Global business consultancy Challenges Group launches Enterprise Resilience Programme

Support for SMEs as Challenges Group launches Enterprise Resilience Programme

The Challenges Group has supported the growth of thousands of SMEs in developed and developing markets over the past 20 years. Now our global team of business consultants are using that same expertise to support the resilience, re-calibration and recovery of SMEs during the global economic crisis caused by COVID-19.

Challenges is now delivering resilience business support to enterprises affected by the Corona virus and the global economic slowdown.

In the first instance, we will deploy a robust diagnostic tool to analyse the enterprise, providing a rapid and in-depth market and operations investigation that will enable SMEs to carry out information-based decisions to respond, recover and reposition from COVID-19.

Looking at the enterprise’s current market, we work with the business to understand the risk and opportunities attached to current customers and supply chains, as well as HR concerns in staffing and more. Our commercial experts and consultants will co-create with the business owner the crucial next steps and recommendations to help them become resilient, protecting jobs and income.

The diagnostic process will take around four to six weeks. Initially, the in-country teams will conduct rapid information gathering within the first fortnight. Our support team of technical and commercial experts will then analyse the information and identify possible strategies, which will be presented back to the senior management team with actions then agreed. Challenges will remain available to offer ongoing implementation support.

The service is offered with no upfront payment attached. Instead, Challenges is offering a fixed fee repayment package of 24 months for the first phase to essential businesses and discount offered to those who can pay quicker than this period.

Partners and interested businesses can visit our website, also follow us on Twitter, @challengesgroup for regular updates.

Country specific emails can directly be sent to our sites across Africa or the UK headquarters;

Contact Details:

admin@thechallengesgroup.com

ghana@thechallengesgroup.com

malawi@thechallengesgroup.com

rwanda@thechallengesgroup.com

uganda@thechallengesgroup.com

zambia@thechallengesgroup.com

 

Twitter: @challengesgroup

Read more

New film and report highlight success of Challenges’ flagship Rwandan Coffee Project

Watch Challenges’ new film about the Rwandan Coffee Project!

 

Challenges’ flagship Rwandan Coffee Project has reached its mid-way point. To mark this major milestone, Challenges has released the above film and published a report detailing the activity that has gone on during the past two and a half months.

Featuring voices from Rwanda and Scotland, it reveals the journey coffee takes from the farms of Sholi to the cafes of Glasgow.

In the report, we detail much of the activity that has gone on across the eight coffee co-ops we’re working with, and how we have met a range of project milestones and targets. You can read and download the report, here.

Major achievements of the Rwandan Coffee Project

Challenges Rwandan Coffee Project

  • Growing volumes of coffee beans exported by 18%,
  • Improve each co-op’s “cupping” score (measure of coffee bean quality) to 85 or higher (out of 100), and thereby achieving the “speciality coffee” accolade
  • Train of more than 800 coffee workers, smallholders, young people and women in areas such as management and leadership; quality control; business finance and operations; marketing; solar power and other clean technologies; and gender-based violence reduction. Of those taking part in training activities, 47.5% were women
  • Increase international market access, including sales visits and/or representation in Scotland and global trade fairs. This includes introductions to more than 15 new commercial buyers
  • Increase operational efficiency for most of the co-ops
  • Support the organisation of youth networks involving 850 young people and enabling increased access to business and work training, as well as support groups for women and girls to better access reproductive rights and healthcare
  • Provide accountancy software training and provide access to accounting software
  • Challenges Rwandan Coffee Project Provide functioning websites with new content, including newly commissioned photography
  • Drive clean tech innovations such as minigrid, water digesters and waste-water treatment facilities.
  • Catalyse nine start-up enterprises following business support, enterprise training and/or access to micro-finance.

Download the full report. 

 

 

 

Read more

Challenges consultants deliver enterprise training to 170 agribusinesses

Challenges Group Musika agribusiness training

Challenges Zambia has completed a far-reaching training programme involving 170 agribusinesses in seven districts across the country’s Western, Central and Copperbelt provinces. During the eight-month project, Challenges’ consultants travelled a total of 18,700km!

