We had a busy end to last week both here at Edinburgh HQ and in Accra. We were absolutely delighted to host a delegation from the Ghana High Commission at our recently opened new HQ. It was great to get a chance to talk directly around all of our hard work in Ghana over the last three years and share with them some of the successes of our young people supporting SMEs at the same time as showing off some of the great products we have from Ghana on display here.
It was an honour to be joined by High Commissioner His Excellency Papa Owusu-Ankomah; George Blankson- Head of Welfare and Consular; William Osafo- Head of Education; Joyce Asamoah- Koranteng- Head of Political & Economic Affairs; Kofi Addo- Head of Trade and Investment; Dr. Charles Ayiku- Honorary Consul for Scotland; and Frazer Lang – Scotland Africa Business Exchange, who had set the visit up.
His Excellency Papa Owusu-Ankomah was thrilled to see the quality of the Ghanaian products from the SMEs we have supported along with stories of some of what our Ghanaian alumni have been able to achieve on placement with us and their next steps into a career. It was great to show everything from bamboo bikes to craft Shea butter to handmade leather shoes which all the delegation were keen to source pairs of.
“Your work, your enthusiasm and your interest in Ghana were all very much appreciated by the whole team. I was especially surprised to see the kind of work that you have been doing and the already set-up links that you have developed with Ghana.”
Dr. Charles Ayiku- Honorary Consul for Scotland said “Your work, your enthusiasm and your interest in Ghana were all very much appreciated by the whole team. I was especially surprised to see the kind of work that you have been doing and the already set-up links that you have developed with Ghana.”
It was a fantastic morning with all involved very keen to highlight the opportunities that are available in Ghana to more partners in Scotland and the UK. We will be sourcing more of our Ghanaian SME products which can then be on display in the High Commission in London.
On the same day, our Ghana team were also invited to a reception with the UK High Commissioner in Ghana, Iain Walker, along with a number of delegates. Joining Challenges Ghana staff (Country Manager Simon Turner, Business Development Manager Joshua Amponsem, and ICS Programme Manager for Accra Prince Kelly Anyomitse) ,were two of our volunteer Business Support Associate Team Leaders, Cassie Mackenzie and Ropafadzo Rusere and Volunteer Business Support Associate, Celine Fleming, who were great ambassadors for the event as they shared their experience in working with local MSMEs with some key stakeholders at the reception. Business Support Team Leader Ropafadzo Rusere said “We had a great evening networking with fantastic organisations and spreading the word about what we do! Not only did we meet some inspiring people, but we also got to share our passion for developing young people’s skills, entrepreneurship and economic empowerment through private sector development!”
“…trade between Britain and Ghana is a top priority of the two nation’s relationship.”
The High Commissioner was very enthusiastic about the work Challenges is doing in Ghana. In our conversation with him, he re-emphasised the value of our work towards MSMEs and also mentioned: “trade between Britain and Ghana is a top priority of the two nation’s relationship.”
He was excited to learn of the numerous outstanding MSMEs in Ghana that have been part of the Challenges business growth support services. More to it, the commissioner was impressed to see how young people have been a driving force in the success of Challenges in Ghana. This is a clear demonstration of our commitment to build the capacity of young people, increase their employability, and inspire them to be active citizens in driving change in their communities.
Similarly, Alan Rutt, the Country Director of the British Council was most keen to discuss our work and to synergise with Challenges in maximizing our impact on local businesses and entrepreneurs.
In all, one thing that stood out in all conversations was the growing need to strengthen the capacity of local enterprises in Ghana to manage their businesses towards growth, and how Challenges is at the forefront of this.
We know the statistics – worldwide more than 1 billion young people will enter the job market between now and 2030, 600 million jobs are needed globally over 15 years to keep current employment rate, 71 million young people are unemployed globally, the youth population in Africa will double to over 830 million by 2050, 75% of young people in developing countries are in irregular or informal employment.
Even among young people who are lucky enough to receive an education and go to university, there is no guarantee of a job at the end. In Uganda, 40,000 young people graduate university every year, with only 8,000 securing employment. Part of the issue is a lack of jobs available, the other is the skills gap between what employers want and what graduates have.
To start solving the problem two things are needed:
1. More jobs
2. The right skills to do the jobs
Which comes first?
