Food technologist by training, I started my career in 1997 working with a major food brand owner in Zimbabwe manufacturing and exporting into Southern African Development Community (SADC). I then moved into an agriculture and rural development programme where I was a consulting food technologist assisting small-scale dairy farmers to value add milk into higher supermarket ready fermented milks and yogurt products. I was also improving good hygienic practices, food safety, new product development, quality and providing technical solutions for upscaling processing operations. Whilst performing this role I was co-opted into technical committees of the Standards Association of Zimbabwe (SAZ) drafting national standards on milk and milk products, discussing harmonisation of food standards and laws in SADC region and adoption of WHO/FAO Codex standards in Zimbabwe.
I then moved to the United Kingdom in 2001 to study for an MSc Food Economics and Marketing at the University of Reading. Whilst studying I worked on an agriculture policy implementing agency administrating EU Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) payments, import and export subsidies. I have spent the last 10 years been working in the UK food businesses supplying to all the major retail supermarkets in various quality and technical management roles and in between starting a small business manufacturing ethnic fermented milks
I was introduced to Grow Movement by another consultant who had just completed a project.
As an African citizen in diaspora I am partly motivated by a need to contribute something back to the continent through leveraging my skills, ideas, experiences and networks. I am also motivated by a need to prevent my own deskilling that comes with working in the UK food industry where full potential as a foreign-born worker is difficult to attain through being deployed to positions lower than educational attainment, training or experience, non-recognition of overseas qualifications, bias for local experience and cultural know-how. Grow Movement provides that platform for people like me, Africans in diaspora to volunteer their unused skills and talents to help them remain current and relevant.
As a person passionate about African development I was clear in my mind that Grow Movement would score highly on three metrics: (1) jobs created; (2) economic value added to small African economies; (3) skills imparted and knowledge transferred through the personalised one-to-one Skype conversations. I have no doubt that it is poised to achieve what the big organisations like the World Bank/UNCTAD have failed to do in Africa despite ploughing millions of dollars into it. Grow Movement has embraced the idea that Africa is changing and that interventions need to change tactics. They have created a platform where it is easy to volunteer skills. The Grow Movement logic of intervention is innovative and works better not only because of its low cost and riding on the back of Africa's improving mobile phone/internet connectivity but because it is personalised communication.
Jean Claude Ntakirutimana had a business plan to purchase three bus-type mobile toilets from China. He planned to provide toilets at bus stops and densely populated areas of the City of Kigali so that 1,122,000 people can pay to ease themselves in a comfortable environment every day. He needed help to find a loan of circa 187,660,000 Rwandan Francs/$300,000 USD to finance this venture. His business plan had already been listed as one of the top 25 projects in an entrepreneur competition in Rwanda.
Whilst going through the problem definition and research phases with me as his appointed Grow Movement consultant he managed to see an opportunity to establish Kigali Sanitation as a the business that collects business and household waste using trucks from urban centres of Kigali. He did this after I had highlighted to him that he did not need a loan to a start the waste collection business, a slight change of focus from the mobile bus toilet project he had planned. He only needed to apply for a licence then get people to prepay for their waste collection. Using the cash prepared he could hire a lorry to do first collections and repeat the process.
Claude followed that advice and within six months he managed to establish a business venture doing 3000 collections in Kigali with hope of future expansion into original idea of mobile bus toilets.
My first preparation was to read and understand the Grow Movement Instruction Manual for Volunteer Consultants. This briefing from Grow Movement made suggested approaching the project in two broad stages 1) research stage and 2) advice stage, hence my approach was to be guided by that outline. As a person coming from a quality assurance and business process improvement background I am naturally inclined to take a process approach and use of structured problem solving tools when I approach projects.
I looked up for the Logic Model which is a process-based approach for planning consulting projects. I had previous used this in my past career life helping rural farmers to develop profitable small-scale dairy processing enterprises in Zimbabwe. It is very compatible with the Grow Movement program guidelines. From a logic model point, a consulting assignment is viewed as process consisting of six phases: (i) the contact; (ii) problem definition; (iii) data search; (iv) analysis; (v) plan development; and (vi) implementation.
