Jack Hamilton Fellows, took part in Challenges Worldwide ICS placement as a Business Support Associate, delivering a consultancy process to a business in Accra, Ghana during summer 2016.
Since his placement in Ghana ended, Jack has gone on to work for a startup in Hong Kong, supporting them with their digital marketing and has founded The Social Mercenary, a brand and website that’s mission is to inspire a community of change makers.
We caught up with Jack to see how The Social Mercenary has evolved over the past few months and what his plans are for 2017.
Hi Jack, thanks for your time today, it’s great to see The Social Mercenary taking off, could you tell us why you decided to found The Social Mercenary?
I want people to see what’s possible and how they can make the most of their lives. So I hit on 3 key areas:
1) Volunteering (for those that haven’t done it it’s so rewarding)
2) Travelling (something everyone wants to do and ts great it really helps bring an open mind set– and it is possible to do cheaply!)
3) Health and wellness (it’s an area I’ve always found interesting plus it’s so important to keep fit and healthy to live the best life possible).
That’s great to hear that you are continuing to display the Challenges Worldwide ICS ethos. We notice that on your website you now have a shop section. Could you tell us about your plans for the shop?
The Social Mercenary has a range of apparel. We currently have 90 bags from Ghana in Hong Kong ready for a Christmas fair at the Conrad (A 5 star) Hotel. The ultimate aim of this platform is to give grass root entrepreneurs in developing countries access to a worldwide market. We essentially help market their product but in the long term, we hope we can invest in the businesses to help support any growth that comes with supplying a world market so that the entrepreneur can have continued success.
So how did this all come about?
I created the blog to capture the Challenges Worldwide ICS placement in Ghana. The title “The Social Mercenary” is a complex juxtaposition that on the surface was supposed to indicate economic empowerment via entrepreneurship. At the time I thought that by helping a business grow and to then become profitable it would then have subsequent social values. This ties into the Challenges Worldwide ethos that was embedded during my placement in Accra.
How do you think your Challenges Worldwide ICS placement helped prepare you to be a “Social Mercenary”?
First I want to point out that this is a community and so if you have a passion for making the world a better place then you should certainly get involved! Going back to my Challenges Worldwide ICS placement the skills and experiences I gained were incredible. I worked with a company that sold smoked fish which on the face of it doesn’t sound too inspiring. However, it opened up a lot of lateral thinking that has helped me out to date. For instance, I had to understand the domestic market for which there has not been that much market research as such I calculated the market size (which was huge) and with the business we thought about a revolutionary strategy to bring hygienic smoked fish, economically to the masses.
Challenges Worldwide give you a great deal of responsibility during your placement and so not only did I develop skills in market research, I also gained a great understanding of the operating procedures and the financial recording requirements that are vital to a business.
Finally, and probably most importantly, the placement gave me confidence in my own ability because I felt I had a personal impact on helping this business. After my placement, I knew I could set my own business up no matter where I was in the world and so whilst in Hong Kong, I have seen the opportunity to take The Social Mercenary from a personal blog to a collaborative community of change makers.
Challenges Worldwide still have places for you to work with high growth/ high impact businesses in Ghana, Uganda and Zambia in 2017. Apply today to take part in a UK Government funded Challenges Worldwide ICS placement and challenge yourself to change your world!
On the 24th October 2016, Lusaka based Challenges Worldwide ICS volunteers met to present to one another how they intend to impact the enterprises in which they are placed.
Four weeks into the placement, Challenges worldwide- ICS volunteers met with a panel of guests to share ideas on how they intend to economically and socially impact the enterprises in which they work. The enterprises under discussion included African Ceramics, Bookworld ltd, Kapenda Mabula Natural products ltd-Luano Honey, Waster Master, BDSA and Recyclemania. All these are some of the emerging SMEs in Zambia`s capital, Lusaka.
Challenges Worldwide ICS
Challenges Worldwide, is an organisation based in Edinburgh and works with SMEs around the world to help them grow. With the help of volunteers from the UK and across Africa, Challenges Worldwide is working as part of the UK Government funded ICS programme (International Citizen Service). Challenges Worldwide ICS currently operates in Ghana, Uganda and Zambia. The ICS slogan “challenge yourself to change your world” has inspired over 20,000 young people to join the ICS programme. To date over 300 volunteers have chosen to be part of the Challenges Worldwide team, working hard to create the change that they wish to see. The work starts with SMEs as they are the backbone of the African economies that Challenges work in.