Challenges Zambia undertook the Agribusiness Accelerate Initiative (AAI) project in collaboration with the agri-development agency Musika, a Zambian non-profit focused on stimulating private investment in the country’s agricultural market, specifically agribusinesses and smallholder and emerging farmers.

Challenges Musika agribusiness training

Challenges delivers agribusiness training.

The project, which also involved a number of other public and private organisations, was focused on building the capacity of the small and medium rural agribusinesses that are critical to the expansion of the agricultural sector.

Over the eight month period Challenges consultants visited businesses in Kaoma, Mongu, Kitwe, Kabwe, Kapiri Mposhi and Mumbwa districts.

Key to Challenges’ philosophy is enabling enterprise leaders to acquire an in-depth knowledge about financial management in order to better ensure the success of their business. As part of AAI, participating smallholders and agribusiness personnel were trained in financial planning, profit and loss, budgeting, cash handling, accounting systems, balance sheets and cash flow statements, risk management, and raising finances.

The training was delivered by way of tasks during group work as well as roleplay, and were aimed at upskilling small agribusiness owners in goal-setting, customer gaps, market analysis and marketing plans, competitor analysis and various problem-solving tools.

The training also included digital marketing, financial management, risk management, competitor analysis, and strategies to achieve all-year-round business. One aspect of this was a course in Social Media for Business in which participants were taught how to effectively conduct business and communications on social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter, among others.

During the training sessions, Challenges consultants identified fast learners whom they enabled to support other participants through peer-to-peer learning, a key element of Challenges’ approach to management and leadership training. One issue they faced, however, was language. Zambia has more than 40 languages spoken across the country and much of the Challenges’ training content was translated to cater for local audiences.

Market linkages

The Musika project has also provided small business within the AAI with opportunities for market linkages. These linkages were between small business partners and companies such as seed and fertilizer businesses, aggregators of groundnut and soya beans, financial institutions such as Zanaco and Agora, as well as businesses such as mobile money agencies and solar power companies. One of the aims of this was to enable agribusinesses to diversify their seasonal offering and obtain year-round commercial opportunities. On top of the move to grow market linkages, the trainings enabled many of the participating businesses to deliver a better service to their smallholder customers, clients and suppliers, as well as the larger agribusinesses with which they were engaged.

Following the rollout of the AAI programme and associated training, the range of agribusinesses and smallerholders now have a better understanding on how to manage their businesses and are planning on implementing the rest of the lessons by the end of their farming season this spring. Key to this will be managing cashflow in order to maximise profits they can invest in other businesses while also planning ahead for the next farming season.

Read more

Challenges Malawi agribusiness project is showing early successes

VAC business training Crops
The first year of Creating Robust Opportunities for Crop Production and Sale

In October 2018, Challenges launched its Creating Robust Opportunities for Crop Production and Sale (CROPS) project in Malawi. Funded by the Scottish Government, CROPS is an ambitious five-year agribusiness programme that aims to improve the livelihoods of thousands of rural farmers and their families in four districts in Malawi.

Challenges Malawi CROPS project VAC trainers trade

VAC staff at a trade fair with CROPS products.

With a focus on business and co-operative development, CROPS seeks to increase household incomes of 6200 rural farmers in four districts – Nkhotakota, Salima, Machinga and Chikwawa – by 10% by 2023. The project is being run in collaboration with Opportunity International, a network of more than 40 organisations, with a focus on microfinance institutions.

Central to this programme is improving the value chains of a range of Malawian crops, as well as enabling and promoting value addition and processing activities, boosting institutional capacity building, and improving access to finance and reliable markets. Ultimately, increasing yields of better quality products with improved routes to markets will generate greater incomes for Malawian farmers, thus contributing to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal No. 8 (Decent work and economic growth).

Adding Value and Early Milestones

At the heart of the CROPS project are four Value Addition Centres (VACs). These centres were set up by the Malawian government to help commercialise agriculture, but had lain dormant until the commencement of Challenges’ CROPS project.

