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

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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.

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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. 

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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).

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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.” 

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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RISE Ethiopia delivers investment ready programme and mentorship for social enterprises

RISE Ethiopia launch

In Ethiopia, Challenges is working with 20 social enterprises to become investment ready as part of a six-month project that will also provide 20 young professionals with the opportunity to participate in a business analysis mentorship programme.

The RISE Ethiopia project is the latest in a long list of Challenges initiatives designed to up-skill young people while also supporting sustainable business growth in the country.

Run in collaboration with R&D Outsourcing and Entrepreneurship Centre, and funded by the British Council, RISE has been designed to improve the investment readiness of social enterprises in Addis Abba. It comes as the Ethiopian capital prepares to host the Social Enterprise World Forum this October.

After an initial market scope and assessment, Challenges staff recruited 20 social enterprises from sectors including agriculture, crafts, education and tech. These organisations have now formed the first cohort of what we hope will become a programme for other ambitious enterprises.

And as with most Challenges’ projects, there are a number of angles to this project!

Training young professionals

RISE Ethiopia business training

 

Running tandem with our scoping of suitable social enterprises has been the recruitment and subsequent training of 20 university graduates. Each of the 20 Challenges business advisers has been provided with a key placement at one of the 20 social enterprises taking part in the RISE programme. Their aim is to take their designated social enterprise through a programme of analysis and implementation support to enable it to become investment ready.

As part of their on-boarding with Challenges, each associate underwent an intense two-week training programme delivered by the RISE project team. Our Ethiopian project team designed this bespoke training to complement each adviser’s own work experience and degree, which cover a range of disciplines, including finance and accountancy as well as business administration and social sciences. This immersive approach gives the young professionals the unique opportunity to access all areas of a business and enables them to understand the competing tasks managers must balance in order to successfully run an enterprise. By having this rounded experience it puts them in the optimal position to secure a job either directly with the enterprise they have been placed in or in a job after they successful complete the programme as they have both the theoretical knowledge and the skills to put this into practice.

Business analysis

During the RISE programme, each enterprise will receive an in-depth analysis of its investment readiness. They then receive professional business consultancy support from a Challenges associate; access to senior technical expertise to address specific business issues related to investment readiness; monthly group training programmes and workshops for enterprise leaders focused on entrepreneurship and management skills; implementation support including access to our business diagnostic tools; and leadership coaching as well as networking opportunities.

It’s this multi-faceted approach that Challenges is becoming known for. In a nutshell, the RISE programme is recruiting young graduates, giving them a work placement, employment experience and business training, while also supporting the growth of social businesses, which in turn will drive sustainable economic growth and job creation. Our ability to pull together various strands in order to achieve multiple aims reflects our expertise in being able to understand the on-the-ground detail while also fulfilling the ambitions of organisations and agencies seeking to address the UN’s sustainable development goals.

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Challenges partners with Uganda Solar Energy Association to enhance services

USEA Uganda Challenges Group

The off-grid solar energy sector is an exciting and fast-moving arena that Challenges is excited to be working in. Our Challenges team in Uganda has partnered with the Uganda Solar Energy Association (USEA) as part of its mission to grow solar energy businesses in Uganda and the East African region.

Founded only a few years ago in 2016, USEA is an independent non-profit business membership body that was formed to act as a driver for the development of the off-grid solar energy sector in Uganda. It also seeks to push for improvements of solar energy standards, and to attract new entrants to the solar energy sub-sector.

Challenges Uganda is working with USEA to better understand its potential to act as a broker of business development services for its members. Most recently, we conducted needs assessments of 25 USEA members, giving us detailed insights into the sector as well as each business’s individual needs, as well as their future investment strategies, risk profiles, and whether they have the appetite for USEA’s support in connecting them to business development services. Data from this research has now fed into the construction of a pilot training programme in organisational leadership and sales and marketing, which will be offered at a subsidised rate for USEA members. At the same time, we’re also working with USEA to enable it to operate this training and business support model in the long-term without outside assistance.

We hope that by the end of this project USEA will be equipped with the training and tools to develop an in-depth understanding of the needs of its members, and that it can use this information to construct impactful business development service and investment pipelines. Like us at Challenges, USEA wants to significantly boost the ability of the solar energy sub-sector to reach the many Ugandan households who do not yet have access to electricity.

Image courtesy of Uganda Solar Energy Association.

 

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