I graduated from the University of Manchester in 2016. I had little idea of what to do in my life. It is a feeling shared by thousands of other graduates. Most of my friends were going to embark on their corporate journeys or study a master.
As for me, I was going to Zambia to tackle poverty through developing small and medium enterprises. It was only a 12 weeks programme, but this experience in Zambia changed my perspectives on many things in life.
Learn to be adaptable
Whether you are riding on a packed bus squeezed like sardines on your way to work or compromising a price with the taxi driver, you have to do it yourself. You will begin to build on your communication, negotiation, and flexibility skills. This set of skills is invaluable at any workplaces in an ever-changing business environment. Once you are self-reliant, you become more confident and a better version of yourself. You are immersed in a new country and a different lifestyle. The culture shock can be overwhelming, so learning to become adaptable is key to overcoming any challenge.
I worked for Fruit D’Or (FDO), a fruit curer and distributor of bananas, oranges, and apples in the Copperbelt province of Zambia
A typical day consisted of going to work at 8:00am and finishing at 4:00pm. During those 8 hours, my team and I would do different tasks such as rebuilding an accounting system using excel, designing t-shirts for marketing, interviewing the street vendors to gather qualitative data.
Be a global change maker
I remember walking down to work on a bright, sunny morning. The traffic was buzzing in the background, and then one Zambian guy approaches me with an affable smile asking if I could provide him with a job. I was not in the position to give an employment contract. Though, he walked with me to work, because I had a contact that could lead to a job. I introduced him to Tom. He works at the front desk sales and also in charge of the casual workers. Tom started off being a casual worker and worked his way up. They exchanged contacts and told him to come next week to start working. I realised that we are all alike. We all want to work and be productive members of society. However, some are not as fortunate as we are. In developed countries, we all receive a compulsory education and we apply for jobs via the Internet. Whereas in developing countries, education is a privilege and employment is a scarce commodity. After coming to Zambia with Challenges Worldwide (ICS), I understood that if I can’t provide jobs, I could connect people with opportunities. Every generation gets a chance to change the world, so take action and be the change you want to see.
Discover what it is truly important for you
Adding value is a basic human instinct. Through this experience, I found out that I want to be that positive difference in the work that I do and the people that surround me.
My reasons for coming to Zambia are to give my contribution to ending poverty and providing decent work and economic growth for all.
I think the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) are every citizen’s responsibilities. Imagine if every person in the world engages with these goals, visualise the positive impacts we could have. Poverty will belong to the past and everyone will have decent work. I see life as an opportunity to leave my mark in the world. Imagine you couldn’t fail. Where would you go? What would you do?
The New Year is always a time for reflection. Having now been back in the UK for just under three weeks, this particular New Year has inevitably provided the perfect headspace to reflect on my three months in Ghana and is a good time to think about what the UK can learn from new and rising economies around the world.
In Ghana, being entrepreneurial is a way of life and not just a fancy term for someone with a big enough bank balance to make her good idea a reality. Graduate schemes, of the type that millennials in the UK have become used to worrying about, don’t feature much in Ghana, where it’s much more commonplace for new graduates to be already working on their own small individual business projects. So many people are driven to make a difference to themselves and the economic growth of their country and, more often than not, help to solve one of the issues facing their community too. We in the UK could benefit from the sense of determination and drive that I experienced firsthand on countless occasions whilst in Ghana.
Working with limited resources is seen as a challenge, not an obstacle to success
Ghana is a middle-income country and has already succeeded in halving the number of Ghanaians living in poverty in recent years. However, it is undeniable that Ghana has fewer financial resources and less economic buoyancy to rely on than the UK. Not only did I never anyone use this as an excuse for not starting a project they believe in, more often than not it is the very reason they’ve started the project. There’s a real sense of collective drive and ambition to continue the amazing economic growth Ghana has experienced over the course of just two generations. “We’re all in this together” actually means something to the majority of Ghanaians.