Beyond the impact that is projected towards the SMEs, volunteers on the programme experience a 12-week placement with a multidimensional group of people from diverse cultural backgrounds and experience personal and professional development.
Developing Presentation Skills
On this day, all the 16 volunteers of the Lusaka team met to share information about their enterprises. Evidently, there has been transformation, from just learning about the SMEs and how to make them grow, to implementing the earlier acquired knowledge and to developing self-confidence to go out there and challenge ourselves on how we can better change our world.
“Initially, during assessment over a month ago, I could not stand in front, composed and present something that would reflect my passion for development, but today, I did!” said Likando Muyangana.
At the end of it all, every volunteer will have learnt some skills that would help them be the change they want to see. Functioning together as a team to find better solutions for the SMEs has been a great experience so far, and 24th October presentations helped each one learn something; we`ll look back years from now, acknowledging how through Challenges worldwide ICS programme we were helped to find our passion for development and be part of the process to help others develop even as we develop personally.
Vitalite, a social enterprise in Zambia, are trying to address environmental and health issues by providing alternatives to charcoal with clean tech.
Location: Lusaka, Zambia
Volunteers: Melissa Hamalambo, Emmanuel Muntanga, Helen Wright, Edward Lowe
This case study provides an example of the ideal Challenges Worldwide impact – an enterprise which is providing employment and training for a range of people, is having a social impact (in this case health and environmental) and is profitable – ensuring sustainability and growth options. This is then combined with an exceptional experience for the volunteers, resulting in employment for our ICVs and continued engagement with global issues for all volunteers.
Deforestation is a huge issue in Zambia, with over 250,000 hectares of forest cleared every year – a significant proportion of this to create charcoal for fuel. This is hardly surprising with only 26% of the population having access to electricity and frequent ‘brownouts’ resulting in no electricity for up to eight hours at a time. Charcoal provides the cheapest form of energy, but this has a devastating effect on the environment and people’s health.
Vitalite, a social enterprise in Zambia, are trying to address these issues by providing alternatives to charcoal – through efficient cook stoves, sustainable fuel, and solar solutions. In 2014 Vitalite impacted over 3,000 households and 15,000 people, this was before the introduction of their pay as you go system which has increased their reach even further and has huge potential. The largest company of this kind, M-KOPA in Kenya, has connected 400,000 homes to affordable solar power – demonstrating the huge potential of this kind of intervention.
Action at Home is the final step of the ICS programme. It requires volunteers to complete an activity that will allow them to transfer the skills learned on placement and benefit their home community. Here’s an account of Sangha’s Action at Home where she transferred her enterprise skills to raising awareness of food poverty in the UK.
What was the action and where did it take place?
I volunteered for a charity called FoodCycle and helped organise a Family Activity day in collaboration with St Mary’s church in Sheffield. The day started with a social meal. I collected surplus food from local supermarkets in the early morning which I then delivered to the kitchen and helped cook, along with other volunteers, a delicious three-course meal for anyone in the community who was hungry or lonely (including families with children). I also helped put out signs for the event in the morning and welcomed guests throughout the day. There were activities such as crafts and games organised in the church grounds in the afternoon.
How may people attended?
Did your Challenges Worldwide ICS experience inspire this action?
Have you done something like this before?
What did you learn during this project?
I learnt about food poverty and how it’s within our capacity to resolve it if we don’t waste so much food as a society. I also learnt that poverty is a reality for many people in my community and a space like this makes a significant difference in their lives.
Have you any future plans related to this project?
I will continue to help out during the social meals and Family Activity Days that FoodCycle leads and organises in my community as I am passionate about tackling preventable waste and eradicating poverty. I will also take a leading role in helping the charity advertise their events and make them more accessible to local residents.
How was your action Youth Led?
I took the initiative as a young volunteer to collect food, help with cooking and serving a nutritious meal for a large crowd, clean up afterwards as well as spread the word about FoodCycle and their events through posting signs and flyers out in the community.
How did your action Make a Connection?