Challenges Group Business raining Malawi

Business training in Malawi.

An early milestone of the CROPS was the training of eight farmers as machine operators to operate the VAC machinery as well as the appointment and subsequent training of four business development officers who are VAC trainers and  managers.  The project further recruited and trained 4 agriculture extension officers to facilitate agricultural trainings in order to increase crop productivity.

Within each VAC is machinery to process and package agricultural products supplied by a government project called SIVAP (Smallholder Irrigation and Value Addition Project) that ended in December 2018. The project is also working on improving crop production and rotation, providing business training to both farmers and VAC staff, and facilitation of access to markets for the processed goods. The products being processed by the VACs include, but are not limited to, rice, high quality cassava flour, cooking oil, and pigeon pea (dry tool dhall). With crop rotation and diversification a key part of the CROPS project, over the term of the programme this list will grow as new products are trialled.

As each local VAC team works to develop the capacity and efficiency of the VACs, Challenges Malawi has been working with farmers in 10 irrigation schemes to increase the productivity of their crops and enhance the aggregation of crops and enable greater value addition.

CROPS results in focus
Challenges Malawi CROPS project

Challenges Malawi CROPS project.

With the project now well into its second year, it has already achieved substantial results. During the period April to September 2019, the CROPS project delivered or enabled:

  • a 60% increase in rice yield from winter farming, from 2.5 tonnes per hectare in the baseline, to 4 tonnes per hectare;
  • an average of £1,244 gross profit achieved by each VAC. The average revenue was £2,150 with expenses of £900 per VAC;
  • the production of 191 tonnes of organic fertilizer, a more sustainable and environmentally responsible solution to chemical fertilizer;
  • the establishment of demonstration plots for farmers in each district to learn new technologies in crop production, one of which is the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). This allows farmers to increase productivity while using less water and less organic fertilizer;
  • the identification and engagement of – on average – four new commercial buyers per VAC as part of a wider campaign of marketing activity that included representation at trade fairs and buyers’ markets;
  • the increase in the price per tonne of VAC processed crops from £588 to £749 per tonne, representing 27% average increase;
  • training of 2,845 farmers (928 males, 1341 females, 550 youth, 20 elderly, 6 disabled). This included:
    • training of 150 lead farmers (63 males, 52 females, 35 youth) aimed at equipping them with the skills and experience to deliver farmer-to-farmer services that reached an additional 1,385 farmers (707 males, 678 females);
    • training of 660 farmers (317 males, 343 females) in post-harvest handling to reduce losses in crop quantity and quality for processing;
    • training – and subsequent job creation – of four agricultural extension officers (3 males, 1 female) to enable them deliver agricultural trainings to farmers;
    • training – and subsequent job creation – of four business development officers (3 males, 1 female) to enable them effectively deliver business and co-operative management trainings to VAC members. The training was conducted by two trainers from Challenges Rwanda;
    • training – – and subsequent job creation – of eight VAC machine operators (7 males, 1 male) in machine operation and maintenance in order to equip them with processing and machine maintenance skills at each of the VACs;
    • training of 15 board of directors (all males) in leadership, governance and financial management. This allowed them to provide oversight role in VAC operations, and increase transparency and accountability within the VACs. One outcome of this was that all four VACs now have a functioning Board of Directors able to conduct quarterly board meetings;
    • training of 64 members (40 males, 24 females) of VAC executive committees in leadership, governance and financial management. This enhanced their skills in day to day management of VAC activities. This led to greater transparency and accountability within the VACs by setting up accounting and administration systems.

 

Read more

Progress for social enterprise Lilypads in Zambia after Challenges research

Lilypads Zambia Challenges Group

Lilypads is a Scotland-based social enterprise that seeks to address period poverty. As part of Challenges’ Access Africa Programme, Lilypads had engaged our Accra team to undertake a piece of consumer market research in Ghana and Zambia. This research targeted women and girls of menstruating age, and asked them about their requirements in regards to sanitary pads; whether they would be willing to use reusable pads; and their feelings towards ecofriendly sanitary pads, including how much they would be willing to pay.