Buying local is the norm
With a wealth of SMEs within their economy, Ghanaians are never short of local producers to utilise within their supply chains. Cheap international labour is not such a driving force for outsourcing, with most enterprises valuing the speed, efficiency and long-term national benefits of using a local supplier. This approach sure has helped the Ghanaian economy grow at a far faster rate than the British ‘race to the bottom’ approach.
Recommendations come from real people and communities
Not online reviews that have been written by strangers. People still talk to each other, trust the advice of neighbours, aunties, members of the congregation, and this translates to real sales for SMEs across a huge range of sectors. Whilst digitalisation is occurring at very fast rates across the country, this hasn’t come at the detriment of communities and genuine relationships.
Mobile technology really is king
Banking doesn’t rely on holes in the wall or PIN numbers to transfer money between contacts in West Africa. No, where more than 60% of the population don’t have a bank account, mobile money has given economic independence to millions of Ghanaians. Mobile money is used for pleasure and business; with a simple instant transaction at one of the thousands of corner shops or street-level enterprises, money can be transferred from mobile credit to cash in hand. It’s a masterclass in adapting technology to meet local demands and proves that context really is key to breaking into any new market.
Self-sustaining is not just a buzzword
It is commonplace for houses to have a smallholding of home-grown veg or kept animals, not just because it’s a handy extra revenue stream but also because sustainability is empowering! Even in the trickiest of outside spaces, a flexible approach is always found. Our wonderful family I lived with in Kumasi grows amazing mushrooms, keeps a small rabbit farm and has a really smart self-made backup power supply for when the power outages occur. If Britain is going to come anywhere close to meeting our climate change targets, adopting the self-sustaining mantra practised and preached by Ghana would be a good start.
The real value is placed on international networks and regional collaboration
Ghana has been at the forefront of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) since its creation in 1975 and increasing exports and imports from regional neighbours has been a large part of the government’s strategy over the last decade. Unlike the UK and the attitudes that led to Brexit, Ghana understands that supporting the economic growth and stability of the whole region will pay dividends in the future for Ghanaians as well as boosting the long-term prosperity of citizens of neighbouring states.
There’s far more that unites us than divides us
Having spent the last 7 years in London, moving to a part of Ghana that doesn’t have a huge amount of racial diversity was unsurprisingly a big culture shock for me. It became clear to me quite quickly that racial identity is often a phenomenon cultivated in racially diverse communities and not those with greater homogeneity. I think it was an important experience for me as a white woman to spend a chunk of time being the racial minority, as my racial privilege is something I’ve mostly taken for granted living in the UK. But, with the increasingly divided communities we find ourselves in the UK experiencing, learning from communities where differences are seen as opportunities to learn from one another should certainly be a goal we all work towards for 2017; fascination rather than fear. I feel incredibly proud to have been part of a consultancy project that put cross-cultural exchanges at the heart of its work and many of the contacts I’ve made in Ghana will stay firm friends for a lifetime. There’s a lot we in the UK can learn from this fabulous country and a lot we should be proud to support.
A December anniversary! Seven years ago I wrote a blog from COP 15 – the Copenhagen Climate Change summit – and described the peaks and troughs of that gathering. The peaks included the buzz of hope, the sense of a time come, and the possibility of action after so many years. The troughs were deep though – the dismal predictions laid out by Al Gore and the final inability of the politicians and negotiators to make any concrete progress.
In the years since Copenhagen there has been little tangible progress – not until the 2015 Paris summit and the last minute grab at holding global temperatures below 2 degrees warming. This magical figure represents the cut-off point before positive feedback mechanisms starts to kick in – the thawing of the arctic tundra, the melting of the Greenland ice shelf, the loss of the Amazonian rain forest – any of which could trigger runaway global warming. At Paris, hopes peaked again as countries around the world put aside their differences and replaced them with the first tangible agreements.
However, the troughs are back with a vengeance. Twenty days from now Donald Trump will assume the mantle of the President of the US. Twenty days from now the man who has declared climate change a “hoax” is likely to sweep away the results of two decades of climate change negotiations.
So how is climate change relevant to you as a Challenges Worldwide ICS volunteer?