With the job market as it is, there is little surprise that many people turn to starting a business – with 285-345 million informal enterprises in emerging economies. And, whilst starting a business can be a solution for many young people, most remain purely as livelihood businesses – remaining in the informal sector and struggling to move to a position where they lift their owner out of poverty, let alone create jobs for others.
So instead of focusing on starting a new business, why not look at the existing ones? There are 25-30 million SMEs in emerging economies, contributing up to 45% of total employment and 33% percent of GDP. If each SME gave an opportunity to two young people then youth unemployment would be virtually eradicated.
If each SME gave an opportunity to two young people then youth unemployment would be virtually eradicated.
However growing SMEs is not without its challenges, with failure rates high, access to finance difficult and leadership skills lacking. SMEs need more skilled employees who can raise the game in terms of management and leadership, financial accounting, and use of technology. These skills can help bridge the gap needed to access finance, and create more stable organisations – in turn helping them to grow and employ more people.
But which comes first? SMEs can’t grow without the right people working for them, and the right people can’t get the jobs unless they grow.
A virtuous circle
At Challenges Worldwide we’ve looked at how we can solve these problems together. Our ICS programmes place young people in an African SME for 12 weeks, pairing a UK volunteer aged 18-25 with a national from Ghana, Rwanda, Zambia or Uganda to work as Business Support Associates. We provide training in Professional Consulting and Management and Leadership that is accredited by the Chartered Management Institute. Through a structured programme these young people identify the needs of the SME, working to recommend solutions to help them grow. Longer term we utilise the information collected in our software to understand the barriers to growth and help SMEs access the finance they need.
We have spent over 15 years providing access to finance, consulting and private sector development services to SME’s in emerging economies. As you probably know, that sector is dominated by professionals with countless years of experience. So when we first started working with 18-25-year-olds we were sceptical. They arrive mostly with no training in consulting, no experience in business, and if they do have a degree it is often in an unrelated subject. Honestly, we wondered what young people could achieve. But after working with over 700 young people providing 132,000 days of onsite support to 300 enterprises – the results have been overwhelmingly positive.
Our Business Support Associates have enabled us to identify the key barriers to growth for these enterprises – through learning about enterprises from within and getting their hands dirty they’ve discovered as much, if not more than many more experienced consultants we’ve worked with.
51% addressed issues with marketing strategy
31% addressed issues with lack internal processes
38% implemented new record keeping systems
23% improved market knowledge
20% addresses a lack of human capital
Our young people have demonstrated that they can learn the right skills – in a week; that they can apply these quickly and create lasting change for themselves and the SME’s – in 12 weeks; and that these SMEs can grow – and in many cases employ them.
Each SME we work with has seen that the skills of two young people for 12 weeks is hugely valuable, and each placement has demonstrated that real-life experience in an enterprise provides more of the skills young people need to be successful in their career than months of classroom learning. Young people can start to create the jobs which will employ them.
“Each placement has demonstrated that real-life experience in an enterprise provides more of the skills young people need to be successful in their career than months of classroom learning”
We’re 0.001% of the way there. How do we connect the other 29,999,700 SMEs and 70,999,300 young people?
Challenges Worldwide work to provide innovative solutions that engage, grow and connect people to emerging opportunities for development and investment. We support young people through structured work-based placements, support enterprises to grow organisational capacity and deliver a range of consulting services enabling growth connections in trade and finance.
Planning a successful and impactful trip for your summer/gap year is not always easy given the number of voluntourism opportunities out there. You may have seen the stories that more and more young people are travelling abroad to volunteer so that they can fill up their Instagram account with selfies, or the report from Save the Children that states that “an overwhelming majority of children living in orphanages in developing countries actually have a living parent”. Even J.K Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, is campaigning against irresponsible volunteering placements, tweeting “I will never retweet appeals that treat poor children as opportunities to enhance Westerners’ CVs”.
“I will never retweet appeals that treat poor children as opportunities to enhance Westerners’ CVs” JK Rowling
So, how can you steer clear of the minefield of irresponsible and purely commercial options out there?
Follow our tips below to ensure you don’t fall into the voluntourist trap:
Research the company and placement you are about to embark on
Be sure to look at “development impact”. Does the charity appear to monitor and report on the impact that their volunteers are having in the community? This could form the basis of an impact page on their website or an annual report. If they don’t seem to have a monitoring and evaluation function in their organisation then chances are they care little about the impact they are having and simply want money from their volunteers.