Apart from identifying my chosen methodology, I read a lot about Rwanda from economic statistics, business news to Rwandese culture so as to get insights into the business, economic and social environment of the client.
My first phone call was a bit awkward in the sense that I did not know what to expect. I had fears that like most entrepreneurs Jean Claude would be too ego involved with his ideas and business activities to accept my advice if it sounds different from his expectation. My other worry was that if for some reason my advice turns out to be wrong then I would have negatively affected Jean Claude livelihood and that of his dependence. So I had to approach the whole assignment with due care and full commitment.
I sought to understand his motivation and the outline of his business plan, which I did in our first Skype call after exchanging a few pleasantries. I got to understand his background as trained sociologist and rural consultant. His motivation was to improve sanitation in the city of Kigali through his business Kigali Sanitation, a social entrepreneur. In this first contact stage we discussed the nature of Grow Movement program, his reasons for requesting assistance, nature of his problem, perceptions about his business needs, brief information of the business history, desired outcome of the process. Claude expectation was that at the end of the 12 weeks he would have found a loan to start the mobile bus toilet business.
It was important for both of us to understand the boundaries of the project and more importantly for me to understand the level of the project (strategic, operational or tactical), to establish trust and credibility I needed for future commitment at implementation, to review my own motivation and assess if there is any good chance of positive end results and to decide if I should continue.I concluded by requesting a copy of the business plan by email.
In second phase of my logic model I had to clearly define the problem beyond the brief. I made a call to Claude to ask about how he had approached his fund raising. He was looking for a loan capital of $300,000 USD to finance purchase of three bus-type mobile toilets so as to provide better sanitation in Kigali City.
I read his the business plan, conducted a SWOT analysis to look for strength and weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The plan was motivated by recognition that Kigali City and other cities in Rwanda did not have enough functional public toilets and the ones available were poorly managed. Jean Claude wanted to provide a business solution to this social problem of lack of adequate easing facilities through placing Chinese made bus toilets at busy areas and times targeting 1,112,500 dwellers per day in Kigali city with a growing population.
My initial analysis identified two main problems, firstly non-availability of the social enterprise finance in Rwanda and secondly the quality of the business plan. From a structure point of view the business plan was not clear as to who the intended audience was and some of most projections did not have assumptions to back them up.
I placed myself in the shoes of a venture capital investor appraising Jean Claude’s business plan for a possible investment. I listed a number of questions which I thought the business plan needed to address. I emailed them some of them to Jean Claude and followed with a Skype call. Below are the questioned in generic form:
I also attended the Africa Club Day Conference 2012 at London Business School (LBS) and a Private Equity Africa conference in research of possible sources of funding. I also did a lot of internet research on investment funds that could fund a social entrepreneur’s like Jean Claude. I had conversations with some fund managers who gave me feedback that the business idea was great but might be difficult to get investors or loan finance its current form. I learnt that investors invest in both business plans and the people behind the plans.
Two improvement plans came out of this research and analysis. Kigali Sanitation business plan needed improvement and to be pitched to the right audience, demonstrating requisite management capability. The second plan was to identify the sources of funding for social entrepreneurs from Ashoka, Acumen type funds, grants to crowd sourcing platforms and getting Jean Claude to submit the applications.
I shared this feedback with Jean Claude advising him that it was wise to first build up experience behind him in a general waste management venture before he goes for grand idea of owning mobile bus toilets. My view was that if he can build a business first he would then use this experience use support a loan or grant application for expansion into the mobile bus toilets. It was at this point that Jean Claude indicated that he was thinking about a rubbish collection venture Gasabo District. I highlighted to him that he did not need a loan to set up such business. The first step was to get a permit and collect waste on a prepaid basis; once his business grows then he can find ways on unlocking value out of the waste and expand into the mobile toilets at the right time.
The idea I was nursing in my head was that if Jean Claude was to became successful in this rubbish collection venture he could then approach UK or US Waste Management companies to provide him with a grant as part of their CSR programs or sponsor him to acquire assets of the trade such as bins, personnel protective clothing PPE etc. or even sell him their out of use trucks. In my mind I saw that possibility where waste management companies in UK could be encouraged to invest in small business in Africa like Claude’s Kigali Sanitation. I shared these ideas with Jean Claude in a Skype call.
