Jack’s enthusiasm for life isn’t just infectious, it carries over into his work and most importantly the mission of the Social Mercenary. We bumped into each other through Challenges Worldwide . While he was working in Ghana, I was working in Zambia and we both went on to various things in Hong Kong. I also like to think of myself as a positive person – great minds think alike – and I supported his work on the fledgeling Social Mercenary in Hong Kong.
Here’s my contribution… the first logo! It only took me 2 hours on paint.
It’s only been a few months and yet the Social Mercenary has grown and is showing signs of taking root. Jack asked me to write a blog piece about why I joined The Social Mercenary, but the why is in the name.
The Social Mercenary is about more than just being a new brand and smashing deliveries out to whoever orders; the idea is to empower both the consumer and the producer. Simply put, The Social Mercenary isn’t about helping, it’s about partnership; putting entrepreneurs in Ghana on equal footing with their peers in Western markets. Ghana is an under-developed opportunity that is at the heart of regional power in West Africa and before I slip into political mode and start discussing the effects of post-colonisation. I believe that like many less developed countries beyond the West, Ghana has not been given the respect or opportunities it deserves, and businesses like the Social Mercenary are working daily to remedy that.
The Social Mercenary is not a panacea for all ills, but it isn’t meant to be. What I like about it is that it is set up as a platform; the blog is about getting attention to products that leverage the skills of people in Ghana. It’s about creating more ‘Social Mercenaries’ who believe in a better way of doing business and engineering collaborative social change. It’s also not all about Jack. Don’t get me wrong; Jack’s a great guy, but the important thing about a collaborative effort is the movement of the whole community and that’s what TSM is about; the army pulling together. I’d like to think that in some small way, I can be a part of that army – but also that anyone can. I’m helping out Jack physically now with everything and anything TSM, but you can join the movement too by buying one of the bags, sharing something, or following the blog, even if just while you wait for the Social Mercenary t-shirts, hats and second generation bags that we’ll be launching soon [watch this space].
I’m looking forward to the next few months and the Kickstarter and a couple events we have coming up, but the main thing is to make sure we lay good foundations for the greater things that the Social Mercenary has coming its way. The Social Mercenary is not something that will materialise overnight, but with its goal, and while the army grows, I’m happy to say that I can be a Social Mercenary!
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.
Why did you choose to apply to Challenges Worldwide for your Saltire placement? What was it about ICS and Challenges which appealed to you?
I was looking to gain business skills in a challenging environment, away from the standard office type job. I was looking for something more adventurous, where my actions may have a greater impact than in a standard internship.
When you applied, what did you hope to gain from a Challenges Worldwide placement?
I was looking to gain early stage business experience in growing an SME. I wanted to gain exposure into how to build business plans, keep accounts, market and sell a product/service at grassroots level.
I was seeking to be in an environment that fostered an entrepreneurial spirit working and living with individuals of different cultural backgrounds but with a shared interest for sustainable development of social enterprises.
How did you find the pre-departure process, eg fundraising, training, preparations, and the support you received from Challenges and ICS throughout the pre-departure stage?
The pre-departure process was fairly straight forward. Challenges were helpful with vaccinations and there was plenty of support for the fundraising aspects. There was definetly a strong community with the UK mentors before we departed, this started with the two day briefing with CWW in Edinburgh and continued through groups in social media.
Can you summarise your placement and how you found living and working in another country and culture? What business did you work in, what was the host experience like, how did you find working with a national counterpart, and what did you learn from these aspects of the programme?
My placement was with Green Heat Ltd (www.greenheatinternational.com) who are biofuel specialists implementing onsite solutions to convert human and agricultural waste into sustainable sources of energy. I acted as a business and engineering consultant, exploring enterprise avenues in developing biogas and briquette production.
Working and living in a foreign non-western culture was extremely exciting. I was motivated throughout the entirety of my programme, largely due to my personnel interest in the companies work and the openness of the company directors Gabriel Okello and Vianney Tumwesige.
Working with a national counterpart had it’s pros and cons. It was a great opportunity to be immersed into their a local community but there were differences in work ethic and academic backgrounds. These difficulties were mostly overcome after the first two weeks by dividing tasks up and setting realistic targets. We went on to become a successful little unit.