Find out how the programme is funded?
If the programme is purely volunteer funded then it is likely that once again there is little focus on community impact and creating positive change for the so-called beneficiaries of the volunteer placement. When looking at a placement advert ask yourself, “Is all the language geared at convincing me to part with my money, in order to benefit myself?”
The existence of a recognised funder, such as a development body like UKaid (UK Department for International Development) or SDI (Scottish Development International) shows that a larger body has a vested interest in the programme and the social impact it has pledged to create. Being expected to pay something towards the cost of the programme via fundraising is usually okay as long as the main purpose of the fundraising effort is to raise awareness of the programme and its aims.
What is in it for you?
Is there a tangible benefit to taking part in the programme? Will you be supported to overcome new challenges? Is there room for personal and professional growth alongside delivering genuine social, economic or environmental impact? Organisations that run a programme that encourages personal growth will tell you about what previous volunteers have accomplished and what skills they have developed, they may even offer a recognised qualification.
Apply for a volunteering placement with International Citizen Service (ICS)
International Citizen Service (ICS) is an overseas volunteering programme for 18-25 year olds, it is funded by the UK Government and aims to bring about three things: project impact, volunteer personal development and the creation of active citizens. There are eight different development organisations delivering ICS projects in over 20 countries.
Challenges Worldwide, an Edinburgh based International Development charity, runs an ICS programme to support businesses in Ghana, Uganda and Rwanda. The programme includes 10 weeks of training in Professional Consulting paired with a business placement in one of 4 African cities. The programme is split into three stages: Analysis, Recommendations and Implementation.
After your placement, Challenges Worldwide will continue to support the growth of the business and you will return home with a chance to complete a level 5 qualification in Professional Consulting with the Chartered Management Institute (CMI).
On this World Health Day, I was wondering about what to get for lunch. The Scottish classic of square sausage in a roll or something a bit healthier. The daily dilemma. Luckily for my health, I was inspired to go for the healthier option (and to go outside) after reviewing some of the Enterprise Recommendations presentations from our Challenges Worldwide ICS volunteers aka our Business Support Associates (BSAs) in Zambia.
Hi, I’m Lewis and I am one of the Portfolio Analysts at Challenges Worldwide and my main role is crunching the numbers that our BSAs produce during their placement. We then use these numbers to inform our strategy for Enterprise and Value Chain Development. This data is invaluable as our approach is unique in that we critically evaluate enterprises from within instead of surveying owners once and hoping the right information is given.
Umoyo Natural Health is one of the enterprises we are currently working with and specialises in providing natural health products; medicinal products, foods, supplements and cosmetics.
How does this relate to world health day?
Prevention is the best policy when it comes illness
An apple a day keeps the doctor away, so the saying goes. In 2016, close to half of the children under 5 were stunted (low-height-for-age) as a result of malnutrition with another negative impact being a decrease in academic performance.
How does enterprise development impact health?
Well, it’s about the long-term, we want a solution, not a plaster. There are 3 ways in which enterprise development will reduce malnutrition:
Increasing Distribution: By providing technical assistance the enterprises we work with will be in a position to approach investors, confident in the knowledge that they meet investment criteria beforehand. By expanding their business, Umoyo will be able to increase the number of people they can provide their health goods to.
Reduction in Price: As the enterprise grows, it will be able to benefit from economies of scale as the unit cost is reduced (the first car wasn’t cheap!) and consequently becomes a realistic option for people on lower incomes.
Increase Incomes and Demand:Umoyo has over 35 (19 female) employees and over 140 suppliers. As the business grows, enterprises must take on more staff, their demand for inputs from suppliers increase and they may need to find new suppliers. When you consider the women between 45 and 49 were surveyed their ‘completed family size’ was on average 6. Ultimately, it will be those in the household of employees that will benefit.
This is by no means a silver bullet (health warning for werewolves) and educated assumptions are always made, please see here, here and here. However, at the end of the day, if a parent’s income increases I’d bet it’s more than likely they will spend it on improving their children’s welfare. Why don’t you join us to implement lasting solutions?…and have a healthy dinner while you’re at it!