My project covered three of the Global Goals: No poverty, No hunger, and Good health. There is poverty in my community which leads to hunger. Since ‘junk’ food is generally cheaper than their nutritious counterparts, this is what poor people eat more of, leading to poor health. By providing a nutritious meal to people who couldn’t otherwise afford it made a huge difference to their lives. Being marginalised leads to poor mental health as well which we helped counteract by giving people a chance to socialise and engage in activities with other people in their community.
How did your action Make a Change?
There was an opportunity for visitors and volunteers to make a donation on the day. This helped raise funds for future social meals and activity days that will continue to benefit the community. All the volunteer cooks were unemployed – the day provided us all with vital employability skills and practice in cooking and hospitality, project management and team work. Furthermore, the FoodCycle programme has gained media attention during a recent nation-wide campaign on curbing food waste within big businesses in the supply chain (‘Stop the Rot’). Even if this individual event may not have directly impacted upon public policy, events such as this, across the UK, collectively have the power to influence policy-making and the food recovery process.
How did your action Engage Others?
The space and time we created gave the local community, especially the poor and the marginalised, a place to go, to belong, to have fun and get involved. In addition, I got the chance to speak to members of my cooking team about ICS, Challenges Worldwide and my recent experience to help spread awareness about this fantastic opportunity. After the event, I spoke to friends and family about my work and experience at FoodCycle which made them aware of food poverty and the opportunities they have to make a difference where
Ghanian tech startup TinyDavid has created an exciting location mapping service that is revolutionising the market for African enterprises. With the Support of Challenges Worldwide TinyDavid are on a path to change the world.
Why are Challenges Worldwide working with TinyDavid?
Charity and NGOs both in the continent and across the world are indispensable combatants in the war waged against poverty in Africa. Their humanitarian efforts in fighting off disease pandemics, providing shelter, potable water, and other important relief services have continually been hailed. While most of them are persistent at first in providing as much aid as possible to selected communities, they can only do so much and would have to channel their resources elsewhere.
Sustainabilty and Scalability
This lack of continuity always begs the question of how scalable and sustainable these projects are in the long term. This inconsistency defines the incentive for the alternative approach of other pioneering NGOs. Challenges Worldwide believes that by supporting the development of fair and inclusive local economies we can help alleviate poverty and bring a lasting positive impact to communities in low- and middle-income countries by empowering emerging businesses to make them more sustainable and successful. Through the International Citizen Service (ICS), a UK Government funded development programme that brings together young people from the UK and developing countries to volunteer in disadvantaged communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America, Challenges Worldwide volunteers work together with micro and small-sized enterprises where they can have a direct positive impact through sharing their capabilities, skills, perspectives and experiences.
Whats in it for the volunteers?
It’s an enviable opportunity to develop professional skills to enhance the employability of volunteers over the long term and create a global cadre of future wealth creators who have a practical understanding of the vital role of economic development in reducing poverty. Having already influenced dozens of small businesses in Ghana, the programme seeks to increase its impact to further parts of the country. TinyDavid is one of the enterprises being supported by Challenges Worldwide.
For a technology based enterprise, TinyDavid is a particularly peculiar name. However, the story behind the name brings the company’s mission to life. The business’s motto ‘tiny solutions to big problems’ is clever mantra from the famous bible story of the encounter between the giant Philistine warrior Goliath who was defeated by a tiny teenage boy, David. This creativity, illustrated in the brand, amongst other such ingenuous and unique ways of thinking is what has allowed the business to overcome any challenge thrown its way, and flourish in the process of becoming a game-changer in the Ghanaian tech industry.
So what is TinyDavid?
In Ghana, it is no mystery that finding your way around can be a bit of a hurdle, especially if you’re new to an area or in worst cases a visitor from a different continent. Although the average Ghanaian is irrepressibly hospitable and beaming with friendly smiles willing to give a helping hand to lost people in the neighbourhood, he is poor at giving directions. Unfortunately, our goodwill often gets such people who have gone astray even further confused. People cannot necessarily be blamed however since houses rarely have numbers, and street names are near enough invisible. The usual practice is that well known locations such as businesses or schools are used for navigational purposes but are rarely reliable in poorly zoned areas. This is where TinyDavid and more importantly their app, SnooCode comes to salvage this menace of directional errors.
