One of the beauties of the Internet is the availability of expert advice at your fingertips. With a wealth of opportunities to grow and evidence your skills base, improving your employability has never been easier. Here are a few of our favourite opportunities!
1. Learn to Code
…But not for the reason you think. Learning to code is not an easy fix. It is not a magical solution to unemployment and debt. As always, reality is more complex and a dose of scepticism is healthy! Don’t learn to code because it will land you a job as a developer (unless you seriously invest in it, it won’t). Instead, learn to code to understand the basics and improve your digital literacy.
Most companies have some type of digital presence. The more you understand how they work, the more effective you’ll be on them. You’ll be able to fix or prevent minor technical issues because you’ll see why they’re happening. You’ll have a better grasp on product development because you’ll know what goes into it. If you’re an entrepreneur, getting to grips with the code can help you build your site exactly the way you envision it. The great news is that there are a tonne of platforms out there to help you do it:
Popular with the uninitiated, Codecadamy is a classic
If you’re feeling committed: try FreeCodeCamp. (It’s recommended by James, our Comms Manager!)
Consider taking an online course with a reputable provider. It’s a great way to keep learning, stand out in your field, and earn certifications. Taking your professional development into your own hands requires a lot of motivation, but shows you have the discipline and drive to succeed.
With so many different sites, there’s a course out there for everyone. You could choose to learn something totally new or to deepen your current understanding of a subject – and levels range from broad overviews to ‘MicroMasters’.
Owned by the Open University, FutureLearn offers a huge variety of courses through partner universities and specialist organisations
EdX is a well-respected platform, with their MicroMasters recognised by industry leaders
3. Build On What You Have
You’ve been trained in it on your placement. You have the experience you need to pass it. You’ve trusted Challenges with your professional development for those three months – and you know we do everything we can to support your learning. It would be wrong to miss CMI qualifications off this list! Make the most of the work you’ve already done by converting your training to a qualification.
As you know, Challenges offers Level 5 CMI qualifications in Professional Consulting. In response to your feedback, we’ve also introduced Management and Leadership! M&L is targeted at Team Leaders, who will all receive training from now on – but can be done by anyone ambitious, entrepreneurial, or innovative. Want to prove you’re a natural born leader? Looking to learn how to manage others efficiently and effectively? A CMI qualification with Challenges can help you grow and prove that skill.
For more information, email email@example.com
4. Explore YouTube
YouTube is actually the world’s second largest search engine. It’s not far behind Google, and definitely not one to underestimate! It’s a rogue one on our list because it does not offer qualifications, but we couldn’t leave it out.
Not just a platform for beauty tutorials and mildly distasteful pranks, YouTube is full of videos on practically every topic imaginable. From TED talks to entrepreneurial workshops, ‘life hacks’ to motivational messages, YouTube is an incredible resource on a vast range of topics. It’s free, accessible, and the content comes in easily digestible bites! So why not procrastinate productively next time you’re browsing?
Hi, my name is Richard Reading and I am a volunteer from the UK volunteering with Challenges Worldwide in Kampala, Uganda, in association with the International Citizenship Service (ICS). Challenges Worldwide work with small to medium-sized enterprises in developing countries across the world, sustainably supporting the economic growth of a wide range of social enterprises. When in country Challenges Worldwide matches a UK volunteer with an In Country Volunteer (a Ugandan volunteer in my case), then we are placed into a business which has a positive social or environmental impact. I have been placed in a motorcycle business called Miracle Motors who have a positive social impact on Boda riders (motorbike taxis) by enabling them to more easily own their own motorbikes, as well as providing safe rider workshops, free reflector jackets, and free helmets to riders.
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My business counterpart, Omara, and I were invited to join our business Miracle Motors on Sunday the 12th of March at a Holi Festival event in Kampala, Uganda. Miracle Motors is the key distributor of Mahindra Two Wheeler motorcycles in Uganda and across East Africa, selling motorbikes, services and spare parts. The festival was a great opportunity for us to gain an improved understanding of how the business carries out their marketing, as well as observing and looking for any room for improvement.
The day started with us arriving at the business early Sunday morning, collecting a few things for the day, then travelling to the event. We both then helped the team hang up posters, and erect stands. This enabled us to see what kind of visual advertisements they use at events to raise awareness of the brand and their products. Once the festival started to get busier we were sent with a member of the sales team to distribute leaflets, advertising the motorbikes to the public. This first-hand experience enabled us to observe the direct marketing approach used by our business on occasions like this.
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The whole day was a great success and has enabled us to understand a key component of our business, helping to complete our analysis of the business and consultancy work in greater depth. We will be using our findings from the day to help us provide enhanced recommendations to our business. For example, as a result of a day researching, we were able to notice room for improvement and form a recommendation for our business. The recommendation we have given is to improve the professionalism of the marketers at business events such as Holi Festival by equipping all marketers with business cards.