You can join us in supporting enterprises such as Umoyo by taking part in the Uk Government funded Challenges Worldwide ICS programme for 18 -25 year olds from the UK, Ghana, Uganda, Rwanda and Zambia.
Complete your online application today and help businesses like Umoyo reach their potential for delivering positive social and environmental impact on the communities in which they trade.
Last June, I departed the UK on what was sure to be an adventure. I was heading to Kumasi, Ghana as a team leader with Challenges Worldwide for 3 months. Although I had no idea what lay ahead of me as I began that 24 hour journey to Accra with the other team leaders, I could never have envisioned that, fast forward 7 months, I would be stood speaking about my experiences at the Houses of Parliament in front of the head of DFID, Lords, Ladies and a group of MPs.
When I applied for an ICS placement, I had just secured a job in London and was looking for something to fill my final extended summer. I wanted to travel, but having already taken a few too many ‘gap years’, this time I wanted to give something back. I’d heard horror stories about the voluntourism industry: “They’ll knock down anything you build for the next group”, “You’re money’s going to a selfish and greed-driven organisation”, “Why are you paying to volunteer your own personal time?” These are all valid points that highlight real issues around this industry, and they resonated in my mind as I searched the internet for opportunities to combine my wish to travel with my want to do some good.
“Why are you paying to volunteer your own personal time?”
ICS was something I learned about from Facebook. The DFID funding gave it credibility, the opportunity to work in partnership with other young people was unique, and the breadth of projects and countries was exciting. I had no real idea as to where in the world I’d like to end up or with which organisation, I just knew that I wanted to be involved in an entrepreneurial-focused initiative. Everything I’d read and believed pointed towards the sustainability of development when the power of business was harnessed in the solution. No more questions about what happens when the funding stops and the volunteers leave; upskilling business owners and making a positive impact to an economy as a whole should have a far reaching and long lasting positive impact. Two weeks after my initial application, I heard I would be interviewing for Challenges Worldwide. Another quick trip to my go-to google and I realised this project aligned perfectly with my aspirations.
No more questions about what happens when the funding stops and the volunteers leave; upskilling business owners and making a positive impact to an economy as a whole should have a far reaching and long lasting positive impact.
The work the volunteers did whilst on placement was fantastic. Over the space of the 3 months, they made a real impact on 9 businesses within Kumasi. However, what led me to the Houses of Parliament, and what I’ll focus on in this blog post, is the social impact that bringing a diverse range of people and a community together can have.
For those who have not been on a Challenges placement, I’ll give a quick explanation. Alongside their day-to-day work, whilst in country volunteers are split into four groups:
MPR (Mid Programme Review) – tasked with organising a fun-filled weekend of reflection halfway through the 3 months
Team Building Committee – responsible for activities and events that bring the volunteers closer as a team
Communications Committee – with the joint aim of marketing the volunteers’ achievements and work
Impact Day Committee – required to identify a need within the community in which the team are living, and organise a day of action to tackle this.
As a team leader, I headed up the Communications and Impact Day teams, and my counterpart Lukman took charge of the MPR and Social committees.
It’s at this point that I’d like to challenge you to take a look at the below picture and ask yourself: what you believe you see?
We’ll revisit the answer to that shortly – but first, I’m going to explain how this picture, and the Impact day it was taken at, came about.
Planning Impact Day – take one
As previously mentioned, part of every ICS project is a team “Impact Day”. Although the eventual outcome of this event is tackling a social problem, it was clear that due to the nature of the Challenges programme it would be best to take an entrepreneurial approach.
The easiest way for a group of newcomers to a city to do this would be to join forces with an already established network. In our case, however, Challenges was as new to Kumasi as we volunteers were, meaning we had no existing connections. We, therefore, set about searching for charities and volunteer groups, talking to host homes and businesses, looking online, and reaching out to friends.
An orphanage affiliated with one of our businesses approached us for help. However, in order to mitigate the ‘voluntourism’ risk that I spoke about before, there has been a shift away from working with children on any Challenges Worldwide ICS placement. Challenges’ 20 years of expertise centres around sustainable business development in emerging economies and their work delivering ICS seeks to disrupt the status quo of unskilled young westerners undertaking short-term projects that can cause more harm than good. Therefore we were encouraged to approach our impact day activities with sustainability and long-term outcomes in mind.