Challenges identified a clear market opportunity for Lilypads, and its product and business model.

Lilypads ChallengesFollowing this market research, Challenges then looked at the practicalities of establishing a production and distribution base in a number of different locations, including Zambia. The legalities of producing pads locally, such as the requirements for establishing a factory that produces and distributes sanitary pads, was a key consideration. Costs, employment opportunities and future forecasts were also major factors.

Subsequently, Challenges Zambia engaged both the Zambia Bureau of Standards (ZABS) for the standards required for sanitary towels; and the Patents and Companies Registration Agency (PACRA) as to the legal requirements to establish Lilypads as a company in Zambia that would produce ecofriendly sanitary towels.

Challenges also engaged with a number of potential partners, identifying the One Planet Café Zambia, a business in South Luangwa that produces and exports banana paper branded One Planet Paper. This sustainability focused social business was receptive to partnering with Lilypads to produce ecofriendly sanitary pads.

Challenges is now working to raise capital on behalf of Lilypads in order to run a pilot in Zambia.


The Access Africa Programme

The Access Africa Programme enables Scottish social enterprises and social entrepreneurs to explore and expand into African markets. It provides market research and business development support, funded by the Scottish Government, to enterprises and individuals who have an idea, product, service or model that could make a real impact in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

Read more

Challenges works with arts therapy charity amid plans for Zambia launch

Zambian Therapeutic Arts business training

Zambian Therapeutic Arts was set up by retired psychologists and art therapy practitioners in Scotland. They have, over a number of years, trained eight Zambians on the delivery of art therapy-based counselling, as well as training others to deliver that counselling. These Zambians came from a range of professions (teacher, neuroscientist, private psychiatrist, university lecturer in medicine, physiotherapist, etc) with a unifying passion for mental health, and better outcomes for patients.

With a view to empowering the local trainers, and create a more sustainable entity in Zambia, Challenges Catalyst was approached to give guidance to ZTA on how to set up a social enterprise. In discussion, and with involvement from Challenges Zambia, it was proposed that a first step would be a short training engagement to assess the needs of the trainers, give some basic theory around business and operational set up, and finally allow a platform for brainstorming on how it might work. Content was taken from our CMI learning and development material, while also incorporating additional activities and interactive discussions.

Participation in the sessions was really good, and the Challenges staff saw a strong level of commitment, passion, creativity, industry specific knowledge and networks, and overall close bond between the team members.

Following the sessions, Challenges has recommended involving ZTA in the Access Africa Programme in the early part of 2020 to undertake a research into which legal entity would be the best option moving forward (with options including social enterprise, NGO, private business, not for profit, etc).

Read more

Challenges Zambia performs operational set-up for First Aid Africa

First Aid Africa partners with Challenges Zambia

First Aid Africa Challenges Zambia

Challenges’ Access Africa Programme is a pioneering initiative that aims to encourage social enterprises to expand their impact to emerging economies. After a pilot in 2018, Challenges has rolled the project out to involve additional social businesses in areas such as healthcare and clean tech. 

In 2018 as part of the AAP pilot, Challenges Zambia played a critical role in registering First Aid Africa’s Zambian arm. This followed an extensive piece of market analysis and business diagnostic to ascertain the opportunity facing First Aid Africa. Challenges’ consultants also looked at the barriers facing market entry. 

First Aid Africa is a social enterprise that works in both urban and rural areas in several African nations. Its mission is to provide sustainable equipment and education in first aid to emergency first responders. Central to the organisation is the belief that “a small amount of medical knowledge and equipment” can make a big difference. 

Delivering professional first aid training to communities across the continent, the majority of FAA’s courses are provided free of charge for at-risk groups. For companies and larger organisations, FAA charge a fee that enables the sustainability of its community work. 

Following the legal incorporation of First Aid Africa Zambia Ltd in 2018, Challenges’ Lusaka team worked closely with FAAZL to support its market entry in Zambia, a process that involved specific deliverables including business model analysis, business registration, network support and staff recruitment. 

