28 January 2009

the fulbright lives!

I've been in essay-writing mode pretty much since I got back to Cambridge, and in the process of writing one of those essays I made a rather unexpected discovery. The essay in question was for my class on Globalization, Big Business and Developing Countries, which I mentioned in my ode to Peter Nolan. The topic was whether large firms in developing countries could "catch up" to their multinational, Western-based rivals, and I wrote on Jollibee, a Filipino fast food chain that has trounced McDonald's in head-to-head competition. Fast food in itself is not a topic that I get especially excited about, but Jollibee does appeal as a David and Goliath story, and one of the things I have realized in this course is just how similar the dynamics of business are across different industries. Here's my brother Casey with a statue of the Jollibee mascot at the restaurant next to my former apartment building (sorry Casey, I cropped you out of the photo for the version I put in my essay):

At one point in the paper I needed some statistics on migration from the Philippines because I was discussing Jollibee's strategy of targeting its overseas stores in locations where there are lots of Filipino expats. Instead of going on a tedious search for the data I needed, I decided to cite my own paper from the Fulbright. (The Development Studies program is actually keen on us citing our own previous work.) And in the process of googling my own paper, I made a pleasantly unexpected discovery: my paper has been cited in several articles and books. I wrote it explicitly for a policy audience, rather than an academic one; before I left Manila I presented it to a bunch of government agencies and NGOs and then assumed it disappeared into the memory hole after that.

This finding did make me feel a pang of regret for not trying to get some version of the paper published in a journal, especially because one of the academics who used it had e-mailed me while I was in Alaska and said he thought I could get it published. (I felt even worse at the beginning because I thought I remembered him offering to help me with that, but I checked our e-mail correspondence and found that he hadn't actually offered any help, just his opinion that there was publishable stuff in there.) I should mention that sending the paper isn't as simple as its sounds; it would have required several days of work. There wasn't really time while I was still in the Philippines, and I did think about resurrecting the project from time to time while I was in Alaska, but when would I have had the time then?

At any rate, I'm happy that my report has been useful to somebody. I always thought my year in the Philippines was an enormous success as a cultural exchange and pretty indifferent as an academic venture, but this tips the balance a little more in the positive direction for the latter.

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