Watch the video we made during our day at Holi Festival, I hope you enjoy it as much as Omara and I did. Until the next trip out of the office…
During our Challenges Worldwide ICS placement, all volunteers are involved in one of three committees. Working in our committee team is an opportunity to work with a different group of volunteers outside of our day to day work in our businesses.
The impact committee organises events to engage more with the wider community. The team building committee organises fun, relaxing and cultural activities for the volunteers. I am a member of the communications committee which gathers and produces content to showcase the team’s experience throughout our ICS placement.
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My host home counterpart, Mzeziti, is also on the communication committee. She is passionate about raising awareness of Challenges Worldwide’s work in Zambia through radio and TV. She asked Precious, a Zambian team leader, for her contacts in local radio. Through one of these contacts, we secured a 1 hour Saturday morning slot on Pan African Radio! With less than two days’ notice, we got to work with preparing for our first radio interview, with the support of Team Leader Ari and the Challenges staff in Lusaka.
Pan African Radio
The audience of Pan African Radio’s Saturday morning show is the business community in Zambia. We were excited the share Challenges’ work with local small to medium enterprises (SMEs). Challenges’ have given business support to 105 local businesses so far in their work to support Zambia’s economic growth. The radio host was particularly interested in our experience of volunteering in Zambia and the training we receive. It was a fantastic opportunity to promote Challenges to Zambians who may get involved in the future, either as a volunteer, enterprise or host home!
Through my involvement with the committee, I have already developed my verbal communication and teamwork skills. I have had experience in delegating tasks and chairing our team meetings. My work on the Challenges Worldwide ICS communications committee has given me the valuable opportunity to contribute to different aspects of the ICS experience. I never thought that I would have the opportunity to speak live on Pan African Radio!!
“Be the change you want to see in the world” (Gandhi)
The key message received by volunteers in Kampala, Uganda on International Women’s Day, a national public holiday. Dressed in the day’s thematic colours of white and orange, our group of volunteers, Team Leaders and in-country staff joined many others at a conference partnered by Challenges Worldwide at The Innovation Centre in Ntinda. Armed with the globally trending hashtag “BeBoldForChange” our team were ready to gain first-hand insight into life as a working woman in Uganda.
The message was one which we can all relate to and received by both men and women. It was a day for not only recognising women in Uganda but recognising the changes that we as individuals can make to generate a more equal and inclusive society. Nonetheless, we learnt that 70% of the world’s poor are women and face many challenges in health, education and their role within society which for some women the consequence of their actions could be life or death.
Three inspirational women, two from Uganda and one from Afghanistan formed the panel discussion to commence the event. Godiva Monica Akullo, a feminist, lawyer and human rights activist encouraged women to stand up for change. She shocked the room when she spoke about one of her own experiences: working for a Ugandan law firm and attending a conference as not only the youngest but also the only female, she was approached by a male client who asked if she could pour him a coffee. As a professional and Harvard lawyer graduate she did not let this pass and made her opinions known. Since this day, she believes in empowering women to take action such that men feel their presence in the room.
Among the other panellists was Evelyn Namara, founder of Innovate and an ICT specialist, believing women can be better in technology advancement, breaking stereotypes and mindsets and advocating that girls should grow up with the same opportunities as boys. Captain Babra, a Ugandan army captain also stood up to encourage young girls to follow their dreams because nothing is impossible.
“girls should grow up with the same opportunities as boys”
All the women spoke with such passion and emphasis on how women in Uganda will continue to speak up about this topic until the day they are viewed as equal human beings. However, it was Betty Ogiel Rubanga, author of Against All Odds and an example of the life-changing benefits of education for girls and women, whose story truly inspired. Over ten years ago she was caught up in a road accident, crushing all dreams of becoming an athlete (being able to run 100m in 12.8 seconds, pathed out a potential career), leaving her partially paralysed down the right side of her body and with a speech impairment which would impact on the rest of her life. As she translated these memories into words and spoke of her experiences she moved many in the room to tears. Her message, however, was clear as she went on to discuss the five things that made her excel at life, without which she would not be the women she is today: 1. Working hard; 2. Making wise decisions; 3. Be yourself; 4. Be the author of your destiny; 5. Positive mental attitude.
So the question is: how are we being the change we want to see in the world?
As volunteers with Challenges Worldwide, we have already made this leap. Working to promote development through small-medium sized enterprises, many owned by women we are being active in making the change that we want to see happen in the world.
Be bold to question, to challenge and fight the conscious and unconscious gender biases within yourself, Be a voice, a speech, an author, a poet, a writer for her story,
Be a fighter, a lawyer, an advocate, defender for her rights,
Be the courage, the motivation, the hope for her future,
Be a change, a catalyst, a leader for her community,
Be a keeper, a mentor, hope for her goals,
Be a teacher, a parent, a social worker, a friend who listens to her concern,
Be bold for change
Be bold to stand with her, nurture her into a future leader,
Let everyone understand being a feminist is not becoming a perfect human being but simply someone who understand her privileges and responsibilities,
Her rights and duties,
Give her the opportunity to be herself,
Let her learn and lead,
Let her start business, be a boss, a manager, a CEO
Be bold for change,
Take a challenge,
Broaden your knowledge about diversity and inclusion,
Challenge policies, laws and cultures that limit her participation,
Be a leader who listens to her voice,
Speak against the gender disparities,
Welcome different points of view and value different individuals as they are,
Support efforts to end Gender-based violence,
Support her to get high-quality education,
Give her skills and resources to manage her business,
Respect her decisions
Point out bias and highlight alternatives,
Applaud social, economic, cultural and political women role models,
Celebrate women’s journeys and the barriers overcome,
#BeBoldForChange this 2017 IWD and beyond.