First Aid Africa continues to expand

Since Challenges’ work with FAAZL, the emergency healthcare organisation has continued to grow and expand its products and service offerings in the Zambian market. It has since won contracts with Zambia’s Ministry of Health and the Zambia Police Service among other institutions. 

Sam Abrahams, chief executive of First Aid Africa, said: “We wanted to take our first aid training programme to Zambia, but we lacked the logistical support we had in other African countries. By way of the Access Africa Programme, we went from having zero presence in Zambia to operating a functioning office in a matter of weeks, enabling us to take our training and services to remote or isolated communities.” 

Read more

Challenges Rwanda partners with RICH to deliver gender-based violence training

Rwanda Coffee Project

Challenges Rwanda has partnered with the Rwanda Interfaith Council on Health (RICH) to train community leaders and key figures within our project to support eight coffee co-operatives.

Over the past few weeks, Challenges has been supporting the development of the training, including translating much of the content into Kinyarwanda. The training will be delivered during the next week, coinciding with 16 Days of Activism, a global campaign to try to reduce violence and discrimination against women. Two weeks of follow-up training will take place in December next month, with another week in January.

Part of the work Challenges Rwanda undertakes with the coffee cooperatives is to engage the surrounding community to collectively develop solutions to the social issues they face.

It is with this focus that Challenges Rwanda partnered with RICH, an organization that has become renowned for expertise in the fight against gender based violence.

The aim of this training is to enable community leaders to become “agents of change”. Delivering this style of training means these individuals will return to their communities to teach and apply what they learned, therefore expanding the desired impact of the GBV programme.

Participants will learn about existing sex and GBV laws, and how to use that information to care for and support victims of male violence, including the procedure for reporting and other actions.

Matching the global trend, there has been an increase in violence against women in Rwanda. The Rwandan national public prosecution authority registered 505 rape cases in 2017/2018, compared to 308 cases registered the previous year. This is in addition to 1091 cases of domestic violence registered in 2017/2018, compared to 736 cases in 2016/2017.

This training is also complemented by a drive to widen access to reliable reproductive health information, especially for teenage girls and young women following a spike in teenage pregnancies, according to the Rwanda Demographic and Health Survey.

As we prepare to roll out the training, Challenges Rwanda has also developed a plan to monitor and evaluate the larger impact of the training. We hope to see an increase in the number of people who are using the protocols set out to support GBV victims and to drive initiatives, led by the agents of change in the community, to raise awareness of, and combat, violence against women.

Read more

Sales and jobs growth at Kachema Meat after enterprise analysis by Challenges Zambia

Kachema Meat Shop Challenges Zambia Enterprise Analysis

In 2018, business consultants from Challenges Zambia were engaged by Kachema Meat Supplies Ltd, one of the country’s leading integrated meat companies to undergo an in-depth enterprise analysis. 

This was part of the business linkages programme, a DFID-funded project in partnership with Private Enterprise Programme Zambia (PEPZ), to support growth enterprises in Zambia. 

The 360enterprise diagnostic involved a robust investigation and assessment of Kachema Meatbusiness operations, sales and marketing, and financials. This was achieved by using a range of Challenges diagnostic tools including questionnaires, interviews, observations and feedback from consumers and retailers. 

Kachema Meat Challenges Zambia Enterprise AnalysisBuilding on a legacy of sustained growth and a turnover of $(US) 10 million a yearKachema management clearly understood the importance of product quality and branding, and had a history of investing in these areas.  

Launched as a meat wholesaler in 2000 catering to retailers in the Copperbelt, in 2003 Kachema Meat Supplies moved to Lusaka and began opening retail outlets selling direct to the public. With a staff of about 120, it now has some 14 retail outlets, contributing significantly to the growth on the business over the past three years. 

Engaging Challenges, Kachema sought an external assessment of its product quality and branding, as well as an evaluation of:  

  • Distribution packagingpackaging systems, and audit producer  
  • Preservation packagingincluding thermoformed packaging to improve shelf life  
  • And the branding/communication messaging on the packaging 

Challenges was also invited to develop proposals for enhanced product appearance in relation to the cost of packaging. 

