A New Hope… for Volunteering – Challenges Worldwide
Twenty-one people from the UK and twenty-one people from Ghana have been united as a result of a new hope. Sharing a common purpose, Challenges Worldwide, a charity, has enabled these people to contribute toward furthering international development and alleviating world poverty. Challenges Worldwide provides an opportunity to those who want to see change in their world, to go out and make that change themselves through a new and innovative approach to volunteering.
Eighteen UK Volunteers (UKVs), eighteen In-Country Volunteers (ICVs), two UK Team Leaders, two In-Country Team Leaders, one UK Program Manager and one In-Country Program Coordinator will all be working together under this common purpose in Accra for twelve weeks between February and May this year. During this time, their efforts will not be going towards building another school, teaching English or painting a hospital. With professional mentorship, corporate tools and resources and working through an internationally recognised training qualification, these volunteers will be working with small-medium enterprises to empower people out of poverty.
Launched in 2014, the International Citizen Service (ICS) scheme, a Department for International Development (DfID) funded programme, has been supporting entrepreneurs in developing countries all around the world ever since. Challenges Worldwide plays a major part in the success of the programme by utilising the best intentions of its volunteers and turning these into the best results for them and the local economies within which they work. It is this symbiosis between benefitting oneself and helping others which particularly attracts the volunteers to take part.
Click the following link to read more about Alastair, a UK volunteer, and why he wanted to take part in the Challenges Worldwide, ICS programme – https://challengesworldwideicsentrepreneur.wordpress.com/2016/02/15/alistairs-blog-pre-departure/
Challenges Worldwide target their impact by accepting businesses onto the programme in the sectors which will have the most positive and sustained impacts through the networks in their supply chains. By supporting and enabling entrepreneurs to grow their businesses they directly and indirectly support the local communities surrounding them. These businesses will receive and provide services, goods and employment to and from people directly affected by poverty within their nearby regions. In assisting these businesses to grow, their impact is multiplied and fed through into these communities through sustained ripple effects and ultimately brings a new hope to populations across developing countries to lift themselves and others out of poverty.
To achieve such long-lasting and sustained benefits, Challenges Worldwide’s ICS programme utilises the motivation, intelligence and energy of young people to drive this change. The selected enterprises receive the benefits of the time and effort of focused and hard-working young adults to work alongside these enterprises. As the Department for International Development funds the necessary expenses for ICS volunteers, the businesses get this support entirely for free.
Another way in which Challenges Worldwide stands out from other international volunteering programmes is the way it trains its volunteers towards achieving a Level 5 Certificate in Professional Consulting from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI). This means that the volunteers don’t just work alongside their enterprises as volunteers, but as trained Business Support Associates, conducting important and relevant analyses using professionally recognised tools.
Click the following link to read more about the analyses conducted by the Challenges Worldwide volunteers –https://challengesworldwideicsentrepreneur.wordpress.com/2016/02/17/alistairs-blog-voluntourists-no-not-us/
With the support of an online learning environment, Challenges College, the volunteers and entrepreneurs have access to a wide range of support and resources to enable them to complete and understand the results of these analyses. After these analyses have been completed in the sixth week of their placements, the volunteers will present to their enterprises, delivering specific and tailored recommendations on how they can improve and grow their businesses. Then the volunteers will spend the final six weeks beginning to implement the recommendations agreed upon by the enterprise owners and themselves. In order to do this effectively, both the volunteers and entrepreneurs have close contact with a professional mentor, with a minimum of 10 years of experience in business, to help guide them through this process.
Finally, each business also signs up to use Challenges Marketplace, a free, safe and secure online platform, provided by Challenges Worldwide. This platform facilitates a sustained relationship between the entrepreneur and the professional mentor as well as providing an ability to monitor the performance of the business through regular reporting. If the business continues to report on a monthly basis they are able to further unlock many potential benefits including the ability to receive support from industry-specific consultants, possibilities to create trade links to local and international trade partners and, crucially, the opportunity to receive investment, ranging from small-scale capital grants of up to £5000 to potentially large-scale external private investment between £100,000 and £1,000,000 from impact investors. The incentives for enterprises to partner with Challenges Worldwide are clear and many, and really do offer them a new hope.