Developing countries are going to be the worst hit by climate change. Basic food crops will be lost to rising temperatures while water supplies from rainfall and glacial melt are already in decline. Not only will developing countries be most affected by climate-related changes but they don’t have the resilience to ride them out.
That is where you come in. You will be building resilience through your work in strengthening companies and creating jobs – jobs that will help families to be more independent and have the means to better cope with economic shocks. Some of you will also work with renewable energy companies – companies that are trying to provide practical solutions to both energy shortages and the challenge of climate change.
Whatever happens on the political front after the 20th January this building of resilience will improve the chances of people in developing countries and give a glimmer of hope in uncertain times.
Border Farmer’s Co-operative is home to many dedicated employees, but none quite as enthusiastic as Patson Musukwa, the organisation’s main salesman. Running since 1980, and located in Kitwe’s industrial area, the cooperative specialises in selling agricultural products and services to farmers across the Copperbelt. As the first point of contact for customers seeking assistance and advice, Patson has a crucial role and I’m interested to hear his take on the business, its products, and the challenges facing the agricultural sector in Zambia.
I begin by asking for some basic information about himself. With a beaming smile and a sly giggle, he lists his favourite hobbies as watching football, resting and singing. He’s recently taken up running to lose weight and has even persuaded a few of his colleagues to join him in early-evening jogs after work. “When you feel fit, you’re more likely to be happy,” he adds with a grin.
However, for Patson, his favourite passion is his work. With genuine enthusiasm, he starts recounting examples of times he’s helped customers with their choice of veterinary products, hardware equipment, and even gardening tools. “I’m the face of the business,” he states confidently. “I love interacting with customers and I’ve gradually come to build up a good relationship with them. He giggles again. “Trust is everything here.”
When asked about the Zambian economy, Patson is calm and rational in his response. “We need to remember this is a global issue. The world is facing huge challenges at the moment and Zambia’s not immune to those.” However, he states that the country’s traditional agricultural sector has been hit particularly hard by the downward turn in the economy and this has led to many farmers going bankrupt.
We take a break to get a photo and Patson beckons me over to the warehouse gates. Suddenly, he leaps upwards and clasps a metal rail high overhead with both hands. There’s a deafening sound of screeching metal as Patson kicks out his legs and attempts to lift his full body weight upwards. “I’m getting better at pull-ups,” he chuckles to me below. Astonished, I can only nod.
We quickly resume and I ask him for his opinion on the state of the co-operative. He admits that the slump in the economy has greatly affected business with declining sales and a drop off in customer numbers. Yet he’s cautiously optimistic about the future of Border Farmer’s, predicting that the current situation is only temporary and that sales will soon improve.
After discussing the weak condition of the agricultural sector and the enterprise’s current woes, we leave on a lighter note.
“Shoprite in town or at the mall?”
Patson looks pensive. “Once I would have said in town,” he begins carefully. “But now neither are much good. The best Shoprite is actually located on Copperbelt Hill. It’s less busy and the staff seem friendlier.” He pauses. “Yes, they’re definitely more helpful.”
Clearly, for Patson, customer service is never too far from his mind.
Pretty much the first thing you need to figure out when you travel to a new country is how to get around. It sure was the first thing I felt completely out of my depth with when I arrived in Ghana last month. But, over the last 4 weeks, I’ve gained a strange sense of understanding and appreciation for the Ghanaian way of doing things. It definitely seems crazy to me, but maybe it’s crazy efficient for locals too?
We were picked up from Accra airport by our Team Leaders on the 26th September, packed into a minivan and driven to our hostel, where we received a warm welcome from our in-country volunteer counterparts. Travelling just a few miles had taken a long time and, at seemingly every set of traffic lights, street sellers would offer us branded cold drinks from refrigerated units or metal bowls carried on their heads. We even picked up an ice cream man (frozen yoghurt, actually) and dropped him off a mile or so down the road once our bus load had had their fill. I was grateful to have our local support staff with us who navigated the route like second nature.