The SnooCode app founded by Sesinam Dagadu in 2011 produces a unique specified code which uses a combination of any of the 26 letters from the English alphabet and numbers to accurately generate a code which will pinpoint your location using GPS technology. You are then enabled to use this code to identify the distance, time expected for distance to be travelled and plot routes to your very exact location without the usual stress of asking your way around town.
The prospects of such an amazing app coded to be user friendly to every layman is just limitless. This multipurpose usefulness of SnooCode has already been exhibited as a potential ally to not only the individual but to benefit broader society.
Why is SnooCode so revolutionary?
In an epidemic situation for example, the ability to produce an accurate location for local authorities to use allows them to act swiftly and efficiently, reducing the risk of several damages occurring. In different areas across the capital where up to 160 emergency workers have been trained to use the app, its social impact already in these early stages of development is phenomenal. An application like this has the possibility to do wonderful things.
How will it help the people and enteprises of Ghana day to day?
Mr Dagadu has reiterated that pertinent avenues like ambulance services and food delivery services have very low efficiency rates in Ghana as compared to that of other advanced countries largely due to the inability to produce an address and know where on earth to deliver to. While such efficient addressing systems are popular industries in places like the UK, and provide employment for many (particularly the youth) they are still fledgling in Ghana. The system has the potential to benefit young people greatly, as the addition of work experience in any form has the ability to bolster your CV remarkably and make you more employable.
The vision of TinyDavid is to export this ideology to Ghana which can provide jobs for a developing country where unemployment is rife, and essentially bridge the gap of uneasiness of finding directions in the country. It is quite apparent that Mr Dagadu is on the verge of revolutionising both transport, address systems and service delivery in Ghana. With the correct guidance, support, investment and marketing in place, SnooCode along with TinyDavid can balloon in size especially in a country which is as consumed with cellular technological advances as Ghana is.
During the 12-week programme in which Jon and Kailian (the assigned volunteers), from the UK and Ghana respectively, have both undertaken rigorous Chartered Management Institute (CMI) training as Junior Business Associates. The pair has added a fresh insight to TinyDavid’s operations and offer recommendations based on the Challenges Worldwide Enterprise Support Framework, paired with their cross cultural perspectives which has proven invaluable to the business over the past weeks.
They have conducted analysis involving the financial performance of the business, as well as using other tools to segment the market, and get to the root of the business’s hitches. All whilst gathering enough data to profile the business to be able to recommend suitable changes. As well as the analysis conducted, Jon and Kailan have gone the extra mile of getting involved in the day-day activities of the business while using their previous experiences and acquired training to make relevant decisions to positively influence the business such as developing potential features for the app.
Continued support from Challenges Worldwide
However, the programme doesn’t just end there. Challenges Marketplace, an online platform linking businesses across Africa to investors across the globe has the capability to help TinyDavid reach its peak potential. TinyDavid will be able to report monthly and build up a portfolio of themselves, which they can then use to attract investment. The more information uploaded on Marketplace allows for more investors to trust the business, understand it’s purpose and their track record to judge whether investment will be a worthwhile venture. Making funding accessible to these businesses is a key part of the programme in its mission to achieve the ultimate goal of alleviation of poverty in Africa through enterprise empowerment and strengthening business ties. While the attraction of funding is purposefully a keynote for Marketplace, it also enhances networking and creates specialised contacts in relevant fields all geared towards achieving TinyDavid’s business goals whilst meeting Challenges Worlwide’s wider social targets.
As Challenges Worldwide volunteers, Jon and Kalian have both gained massive experience with this opportunity to work on a project such as SnooCode especially in the early stages where their help, and guidance have had a substantial impact.
Their input into SnooCode has been invaluable for TinyDavid, but the Challenges Worldwide’s work does not, and will not stop with the end of the 3-month volunteer placements. With an in-country business portfolio team as part of Challenges, TinyDavid has access to all the support it needs, and with other relevant opportunities available, TinyDavid could quite possibly become one of Challenges Worldwide’s biggest success stories.
Alastair Duncan has gone from strength to strength since his Challenges Worldwide ICS placement from January – April 2016 in Ghana.
