Remote Business Coaching in Africa – An Exciting Research Study

By Zoe Lawson

Grow Movement’s work has been proven to be effective in alleviating poverty through a recent academic study.

The study examines the impact of remote business coaching on small business sales in Uganda, using the gold-standard research methodology known as randomised controlled trial (RCT) or Randomised Controlled Field Experiment (RCFE). You can read more about these types of study in our blog post from May 2019. The research is important in demonstrating, through academic investigation, the power of Grow Movement’s work and its ability to help African entrepreneurs grow their businesses and ultimately, improve the lives of local people and their families.

So, let’s start by re-capping what Grow Movement is all about.

What is Grow Movement and How Does it Work?

Grow Movement is a charitable organisation, funded by the British Government, charitable trusts and donations. Set up in 2009, its principal aim is to alleviate poverty by helping African entrepreneurs build their businesses. Grow Movement works in countries classified by the World Bank as ‘Least Developed’ and at the current time, is active in Malawi, Rwanda and Uganda.

It works by linking local entrepreneurs with international business consultants, who provide mentorship, professional guidance and business skills. Consultants are volunteers with strong academic and professional backgrounds in business, and their services are free of charge to the recipient. Mentoring taps into the power of digital communication technologies so that neither consultant nor mentee need leave their country. Most sessions are conducted using a mixture of Skype, WhatsApp and telephone, often with follow-up by email.
Entrepreneurs are selected by local, in-country partners who identify suitable small businesses that may be suitable for the program.

What Did the Research Study Investigate?

The over-arching goal of the research was to understand the impact of remote business coaching, provided by Grow Movement Volunteer Consultants, on the marketing strategies and sales of emerging-market enterprises. Marketing strategy innovation is a deliberate change in a firm’s business model that creates and delivers value for customers. Also referred to as a pivot, you can read more about this in our upcoming blog post dedicated to the subject. Remote business coaching was hypothesized by the researchers as an intervention that could plausibly induce such pivots. To better understand pivoting and its relationship with performance, a field experiment using the RCT/RCFE method was conducted.

Three key questions were postulated by the researchers:
(1) What is the effect of remote business coaching on a firm’s sales?
(2) How does this effect occur – and does it stimulate changes in the firm’s marketing strategy?
(3) Do entrepreneurs benefit more from remote business coaching when they are less strategic in their decision-making?

We’ll explore the answers in a later blog post, but for now let’s consider some of the context and setting of the study. Firstly, it is important to note that small firms run by founders/entrepreneurs are the focus of this research. Although the study authors acknowledge that the intervention is relevant to entrepreneurs globally, they remark that is likely to be particularly beneficial to those in emerging markets, where they make up 60% of jobs.

They implemented the field trial with entrepreneurs in Uganda to identify the causal impact of Skype-aided business coaching on strategies and sales. A sample of 930 Ugandan businesses were randomly assigned to a control group that received no intervention and a treatment group offering remote coaching (in the form of free, one-to-one business coaching via Skype videoconferencing, mobile calls and emails). During every two-week module, the entrepreneur virtually ‘met’ and interacted with their coach to analyse the business and implement new strategies.

So, what did the study find? Stay tuned to our forthcoming blog posts to discover the results of the research!

3 August 2019

Zoe Lawson

Zoe Lawson is a social entrepreneur with an interest in translating innovations for international development. She has a PhD in biological chemistry and an MBA, and has been involved with Grow Movement since 2015 as a volunteer consultant and supporter.

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