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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Challenges shares Equal Community Foundation’s vision of a world free from gender-based violence

Equal Community Foundation Challenges Group Rwanda Access Africa Programme

Joining our Access Africa Programme is the Equal Community Foundation, whose vision is a world free from gender-based violence. ECF works towards this vision through its mission: to raise every boy in India to be gender equitable, an outcome it calls Gender Equitable Boys. Challenges is working with the ECF team to bring their experience and expertise to Rwanda.

Until recently, Equal Community Foundation had focused on designing and implementing programmes that transform knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours for adolescent boys in India, while rolling out that approach through a national collaboration called Project Raise.

ECF has now begun to explore how it can accelerate the impact of organisations working with boys on gender equality in other countries by sharing its knowledge. In order to achieve this, Equal Community Foundation has developed a framework that describes the capacity required to raise Gender Equitable Boys at a national level. Equal Community Foundation now wants to use this framework to help organisations in other countries to build local capacity.

The Challenges Group is helping ECF to develop and test the diagnostic tool that assesses the capacity of a country against the ECF framework. Will Muir, chief executive at Equal Community Foundation, said he wanted to focus on Rwanda because of its progressive policy on gender equality.

Working closely with ECF, the Challenges team have now developed a robust interview toolkit based on the ECF framework, which our team in Kigali has used to engage with sector experts in Rwanda.

Will added: “Although we’re specifically working to assess the current landscape in Rwanda, the plan is for ECF to hone its diagnostic so that it’s robust and flexible enough to be applied in any country, meaning the charity can both accelerate and grow its impact internationally.”

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Lilypads and Challenges collaborate to help end period poverty

Lilypads Zambia Challenges Group

Lilypads is a social enterprise committed to improving girls’ access to sanitary products and ending period poverty. The Challenges team in Zambia is working with the business to better provide accessible and affordable menstrual health products for women and girls.

As part of our Access Africa Programme, we are assessing demand for Lilypads’ eco-friendly sanitary pads within Lilypad’s target market. Challenges consultants are also scoping the feasibility of a local manufacturing centre in Zambia, which would enable Lilypads to expand its reach and impact.

Meanwhile, Challenges’ Team Ghana is supporting Lilypads to identify a local manufacturing and distribution partner.

Lilypads’ chief exective Alison Woods said: “Working with Challenges has been a brilliant opportunity. They provided thorough market research and recommendations to enable us to evaluate what the best next step is for Lilypads.”

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Clean Water Wave offers breakthrough solution for water filtration

Clean Water Wave Rwanda Challenges Group

In Rwanda, the Challenges team in Kigali are collaborating with a Scottish social enterprise called Clean Water Wave. Clean Water Wave has developed a water-filtration system that is high volume, and low power and low maintenance.

Within our Access Africa Programme, Challenges is working with Clean Water Wave to identify the most feasible partner in Rwanda for a pilot that will demonstrate the potential of CWW’s CAFÉ water filter system. This innovative and sustainable treatment solution can be used in rural and hard-to-reach communities. It’s a breakthrough system that can treat polluted ground and surface water, and turn it into clean drinking water. All of us at Challenges and Clean Water Wave are deeply excited about the potential for CAFE.

Working with Clean Water Wave, Team Rwanda is in advanced talks with the national water regulator, the Rwanda Water and Sanitation Corporation.

Clean Water Wave is a social enterprise committed to providing technology that can provides clean water to everyone around the globe. Like the team at Challenges, CWW believes in working collaboratively with local partners, NGOs and other social enterprises in order to fulfil its clean water aims and help generate jobs.

Have a look at Clean Water Wave’s website for more information on their water treatment system.

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Giraffe Health partnership could provide personalised physiotherapy to Ghanaian patients

Giraffe Healthcare Ghana Challenges Group

As part of our Access Africa Programme, we’ve forged a series of positive partnerships with social businesses, including Giraffe Health, a healthcare enterprise based in Glasgow, Scotland.