Before his Challenges Worldwide ICS placement, Alastair was already eager to work abroad and gain international experience. His goal, to become a Business Analyst for Tata in Pena, India working within Jaguar Land Rover. He identified a Challenges Worldwide ICS placement as the way to achieve international experience, cultural adaptation and experience working in a business.
In his interview with Tata, Alastair was specifically asked about his Challenges Worldwide ICS placement as the overseas experience was essential to the Tata role. Indeed, Alastair stressed that this was “ not travelling” and he left the “gap year attitude” behind as he identified his placement as a sure way to realise his ambitions.
In addition to being valuable work experience, being accepted to live and work into a new community for a prolonged period of time, gave him a greater insight. Being modest, and analysing your own values and looking to “embrace what local people do, understand why rather than criticise and to break boundaries between yourself and counterparts” is one piece of advice he would offer to any volunteer about to go out on placement.
Modesty, along with managing his expectations and marinating a positive mindset, were central to making the most of the highlights. Alastair said that volunteers should “expect it to be life changing” but not to go with preconceived notions, positive or negative of their placement country. There will be ups and downs but in the end, Alastair would always remind volunteers, “You’ll get through it”.
So what exactly did Alastair gain in addition to international experience?
Central to his new role is the client relationship. Through CMI accredited training in-country, he was able to demonstrate to Tata that not only did part of the training he received on placement cover this area he implemented this training in a business during his placement.
For his Social and Entrepreneurial Action (Action at Home), Alastair has offered his newly developed skill set on a voluntary basis to an SME in London. This action aims to secure the success they have had in the first five years of business and has simultaneously allowed Alastair to demonstrate he is capable of transferring the skills he developed on placement to another working environment.
Alastair, we wish you all the best in the future and look forward to hearing more about your developing and exciting career!
In a cosmopolitan city like Accra, city dwellers often satisfy their quest for news and daily trends by listening to the radio; while in the shower, while taking breakfast or while stuck in traffic on the way to work. With the multiplicity of radio stations in Ghana, one doesn’t have to go through much stress finding a suitable frequency. In fact, it seems wherever one tunes to has one show or another going on each morning.
Having noticed this potential exposure to a mass audience, the Communications Committee thought it a great chance to showcase the opportunities available to youth and enterprises to a bigger part of the population.
For other NGOs, getting on the radio is a recipe to flaunt their achievements but for Challenges Worldwide, we sought an opportunity to widen our scope of impact, reaching out to people whose lives we can influence but haven’t yet because of our restrained reach.
Listen to the recording of the show
The Radio Show
At 7.30am on Monday, representatives of the committee were at the studio of Radio Universe, the official radio station of the University of Ghana with a great coverage and reach to a lot of young people in the metropolis.
The discussion was a ten-minute session as part of the daily morning show which was strategic because nobody misses the morning shows in Ghana. We started off by introducing ourselves and the organization Challenges Worldwide. We talked about businesses we work with and how the programme impacts their growth and development. Emmanuel, who is part of the committee elaborated on his business and the role he and his counterpart are playing to bolster growth and the progress they’ve made so far.
Jack got to talk about his experience as a UK volunteer, working in a different environment, the challenges and benefits of cross-cultural interaction and his enthusiasm to champion change in a fledging business that needs his help.
Challenge yourself to change your world
We went through the processes of becoming a part of the programme as either a volunteer or Team Leader and also how enterprises could get involved. Particularly, we emphasized the role of Challenges Worldwide in building a more productive young workforce which would play an active role in building the nation and the economy through empowering businesses. We summed up the talk by inviting listeners to be part of the programme through all our media platforms.
It was a wonderful time sharing our beliefs, introspection into the impact we’ve made and improvements of our lives these few weeks. We’re changing the world!
Project OPTIMA has been setup by Challenges Worldwide volunteers working with Rainland Timber in Kitwe, Zambia.
OPTIMA stands for Organic Propagation Through Independent Micro-franchise Agents; we want to help our fuel efficient, clean cooking stoves organically propagate throughout Zambia by utilising a micro-franchising business model.
