Thursday, 12 December 2013

#Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world #Nelson Mandela

'Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world'  is a favourite quote of mine and is a real personal belief. With the passing of Nelson Mandela, and spending time with our school entrepreneurs in Malawi this quote has become even more poignant. It makes me very proud to run an organisation that has this ethos at the heart of what it does, just one phone call at a time.

Primary school education became free in 1994  in Malawi, so prior to my visit I was not clear on the market opportunity in private schools. Talking with our school entrepreneurs, I became aware that the issue was around quality of education and future employment opportunities.  A shortage of qualified teachers, class sizes which in certain areas can be over 100 and limited geographical reach has created a market for private schools here. Local primary education is completed in the local Malawian language of Chewa, with English being taught as a secondary language. Parents seeking better employment prospects for their children prefer subjects to be taught in English. another reason driving the private school market.
Payla, Sophie Kumwanje, Claire Jenkins

Payla is a Grow Movement client, who had a British consultant called Ben. Together they worked on advertising Palma springs Private School school after it moved to a new rural area far from a local road. Payla was encouraged to go on TV, put posters around the local area, offer free classes to local students and send children home with information on the school to share with friends. Transport was the next issue. With no funding for a bus to pick the children up, and a 30 minute walk from the local road, Ben suggested talking to local bus companies to offer the service at a reduced price. Being situated near 2 rivers was a problem for local parents, so 2 play ground supervisors were employed. Local micro businesses have also sprung up in the area including doughnut and Samoa sellers to the children at lunch time In total, 9 new jobs were created from the consultancy work carried out by Grow Movement.

World change starts with educated children, it also starts with empowered entrepreneurs with the right tool kit to run their  businesses.  Grow Movement helps to do phone call at a time.

Claire Jenkins CEO Grow Movement 

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Can an #American help an #African #entrepreneur? #dogood #giveback #philanthropy #cause #volunteer

Skype usage in Malawi is more limited that our other countries. It is more rare for our entrepreneurs here to have ever seen their consultants using technology as compared to Rwanda and Uganda. On my recent trip to Malawi, Naomi used Skype on my iphone to meet Allison for the first time after having worked together for 6 months.  It was great to see the reaction and excitement on both sides. Here Allison talks about her experience as a Grow consultant. Claire Jenkins CEO

Allison Morton Grow Consultant
Yesterday, I had the privilege of meeting my client, Naomi Kuluwani, “face-to-face” on Skype. After working together extensively on her retail business this year, it was a great pleasure to finally see each other and an equally great experience to get a small tour of her shop.

Naomi, retail entrepreneur
Naomi is a very inspiring entrepreneur. She owns several businesses, but she and I worked together to turn around her retail company, where she sells food and non-food essentials to locals in the city of Blantyre, Malawi.  When we started, there were many topics on the table – some normal in retail businesses (competition, pricing, and cash management) and some specific to her environment (currency volatility). With my experience in consumer goods and finance, I was able to consult her on some key topics – such as building financial statements, writing a business plan, managing inventory, and even developing marketing and promotion strategy.

Naomi and her best clients
It was apparent that Naomi’s shop had great potential as a residential hub for buying food products. One of our first assessments was to look at her inventory and analyze the profitability of each product. From there, we made a plan to promote, keep, or let go of certain products in her inventory. We also determined, through talking to customers, what products were in demand but not yet available at her shop. Through this, Naomi learned that her customers were, indeed, interested in more fresh food and meat products, which made sense to pickup near their homes and on their path to and from work. With this information, Naomi could make the decision to invest in equipment to stock and keep meat and chicken. Since then, her profits have increased by 30% and she’s hired one additional person!

Girl power in Malawi
I felt deeply honoured to work with Naomi. It takes great courage for anyone to start a business in a challenging economic environment, and I am inspired by Naomi’s passion, friendliness, and open-mindedness. As a consultant, my goal was to understand the details of her business and also get to know the person behind the business. Only with the knowledge of both could I provide a quality level of service at such a distance. (I am an American living in Germany.)
I couldn’t be happier to finally meet “face to face” and to see that all the hard work is paying off for Naomi!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Rare sighting! Down under #skype #consultant goes over to #Uganda

Rare sighting a VC and entrepreneur together
Many of our clients and entrepreneurs build up great relationships over Skype but very few rarely have the chance to meet face to face. Sam Durland from Australia managed to meet Kalissa his client in Uganda. Big thank you to Sam for showing such commitment to the vision of Grow Movement. With your time, skills and passion we help create change, one phone call at a time! Claire Jenkins

Mr Kalissa
Recently, while in Africa on other business, I took the opportunity to visit my Grow client in Uganda, Mr Kaliisa Stephen. His company, Semuliki Traders Company (SETRACO) Ltd, is based in the Bundibugyo District in the west of the country near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The company is a start-up agribusiness with interests in maize, coffee, cassava, and chickens, and marketing of local produce. Starting in 2007, Kaliisa began purchasing land in the rich Rift Valley and establishing the various crops using local resources and labour. In 2012, the company obtained a long-term lease over a local market from the District Council. He is currently in discussion with the Council about resurrecting an abandoned fish farming operation that is based on Council land.
Sam Durland