Moving to Kumasi a few days later proved even more out-of-my-ordinary. We travel to work by tro tro – a sort of custom-fit minivan; even when you think it’s full, another seat can fold down or pop up and a few more people can cram on. The tro tros have no obvious indication of their destination: rather, a bloke who sits with the passengers shouts from the window where the van is headed, getting especially vocal about it as we approach busy parts of town. He also collects the money (it’s the highlight of my day when a. he understands where I want to go – silly English accent! – and b. he gives the expected amount of change back!). He goes simply by ‘mate’ and everyone, except me and my fellow UK volunteers, appears to understand the system just fine.
Most people use the tro tro system to commute to work and, much like it used to entertain me to see people bring incongruous items onto the London Underground, it’s fascinating to see how much extra stuff can magically fit into the tro tro with you. Anything from baskets piled high with plantains, newly bought cellophane-wrapped televisions to a family worth of small children is commonplace. The loveliest part of the “unwritten tro tro rules” is how much everyone helps each other to manoeuvre these items. Our ‘mate’ helps carry things on and off each tro, sometimes quite a distance up the street for their customers. Fellow passengers wiggle and scoot to allow passengers off or make the utmost use of the available space. It’s not as much of a squash with people’s ‘luggage’ as I ever expect it to be and sure is the most efficient way to travel across town with whatever items you might need to transport.
I’ve also come to appreciate the ease and efficiency with which the street sellers work. On first glance, it scared me how dangerous it must be wandering around many-lane roads with large amounts of produce balanced precariously on your head. It’s not just cold drinks, but local snacks (plantain chips, bags of groundnuts, savoury doughnuts), phone credit coupons, mints and even loaves of bread! So whilst I’m still sceptical about the road safety element, being able to buy necessities whilst you’re stuck in traffic is a consumer demand that they are definitely filling – and one that I am so often grateful for.
I’ve already started to understand that, whilst the means of operating may differ from those at home, there is always a reason why it has sprung up like that. Maybe, just in the same way the Brits’ love of queuing seems to run through our blood stream and into our bus networks, maybe here the vibrant, exciting and community-driven nature of Ghana has created a transport system that seems crazy to us, but is simultaneously crazy efficient travel for the locals too.
An enjoyable yet tiresome seven weeks after arrival in Zambia. Six of which were spent in Kitwe analysing our respective businesses, producing deliverables based on our findings and using these to formulate recommendations, ultimately to present to our enterprises, we finally reached our ‘Mid Programme Review’. Commonly known as MPR amongst the volunteers, the Mid Programme Review is used to refocus the mind before implementing our recommendations, to share ideas, but most importantly to relax and unwind. This was much needed after living and working at such a fast pace for half of the programme.
The MPR committee, with no help at all from the Team Building Committee, organised a long weekend away at Nsobe Game Camp, home to a vast array of activities as well as a variety of animals, as the name would suggest.
Meeting Place: Mukuba Mall (where the no.1 Shoprite is located). Time of Departure: 9am. (10am Zambian time).
Surprisingly we didn’t leave particularly late despite the overall trend of doing so for other similar activities. Perhaps this showed the eagerness of the group who admittedly all seemed very excited in anticipation. All that was left was to pick up our food/supplies and most importantly speakers whilst driving through Ndola en route.
Arriving at the game camp, we were greeted by a small herd of what I would describe as large, fluffy, grey deer. However, I’m convinced that they must have a slightly more specific name. We travelled further through the bush where we were to find a thatched lodge overlooking a picturesque reed-banked lake.
Our new home
Relaxation was underway. Deck chairs, sun, chilled drinks and music resonating from our ever important speakers were all required and gratefully received. The girls joined us for dinner along with a game of “Mr & Mrs”. Instead of marriage, a common host home decided who would pair with who. Our champions with 5/5 points were our very own team leaders, Rachel and Ethel. Congratulations yet again.
The volunteers had no ties for the weekend, able to do whatever they pleased during the day apart from swimming in the lake. The reasons for this became apparent after a 4ft giant lizard looking monster creature thing, for lack of a better Zambian term, was sighted swimming close to our back door.