Last June, I departed the UK on what was sure to be an adventure. I was heading to Kumasi, Ghana as a team leader with Challenges Worldwide for 3 months. Although I had no idea what lay ahead of me as I began that 24 hour journey to Accra with the other team leaders, I could never have envisioned that, fast forward 7 months, I would be stood speaking about my experiences at the Houses of Parliament in front of the head of DFID, Lords, Ladies and a group of MPs.
When I applied for an ICS placement, I had just secured a job in London and was looking for something to fill my final extended summer. I wanted to travel, but having already taken a few too many ‘gap years’, this time I wanted to give something back. I’d heard horror stories about the voluntourism industry: “They’ll knock down anything you build for the next group”, “You’re money’s going to a selfish and greed-driven organisation”, “Why are you paying to volunteer your own personal time?” These are all valid points that highlight real issues around this industry, and they resonated in my mind as I searched the internet for opportunities to combine my wish to travel with my want to do some good.
“Why are you paying to volunteer your own personal time?”
ICS was something I learned about from Facebook. The DFID funding gave it credibility, the opportunity to work in partnership with other young people was unique, and the breadth of projects and countries was exciting. I had no real idea as to where in the world I’d like to end up or with which organisation, I just knew that I wanted to be involved in an entrepreneurial-focused initiative. Everything I’d read and believed pointed towards the sustainability of development when the power of business was harnessed in the solution. No more questions about what happens when the funding stops and the volunteers leave; upskilling business owners and making a positive impact to an economy as a whole should have a far reaching and long lasting positive impact. Two weeks after my initial application, I heard I would be interviewing for Challenges Worldwide. Another quick trip to my go-to google and I realised this project aligned perfectly with my aspirations.
No more questions about what happens when the funding stops and the volunteers leave; upskilling business owners and making a positive impact to an economy as a whole should have a far reaching and long lasting positive impact.
The work the volunteers did whilst on placement was fantastic. Over the space of the 3 months, they made a real impact on 9 businesses within Kumasi. However, what led me to the Houses of Parliament, and what I’ll focus on in this blog post, is the social impact that bringing a diverse range of people and a community together can have.
For those who have not been on a Challenges placement, I’ll give a quick explanation. Alongside their day-to-day work, whilst in country volunteers are split into four groups:
MPR (Mid Programme Review) – tasked with organising a fun-filled weekend of reflection halfway through the 3 months
Team Building Committee – responsible for activities and events that bring the volunteers closer as a team
Communications Committee – with the joint aim of marketing the volunteers’ achievements and work
Impact Day Committee – required to identify a need within the community in which the team are living, and organise a day of action to tackle this.
As a team leader, I headed up the Communications and Impact Day teams, and my counterpart Lukman took charge of the MPR and Social committees.
It’s at this point that I’d like to challenge you to take a look at the below picture and ask yourself: what you believe you see?
We’ll revisit the answer to that shortly – but first, I’m going to explain how this picture, and the Impact day it was taken at, came about.
Planning Impact Day – take one
As previously mentioned, part of every ICS project is a team “Impact Day”. Although the eventual outcome of this event is tackling a social problem, it was clear that due to the nature of the Challenges programme it would be best to take an entrepreneurial approach.
The easiest way for a group of newcomers to a city to do this would be to join forces with an already established network. In our case, however, Challenges was as new to Kumasi as we volunteers were, meaning we had no existing connections. We, therefore, set about searching for charities and volunteer groups, talking to host homes and businesses, looking online, and reaching out to friends.
An orphanage affiliated with one of our businesses approached us for help. However, in order to mitigate the ‘voluntourism’ risk that I spoke about before, there has been a shift away from working with children on any Challenges Worldwide ICS placement. Challenges’ 20 years of expertise centres around sustainable business development in emerging economies and their work delivering ICS seeks to disrupt the status quo of unskilled young westerners undertaking short-term projects that can cause more harm than good. Therefore we were encouraged to approach our impact day activities with sustainability and long-term outcomes in mind.
Planning impact day – take two
Weeks passed, and ideas came and went. We all wanted to make a real lasting impact in the community that had welcomed us so nicely, but – like anything in a developing country – overcoming obstacles was a daily challenge. Thankfully, using prior university contacts from home, I managed to contact a social enterprise, SanEco, who wanted to help. Saneco is the brainchild of The University of Southampton’s Enactus Society. In short: SanEco have identified a way to create reusable sanitary towels from readily available and affordable materials. They train unemployed members of communities to make and market these products with a focus on also educating women on their bodies and menstrual cycles. Through this initiative, social entrepreneurs are created. By increasing these people’s income, they directly tackle poverty levels. These entrepreneurs also increase the standard of living of the females in their communities, who would now have access to affordable sanitary products, allowing them to continue with their normal lives whilst menstruating.