With a wide network of business associates built up over its 20 years of global operations, Challenges also engaged one of its consultants with a background in the meat processing industry. 

Implementing Challenges Recommendation

Combined with the Zambia team’s findings, the consultant’s final report made recommendations that, upon implementation by Kachema, were seen to coincide with the growth of sales of pre-packed and vacuumed items into new retail channels, such as Shopritethe largest retail store in Zambia.  

The recommendations also resulted in the adaptation of communication packaging, as well as increasing knowledge about vacuum packing cold meats and leakage checks. The latter has resulted in the reduction of blown offs (vacuum packed units that were not properly sealed). In addition, a number of operational bottlenecks were identified and addressed. 

Upon completion of the analysis of Kachema, Challenges Zambia subsequently followed up with an evaluation of the business. It found that both Kachema’s margins and profit had increased as a result of implementations recommended following Challenges’ analysis. It also found that sales volumes of Kachema’s processed meats increased by 124%, while the cost of damaged or spoiled products fell from 8% to 5%. Overall, the products’ shelf life increased by 3% 

Challenges intervention also coincided with increased job creation as production was stepped up to meet demand due to increased sales, particularly sales of processed meats in supermarkets. 

Read more

Challenges Uganda’s analysis puts microgreens on the menus across Kampala schools

Challenges Uganda NUTRIgreens market insight

Challenges Uganda recently performed a commercial and impact analysis for the social enterprise NUTRIgreens. We undertook this market research to assess whether there was opportunity for the business’s “microgreens” products and whether these baby vegetables could be used to address Uganda’s malnutrition problem.

Malnutrition is a significant problem for families in Uganda. More than one-third of children under the age of five (2.4 million) suffer from stunted growth and 50 percent of children are anaemic. When it comes to education, Uganda’s dietary problem has further consequences. Malnourished children suffer from poor concentration and energy levels, which results in poor academic performance. With increased healthcare costs and a lack of opportunities, this in turn keeps families trapped in poverty.

Financially, the problem is also hindering Uganda’s economy. A 2009 study found that the cost of undernutrition among Ugandan children is equivalent to 5.6 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, some UGX 1.86 trillion (£420 million).

Challenges Uganda partnered with NUTRIgreens to develop a market solution to Uganda’s malnutrition problem. Established by Enactus Nottingham, NUTRIgreens is a social enterprise that aims to enhance the nutritional value of school meals by adding microgreens to the menu.

Microgreens are baby plants harvested between 7 and 21 days after germination. They contain up to 40 times the nutrient concentration of their mature counterparts, and require approximately 150 times less water. Due to their small size, they can be grown in volume with little burden on the producer, making them suitable for indoor growing.

NUTRIgreens commissioned Challenges to undertake a market analysis to investigate the feasibility of introducing microgreens into Ugandan secondary schools and to determine the potential long-term success of such an initiative. We also looked at their potential application in restaurants.

Challenges’ research findings

Through a combination of stakeholder interviews, online research and questionnaires completed by school principals, students and farmers, the Challenges Uganda team found considerable interest in the food product and the concept overall.

We found that small-scale farmers had appropriate growth materials and capacity, and were willing to diversify and grow the crop. Schools also expressed an interest, provided the microgreens were supplied at an affordable price. They were especially interested in NUTRIgreens’ offer to provide training programmes to students. The Challenges Uganda team also found concrete interest among other NGOs in partnering with NUTRIgreens with a view to rolling out this food source innovation.

As a result of Challenges’ research, NUTRIgreens is now working towards launching a pilot across Kampala schools later this month. With affordability a considerable issue for school management, NUTRIgreens will subsidise the programme by selling microgreens commercially to restaurants in both Nottingham and Kampala.

Both NUTRIgreens and Challenges recognises the potential for this young food. It’s an innovation that can both address the malnutrition crisis affecting Ugandan children, while offering a commercial opportunity for farmers and food producers willing to diversify.

Read more
Latest Articles