For Jean Claude it was a "light bulb moment". He quickly saw the opportunity. So says the idiom “serendipity favours a prepared mind”, Jean Claude went on to implement the waste removal business plan as discussed with no capital creating 25 jobs in six months.
Coming from both a quality assurance and business process improvement background, it was natural for me to use a structured approach to solving the problem first by choosing the logic model to consulting projects and SWOT Analysis for assessing the business plan.
We did about eight Skype conversations but the realities of work pressures meant some conversations had to be exchanged through Skype messenger rather than Skype talk.
On average each session was an hour.
We exchanged in 10 emails mainly sharing ideas and explaining some of the advice on how to improve the business plan.
We set on a mission to:
Adopting a structured problem thinking, process approach to consulting, critical analysis and lateral thinking
The major challenge which I had already anticipated was that of direct versus indirect communication. In western languages and culture communication is usually direct the meaning is on the surface but in many African languages Kinyarwanda the language of client and my own mother tongue Shona included, the meaning is often embedded in the way message is presented. Because many African do not think in English when they speak the language but instead think in your mother language then covert the meaning into English language so some communication might not be as direct and explicit. Sometimes when the Jean Claude would say “yes” during our communication he would only be saying I am listening to you not that I understood you or I am going to do what I had advised. The yes was just the nearest equivalent of the native word to say I am listening to you. So I could distinguish word yes in agreement and yes in just taking noting of what I said. I would write a summary of our discussion and email if it involved any agreed action.
The other was trouble with accents and fluency which can influence perceptions of competence. I had anticipated that. The mother tongue interference in the pronunciation of words sometimes made some words pronounced difficult to hear but I would ask the question in a different ways without repeating and pardoning myself.
Because of lack of knowledge business environment in Rwanda, the hardest thing about the project was defining of the problem and understanding it through the eyes of the client Jean Claude. The problems presented by my client were not as simple and recognisable as they seemed in initial brief. This meant that the problem definition had to be reviewed through the consulting process to reaffirm the validity of the defined problem or redefine them.
It gave me invaluable experience and networks. It gave me an opportunity to explore potentially new career roles either as a business consultant or as an entrepreneur writing their own business plan. I experimented with a new industry and gained a practical outlet for some knowledge gained during years of study and working in the food industry. It gave me an opportunity to increase my business skills set i.e. market entry and attractiveness analysis, risk assessment, market business plan creations and appraisal as well as financial modelling. It motivated me to consider applying to study an MBA and hopefully I will secure funding.
The experience of consulting at Grow Movement had a profound impact on me. I learnt something about other African cultures in the process. Helping a Rwanda entrepreneur required me understand his motivation, business and cultural context. The one thing that I learnt was the cultural value of Agaciro. Agaciro is a Kinyarwanda word closely translated to mean dignity or self-worth. The African conception of Agaciro is that dignity is acquired and maintained by doing things for oneself instead of hand outs from others. I do not have any doubt that behind Claude business success there is some “Agaciro” motivation as demonstrated his assertiveness, resourcefulness and bias for action. Grow Movement approach facilitates African entrepreneurs like Claude to take leadership and ownership of their development themselves only providing consulting services at low cost by Skype. As an African I am proud to be part of Grow Movement who in my opinion has created a process which either by design or default places the agenda of dignity (Agaciro) right at the centre of our development.
Volunteering with Grow reconnected me with the causes of fighting poverty in Africa and promoting economic growth, causes I am passionate about. It motivated me to write a blog challenging the Aid Industry to improve its effectiveness through implementing Lean Six Sigma improvement tools which we use in UK food industry to speed up processes, remove waste and do more for less. The blog has since been commended by people in aid World Vision, and attracted attention of various development experts keen on using the ideas in some UN project evaluation work.
Since the Rwanda project I have gone onto volunteer outside grow helping a local charity Creating Better Futures to frame their strategy and core case for funding raising.
The Grow model provides entrepreneurs an environment and opportunity to experience life changing "light bulb moments" required to get started and I am humbled that Claude got his light bulb moment during the consulting conversations with me and it is worthwhile experience.
Empowering, Motivating, Satisfying, Transforming, Fulfilling.