I pitched the idea to the Programme Manager and our Impact Day Committee and they all loved it – but they would, as a predominantly female team who understood these issues and were comfortable speaking on the topic. The real issue would be introducing the concept to the male members of the wider team and, as expected, there were mixed reactions. We, as Westerners, like to believe that we stand for equality and share the mutual respect to discuss health issues and topics such as the natural processes of the female body. It’s all too easy to think that the male/female divide is only now a problem in lesser developed areas; however, initial reactions to the Saneco topic highlighted that so-called ‘taboo subjects’ are also still prevalent in Western society.
It’s all too easy to think that the male/female divide is only now a problem in lesser developed areas; however, initial reactions to the SanEco topic highlighted that so-called ‘taboo subjects’ are also still prevalent in Western society.
After a few difficult conversations and a hard stance from the Impact Day team that this was how we would proceed, we got everyone on board. We would deliver workshops in the morning, transferring skills that are essential to any business: budgeting, marketing and bookkeeping, to name a few. We would then introduce the SanEco programme in the afternoon, and apply what we had taught in the morning to the product.
Preparing for Impact Day
The team were excited and the day began building momentum. We bought materials, secured a venue, did shout outs on the radio, printed and handed out flyers, reprinted and red-handed out flyers and attended church ceremonies to spread the word. Before we knew it, the day was upon us and all we could do was wait to see if anyone turned up.
Anyone who has been to Ghana will be well aware of GMT (Ghana man time). To those who haven’t, this is the name given to the fact that it is perfectly acceptable to show up to arrangements hours after the agreed time. A bizarre concept for people from the UK to wrap their heads around. Thankfully, it appeared that GMT was running particularly close to regular Ghana time this day, and at just 45 minutes after our planned start day, the room had over 20 people in (both male and female, from babies to grandmothers!)
The morning workshops went without a hitch. The participants were actively engaged, offering examples, asking questions and genuinely enjoying themselves. We broke for lunch and got ready to introduce SanEco.
There was a buzz in the air. We had decided to market the initiative only as a new ‘social enterprise idea,’ in order not to discourage anyone from attending before they understood the initiative. However, to our surprise, when we revealed what we would be showing them, the excitement remained in all participants! We began walking them through the process of creating a sanitary pad. Unfortunately, as accomplished as we all felt for pulling off this day, it turns out that we’d overlooked the slight issue that none of us could use a hand operated sewing machine, which was the main component of making these pads. Thankfully, and with some quick thinking, we threw it out to the audience and were extremely relieved when a lady in the front row was more than happy to help. She came up to the front, and in less than a minute, we had our first pad. I pulled out my iPhone and quickly snapped the above image.
When I earlier asked what you thought my picture showed, I’m sure you didn’t guess the answer. A woman empowered by a group of young people with the tools to start her own business tackling women’s needs.
Since returning to the UK, I’ve been overwhelmed by the interest in this image. It’s been in newspapers, been voted top 10 out of over 400 entries in the ICS photography competition and allowed me to attend a showcase at the Houses of Parliament, discussing my experiences with some of the most influential people in the country. The Houses of Parliament showcase was the first time since returning from my placement that I really had the time to sit back and reflect on the difference that we have made and can continue to make. Meeting volunteers from other ICS organisations has reiterated the positive impact that young people are making across the world. Challenges and ICS represent the opposite to most stigmas that are attached to young people nowadays. Lazy? No. Uncultured? No. Shying away from community spirit? Not that I’ve seen.
Challenges and ICS represent the opposite to most stigmas that are attached to young people nowadays. Lazy? No. Uncultured? No. Shying away from community spirit? Not that I’ve seen.
With the changing, and somewhat frightening, world that we live in today, it’s never been more important to spread the word on the positive impacts that collaboration across borders can make. I spent 3 months living in a country where I was a ‘foreigner’, and quite frankly the experience would have been impossible without the welcome, help and support I received from my Ghanaian colleagues. Pictures, to most, are a way of preserving memories. They have always been a very personal experience for me. However, what I’ve learned from this experience is that they also serve as a tool to spark curiosity, spread positivity, and tell a story. I’m not promising all pictures will end up with you in the Houses of Parliament, but I have seen first-hand that people want to know about your placement, they are interested in learning from your experiences and it’s actually pretty fun to relive them through sharing your story.
So: post your pictures, share your stories and remember that the Challenges Worldwide ICS experience is a truly unique one.
It was a brilliant success that introduced the work of Challenges Worldwide to thousands. This account, based on extensive interviews with those involved, tells the inside story of the ZNBC broadcast.
One early December evening last year, five Challenges volunteers gathered in a small living room and stared anxiously at the TV screen.