Giraffe provides an e-health platform that delivers high quality, personalised healthcare programmes backed by expert advice and support. We’re working with the team to identify whether there is a market for its healthcare platform among urban-based physiotherapy services in Ghana, while also providing additional insight into other potential markets and applications in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Giraffe platform means patients can directly connect online with physiotherapist, enabling real-time data-capturing and sharing, and promotes better home care through tailor-made exercise programmes. It’s been designed for people who have difficulty accessing traditional face-to-face clinical services, whether that’s due to work commitments, rural location, specific cultural and language issues, transport problems, mobility limitation, or other health issues such as fatigue.

We’re working with Giraffe’s medical specialists Professor Lorna Paul and Dr Elaine Coulter to identify whether there is a market for its healthcare e-platform among urban-based physiotherapy services in Ghana, while we’re also providing additional insight into other potential markets and applications in sub-Saharan Africa.

Giraffe is a social enterprise spin-out from Glasgow Caledonian University, and won the Converge Challenge Social Enterprise Award in 2017.

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Challenges Uganda intervention encourages detergent manufacturer to clean up its financial management and sales strategies

Armour Group Uganda Challenges Group

Strong demand and a diverse portfolio should have brought success for Kampala-based Armour Group Ltd, a family-owned detergent manufacturer with 12 employees. But with little growth and challenging financials, it was clear that something was going wrong. Challenges consultants undertook an Enterprise Diagnostic on the business … with some eye-opening results, and have since been brought in to help strengthen the Ugandan business.

Armour Group Limited is a family-owned detergent manufacturing business that produces nine different cleaning and sanitising products, ranging from bar soap for the home consumer, liquid soap for businesses, and its more heavy-weight degreaser for industrial kitchens and catering businesses. Its bar soap – by far its most popular product – is made from locally sourced natural oils, and has no industrial residues.

Founded in 2014, Armour Group now employs 12 staff from its base in Najjeera in the Ugandan capital of Kampala.

Despite strong demand for its products, and in particular its natural bar soap, Armour struggled to grow turnover or increase market share. Challenges Uganda consultants were invited to undergo an Enterprise Diagnostic to analyse the business’s operations, strengths and weaknesses, and to recommend areas for change.

The Challenges intervention quickly identified huge potential for the business, but also a series of significant internal obstacles that required prompt attention.

Although demand was strong for its products, Armour was failing to capitalise on the market due to the lack of a cohesive sales strategy. The business suffered from poor record keeping, and as a result, had no internal mechanism to record expenses nor manage costs.

As a result of poor management practices, such as a lack of record-keeping and inventory management and non-existent sales strategy, Armour was subject to a poor credit situation that exacerbated its tight working capital. Despite its sales, Armour was registering a decline in profits. In the first week of our intervention, Challenges analysts highlighted a massive increase in the business’s losses, which had grown from a year-on-year loss of 18% in 2016 to an eye-watering 83% in 2017. Due to poor record-keeping, management had not realised the severity of the problem.

As part of the Enterprise Diagnostic, Challenges recommended ways to improve Armour’s financial management systems, and strategies to improving their capital position. We also worked to develop internal controls to enable better planning and budgeting: moving the financial recording to an accessible accounting platform meant that managers were better able to understand the company’s financial position.

In addition, we also recommended methods to improve internal and external communications, as well as sales reporting, forecasting and analysis.

Challenges encouraged the management at Armour Group to implement a training plan for new sales staff to drive sales and generate brand awareness. It also highlighted the need for product-specific sales strategies; consistent branding; a ring-fenced R&D budget for product development; robust market assessment; and clearer value propositions to its separate customer segments.

As part of the support, Challenges recommended Armour looked at ways to optimise production through available technology, and a more efficient supply chain. Expanding market reach into other regions of Uganda would also create new sales jobs for young Ugandans who could be trained as sales representatives, a strategy that would also make the business more attractive to impact investors.