On Saturday, our programme coordinators Mikey and Mapenzi joined Frankie and I on a biking safari. A relaxing ride started off fantastically. Sightings of three giraffes and a herd of zebra accompanied by a rather disorientated looking donkey made the experience an unforgettable one. It became even more unforgettable after my bike managed to obtain a flat tyre with several hours of safari track still to cover. As you may have guessed it took us slightly longer than it should’ve done!
When we returned to the lodge, fatigued and dehydrated, we could think of nothing better than relaxing in the pool. Overlooking another lake, the pool was just as pleasant as the rest of the park. Monkeys swinging in the trees overhead took a particular dislike to a Jess which lead to a brutal display of fruit tossing in her general direction.
Challenges United FC were challenged to a football match for the second day running after our hasty exit of the swimming facility. A slick, skilful passage of play consisting of several nutmegs reached its conclusion at the opposition’s goalmouth to wrap up the game 4-2, maintaining our unbeaten streak.
The talent show was now the only thing standing between us and Sunday. A fabulous K-Pop dance routine performed expertly by Jack and Joel clinched victory after surpassing other talented acts. Mikey was on course for unrivalled glory until his juggling act ended sourly, leaving an eggy mess on the floor. A cracking performance nevertheless.
The following day, Jack, Joel, Franky and I decided to try our luck at fishing. Handcrafted bamboo rods coupled with a lack of fishing knowledge made our chances look fairly bleak. Optimistic, however, we cast our lines into the shallow water. Plenty of bites came and went and after half an hour of trying to come to terms with the fact that we were terrible fishermen, our first fish took the bait. The fish was clearly a trendsetter as another seventeen of its friends were soon to follow it onshore to meet their oily, frying pan themed demise. Tasted good, though.
A quick visit to the ‘Snake Pit’ after fishing resulted in some of the more fearless volunteers getting to grips with a huge python, only after being reminded it could dislocate its jaw to swallow us whole. A horrifying thought to have, especially when that said serpent is currently residing on the back of your neck.
Before our time at Nsobe Camp came to an end, and after a delicious BBQ, an award ceremony was to take place. The prizes, ranging from a stick to a pack of biscuits were honourably received with grace, modesty and dignity which capped off an unbelievable weekend.
The team returned refreshed and keen to implement their recommendations.
Thanks to the MPR committee for making it all possible, especially Mapenzi who I hope is not too offended by his award!
Last month I had the pleasure of attending a Women Who Code event in Kumasi, Ghana.
The potential of woman entrepreneurs remains largely untapped across the world. Few industries experience this as dramatically as technology: according to the World Economic Forum, less than 20% of those working in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) are women.
And yet, technology has never been more important for our increasingly interconnected societies. Social media. The YouTube generation. The advent of mobile money taking the African market by storm. Technology has already proven its capacity to fundamentally reshape our societies. It is fast becoming the creative driving force behind almost every sustainable business in our global economy. It has the potential to help overcome some of the largest issues facing the world today. However, we definitely cannot achieve these lofty heights if we continue to ignore 50% of our potential global tech workforce. Enter Women Who Code.
Women Who Code is a free meetup-style network of women
Since its launch in 2011, Women Who Code has connected more than 80,000 women globally and produced 4,200 free technical events in 20 countries. Late in 2015, Afia Owusu-Forfie created Women Who Code’s first Sub-Saharan African programme in Ghana’s capital Accra and, in the spirit of supporting innovation and community enterprises, I was delighted to be invited to represent Challenges Worldwide as the Accra branch set foot in Kumasi for their maiden test events last month.
On the evening of Fri 7th October I headed down to Kumasi’s bustling Tech Junction and, after only a couple of failed attempts, secured a good price for a taxi to drive me out to Garden City University College for the ‘Excel In Your Career’ workshop I was to help lead. Thanks to impenetrable traffic and many a road trench, I arrived with just 2 minutes to spare before kick-off. I was shown into a room and was delighted to see nearly double the number of students we had anticipated. I was greeted by the friendly face of my fellow Women-Who-Coder-Afia Owusu-Forfie- who had Skyped in from the US to lead the session virtually.