After 6 pm struck, they waited in silence as Zambia’s largest national news channel began introducing the evening’s headlines. The newsreader spoke quickly as he moved through the important events of that day – water pollution, unemployment statistics, until finally, two words, cutting through the fog of harrowing news, brought the entire room to its feet.
Most of the volunteers were still in shock as they stood to applaud and hug each other. They had made mainstream news while promoting the efforts of a respected charity, and significantly, helped showcase the untapped potential of Kitwe’s businesses. Weeks of hard work had paid off.
This is the story of how that broadcast came about, based on interviews with those involved. It is a story of frustrated ambitions, of huge uncertainty, and of a team united in pursuit of a shared goal – to raise awareness of both Zambia’s struggling enterprises and the brilliant response from Challenges Worldwide.
The end of the programme was less than three weeks away, and volunteers at Kitwe-based start-up, Yako Honey, were looking at new ways to improve their enterprise. The small honey distributor had recently built up a fierce reputation for its skill at digital and online marketing, enabling it to connect with new audiences. Inspired by this success, those volunteers assigned to the business (Jessica Richardson and Precious Nkandu Lumpa alongside newcomers Joel Joseph and Cessius Bwalya) wanted to capitalise on it further.
‘We looked at ideas that would build on Yako Honey’s success at boosting its brand visibility but also give us a means of promoting Challenges,’ Precious explained. ‘It was eventually decided we would explore the possibility of broadcast.’
The ZNBC Shoot
Joel began mobilising his contacts. But the planned week-long campaign targeting radio stations and local news stations sputtered out as phone calls and emails were hit with consistent rejection. ‘The first few days was awful,’ he said. ‘We were sending out lots of enquiries which kept getting knocked back. No one was interested.’ As more and more media outlets turned away from the proposal, the mood among the group began to falter. ‘I came in one morning and everyone looked miserable,’ Jess recalled. ‘As a result, plans to chase up a small radio station that day were postponed; instead, we focused on motivating each other and considering alternative strategies.’
‘As a result, plans to chase up a small radio station that day were postponed; instead, we focused on motivating each other and considering alternative strategies.’
The group now turned to local connections and friends they had made while living in Kitwe. ‘We were having a conversation with our Team Leader, Ethel,’ Precious explained, ‘when she mentioned she had a friend in the production team of ZNBC and could put us in touch. We were overjoyed!’ A hurried meeting was subsequently set up with network representatives to discuss what sort of arrangements could be agreed upon. ‘Our expectations were kept very low so as not to be disappointed,’ Joel recalled. However, the group were astonished when the network offered them a 10-minute slot of prime time television. ‘There was total silence,’ he continues. ‘The shock was immense. Those words will be sealed in my brain forever.’
The network was particularly keen to promote a similar business in Kitwe having a positive economic and social impact through their involvement with Challenges.It was subsequently decided that the regional agricultural organisation, Border Farmers Co-operative, would feature in the broadcast alongside Yako Honey.
‘The choice was obvious,’ said Joel. ‘Border Farmers exist purely to help local farmers across the Copperbelt – it would have been criminal not to include them.’ With everything now set, the group started to relax and let excitement take over.
But on the day of the shoot, the group woke up to confusion. ‘It was chaos,’ said Joel bluntly. ‘The crew didn’t show up on time and weren’t answering our calls. We didn’t know when they were coming or where they were heading or even who they wanted to talk to.’ On the other side of Kitwe, the volunteers at Border Farmers received an alarming voice message from Precious suggesting that the network might be heading there first. As the team scrambled to prepare, a follow-up text from Joel simply read: ‘Shoot may be off.’
There was a collective sigh of relief then when a van emblazoned with ZNBC finally pulled up at Yako Honey. The crew spoke at length with the volunteers there about youth unemployment and the skills they had gained throughout the programme. Meanwhile, business owner Brighton Chifunda waxed lyrical about honey to anyone who would listen. Taking this as their cue, the cameras moved swiftly over to Border Farmers where volunteers William Hunt and Isaac Phiri discussed the types of analyses they had undertaken at the organisation so far. After a quick shot of the warehouse, the reporters packed up. ‘It was over so quick,’ said Cessius. ‘They gave us the date and time of the broadcast and drove off.’
The ZNBC Broadcast
At 5.55pm, on the night of the broadcast, most of the team were feeling nervous. Some five volunteers were cooped up in Joel’s living room while most were watching at a local restaurant in town. Tension was high in both camps. ‘I remember thinking,
“Have we got the right channel? The right time?” All these questions were racing through my head,’ said Will.
Then 6 pm struck. As the news bulletin was introduced, the volunteers listened in silence for any indication they would be featured. Moments later, the room erupted as the group heard mention of Challenges Worldwide, and with grinning faces settled down to watch the full report. ‘There was never a sense of arrogance,’ Joel noted after the broadcast. ‘Just that we had actually pulled it off!’ The group then walked into town to celebrate with other volunteers before curfew.