Although the recommendations were far-reaching and made difficult reading for Armour’s management, quick adoption by Armour had a positive impact on the business, which has since recorded a slowdown in its net loss. The business has subsequently commissioned Challenges Uganda to undertake a more thorough intervention that will see Challenges staff working directly with Armour to create market linkages, give sales support and drive business development. The results of this will be published in the new year.

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Sales boost for pioneering Ghanaian bamboo bike manufacturer after Challenges intervention

Booomers International Ghana Challenges Group

Booomers International is a bamboo bicycle manufacturing and distribution company based in Ghana. Its vision is to grow the brand globally, pioneering its sustainable and innovative bamboo products, while also providing employment to young Ghanaians and supporting a community project that works to target poverty through greater access to education. Challenges undertook a comprehensive business diagnostic with Booomers that included a market assessment and business support and development. Following our involvement, Booomers reported improvements across a number of areas, including sales and marketing, financial management and production.

Booomers International Ltd is a Ghanaian social enterprise that produces high-quality, affordable bamboo products while maintaining a social mission that seeks to bring economic and social benefits to its customers and its staff. Launched in 2014 by entrepreneur Kwabena Danso, the business’s flagship product is its bamboo bike frames, and it has recently diversified to produce a growing range of bamboo accessories, from bike baskets to children’s trikes.

(L to R) Boadu Isaac, works as part of the gluing team. Kwabena Danso, founder of Booomers. Ampousah Boateng Selina is Deputy Operations Manager.

Now a thriving and successful SME, Booomers has produced more than 2500 bike frames and thousands more bamboo accessories, with stockists across the UK, Germany, the US and the Far East. At the time of Challenges’ intervention, the business had 28 employees, only two of whom were female. Booomers has since grown its workforce to more than 50 staff, and also indirectly supports dozens of local bamboo farmers and other young people associated with the cultivation and harvesting of the crop.

As part of our initial consultation, Challenges’ business advisers worked closely with the Booomers management team, running an in-depth enterprise diagnostic that examined a wide range of areas. As well as strength and opportunities, our assessment also looked at areas such as barriers to growth, rivals, legislative obstacles, and so on.

One of our key findings was that Booomers lacked a robust marketing strategy, and that as a result, it suffered from poor brand awareness. As part of our intervention, we supported the management team with the creation of marketing collateral and PR activity. Another barrier to Booomers growth was the high cost of transport of materials.

After the intervention, Challenges made a series of recommendations in a number of key areas.

Looking at Booomers’ organisational structure, we recommended the business standardised its training, and that it worked towards a more diverse and educated workforce. Given that Booomers was donating 15% of its profits to the Yonso Project, which works to alleviate poverty through education, we suggested greater ties with the initiative. We also recommended that Booomers shared its business mission and social vision with its staff through improved internal communications.

When it came to its product offering, Challenges’ business advisers recommended Booomers looked at diversification, and proposed a range of possible bamboo products, from laminate flooring to bike accessories. We also suggested improvements to production management, both to improve efficiencies while also reducing waste and streamlining operations.

With regards to sales and marketing, we recommended Booomers invested in marketing support, either internally through a direct appointment or externally through a marketing agency. As part of this, we encouraged the management team to create a robust B2B marketing strategy, B2C advertising campaign, and product strategy that addressed the various value chains in its different markets.

Booomers now offers an in-house training programme that gives experience and employment for young people in the local rural community. Crucially, it takes trainees through the entire manufacturing process, from the harvesting of bamboo through to the final assembly of bespoke bicycles in order to ensure they’re equipped with a diverse skill set.

Booomers continues to court success, and has also had support from the YouthActionNet program, the UK Department for International Development’s ENGINE project, the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Program and the African Entrepreneurship Award. Most recently its chief executive Kwabena was selected for the Obama Foundation Leaders African Programme 2018.