Deforestation is a critical issue in Zambia. Our solution, known as Project OPTIMA, has the potential to let Zambians overcome this environmental disaster and the first step to success is your help. What is project OPTIMA? Organic Propagation Through Independent Micro-Franchise Agents. In the developing world, micro-franchising business models have seen significant success. They empower the grassroots level of society to take ownership of providing commonly used goods to consumers everyday. We developed the idea of using this model from existing cases in Zambia, such as MTN and Airtel network providers, who have seen success selling mobile phone credit from the urban jungles to the deep rural bush. Even the government owned corporate giant ZESCO use a micro-franchise business model in Zambia.
Our aim is to select agents such as women’s groups to sell the stoves and wood fuel to their local community. For the pilot scheme we will create a micro-franchisee package for each agent, which will include:
IT MAY SOUND LIKE A LUDICROUSLY OBVIOUS STATEMENT… BUT AFRICA IS A SUNNY PLACE.
As I perform my daily morning ritual of spraying myself in copious amounts of suntan lotion (so as to prevent myself turning the shade of a lobster) I wonder why many African countries like Ghana are not littered with solar panels powering their houses, shops, and industrial buildings.
My preoccupation with thinking about solar power stems from the fact I’m working at Translight Solar, a Ghanaian company which works in this field. The figure below shows ‘solar horizontal irradiation’ – a fancy way of saying how much sun an area gets. Look at how little sun a place like Germany (which is a solar giant) receives compared to most African countries. Surely Ghana, along with many other African countries, should be in a prime position to fully harness all the sun it benefits from. Yet solar capacity is still at a relatively low rate – Ghana’s modest target of ensuring 10% of the energy mix is renewable by 2020 is unlikely to be met. All this begs the question…why in Ghana, alongside other African countries, is solar power far less ubiquitous than it could be?
On arrival in the country, we were advised that if you ever needed to make small-talk with a Ghanaian, you should mention ECG (Electricity Company of Ghana) to them. ECG, the nationalised energy company, is notorious for its rolling blackouts. The occurrence is so regular a phrase has been coined in their local language – ‘Dum-sor’ (off-on) – to describe them, and Ghanaians are well known for berating the organisation – just as the British are known to passionately moan about the weather.
The regular blackouts are one of the most striking things about moving to Ghana – reading a book before bed with just my head-torch for illumination has become a semi-regular occurrence. Yet whilst ECG’s performance seems bad now (at least relative to my experience of constant power in the UK), ECG was in fact far worse around a year ago, when blackouts of up to 24 hours were common.
When there is a crisis in the grid, alternatives become a lot more attractive, and the solar business boomed. But since the energy crisis has subdued, so too have solar installations. If there are such clear advantages to solar, what explains the slow-down in business? Does ECG need to get worse before solar can continue to grow?
Part of the problem is that solar energy is still seen by many as a luxury, not a necessity. Whilst the price of solar panels has plummeted in recent years, the cost of storing the energy still remains relatively high, so even though in the long run moving to solar is significantly cheaper, there is still a significant initial cost to be made. Western countries with strong solar take-up solve this issue either by subsidising the process (which the Ghanaian government seem unlikely to do), or ensure consumers have access to credit to finance the cost of installation themselves.
WHAT’S DIFFERENT IN AFRICA THEN?
This is where we arrive at one of the main issues… lack of finance. Because banks have not developed comprehensive credit history reporting systems to assess risk, consumers face eye-wateringly high interest rates and short repayment periods. Furthermore, a lack of finance doesn’t just affect consumers – it also affects businesses within the solar market. Without boring you by going into the economics of bank lending in many African countries, it is often more profitable for banks to lend to governments than to consumers… this leads to prohibitively high interest rates for SMEs (small- and medium-sized enterprises) of between 20-45%.
THE SITUATION IS NOT ALL DOOM AND GLOOM, HOWEVER, THE FUTURE OF SOLAR APPEARS BRIGHT.
Companies such as Translight Solar are developing innovative products and payment systems to make solar systems much more affordable, enabling a far higher number of people to gain access to a clean, cheap and reliable source of energy. Ultimately solar energy should be viewed not as a luxury, but as a necessity. Having a more reliable source of energy will also boost productivity and ultimately economic growth, raising everyone’s standard of living. The only downside may be consigning the Ghanaian national hobby of complaining about ECG into a thing of the past.