The reaction from all corners was hugely positive. ‘People loved the message and were beaming with joy whenever they spoke to me about it,’ Precious recalls. Others were more muted. ‘It was fine,’ said Michael Rothwell, former Challenges Worldwide ICS Programme Co-ordinator for Kitwe.
Reflecting on the whole experience, all volunteers involved in the ZNBC broadcast stressed that they would urge future participants across the Challenges Worldwide ICS programme to seek out new ways of promoting their businesses and the important work of Challenges Worldwide.
‘Imagination is the key word,’ concludes Joel. ‘There’s no limit to what future volunteers can achieve if they dare to think big.’
Wise words indeed, now here in all its glory is the broadcast, courtesy of ZNBC
Micro, small and medium scale enterprises (MSMEs) are cornerstones to the success of every economy, particularly an emerging one as Ghana’s. According to Storey (1994), SMEs have no universally accepted definition. Aryeetey et al (1994), defines MSMEs by categorising them into- Microenterprises (1–9 workers), small enterprises (10–29 workers) and medium enterprises (30–140 workers). In Ghana, most of the private sector businesses fall within the MSME bracket where they operate in markets with low barriers to entry, and with no real product differentiation. They do more than filling the black hole created by unemployment, driving macroeconomic growth, and also provide an avalanche of other opportunities. For these small businesses to thrive there needs to be the existence for an enabling ecosystem, because they are not just producers of goods and services, but they also serve as consumers. However, in Ghana it is a common practice to find central banks preferring to lend to governments, which offer less risks and higher returns, crowding out these same MSMEs (private consumers) from the financial systems. Having recently volunteered as a Business Support Associate with Challenges Worldwide (a UK Government Funded development charity that trains and manages expert volunteers to carry out short assignments for social enterprises, and prepare them towards investment readiness), I would propose certain ways in which this conducive ecosystem can be created;
1. Presence of enabling legal and regulatory environment
For these small businesses to thrive there needs to be an independent and efficient legal system to make sure contracts signed are not only enforced, but binding on all parties involved. Good policies provide a basis for an enabling environment. Some of the legal and regulatory bottlenecks that exists include;
· Inadequate regulations, insufficiency hinders the growth of these small businesses and makes it difficult for them to seek redress in the law courts, that is, the poor enforcement of contracts.
· Poor administration of regulations and lack of clarity, some of the existing regulations are complex and bureaucratic. They need to be clearly defined and certain processes (government agencies) taken out of the processes for effective delivery and to eliminate the duplication of processes among them.
· Lack of awareness, the laws and regulations need to be properly communicated and promoted to these small business owners, to give them a better understanding and appreciation of them.
2. Good microeconomic and macroeconomic policies
Sound economic policies go a long way in creating the needed desired ecosystem for MSMEs to excel on the backdrop of predictability. Economic policies need to give small businesses the room to be able to explore and exploit every economic opportunity by achieving; low budget deficits, low deficits, competitive exchange rates, etc. For instance, unlike larger enterprises who can hedge against high inflation and other unfavorable economic indicators by hedging to minimize their risk profile, small enterprises cannot afford that luxury and room to operate. It is important to say that, certain policies adopted will be political, but they should be implemented with sound analyses for the benefit of every economic agent.
Forming cooperatives and working to create community links can be beneficial both in terms of cost cutting and heightening morale for MSMEs. This is a very important way small businesses can overcome the major hurdles that confront them in areas such as; accessing affordable finance, and other economies of scale. Working collectively, and organizing workshops to learn from participants’ experience to help them gain insights into how to go about certain situation. Some of these clinics can help support members, with the support of technical assistance agencies, including voluntary non-governmental organizations such as what Challenges Worldwide does by recruiting qualified young people and training them to offer technical expertise as Business Support Associates of which I am a proud beneficiary. These partnerships through cooperatives can help them secure affordable credit at lower borrowing cost by lowering their individual risk profiles as a group due to certain formalization of their industry-related operations. It would afford them the opportunity to secure finance without having to struggle with certain stringent requirements such as collateral, enjoy economies of scale by buying at discounts, engaging in its own research and engage in sophisticated marketing.
4. Setting realistic and achievable targets
The alchemy of turning ideas into sellable, and appealing solutions to everyday problems is a mark of successful entrepreneurs. Setting realistic goals and timelines in achieving those set goals to create empires. MSMEs owners must also do well to have a succession plan to steer affairs even when they are no more. Their successors must be trained and equipped with the needed technical and entrepreneurial skills through mentorships, apprenticeships and other techniques. This preserves the original vision of the business without aberrations from their core business and internal wrangling of power. This is a major setback most small businesses in Ghana face and mostly fold-up when the brainchild is no more. This repels investors from putting their monies into such so-called “one man” business, and having a clear succession plan would appeal to investors.