Planning impact day – take two
Weeks passed, and ideas came and went. We all wanted to make a real lasting impact in the community that had welcomed us so nicely, but – like anything in a developing country – overcoming obstacles was a daily challenge. Thankfully, using prior university contacts from home, I managed to contact a social enterprise, SanEco, who wanted to help. Saneco is the brainchild of The University of Southampton’s Enactus Society. In short: SanEco have identified a way to create reusable sanitary towels from readily available and affordable materials. They train unemployed members of communities to make and market these products with a focus on also educating women on their bodies and menstrual cycles. Through this initiative, social entrepreneurs are created. By increasing these people’s income, they directly tackle poverty levels. These entrepreneurs also increase the standard of living of the females in their communities, who would now have access to affordable sanitary products, allowing them to continue with their normal lives whilst menstruating.
I pitched the idea to the Programme Manager and our Impact Day Committee and they all loved it – but they would, as a predominantly female team who understood these issues and were comfortable speaking on the topic. The real issue would be introducing the concept to the male members of the wider team and, as expected, there were mixed reactions. We, as Westerners, like to believe that we stand for equality and share the mutual respect to discuss health issues and topics such as the natural processes of the female body. It’s all too easy to think that the male/female divide is only now a problem in lesser developed areas; however, initial reactions to the Saneco topic highlighted that so-called ‘taboo subjects’ are also still prevalent in Western society.
It’s all too easy to think that the male/female divide is only now a problem in lesser developed areas; however, initial reactions to the SanEco topic highlighted that so-called ‘taboo subjects’ are also still prevalent in Western society.
After a few difficult conversations and a hard stance from the Impact Day team that this was how we would proceed, we got everyone on board. We would deliver workshops in the morning, transferring skills that are essential to any business: budgeting, marketing and bookkeeping, to name a few. We would then introduce the SanEco programme in the afternoon, and apply what we had taught in the morning to the product.
Preparing for Impact Day
The team were excited and the day began building momentum. We bought materials, secured a venue, did shout outs on the radio, printed and handed out flyers, reprinted and red-handed out flyers and attended church ceremonies to spread the word. Before we knew it, the day was upon us and all we could do was wait to see if anyone turned up.
Anyone who has been to Ghana will be well aware of GMT (Ghana man time). To those who haven’t, this is the name given to the fact that it is perfectly acceptable to show up to arrangements hours after the agreed time. A bizarre concept for people from the UK to wrap their heads around. Thankfully, it appeared that GMT was running particularly close to regular Ghana time this day, and at just 45 minutes after our planned start day, the room had over 20 people in (both male and female, from babies to grandmothers!)
The morning workshops went without a hitch. The participants were actively engaged, offering examples, asking questions and genuinely enjoying themselves. We broke for lunch and got ready to introduce SanEco.
There was a buzz in the air. We had decided to market the initiative only as a new ‘social enterprise idea,’ in order not to discourage anyone from attending before they understood the initiative. However, to our surprise, when we revealed what we would be showing them, the excitement remained in all participants! We began walking them through the process of creating a sanitary pad. Unfortunately, as accomplished as we all felt for pulling off this day, it turns out that we’d overlooked the slight issue that none of us could use a hand operated sewing machine, which was the main component of making these pads. Thankfully, and with some quick thinking, we threw it out to the audience and were extremely relieved when a lady in the front row was more than happy to help. She came up to the front, and in less than a minute, we had our first pad. I pulled out my iPhone and quickly snapped the above image.
When I earlier asked what you thought my picture showed, I’m sure you didn’t guess the answer. A woman empowered by a group of young people with the tools to start her own business tackling women’s needs.
Since returning to the UK, I’ve been overwhelmed by the interest in this image. It’s been in newspapers, been voted top 10 out of over 400 entries in the ICS photography competition and allowed me to attend a showcase at the Houses of Parliament, discussing my experiences with some of the most influential people in the country. The Houses of Parliament showcase was the first time since returning from my placement that I really had the time to sit back and reflect on the difference that we have made and can continue to make. Meeting volunteers from other ICS organisations has reiterated the positive impact that young people are making across the world. Challenges and ICS represent the opposite to most stigmas that are attached to young people nowadays. Lazy? No. Uncultured? No. Shying away from community spirit? Not that I’ve seen.