Over the next two hours we ‘interviewed’ five brave community volunteers one by one, all in front of a packed room. It was fantastic to see the women show a real range of backgrounds and passions and really rise to the challenge of the evening. The most interesting thing for me was to witness the similarities between the women here in Kumasi and those I’ve met back home in London during similar tech career workshops. The Kumasi women had the same fears and concerns about interviews and our feedback session focused largely on the same issues with self-confidence and belief in their own awesomeness. This alone really proved to me the importance of a global network of women to help overcome these potential barriers to success. The comradery atmosphere in the room was really inspirational and, despite a couple of technical issues, a power cut and a massive downpour of rain, it was a brilliant evening where empowerment was definitely top of the agenda.
For more information on the Women Who Code community check out their website or find events near you.
A Rolex for 2000 might not sound an unreasonable price. After all, the name is associated with the ultimate Swiss watch brand, conjuring up images of luxury and affluence.
Yet in Uganda, the title takes on a slightly different meaning, especially when 2000 is a price quoted in shillings and roughly converts to 50p. No, not a tacky fake with ‘gold’ straps and ‘diamond’ numbers that might temporarily convince the undiscerning eye. We’re talking about a far better bargain – Kampala’s number one selling street food.
Literally a composite of the phrase “rolled eggs” – you won’t be able to spend long in the capital without sampling this local delicacy. Let me briefly explain: A concoction of fried eggs mixed with onion, cabbage and tomato are cooked fresh and wrapped in a chapatti providing the ultimate cure to any hunger fix.
The simple street food concept has taken Kampala by a storm and is developing into one of the city’s major tourists attractions. Starting out as a humble snack which budget-conscious students at Makerere University could afford to sustain themselves during their long working days, the mighty Rolex is now consumed in vast quantities across Kampala morning, noon and night. It has become so popular that in 2016, the city even hosted the first international Rolex Festival.
I first became acquainted with the Rolex after a lengthy exercise session. Nobody can deny it contains the perfect body building combination, packed with protein and carbohydrates. For only modest multiples of 500 shillings, more eggs and chapattis can be added to the mix until you’re left with a meal even Chuck Norris would be proud of. Without too much consideration I selected my local stand manned by the ever smiling Tom. Within seconds of placing an order, the red hot pan was cleared of any distant traces of salmonella with a dirty rag and the cooking was underway. Before long I juggled in my hands my first steaming hot Rolex – fresh from the pan and the best I’d ever tasted.
It may seem shameful to confess to my Rolex addiction but my visits to Tom’s stand (- a brightly lit wooden cabinet adjoined to a smoking charcoal stove) have become ever more frequent. Whilst over a thousand calories of deeply fried bread and egg may be a struggle to justify after a day sat at the office, I often compromise with just a lone chapatti available at just half the price.
I’m by no means the only customer to frequent Tom’s stand – business for a Rolex vendor in Kisaasi appears to be booming. The days are long. I have never seen him away from his workstation. His reward, however, is a phenomenal turnover. Whilst the actual Rolex itself might not be such a hit in this neighbourhood with only 10 being sold per day, the trade in chapattis is where the real money is to be made. Over 90 of these are sold throughout the day, both as a snack for hungry passersby like myself or as an accompaniment to the main meal. Although the costs of ingredients, charcoal and electricity are high, taking in 110,000 a day is a tidy sum in this neck of the woods. From a rough calculation, over 70,000 profits can be generated each day, more than people working in low-skilled professions such as maids and security guards might earn in a month.
Managing times of peak demand is a particular challenge. Cooking each individual chapatti to order makes customer waiting times excessively long yet nobody wants to be provided with the stale disc of bread that has been cooked hours before. Demand surges occur during ‘rush hour’ as people undertake their work commutes, at which time Tom must have his dough rolled and ready to hit the pan. Being only a small outfit, the business is mostly a one man operation with family members and even customers lending a helping hand in the production process if the stand gets busy. Whilst larger stalls in Kampala’s busy markets of Nakawa or Wasafi might make use of the specialisation of labour, Tom is required to undertake all parts of the production process himself, limiting the speed at which food can be turned out. Competition is stiff in these parts, with at least 5 other stands on the same street (one even promising to be well acquainted with Jesus), meaning Tom must cook fast and to a high standard to maintain his loyal following of customers.