A New Hope… for Enterprise – Michachn Inventions
One of the enterprises Challenges Worldwide is working with this Spring 2016 cycle is Michachn Inventions, a business specialising in the development of self-powered electronic appliances. A long walk down a dirt road from the George W Bush Highway at Hong Kong, past a local school is where you can find Michael behind his desk inside his humble office. A ‘practicing scientist’, Michael graduated with both Medical and Electrical Engineering degrees and then went on to become the Founder, CEO and ‘sole mind behind’ Michachn Inventions.
His unique and independent approach to life radiates from his irreverently positive outlook. Starting at the young age of 14 years old, Michael began designing, manufacturing and selling his first popcorn machines. After selling his first machine, he used the money to build two more machines, which he then went on to sell and use the money to build four more. Through a continued process of manufacturing and selling, Michael’s entrepreneurial potential began to flower and as his business grew he used its fruits to finance himself through university.
Despite going to university, he describes himself as ‘88% self taught’. His ability to work through his own initiative and to play by his own rules becomes apparent when you hear of the vast array of products he has designed, ranging from solar-powered popcorn machines to solar-powered motorbikes to solar-powered lamps named ‘Gloritaive’, a name inspired by his mother. Like his solar-powered lamps, his faces shines with excitement when he speaks about his next project, the Self-Powered (SP) Series, ‘the new generation of electrical appliances’, which he claims includes a solar-powered mobile phone and laptop.
Michael describes an entrepreneur as much like ‘a seed of maize’. Maize has the potential to grow to become a tall and strong corn plant which can feed people. It can even produce more corn plants to feed more people in turn. Yet, for the maize seed to get to this state, it must survive a natural and potentially destructive struggle against competitors for a limited amount of resources including nutrients and water in the soil. This description’s imagery and meaning is clear. If entrepreneurs achieve their potential, they can help to empower people around them or even help to start more enterprises. Yet, these businesses require essential inputs to grow. Inputs such as clear direction, good employee and financial management, a gap in the market for its produce and often investment which it constantly competes for with other enterprises. Michael believes the biggest way we often deceive ourselves is in believing the world is ‘nice and easy’. Through this anecdote he aims to dispel that myth, as without some of these essential inputs, an enterprise is likely to fail.
In this world, even entrepreneurs like Michael can use a bit of targeted watering to help them fulfil their potential and this is what the volunteers who have been allocated to his business hope to provide. Even though the volunteers had only been working for Michachn Inventions for one week, Michael was eager in his praise. They had already established a better way for the firm to keep its financial records using Microsoft Excel and Michael felt he was learning personally from one volunteer’s commitment to working to an organised time schedule. He also seemed particularly invigorated by the idea of having two fresh pairs of eyes see his business for the first time and he seemed certain from his experiences already with the volunteers that with their ‘abilities and intellectual skills they can bring more order to [his] business’. For a modern day Thomas Eddison like Michael, who has light bulbs seeming to endlessly go off above his head, a bit more order could perhaps be exactly what he needs.
Just as the volunteers can shine new light on old problems within the enterprise, Michael believes that his solar-powered appliances can bring new solutions to Ghana’s energy crisis. In a country cursed with recurring dumsor – electricity blackouts – and in a continent which is blessed with almost endless sunshine, Michael is confident that solar energy can be a sustainable source of renewable energy in Ghana. Michael has changed a lot since he first began the business, but one thing has definitely remained the same and likely to remain unchanged. This is his motivation for inventing his products. Michael says he feels a great sense of power when he turns something otherwise useless into something useful. He constantly aims to generate value through the natural gifts which he has been given and which surround him. Every time he manufactures and sells a solar-powered product, he turns otherwise unused materials into useful profit, much like how his products turn otherwise unexploited sunlight into useful energy. The way Michael’s motivations in business synchronise with the purpose of his inventions gives him hope that he is on the right track. Michael hopes to grow Michachn Inventions so that one day he can produce enough solar-panels to reduce their cost for businesses and consumers across Africa and he is convinced that this is ‘only the beginning’.
A New Hope… for Volunteers – Chris and Junior
UK Volunteer – Chris
The UK volunteer working alongside Michachn Inventions is Chris. When Chris is not working on-site at Michael’s office he can be found typing away at Second Cup, a coffee-shop at West Hills Mall. He grew up in a small village in Wiltshire and recently graduated in Geography from Plymouth University. Many graduates from UK universities can spend considerable time applying for ideal jobs without securing one for several years following their studies. But this was not the case for Chris.