Challenges and ICS represent the opposite to most stigmas that are attached to young people nowadays. Lazy? No. Uncultured? No. Shying away from community spirit? Not that I’ve seen.
With the changing, and somewhat frightening, world that we live in today, it’s never been more important to spread the word on the positive impacts that collaboration across borders can make. I spent 3 months living in a country where I was a ‘foreigner’, and quite frankly the experience would have been impossible without the welcome, help and support I received from my Ghanaian colleagues. Pictures, to most, are a way of preserving memories. They have always been a very personal experience for me. However, what I’ve learned from this experience is that they also serve as a tool to spark curiosity, spread positivity, and tell a story. I’m not promising all pictures will end up with you in the Houses of Parliament, but I have seen first-hand that people want to know about your placement, they are interested in learning from your experiences and it’s actually pretty fun to relive them through sharing your story.
So: post your pictures, share your stories and remember that the Challenges Worldwide ICS experience is a truly unique one.
When I was picking what to write a blog on this topic about, I knew it was something that would not only challenge my intellect but also push me out of my comfort zone. I have spent time researching and reading a lot on this topic and it is amazing just how valuable and educating it’s turned out to be. Looking at this topic helped me gain a deeper understanding of the business world.
I have been working with BeeSweet Ltd for three months now as part of my Challenges Worldwide placement and I can say it has been an exciting and enriching experience. BeeSweet is a honey-producing company providing a business alternative to charity for the local community. It is one of the fastest growing honey companies not only in Zambia but Africa as a whole.
The company operates using a value based micro-franchise business model. It has developed a scalable and replicable business model that is not only producing high quality, certified organic honey for domestic retail and export but also saving trees and substantially increasing the incomes of rural farmers in Zambia. In the next few paragraphs, I will elaborate more on how the company operates and add value not only to every product they produce but also in the lives of each and every farmer they partner with.
“YOU’VE GOT TO UNDERSTAND THAT WHAT WE ARE DOING IS NUTS,” BEESWEET FOUNDING ENTREPRENEUR JOHN ENRIGHT ASSERTS. “WE HAVE MADE 50,000 BEEHIVES AND WE GIVING THEM ALL AWAY – THIS IS INSANE.”
The company has a well-developed relationship with the local farmers; they try to work with farmers in areas (called schemes) that are well suited for beekeeping.
Each scheme is managed by a mentor who is elected by the farmers themselves – the mentor acts as a link between the farmers and the company, working hand in hand with harvesters. The company train and equip the mentor and his harvesters with necessary beekeeping skills. They are given the task of going round each scheme checking on the hives, making sure that all the hives are occupied by bees and later during harvest they help farmers harvest the honey. Everything from betting the hives, checking and harvesting are done by the mentor and his harvesters; the farmer will only need to take the honey to the collection point and the company will buy honey from all the farmers in that scheme according to the market price.
The honey is then transported back to the processing plant where it is processed and packaged both for retail and export sale. The company has put measures to ensure every bottle packaged in its processing plant contains nothing but high-quality honey with the great natural taste that has captured the hearts, minds, and wallets of customers.
This explains why a lot of companies are lining up to do business with BeeSweet. Consumers get value for their money from every BeeSweet product they purchase. Not only are they provided with great honey but each and every cent the company made is used to enrich the lives of local people by building schools, clinics and invested back in making more hives, thus increasing the number of farmers that the company conducts business with.
As a young Zambian citizen, I feel the Challenges Worldwide ICS programme has given me the rare opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the greatest business men inhabiting this country. I feel fortunate to have worked with a company whose business model has not only transformed my life but has given me a deeper understanding of the business world and the value a business can have on local people.
Life is energy. From cells functionality and plants photosynthetic activity up to all the modern electric networks that we have nowadays. Currently, our energy use is based on fossil fuels, which have allowed us to boost our economy and improve our lifestyle. However, as any technology, its use have some consequences, which in this case are related to environment degradation and climate change.
Also, not everybody has access to this type of energy. Around 16% of the world’s populations have no access to electricity and many more have very poor access to it*. Most of these populations are rural and are located in Sub-Saharan Africa, where people have to struggle every day with issues that would never pop into our heads as a problem in our daily lives. From not having electricity in hospitals at night to not having access to entertainment or just fewer hours to be productive at work and study.
