress is steep. “In some places, it seems overwhelming,” she says. She focuses on those things that can be changed. “In Egypt, we wanted to leverage foreign investment to benefit the local economy as much as possible,” she says. “Our goal was to change the system.”
"Egypt still has pockets that are undeveloped. And they are definitely looking to do future development differently."