5. Business Development Services (BDS)
These services includes; consultancy and advisory services, marketing assistance, technology assistance and other supporting services. MSMEs can outsource some of these technical and strategic services to experts for use on a fee-for-service basis. These would help to streamline operations leading to efficiency and increased profitability. Some of the reasons why these small enterprises are reluctant to use outside expertise are listed below;
· The use of experts/consultants may be viewed by the entrepreneur as admission of lack of competence
· The belief that only large enterprises can afford the consulting fees charged
· The fear of business interference, especially when requests are made to examine business documents such as accounts and taxes.
The use of BDS provides enormous benefits such as;
· An independent professional viewpoint and expert evaluation
· Training and development of strategic approaches
· Online marketing techniques- social media presence with targeted outcomes and may more…
6. Alternative sources of finance
Financial institutions are often reluctant to deal with MSMEs in Ghana due to high risk of default than the corporates. Also, bookkeeping skills is an issue because some do not keep any financial records (usually scant) and are mostly less transparent. There is the issue of not separating business account from personal accounts, and this indicates the poor quality of management. This hurdle can be overcome when business owners prioritize their needs and spend efficiently, and ploughing back profits into the business. Also, other alternative sources of financing that are longer-term in nature. For instance, small businesses with no product differentiation can come to a mutual understanding and merge to pool resources together. This could also afford them the opportunity to list on the Ghana Stock Exchange Alternative Market (GAX) which has more relaxed requirements as compared to the main stock exchange, to go public to secure longer term finance. However, this will still be on a high side for many MSMEs present but one thing is clear, the need for collaboration to pool resources in the form of long-term equity financing rather than short-term debt financing is the way forward.
In a nutshell, with an enabling ecosystem from the various state supporting institutions, the right collaboration amongst major stakeholders, determination from the entrepreneurs, Ghanaian businesses are going to soar higher. We should take a cue from the Asian Tigers who have used technology and their creativity to infuse themselves into the global value chain to compete with their counterparts from the West.
 Aryeetey, E.A, Baah-Nuakoh, A., Duggleby, T., Hettige H., and Steel, W.F., (1994), Supply And Demand for Finance of Small Enterprises in Ghana, Discussion Paper № 251, Technical Department, Africa Region. Washington, D.C., World Bank.
 Kubr, M., (2002)…Management Consulting.4th.Geneva, Switzerland, International Labour Organisation.
 Storey, D., (1994), “Understanding the Small Business Sector”., Routledge, London. pg. 33–55.
Solar Energy for Africa’s headquarters and flagship store in central Kampala couldn’t feel further away from the glassy skyscrapers in the City of London. A lone bulb casts a dingy light over the office exposing an array of fading advertising material and a battered wooden counter. Set back from the traffic crawling down Bombo road, the space is quiet save for the whirring of a rusty electric fan and a news program blaring from an antique TV in the corner.
Whilst the environment might seem unfamiliar, the haphazard office space should not take long to get used to. Armed with a laptop, notebook and pen, any Challenges Worldwide Volunteer won’t find it too much of a challenge to set to work. Yet the different working culture in Uganda perhaps requires a greater adjustment. Here are a few things one might expect to encounter:
Roughly equitable to ‘on time’ plus 30 minutes to an hour. This is likely to cause immense frustration to newly arrived volunteers. Having set an early alarm and left extra time to allow for any disruptions during the rush hour commute, to be left waiting for hours on end for a meeting to start can easily make blood boil. As soon as you take a look outside, the tardiness isn’t surprising. The infamous ‘Kampala Jam’ can disrupt even the city’s most punctual without warning. A journey that often takes 20 minutes can be transformed into a sweaty 2-hour ordeal, cramped in the back of a fully packed taxi. If the heavens open, flooded streets cause maximum disruption. This combined with large scale road improvements, erratic driving and police traffic controls is a recipe for a timekeeping disaster.
Yet the attitude towards lateness is more interesting to consider. Whereas in the UK it feels that every second of the working day must be converted into maximum productivity, in Uganda work is a little more laid back. This is not to say tasks aren’t completed eventually, they just get done when the time is right and deadlines become a little more flexible. With European stress and anxiety levels at an all time high, a more relaxed working culture is perhaps something we should aspire to.
UGANDANS DON’T LIKE MISSING PHONE CALLS
Even when sat in front of the managing director, a slight pocket vibration (or in some cases a more embarrassing Rihanna ringtone) is a perfectly good excuse to pause even the most important meeting. With everyone active on Whatsapp, phones are likely to be on display and messages sent mid conversation. Mobile credit, known as ‘airtime’ is a highly prized commodity. Having to use it up to return a call is most undesirable.
GOD IS ALWAYS PRESENT
Meetings, however, small or insignificant, must start with a prayer. This may be a few quick words followed by a mumbled ‘Amen’ or a lengthier affair in which blessings are granted for all participants, the future of every stakeholder in the firm… the list could go on. In some firms with employees of different faiths, this procedure can be repeated to ensure all attendants are satisfied. Although this might appear a timely process, the sense of harmony and togetherness that pervades the room afterward can often make the meeting more effective. If prayers are ever not said, a backup is usually provided in the form of a Bible quote or religious teaching hung on the wall. It’s important to sit down to work with inspirational material readily available.