Yet my Rolex cooking friend’s greatest threat of all remains the law. According to the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), Tom’s profession is illegal. Whilst street vending is prolific throughout the city with Police often turning a blind eye, any of the city’s 10,000 Rolex vendors operating an unlicensed stand can be arrested without warning. The penalties are severe. At a minimum, a Shs.100,000 can be imposed and Tom’s stand and all his stock is confiscated. Yet if Tom is unable to pay on the spot, he may be arrested and detained by a mountain of bureaucracy.
Whilst it is possible to pay up to Shs.350, 000 to be released on bail, the complications of being released and charged can seem endless. Whilst about 150 street vendors may be taken into custody each day, the KCCA processes less than 25 of these every 24 hours. It doesn’t take a maths genius to spot the enormous backlog. There is little alternative other than to pay up and play the waiting game but the business impacts can prove catastrophic.
Although Tom does operate his business with this risk, a new series of street vending alternatives are becoming available. And guess what? They’re legal. One such company looking to overcome the lack of regulation in Kampala’s informal street food sector is Musana carts; a San Francisco based start-up supplying solar powered ‘Rolex’ stands. Aside from the firm’s objective to promote cleaner cooking methods, Musana has been able to formalise the business of street vending through a partnership with the KCCA. By ensuring that vendors adhere to certain standards including a food safety inspection, their work can eventually become legitimate. Whilst customers benefit from a more hygienic and cleaner culinary experience, the advantages for vendors such as Tom are enormous. The carts may not be as cheap as their makeshift alternative. Most are issued on a finance scheme paid off at a rate of $3 per day. Their quality, however, is far superior. Carts are equipped with solar power providing them with better nighttime lighting to increase the hour’s vendors can work as well as phone charging capabilities to offer more services to customers.
Receiving a licence from the KCCA isn’t easy, but legalisation is certainly the best alternative to enable street vending in Kampala. The company has a waiting list of over 100 potential customers demonstrating the popularity of the concept yet backlogs in the supply chain and KCCA bureaucracy is, unfortunately, halting progress. Whilst Tom may remain sweating away behind his unregulated stand in Kisaasi for some, a legalised Musana cart may provide a solar light at the end of the tunnel.
Guide to creating a Rolex
Tom’s relaxed manner when making a Rolex makes the process look incredibly simple. After an hour long ordeal, I held utmost admiration for my friend’s profession.
Measuring out the Ingredients
Combine approximately two cups of water and two spoons of salt per 1kg bag of flour into your favourite mixing bowl (most street vendors vessel of choice is a large plastic washing up bowl). This can prove harder than it sounds when pouring from a 20-litre can of water – remember to tilt not lift!
Mixing the dough
Now it’s time to get your hands dirty. I was charged with making industrial quantities of dough and therefore was required to bury my arms wrist deep into the mixture (removing watches and jewellery first is highly advisable). The mixing process at first doesn’t require too much technique. If the contents feel a little dry, top up with half a cup more water.
Kneading the dough
Once the flour and water start to combine into the dough the real work begins. Making your hands into fists, you must attack the dough in a slow motion punch. This may not seem challenging at first but as the mixture becomes sticker, more and more force is required. As the dough develops, oil is sprinkled on and kneaded into the mixture and flour can be added to stop it from sticking Chapatti making is certainly an endurance sport. After 20 minutes of this inelegant procedure, I was exhausted and left with aching arms. I quickly realised exercising before eating a Rolex was no longer necessary, making it provided a more than adequate workout.
