Yoghurt Drinks to Subchief Links:  Balancing Ghanaian Business with Ghanaian Tradition

Written by Ian Hooper

Alongside the Republic of Ghana’s presidential democratic system, there is a tradition for a hierarchal system of chieftaincy. Francis Afriyie owns a yoghurt drink manufacturing enterprise in Kumasi, where the highest chieftaincy committee -the House of Chiefs – is based. He is also in the process of becoming a local subchief of which comes with both a great deal of responsibility as well as opportunity.  The fresh yoghurt drinks industry in Ghana and indeed West Africa as a whole is as competitive as ever. Making drinking products available to the vast areas of West Africa that are without a reliable clean water supply is seen as an area of huge market potential.

This article takes my perspective as a Challenges Worldwide ICS volunteer, giving an example of what it is like to work for a local enterprise whilst also looking at the role of Francis, a Ghanaian local, and his current balancing of business and entrepreneurship with Ghanaian culture and tradition.

Challenges Worldwide is a not-for-profit international development charity that supports entrepreneurs and enterprises to strengthen their skills and abilities. Challenges Worldwide recruits a combination of African and UK based volunteers to partake upon a 12-week journey in Ghana, Uganda Rwanda or Zambia to conduct analysis and implement recommendations that aim to get selected local enterprises investment ready. My Ghanaian counterpart, Maud Hamidu and I find ourselves representing Francis and his enterprise.

Francis Ice World Ventures (FIWV) was established in 2008 and currently supplies fresh yoghurt drink products to many of the filling stations and schools in Kumasi and its neighbouring regions. The enterprise is medium sized – it has established itself as a company that can withstand the pressure of the market leaders but is still a long way behind the likes of Yomi Yoghurt and YoFresh that dominate the country.

figure-1-current-enterprise

The enterprise currently works out of a small building in Kumasi. This is unsuitable for a company with potential to expand. During the past weeks working with Francis and the enterprise, Maud and I have noticed that the lack of branding and market awareness is what is hindering the enterprise the most.

Two reasons why FIWV is an enterprise to be excited about

The first is the ‘soya yoghurt’ product Francis has recently introduced. FIWV has combined traditional milk with nutritional but often overlooked soya beans to create a delicious soya drink that is rarely seen throughout Ghana. In fact for Kumasi, FIWV is the only enterprise to have taken this initiative. We are currently helping the enterprise create a new soya based branding, educating the public on soya’s health advantages and introducing new flavours to expand the product range of what is already proving to be a very popular drink.

The second attraction to FIWV is Francis’s new role as subchief in a region approximately 45 minutes from the city centre of Kumasi. After a long, celebratory funeral process of the late chief has occurred, a turnaround of a new chief and subchiefs begins. Chiefs and sub-chiefs essentially rule certain areas and are primarily in control of the land.

I was fortunate enough to follow Francis to his hometown of Denyase where he will soon have power, to see the town’s palace (home to the chief), Francis’s new house currently under construction and the vibrant enterprise hub where his new factory (with acquired funding) would be built.  During the visit, I noticed that Francis was very popular in the area and made a conscious effort to enter into conversation with everyone he came across. This gives us confidence as consultants that his people skills are easily transferred to a business environment where he will need to advertise the new product branding we hope to bring forward. Further to this, Francis is a good teacher and so has already shown to passing on his valuable skills to his current employees.

One of the challenges for us as volunteer business support associates is the ever-changing availabilities of our enterprise’s owner.  Many locals notoriously seem to follow what the UK staff and volunteers refer to as ‘Ghana time’ – essentially a made up clock that Ghanaians follow regardless of what has been scheduled for the day! This can often be translated as a time frustration for the U.K. group who are more used to timetabled days and stringent schedules in the workplace. Nevertheless, as we have learned more about the local culture and tradition, specifically how I have been able to see Francis’s lifestyle it is fair to say this is not necessarily the correct outlook. Ghanaians still live by a variety of century’s old traditions and ideologies that will understandably have follow-on effects and this should be respected. Nevertheless, we feel a move towards a more structured work day in Ghana could improve efficiency.

I certainly hope Francis Ice World Ventures, headed by an enthusiastic and authoritative figure, can obtain the needed funding to bring Francis’s soya based dreams in to reality.