Expecting a superfast Wifi connection and a shiny kitchen space kitted with a machine offering 50 varieties of flavourless coffee? Forget it. With power cuts a regular occurrence, work can be halted without warning for hours at a time. If you’re lucky, the office may be backed up by a generator or even better solar power but don’t hold your breath. You can usually expect a ‘water dispenser’ (cooler might be an exaggeration) and a kettle but on the whole, furnishings are kept to a bare minimum.
A bustling office canteen or coffee shop is out of the question. The Ugandans can do better – warm lunch delivered straight to your desk. Orders are placed with the chosen ‘restaurant’ half an hour in advance and before long a steaming bowl of matoke and rice accompanied by a meat or vegetarian sauce of your choice is delivered directly to your workstation. The food may not always be piping hot but for less UGX 4000 (about £1) what could be better valued? The break can be a lengthy two-hour affair; giving you more than enough time to discuss yesterday’s Premier League results and enjoy the meal at your leisure. The only drawback: a rather slow afternoon whilst you digest the carbohydrate overload.
On a mission to provide solar power to rural Zambians, I find myself sat on a 7 (yes 7) hour bus journey from the town of Chipata in Eastern Province back to the capital, and the scenery around me is just breathtaking. The landscape is lush and green, covered in trees with small mountains that rise and fall along the horizon. At odds of course with my original stereotypical imagery of deserts or savannah filled with Zebras. It is such a privilege to have had the opportunity to my work here with Sunnymoney through Challenges Worldwide, to take this trip out into the countryside and get to take a peek at what Zambia is really like for the majority of its residents. To see the people whose lives we are trying to change for the better.
SunnyMoney Schools Programme
We travelled out here to start our Schools Programme where we engage the headteachers of rural schools and ask them to share information about solar energy and encourage their students and community members to purchase our solar lights. We deliver this programme at great cost to the organisation, selling lights at prices that barely cover the cost of importing them, let alone the cost of the field teams trips. We are in part funded for this by DfID but ultimately Sunnymoney aims to cover the cost themselves.
It’s been a fantastic and enlightening experience to travel to some remote areas and witness my colleagues deliver the programme. They have, it seems to me, a hugely challenging task and I have the utmost respect for the work that they do. We drove for long hours each day, getting lost once or twice (I honestly have no idea how anyone ever navigates these areas) which was absolutely exhausting. We even sadly got stuck in the mud one day after it rained! Being rescued by cows was a brilliantly ironic juxtaposition of old transport methods being far more useful and successful than modern technology out in the rural areas.
Providing solar power systems provides a means for rural Zambians to access electricity
Sunnymoney field teams aim to conduct 2 or 3 Headteacher Meetings a day and they aim to deliver a huge amount of information in only about an hour or so. The even greater challenge is that they do not pay headteachers to help them in the programme, to educate and encourage their students and communities. They are only asking. Yes there are small incentives and the Headteachers are always thrilled with their free solar light at the end, but they are asking them to do a lot of work above and beyond their jobs. So within this hour, my colleagues have to figure out how to inspire them, to prove to them that Sunnymoney is here with a social cause that is worth their effort to support. To show that they are there with the intention to improve education by helping students study at night, improve their future prospects and even further, to provide sustainable, affordable lighting for a whole family. Truthfully the responses were mixed. Some were so grateful that we would travel so far to see them and to choose their schools to work with us. It’s so challenging and expensive to reach many of these places, that most firms wouldn’t be able to reach them at an affordable price which is one of the key reasons Sunnymoney conducts this programme and allows them to help communities that truly need it. Others, unfortunately, were suspicious and had little confidence or belief in us. Whilst it’s an innovative and often successful distribution model, it’s flawed in that it’s a challenge to rely so much on individuals to support you when they have no accountability to you.
A Challenges Worldwide Business Support Associate can make observations and offer recommendations
The ethos behind the programme is wonderfully positive with a fantastic social impact. On my part observing the meetings, though, I was saddened to see that Sunnymoney has slightly fallen into the classic old trap of focusing on sales and forgetting why we were there in the first place. The wonderful part of that observation though is because of my position with Challenges Worldwide: I am in a position to help remind them. To use my role as a Business Support Associate and an outside voice, to make these observations where small changes could mean huge improvements.
Fighting poverty through business
It was incredible for me to drive past the many many villages and to be able to visit these schools. It’s given me such a small but worthwhile peek into little parts of rural life. It’s allowed me to connect more and appreciate more the people Sunnymoney are here to help, the people I am indirectly here to help. I am convinced that by helping Sunnymoney to become a more successful and efficient business, I am raising their potential to change even more lives. The ICS programme run by Challenges Worldwide is an amazing opportunity to bring in people with a wide variety of experiences and backgrounds to join together in support of worthy cause with so much potential for long-lasting impact. Fighting poverty through business in big or small ways is so much more sustainable than relying purely on donations. Sunnymoney will continue it’s operations long after I’ve returned to the UK, but I know that they have the potential to grow and change so many more lives and I hope my recommendations will help them to do that.