The business benefits of Challenges Worldwide

So far, I’ve seen a number of benefits reaped by businesses as a result of the Challenges Worldwide (CWW) programme. The volunteer Business Support Associates have identified a number of areas for improvement and here are a few of the wins we’ve had from our cycle:

  • Data collection; the workbook collates a summary of the business, an overview of financials, scoring and high level recommendations for a number of sections including Leadership & Management and Marketing. Many of the owners have found this a great way to get all of their basic records summarised in one place.

  • Market research; a number of volunteers have created and distributed surveys, visited prospective clients/parters, completed detailed competitor analysis including product/service reviews, and even generated leads for the owners to follow up on.

  • Pricing strategy; one business was actually making a loss on their product. This was identified during the data collection phase as part of their workbook, and with the help of their volunteers, the owner was able to reduce their highest costs and increase price points whilst remaining competitive in the market.

  • Operational improvements; one pair mapped out a detailed model of the business operations for an online e-commerce business. They identified areas where the customer service was breaking down and presented solutions back to the owner that removed the issues, cut costs and improved their service. Although we haven’t had time to implement the entire solution, this work future proofs the service on offer and helps the owner get a head start on issues that may impact customer retention.

  • Financial reporting; many SMEs in Ghana start by selling to family and friends, and before they know it their business is flying. But they haven’t got anything in place to record their sales, profit and loss. By recommending apps such as Wave to manage their accounts, creating bespoke reports in Excel, and/or introducing them to the Challenges Marketplace platform (owned by CWW), they are able to build a foundation of records that can be used for investment bids in the future.

  • Marketing and branding; our team has helped to build a social media presence for some companies, created social plans and timelines, reviewed advertising strategies, created new logos, signage and packaging, developed comprehensive marketing plans and more.

  • Trade linkages; where we see opportunities for businesses to partner we always encourage volunteers to link-up complimentary products and services. For example in a previous cycle they married a jam and a doughnut company, and in our cycle a high-end shoe supplier found a quality bag producer to create bespoke packaging at a competitive price.

  • Legal advice; the process to register a business in Ghana isn’t necessarily straightforward. The CWW staff hosted a legal seminar with qualified guest speakers to provide advice, support and to offer an open Q&A. This was a great opportunity for businesses to ask questions, learn from each other and network.

  • Free consultancy; as well as support from volunteers, the programme gives owners access to senior mentors that have worked for +10 years in a variety of industries. They are on-hand during the cycle and available afterwards to provide free advice.

With just one week to go, I’ve been reviewing the work the volunteers have completed and am supporting them with their final deliverables – a handover presentation and Pitch Deck.

The handover presentation summarises their recommendations, how far they’ve gotten, what additional work they’ve completed and what is left for the owner and CWW Enterprise Analysts to progress.

Pitch Deck is an opportunity for businesses to practice a pitch presentation to the CWW staff and guest panellists. They are given a template, support from volunteers and encouraged to pitch as if it were for investment. When they need to sell their business to prospective investors in future, they are then fully prepared, have considered questions that might be posed and if we know of any trade linkages or prospective partners we are able to raise and recommend in the meeting.

Enterprise Analysts continue to support owners on an advisory basis, linking them up with the mentors, trusted industry professionals and helping to share their success. CWW have also built a database of alumni and their wider network for recruitment purposes; if businesses are looking for hard working and reliable staff, they can start from here. The benefits can be huge if owners are engaged and spend time working with the CWW team to improve their business. It may be a 10-week programme, but the work won’t stop there.

xo

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10 normalities that aren’t so normal in the UK

2 months in, I feel fully settled in Accra and am comfortable travelling solo across the busy city. Yesterday I started to realise there are a lot of things I now consider normal that were culture shocks at the start:

  1. Street goats and chickens

    Whereas I’d pay upwards of £5/£10 to visit a farm in England to see animals, goats and chickens just roam free on the streets of Accra. Often travelling in packs, the domestic animals are like cats – let out in the morning and returning to their owners at night.

  2. Carrying small change

    I’m so used to being overcharged at vendor stalls and on public transport that I keep a list of past trips and an abundance of small change in my purse. I’ve noticed traders give me a specific look when they’re about to push their luck, so I don’t hand over money until I know I’m paying Ghanaian prices and not white girl fees.

  3. Malaria and mosquitoes in general

    People catch malaria like the common cold and it’s easily treatable here. I’ve usually got at least a handful of bites on me at all times, I always carry mosquito spray, tuck myself into my net at night, and I’m now hyper-vigilant at smacking them off. Not quite the ninja reflexes of a local, but I’m getting there.

  4. The hospital system

    If you’re ill you visit the hospital. There are no GP surgeries so everything from a sprained ankle to a terminal illness goes through the same building. Once registered, you pay for everything upfront before you are treated; want to see the Doctor? Let reception know, visit the cash office and then get in line. There’s no ticket system though – you are told which door and then you sit on the closest seat to that door. Every time someone goes in, everyone shuffles up a seat, and if you’ve already queued but had to visit the lab for a blood test, you get a free pass to push to the front once your results are in.

