Inclusive Business in Africa

Ethnic Supplies was invited to join Business Fights Poverty and the Department for International Development  UK (DFID)  in organising a Practitioners workshop in Kampala Uganda on 10 May 2010.

The aim of the workshop was to bring together International Businesses, Ugandan businesses and Donors to look at some of the innovative ways of running inclusive businesses.  Inclusive businesses are those businesses that incorporate the poor both as consumers and or producers, or if you like they are businesses that look beyond the traditional Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

I was a panelist at that workshop and we had a few questions to explore in relation to inclusive business. I will explore  one at a time over the next few posts

Question 1

WHAT ARE THE MSOT IMPORTANT  LESSONS YOU HAVE LEARNED ABOUT HOW TO START AND SCALE AN INCLUSIVE BUSINESS MODEL?

  1. The women I work with are  producers in developing economies producing goods for  sophisticated consumers in developed economies and as such what looks good in their workshops/homes does not necessarily translate to commercial success. It is therefore necessary to do thorough market research when selecting products to bring to market
  2. Managing expectations that arise as a result of cultural differences such as time keeping. Whilst here in the West we are used to instant information, timely  deliveries the sense of urgency may not necessarily filter through. In other words whilst producers in the developing economies want access to markets in the developed economies they are not always willing to adapt to market expectations of the developed economies and as such they have sometimes missed out on opportunities to trade with folk in the developed economies.

An example of point 2 : We recently had an opportunity to tap into funding for the benefit of a group of women in Uganda. Part of the of the application criteria to access the funding was that we had to demonstrate that we were indeed working in partnership/ with this group and they were happy for us to apply for this funding on their  behalf. The group was required to send us their accounts and project outline. They confirmed in a telephone conversation that they had this information and would email it through before  the deadline. The deadline for submission of the application was 1/9/2010 and the women sent us their information on 6/9/10. I would be lying if I said I was not disappointed by this whole episode, but there we are. All we could say to the group leader was..Oh Well! perhaps there will be other opportunities!

KNOWING WHAT I  KNOW NOW WHAT WOULD I DO DIFFERENTLY?

  1. I am a  strong believer in helping people to help themselves   and as such I believe that information and skills sharing is vital in this area of work to ensure that business in developing economies are ready to supply quality products that the market wants at the right price and on time. I would therefore seek to work with partners with expertise in product development
  2. I would also be more selective when choosing who to work with on the ground as a mismatch of ideals can lead to poor working relations and disappointment on either side

In the next post I will be answering a question on the role of financial institutions in inclusive businesses, in the mean time if you have a view on any of the points raised here please leave a comment

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