After graduating, Chris was fortunate enough to be accepted into a job that relates closely to his degree and which he enjoyed. Working as a consultant for an energy consulting firm, his role involved advising businesses in how they can reduce their energy consumption in order to save money as well as lessen their negative environmental impact. Having found a very rewarding job he could see himself having a career in and having made close friendships with colleagues, Chris could have felt that he was comfortably on-track for a successful future. Yet, despite his fortune, Chris recently made the decision to leave that job to volunteer with Challenges Worldwide in Ghana for 3 months.
Like Chris, many of the volunteers on placement with Challenges Worldwide have put careers on hold or left jobs they once considered ideal. For Chris, there were two major factors affecting this decision. The first reason, he suggests is ‘a cliché’ but it is the reality for many twenty-somethings around the world. He says he felt unsure of what it was he wanted to achieve and as a result he was unclear of what path in life he should take. Interestingly, it was the Managing Director at his previous company who encouraged him to accept his placement on the programme with some wise words which went along the lines of ‘career jobs are for later’.
The second reason Chris decided to temporarily give up a reliable paycheck is one upon which every volunteer on a Challenges Worldwide ICS placement can agree. He believes the opportunities which Challenges Worldwide offer to its volunteers are incredibly valuable and rare. Being able to work alongside a small-medium enterprise back in the UK would be great work experience. But being able to do so in a developing country is amazing work experience. In this context, Chris believes his efforts can generate real, positive results in a corporate environment as well as, most importantly, having sustained, positive impacts on the networks of individuals and families associated with the business who may really need it.
In addition to the potential impacts a volunteer can have on their new temporary environment, there are also many unique experiences that can be gained and lessons which can be learned as a result of working in a different country with a very different culture. Probably the most unique and rewarding aspect of the ICS programme is the opportunity given to UK Volunteers and In-Country Volunteers to live and work together. With very diverse backgrounds and vastly varied lifestyles, there is a natural process of sharing between the volunteers which occurs during the placement and enriches both their understandings of each other and their respective lives. Yet, this great opportunity does come with equally great challenges, and it is in overcoming these that both volunteers gain valuable knowledge, memories and skills. In Chris’ experience, he has found working with a Ghanaian counterpart, a Ghanaian business owner and other Ghanaian people particularly enlightening. While he may have had to deal with people arriving later than expected to meetings on more than a few occasions, he believes he has learned a lot from the generally relaxed outlook on life he has found Ghanaians to possess.
Whilst the difference in culture presents challenges which need to be overcome, the business placement itself does not come without its trials and tribulations. Chris’ work so far suggests that Michachn Inventions should prioritise one product to manufacture and sell to the mass-market. Justifiably, he is concerned about the risks his enterprise may face as a result of their recommendations and, like his enterprises’ owner and many more like him across Africa, Chris is uncertain whether the business can successfully receive the required investment to finance such a strategy. Nonetheless, he feels confident that he is up for the challenge with the support of the available online resources and mentor’s guidance which Challenges Worldwide provides.
Counting his blessings, Chris explains that despite the challenges he will face, unlike some of the other volunteers, he was assigned to his first choice of enterprise. As suggested by his previous employment, he has a strong interest in renewable energy and feels that ‘in a city where electricity is particularly expensive yet still cuts out regularly’ his work is important in trying to find a solution for the energy crisis the whole of Ghana faces. Although he may need to put in some serious work over the next 12 weeks in his work placement, he may be able to enjoy a more relaxing job role following his placement and before he rushes back into a job in consulting. Chris has a new hope to move to the South of France where he plans to teach sailing while he has the opportunity and lack of responsibilities to do so. Perhaps the relaxed Ghanaian views on life have already rubbed off on Chris?
In-Country Volunteer – Junior
Someone who doesn’t plan to take things easy following his placement with Challenges Worldwide is Junior. While his UK volunteer counterpart studied for some exams at the local mall, he was working from his host-home, a short taxi ride from Broadcasting Junction in West Accra. Junior graduated from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology in Kumasi with a 1st class in Petroleum Engineering. He was born as one of 28 children from his father in Keta, South East Volta region, and as he grew up his academic potential became clear. At Senior High School (SHS), he received a grant scholarship for achieving the highest grades of his year to assist him in completing his studies. With the money which was left over from the scholarship, he decided to establish a small poultry farm on his family’s land in Keta, before he attended university. It was the money generated from his business which helped fund his further education and after graduating he made the decision to move the business to Lapaz, North West Accra.