Rolling the Chapatti
The dough mixture can then be split into small fist sized balls. Tom’s chapattis are a little bit larger and denser than those of his competitors’ so the dimensions of these really depend on the size of chapatti you require. Take each ball and press it out into a round disc with your thumbs. On a floured surface, this can be rolled out, taking care to rotate the disk at regular intervals to try and maintain its round shape. The thinner the chapatti, the better so be patient and wait until the disk is about 2mm thick and is flexible in your hands.
Frying the Chapatti
For best results, make sure your pan is as hot as possible. Tom cooks on a charcoal stove so moments before the chapatti is fried, a brick is removed from an air inlet so oxygenate the glowing embers. Add a drizzle of oil to the pan and then carefully lay down the chapatti, making sure to spread the dough outwards with your hands to keep the disk round and thin. After less than thirty seconds, slide a knife underneath the sizzling disk and gently lift the corner to check underneath until the downwards facing side is golden brown. As we were making a bulk order, the process now became a little more complicated. Each disk was lightly fried like this individually then 2-3 can be stacked and cooked together and flipped in a rotation so each side gets cooked. To make sure the disks don’t stick, they are constantly spun like a roulette wheel. This can at first be done by hand but the fried dough gets hot rapidly which is when a ‘heatproof’ flour bag comes in handy.
Mixing the Omelette
The most common Rolex combination in Kampala comes with a two egg omelette mixed with onions, tomato and cabbage and a pinch of salt. These can be whisked together with any metal implement of your choice in a fairly dirty looking cup. The vegetable additions must be cut as small as possible to stop the cooked omelette from falling apart. This is where I confess my skills are limited. Cupping the onion in his hand, Tom takes his knife and dices it at lightning speed, the blade stopping only inches from his fingers. Although this does produce the finest onion segments known to mankind, I wouldn’t recommend trying this at home!
Frying the Omelette
This process doesn’t require as much heat as used for the chapattis so the brick can be repositioned in the stove or the gas turned down. Again, after drizzling yet more oil onto the stove, the egg can be poured on. As the omelette is inevitably rolled, it’s best to make it as thin as possible so before the egg starts to solidify, spread it out as much as possible with the blade of a knife. Similar to frying the chapattis, it is also necessary to slide the knife around the edge to check the egg is cooked and prevent the mixture from sticking. When the downwards facing side is lightly charred, carefully slide the knife all the way underneath to flip the omelette. Once turned over, lay a chapatti over the top and firmly press it down onto the mixture so that the egg almost combines with the warm dough. Once you think the omelette is cooked, using the knife, lift the Rolex off the pan and lay it onto a flat surface
Now all that remains is to roll your Rolex and serve it to your hungry customer – if they have watched you prepare it from start to finish they really will be desperate for their first bite. A thinner roll is always best so take care to make the turns as tight as possible. As your Rolex is fresh from the pan, it is still piping hot so it must then be wrapped in at least two plastic bags to prevent it from burning your hands. Redeem your modest financial reward and send your smiling customer on their way.
Fancy trying a Rolex for yourself?
Apply now to join the 2017 Challenges Worldwide ICS programme in Uganda
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.
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.
Have you been wondering what 3 months working in an African SME will be like?
Are you curious about day to day life in Ghana, Uganda or Zambia?
Do you have concerns about taking part in a Challenges Worldwide ICS placement?
Have no fear, we have come up with a way to honestly and transparently answer your burning questions.
Next week our volunteers who are currently on placement will be taking over the Challenges Worldwide Instagram to answer your questions via live video streams. This is your chance to get insight into the placement from the volunteers that are there right now!
Take this opportunity to ask all those niggling questions that you have about our programme.
“Why is it important to support SMEs?”
“Will I be well fed?”
“What are the businesses like?”
“Will I like my host family?”
“Is Sub-Saharan Africa really that hot?”
Our volunteer blogs tell some great stories, but now you can ask what’s it’s really like to live and work in Africa for 3 months!
So all you need to do is click on the picture below and post your questions in the comments section on Instagram.
We will collect up all of the questions and our teams in Ghana, Uganda and Zambia will answer them for you next week. Get your questions in by Monday 28th November and be sure to use #AskChallenges when posting.
We look forward to answering all of your questions!