Following the our intervention, Challenges has continued to work closely with Booomer, and has helped the Ghanaian business create market linkages with stockists in the UK and mainland Europe.

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Pioneering research prompts banking giant Prudential to develop bespoke insurance products for Zambia’s entrepreneurs

Prudential Zambia Challenges Group

The Challenges team in Zambia has undertaken a ground-breaking assessment of 80 small and medium enterprises across 18 sectors to understand their needs as part of an innovative partnership with global insurance giant Prudential and Zambian enterprise agency PEPZ. Their findings have helped Prudential shape a new range of financial product and services geared towards SMEs, while also deconstructing some of the negative myths around insurance.

Challenges is committed to supporting business and helping them grow, through implementing good operational and business practice, and encouraging the development of SME-centred products and services. We know that as businesses grow, everyone benefits through increased earnings and stable jobs leading to growth in the wider economy.

One of the issues sometimes overlooked by entrepreneurs and small business owners is life insurance, an area often clouded by myth and misinformation.

Aware of the potential to support Zambia’s SMEs and the need to generate greater awareness of its products, the global insurance giant Prudential partnered with the Challenges team in Zambia, tapping into their expert knowledge of the SME landscape and its extensive network of contacts and businesses. Zambian enterprise agency PEPZ also supported the project, which aimed to deliver a much-needed life insurance product to small business owners; people who were all too often excluded from traditional products and who, according to our findings, felt excluded from such offerings or felt they didn’t apply to them.

Insurance in Zambia

Market penetration for life insurance in Zambia is minuscule; for the past few years, it’s sat at less than 1% of a population of some 17 million people. But it’s not just life insurance; insurance products as a whole are only activated up by about 5% of the population.

Across many business owners, we found that there was a widespread belief that insurance was expensive, sometimes prohibitively so, while many people considered it an unnecessary cost, rather than an important asset to their business.

Aware of these issues, Prudential sought to design a product that catered to SMEs and entrepreneurs, leading to the PRU SMART Entrepreneur insurance, the first of its kind in Southern Africa.

The PRU SMART Entrepreneur is designed to provide Group Life Assurance Cover to small businesses, who, because of the unstructured nature of SME and entrepreneurs’ operations and lack of formal salaries, make them unattractive for conventional Group Life cover. The new Prudential product was designed specifically for the SME and entrepreneur, with the aim of increasing the financial inclusion of these businesses. The research undertaken by Challenges consultants was integral to the development of this innovative insurance product.

Prior to its launch, Prudential wanted to assess the product design and its planned distribution to SMEs and entrepreneurs, commissioning the Challenges team to undertake a far-reaching and in-depth market research project in Lusaka and in Zambia’s Copperbelt provinces. The research had two aims: to test Prudential’s own assumptions, and to ensure maximise the customer value that Prudential could deliver with the product, bringing greater benefit to the business people.

The Challenges researchers found that businesses are willing to pay more if they think the product gives them a truly special and significant value, and if the product is presented to them in just the right way.

The team also found that the majority of SMEs (62%) had set aside savings for when unexpected events that could affect their business, such as death, disability and critical illnesses.

Our analysis showed there was significant potential for the Prudential product, and following the research, we recommended a number of changes to the PRU SMART product. We also found that although there was clearly a market for this product, customer education and intelligent marketing would be invaluable to help the potential customers among Zambia’s SME community understand and appreciate the PRU SMART insurance. 

Key findings: 

  • Majority of SME-owners prepared for unexpected events, relying on savings, family, etc
  • Research spanned 79 SMEs across 18 sectors, ranging from renewables and health to tourism and transport.
  • Almost half of SMEs had some form of motor insurance, while nearly one in three had fire/theft insurance.
  • About one in six SMEs had no insurance whatsoever.

Two-thirds of SMEs agreed the PRU SMART product met their needs. Only 5% said it didn’t.

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