A careful and considerate thinker, Junior has his life plan drawn out on two A3-sized pieces of paper. A placement with Challenges Worldwide would not have previously had a place in this plan but he decided to apply to the program in the hope that his experience would help him run his business ‘more effectively’ in the future. He had previously conducted a few pieces of analysis on his farm to help him understand the external factors affecting it. Nevertheless, during his time with Challenges Worldwide he has already been introduced to several new pieces of analysis and given access to key resources in order to conduct these for which he is very grateful. With these in hand, he believes his hopes of expanding his business could be achieved.
Junior is an example of a volunteer who is also an entrepreneur in his own right, which is a quality attributed to several of the In-Country Volunteers. Yet, as a result of some unforeseen problems, Junior has had to potentially put his entrepreneurial dreams on hold. His business faces ‘high capital maintenance costs’ and for him, again like other entrepreneurs in Africa, the spectre that is ‘the lack of affordable financing options’ in Africa overshadows Junior’s plans. Moving his hand simply from one side of the A3 piece of paper to the other, with one short, deft movement, Junior explains a not so simple change in his near-future plans. As he feels he cannot afford to continue with his poultry business immediately after the program without finance, Junior believes his next move is to pursue postgraduate studies to do a Masters and a PhD. This hope still requires receiving finance, but Junior feels more optimistic about this as shown by his beaming smile as he explains his change of plan.
Junior’s optimism runs through every aspect of his life. When he was assigned to a placement with Accents & Arts which was not one of his choices, he kept high hopes by reflecting on his usual ethos of ‘remaining positive regardless of the situation’. Accents & Arts are a furnishing and decorations manufacturer who makes their products from a variety of materials including wood, iron and glass. A relatively large SME compared to the others on the program, it appears to Junior and his counterpart that the enterprise is successfully following and meeting its short and long term goals. Because of this, Junior feels at this stage a bit unclear of what he will achieve for the enterprise.
He and his counterpart have also found it difficult to find time to meet with the owner as she is ‘often very busy’. But from the meetings they have been able to organise, the owner has made it clear she would like more unity between herself and her managers, which Junior feels may be difficult for them to assist with. Nonetheless, from their conversations so far, they have been able to identify areas she could introduce technology into the production process in order to increase their production efficiency as well as opportunities to utilise social media more effectively to improve their marketing. Therefore, Junior does believe there is still hope for some positive results for the enterprise as a result of their work. He also knows that this experience with the enterprise will still provide him with relevant experience to one day help him if he finally is able to restart his poultry business.
A New Hope… for Ghana
So there is hope for all involved with Challenge’s Worldwide’s work in Ghana. Hope for the entrepreneurs, hope for the volunteers and hope for all those people the work of the entrepreneurs and volunteers has an impact on. All across Ghana there are entrepreneurs, like Michael at Michachn Inventions, who dream big and yet achieve more, transforming the lives of those around them by creating value from nothing. There is also a lot of ambition in Ghana’s younger generation. They are filled with high aspirations and a desire to empower those living in poverty to improve their conditions. Ultimately, it is from this younger generation that the future entrepreneurs will one day emerge. By partnering these two generations together, Challenges Worldwide is helping the current generation of entrepreneurs to achieve its full potential as well as beginning to enable the next generation to be more prepared to achieve what they want in the future. Each UK and In-Country Volunteer has now been given an extraordinary opportunity to bring new hope to themselves and the world around them as a result of the work of ICSE and Challenges Worldwide.
However, what is most important to remember, is that it is still the people of Accra themselves, that will ensure that there is and always will be hope in Accra. Sitting on the Earth’s equator, Ghana receives an abundance of natural light during the day. But when dumsor strikes and all the light in the people’s homes, offices and schools go out, the air will still be filled by the buzz of power generators and the hearty glows of the kerosene lamps illuminating goods lining the streets at night time. When the odds seem stacked against them, and all that surrounds is darkness, the people of Ghana continue to remain hopeful and let their own lights shine.