All these put us in a crossroad, where we have to play smart if we want to overcome such social, environmental and, in a very close future, economic issues. So, how can clean energy be increased in Africa? And what can we do if we are living in the UK to promote it?
It’s more and more accessible every day!
Renewable energies are becoming more affordable and easy to install at a small scale. It is an excellent solution for lighting hospitals or put irrigation systems to work in rural communities. Even though there are still some limitations, like no sunlight at night or no-wind days, these clean tech options are a powerful tool to improve people’s quality of life. Besides, new technologies are arising and, for example, solutions for storage problems are not so far from becoming reality.
Solving the problem at household level is crucial in rural areas
Millions of homes across Africa have to spend money on kerosene every day for lighting. This can be a struggle when there is not enough money to buy food and the decision between one or another has to be made, besides being extremely harmful to health. Also, in some cities, the people that have access to energy find it too expensive compared to what they get. Therefore, solar panels have been a sustainable solution for households of different economic levels. An example of this is the work that Translight Solar and Sunny Money are doing in different African communities. At the end, providing alternatives to families is a good way to start and to offer solutions, before scaling to a country level.
There is no single energy solution
Fortunately, in our planet, energy abounds. From watercourses and the wind to sun and radioactivity. All of them are energy manifestations. Therefore, there is no such thing as an only one energy solution, all of them are needed to reach a sustainable supply and to solve the energy problems that many African countries face.
Not copying the Western model
African countries have a big opportunity: follow their own energy strategy, use and access path. Not easy, that’s true, but it’s not impossible. Policymakers need to enable and facilitate the conditions for renewable energies to be competitive compared to fossil fuels options, as well as to promote competition among such companies to improve their quality and protect costumers. Also, making this new technology accessible for rural communities can be one of many solutions to increase their livelihoods levels. An example of this is Vitalite in Zambia, where they’re making solar energy accessible to people with a pay-as-you-go strategy, which adapts to Zambians needs and culture.
There is a lot of work to do
Not just in Africa, but also in the UK. As citizens, we have the right and the duty to request from our governments’ cleaner energy strategies, better political platforms to increase investment and promote its use amongst the society. At the end, it’s also our responsibility to have a more sustainable economy and reduce our carbon footprint.
On a mission to provide solar power to rural Zambians, I find myself sat on a 7 (yes 7) hour bus journey from the town of Chipata in Eastern Province back to the capital, and the scenery around me is just breathtaking. The landscape is lush and green, covered in trees with small mountains that rise and fall along the horizon. At odds of course with my original stereotypical imagery of deserts or savannah filled with Zebras. It is such a privilege to have had the opportunity to my work here with Sunnymoney through Challenges Worldwide, to take this trip out into the countryside and get to take a peek at what Zambia is really like for the majority of its residents. To see the people whose lives we are trying to change for the better.
SunnyMoney Schools Programme
We travelled out here to start our Schools Programme where we engage the headteachers of rural schools and ask them to share information about solar energy and encourage their students and community members to purchase our solar lights. We deliver this programme at great cost to the organisation, selling lights at prices that barely cover the cost of importing them, let alone the cost of the field teams trips. We are in part funded for this by DfID but ultimately Sunnymoney aims to cover the cost themselves.
It’s been a fantastic and enlightening experience to travel to some remote areas and witness my colleagues deliver the programme. They have, it seems to me, a hugely challenging task and I have the utmost respect for the work that they do. We drove for long hours each day, getting lost once or twice (I honestly have no idea how anyone ever navigates these areas) which was absolutely exhausting. We even sadly got stuck in the mud one day after it rained! Being rescued by cows was a brilliantly ironic juxtaposition of old transport methods being far more useful and successful than modern technology out in the rural areas.
Providing solar power systems provides a means for rural Zambians to access electricity
Sunnymoney field teams aim to conduct 2 or 3 Headteacher Meetings a day and they aim to deliver a huge amount of information in only about an hour or so. The even greater challenge is that they do not pay headteachers to help them in the programme, to educate and encourage their students and communities. They are only asking. Yes there are small incentives and the Headteachers are always thrilled with their free solar light at the end, but they are asking them to do a lot of work above and beyond their jobs. So within this hour, my colleagues have to figure out how to inspire them, to prove to them that Sunnymoney is here with a social cause that is worth their effort to support. To show that they are there with the intention to improve education by helping students study at night, improve their future prospects and even further, to provide sustainable, affordable lighting for a whole family. Truthfully the responses were mixed. Some were so grateful that we would travel so far to see them and to choose their schools to work with us. It’s so challenging and expensive to reach many of these places, that most firms wouldn’t be able to reach them at an affordable price which is one of the key reasons Sunnymoney conducts this programme and allows them to help communities that truly need it. Others, unfortunately, were suspicious and had little confidence or belief in us. Whilst it’s an innovative and often successful distribution model, it’s flawed in that it’s a challenge to rely so much on individuals to support you when they have no accountability to you.