What was your highlight of your placement?
1) Researching an alternative agro-waste kilning technique and developing a business proposal that would be pitched to the carbon Bureau of Uganda for a carbon trading scheme involving 8 of the largest flower farms in and around Kampala.
2) Visiting the final school a government funded initiative with Green Heat to install 10 fixed dome biogas latrine digesters. Please see the Seed Development Award video below:
What was your biggest challenge during your placement? How did you overcome this and what did you learn from this?
My biggest challenge at the early stages of the placement was ensuring a consistent communication link between myself, my counterpart Rachael and the company directors. I could see from other members on the programme they were completing excellent business/marketing/sales plans but were struggling with their host company to get the key messages across and implement such plans.
I dealt with any potential communication gaps by organising a weekly meeting with my counterpart and company directors every Friday afternoon to do the following:
To keep the meetings exciting and motivating we changed the venue most weeks and one of us organised a social event afterwards. Venues and activities included:
Macare University – with tour of research facilities
The garden of my homestay with meal and pool tournament afterwards
Kampala’s Rugby clubs – lively pork barbeques!
Shearaton Hotel – swimming pool
Chinease resturants – (Gabriel loved Chinese food from studying in Beijing)
These meeting and events created strong ties and were key to my continued working relationship with Green Heat upon returning to the UK.
Now that you’ve had time to reflect on your placement, what impact has it had on you and your personal development? Did the placement have an impact or benefit for your business, counterpart and /or host community?
A massive impact no doubt. Personally I gained the experience/confidence to start a business (Riverbank- see below). My counterpart, Rachael gained the marketing experience she was seeking. My host company have grown extensively now employing 40 members of staff full-time and winning numerous contracts including the following:
An extra 10 government funded latrine biogas digesters which have now been installed in Ugandan schools
Since graduating, I co-founded Riverbank, a creative communications business to improve the outreach of Engineering and Ecology based projects. Our first business proposal was presented by the CEO of Green Heat at the prize giving ceremony for the seed development award in Nairobi, Kenya. Riverbank have been working with Green Heat ever since to enhance the information outreach of their products and services.
Our site is not quite live but a a little more information can be found here:
When is does go live it shall be here:
After an exciting week of at the Legon campus in Accra, the real thing is about to begin! After an intense journey and a lot of rushing around to find the right tro tro, here I am, on Tuesday morning with my counterpart Ferdinand, finally meeting Clara, the owner of Norte Drinks. I immediately liked her and I hope she felt the same way about us. After our chat about her enterprise, I was truly impressed by her motivation and forward thinking about her business. Here’s a short summary of what my client is doing and where my counterpart and I will be working for the next three months.
Her name is Clara Norte, owner of Norte Drinks Enterprise in Accra, Ghana. She started her company 2 years ago with her own capital and a little help from her friends. She graduated the University of Ghana in 2012 and since then she had worked in TV Africa for a few years before realising she wanted something different for her future. That’s why she decided to give it a go and start her own enterprise making drinks. Her flagship product is the popular Ghanian drink called Sobolo. For most people reading this, I should expand on what Sobolo is – it is a special drink, something like an ice tea, made of hibiscus plant which is boiled and then different natural flavours are added to it. Norte Drinks makes 3 different flavours – cinnamon, lemon grass and pineapple. Clara’s products are 100% natural and she does not add any preservatives to her drinks, keeping them nice and fresh. She is also bottling and labelling her Sobolo. Apart from Sobolo, Clara prepares fresh fruit juice – orange, pineapple, watermelon and takes it to events where she’s serving – most recently a book launch in Legon Campus but many other events as well. What makes Clara different? She’s the complete one man show. She does everything herself and she does everything from 100% natural products bought locally. Her goal is to promote healthier lifestyle among Ghanians and this is a rare thing to see out here. Her forward thinking will take her places.
Overall, I’m excited to embark on this opportunity and see how things go. This is an amazing opportunity to actually see what a young entrepreneur is going through and help as much as we can. It is still week 1 but I’m positive something exciting is on its way.