I spent five days with Kaliisa touring his various projects, and meeting local officials, extension workers and business people, and discussing the best way forward for his business. Kaliisa is a most impressive young man. From a very modest village background, he completed an IT Diploma, and for several years conducted a successful small business in this sector. However, it became obvious to him that there was enormous potential in primary production, especially if he could mobilise local people to utilise the ideal growing conditions that prevail in the area to grow food crops to satisfy local demand, while also providing a local market facility for these and other cash crops. In Kaliisa’s mind, as well as generating a return to its shareholders, his company should provide a demonstration effect, showing local people what can be achieved with local resources.
Mr Kalissa

My role as a Grow consultant was to help Kaliisa to develop detailed strategic and business plans. While that role has concluded, I continue to work with him to focus the business on those areas that will generate an early cash flow to underpin the further development of the enterprise. My concern has been that the business was diversifying too quickly, and that without sufficient focus (and finance), there was a risk that none of the company’s diverse projects would thrive. Better to concentrate initial efforts on chicken farming, where there is strong local demand for meat and eggs that is currently being satisfied by imports from outside the District, and where early returns can be achieved.

In summary, my visit to Uganda was personally and professionally most rewarding and I believe of significant value to the client. As a consultant, I have always felt that I had to get to know the client’s business intimately, in order to provide the maximum value in my professional services. What better way than to spend a week in his or her shoes living the business!

Sam Durland
Consulting Plus Pty Ltd
Wollongong, New South Wales


Wednesday, 4 December 2013

I hate working for a charity! Not another tree hugger!

'Not another bloody tree hugger, we've got enough of them, they do nothing but drive around in big cars and just upset the local economy', was the response from a fellow British citizen who I started chatting with whilst going through the painful process of checking in at Kigali airport in Rwanda.

Feeling rather smug as Grow Movement doesn't fall into the usual complaints that people have about charities, I listened and let him run out of steam mentally going through my to do list with the occasional polite understanding nod. I love when the time comes to say what we do and how we do it. Bam! We help create jobs, we do it in a low cost way...this is how many jobs we've created in 3 years!

I'm now at the stage where I prefer to say that I run an 'organisation' that delivers business skills in Africa rather than a 'charity'. Being in the charity sector seems to be something that people look down, that achieves nothing and has poor quality lazy people involved in it. A judgement is made on your organisation and you  before you have even spoken.

Wasting money, working without achieving anything, messing things up in Africa are all too common things that I hear about. We battle on a weekly basis with the dis-empowering product of poor but well intentioned development decisions. Many charities even today offer payments to  people to attend training courses giving an over inflated travel budget on top. Both my team and other entrepreneurship organisations are often asked by their students when will they get their 'sit in fee'. I'm screaming but this is a free service that can change your life, you're getting thousands of pounds worth of top quality advice, and you're just seeing the few pounds that you may have received before. Do we then refuse to take these people? Or grit our teeth and take them on knowing that consultancy actually removes these blinkers?

Every charity it seems also thinks the way that I do, that these badges don't apply to their organisation, that they are better than the rest. I believe Grow Movement is better, we are results and low cost focused, we have a talented team but yet I am not naive enough to think that we are perfect, see my last post! Until we make a big mistake I run an organisation, when we do, I will then call myself a charity as it is accepted that we make mistakes.

Monday, 2 December 2013

CEO commits ignorant faux Pas! 'Don't tell me I'm #poor, let me decide what I am!

When in Rwanda I stayed with a videographer who worked as a freelancer doing projects for NGOs across Africa. She introduced me to the concept of dignity and ethics when taking photos and videos for Grow Movement. Considering myself to be well travelled I have always been careful to take photos with permission, or perhaps being more honest.. sneaking the odd shot that would look great on my facebook with out being noticed. I left for Uganda to see Joshua and Grace feeling pretty confident that with my experience of travel I was not in any danger of committing any ethical faux pas and falling into a pitfall of robbing local people of their dignity.

Sadly not the case. From my team I came to realise and ashamedly so, that I was sitting right at the bottom of an ethical  pitfall. Our website talks about the 'poorest communities', on our landing page and our charity presentation talks of poverty and social diseases from high unemployment. My team pointed out that this is actually quite offensive. 'Don't tell them they are poor, let them decide for themselves what they are, don't give them your label'. 

Having spent considerable time in developing countries as a fruit buyer for Tesco, regularly on sourcing trips to South Africa and Ethiopia, as a General Manager in India and as an eternal back packer, I should know better than this. How ignorant and arrogant to completely forget how our website might be perceived by the very folk we are wishing to help. In one sense I am giving them dignity by sharing skills and not money but then immediately taking it away by having a website that degrades them. How could I not even notice or consider this?! Over 50% of our clients use Skype so of course they access our website. Did I assume that they would be ok with being referenced to as from the poorest communities? Or in the pursuit of recruiting enough volunteers focused on the triggers that encourage them to work with us, or perhaps I have spent too much time in London and not on the ground. 

Furtherest from my mind  was belittling or degrading the very folk our entire team and volunteers work tirelessly to assist.(And it is tirelessly after some of the hotels I've stayed in this last month!). I'm the first person to be yelling at the TV when the Xmas adverts of poor children, starving with flies around their eyes start..and there I am doing exactly the same, just as guilty. Quite a tough lesson to take!

Nonetheless a key Grow Movement value is 'continuous improvement'. We're not afraid of feedback, actively seek it and work on it. Thank you to my new Uganda recruit Grace Akullo for challenging me on this point, well done! I'm changing the website as soon as I am the office here in Malawi tomorrow.