A Challenges Worldwide Business Support Associate can make observations and offer recommendations
The ethos behind the programme is wonderfully positive with a fantastic social impact. On my part observing the meetings, though, I was saddened to see that Sunnymoney has slightly fallen into the classic old trap of focusing on sales and forgetting why we were there in the first place. The wonderful part of that observation though is because of my position with Challenges Worldwide: I am in a position to help remind them. To use my role as a Business Support Associate and an outside voice, to make these observations where small changes could mean huge improvements.
Fighting poverty through business
It was incredible for me to drive past the many many villages and to be able to visit these schools. It’s given me such a small but worthwhile peek into little parts of rural life. It’s allowed me to connect more and appreciate more the people Sunnymoney are here to help, the people I am indirectly here to help. I am convinced that by helping Sunnymoney to become a more successful and efficient business, I am raising their potential to change even more lives. The ICS programme run by Challenges Worldwide is an amazing opportunity to bring in people with a wide variety of experiences and backgrounds to join together in support of worthy cause with so much potential for long-lasting impact. Fighting poverty through business in big or small ways is so much more sustainable than relying purely on donations. Sunnymoney will continue it’s operations long after I’ve returned to the UK, but I know that they have the potential to grow and change so many more lives and I hope my recommendations will help them to do that.
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?
Since 2014, Challenges Worldwide has provided over 80 days of onsite support to 120 enterprises in Ghana alone. Here are just a few of the products from some of the enterprises we are continuing to engage with as they grow. It is our long-term aim to connect these and future enterprises to quality opportunities for trade and finance.
Shea butter soap from Ele Agbe
Ele Agbe, meaning “God is alive”, has been led for over 20 years by founder and entrepreneur Comfort Adjahoe-Jennings. The business sells shea butter cosmetics, handmade jewellery, and locally woven baskets. Comfort sources all of her products and raw materials from women-led cooperatives in Northern and Eastern Ghana, and sells through an outlet in Accra with export to the U.S. and Canada.
Challenges has connected Ele Agbe with a London-based natural cosmetics company, PoaPoa, which has been distributing and testing several of the enterprise’s shea products in the UK market for the first time. These include shea butter creams, soaps and lip balm.
Challenges Worldwide worked with Ele Agbe in Accra, Ghana, from January to April 2016.
Coconut shell crafts from Sakoi Vision Enterprise
Samuel Akoi and his two sons, Ebenezer and Benjamin, run a workshop where local craftsmen cut, smooth and shape coconut shells into artisanal and household items such as bowls, cups, and containers. These products are sold wholesale to other artisanal businesses, as well as theatres and cosmetics companies.
Sakoi Vision trains and employs young people from the Oyibi area in Accra where it is based. Each coconut shell product is unique and gets its dark colour from being treated with Sakoi Vision’s own coconut oil.
Challenges Worldwide worked with Sakoi Vision in Accra, Ghana, from June to September 2016.
Black soap from Skin Gourmet
Skin Gourmet is a small business founded by Violet Awo Amoabeng, a young woman with a passion for raw and pure skin care from nature, an eye for simple and beautiful design, and years of banking experience to set up her business and its local supply chains.
Skin Gourmet sells cosmetics and health foods made from natural products, such as shea butter, coconut oil, moringa leaves, and baobab fruit.
Black soap, also called African Black Soap, is soap made from the ash of locally harvested plants and barks such a plantain, cocoa pods, palm tree leaves, and shea tree bark. It is traditionally made in West Africa. Black soap has natural exfoliating qualities, is known for treating oily skin, and gently cleanses all skin types. Coconut oil and shea butter are often added for extra hydration.
Challenges Worldwide is working with Skin Gourmet in Accra, Ghana, from February to April 2017.