  5. Being a celebrity

    Well kind of…people may not know my name but they know I’m an “Ubroni” (aka white person). It’s not considered a term of offense, just a fact, and I don’t think I’ve gone a day without at least one child shouting Ubroni at me for a wave. White people are a bit of a rarity here so when I was stopped in the supermarket by a group of teens for a photo yesterday I just obliged, shook their hands and agreed to be their friend when asked.

  6. Walking ssssslllllooowwwwlllyyyyy

    Ghanain pace conserves energy, stops you from getting too hot in the sun and if there is an alternative to walking people will always take it (even if it’s to avoid a 5 minute walk). I am used to walking like a Londoner; always in a rush even when I have nowhere to be, and whilst it used to be frustrating, I’m kind of used to being a little more chill now.

  7. Water sachets

    Why drink bottled water when it’s 5x cheaper from a sachet? You get used to the chemical taste of the treated water, it’s safe and after a few weeks I had mastered the art of biting the corner open and not spilling a whole bag on my crotch.

  8. Early starts

    I rarely get up any later than 6am now even on the weekends. The host home tend to wake up at 4/5am and my counterpart is usually up and about before 6am so it’s futile trying to fight it.

  9. Wearing flip-flops inside

    Although the floors are swept and mopped regularly, the sand from outside gets everywhere. It means everyone wears slippers/cheap flip-flops inside and I still have to brush my feet off before I get into bed.

  10. Loaded taxis

    These are communal taxis that have a fixed cost and route split between 4 people. It’s basically sharing the cost of a taxi when you’re all going in the same direction, without needing to know the other people.

xo

Wi-Fi, what Wi-Fi?

One of the realities I’ve faced on the Challenges Worldwide programme is that Wi-Fi connectivity is one of our most valuable luxuries at home that we consider a commodity. Before I came, I wasn’t expecting Wi-Fi in every host home, business or cafe, but I was expecting to find a hotspot or two to work remotely from in the city. That is not the reality in Accra.

There are a few businesses with Mi-Fi, a device that comfortably allows 2-3 people to connect to the internet before the connection starts to drop. But as it’s limited, when we’re on enterprise visits we’re not invited to join a Guest network, and most people hotspot off their mobile phones when using laptops at home or in the workplace.

Mobile-HotSpot

Mobile phone contracts aren’t common, so when you hotspot you are using either credit or a bundle allowance. In Accra Vodafone X offers a 4G package that I can just about stretch out over a month, but I am much more conscious of how I use data now it truly feels like a luxury.

How does it impact work and home life?

  • Online market research quickly gets expensive, so although we still use the internet, a lot of volunteers have conducted face to face user testing, site visits and phoned around for competitor analysis and lead generation

  • Sharing documents is risky business as we’re plugging USBs into a number of different devices. Luckily most have been virus-free, but Avast has flagged a few nasties it’s protected my laptop from

  • Streaming services are off limits. I thought I might struggle to get the most up to date series on Netflix. On arrival I realised Netflix was not an option unless I wanted to dig deep into my savings to chill

  • I’ve found myself writing lists before I hotspot. Thoroughly thinking through what you need mitigates the risk of going off on a tangent and wasting data

  • You need to keep on top of your bundle because if you run out, it cuts out!

Here are a few tips on how to stretch your mobile allowance:

  • Android phones use less data than iPhones, so if you have a choice, use Android abroad

  • Make sure your phone isn’t automatically updating apps; manually update the most important

  • Turn mobile data off for background apps. Unless you’re using it, don’t let it use your data

  • Switch off location services

  • Close unwanted browsers

  • Keep your phone on low battery mode to reduce the number of times apps and emails are refreshed

  • Limit Facebook browsing (or stop altogether)

  • Avoid Facetime and use WhatsApp video or calls as they seem to drain less data

  • Make sure you’re not autosaving files from messages

  • Likewise, switch off auto-play for videos on social apps

  • USBs are still the best way to share files and media without using data. Just be wary about transferring PII and what might come with the file share

  • Take TV/movies with you and leave the newest shows for when you get home

xo

Exploring Cape Coast – our mid-programme review

The Challenges Worldwide (CWW) volunteer programme is 10 weeks long. Roughly broken down, it’s 1 week of training, 4 weeks of analysis, 4 weeks of implementation and 1 week of wrap-up and handing over to staff.

After 5 weeks in their businesses, we took volunteers away to Cape Coast last weekend for MPR (mid-programme review). It’s an opportunity to reflect on the programme so far, gather feedback, bring the group together, and take some time out to have a little fun too!

On Friday we left Accra and stopped at Cape Coast Castle on the way to the guest house. Those that wanted to, were given the option to use their own money to pay for the walking tour around the former slave castle, and learn about the conditions inflicted upon millions.

Cape_Coast_Castle

We were taken through the male and female dungeons; cramped, poorly ventilated spaces that stored up to 1,500 shackled slaves at a time. Kept like goods underground for 6 – 12 weeks, they either waited for death to take them, or for the next ship to sail them to the New World, leaving through the “door of no return”. It was a cruel reminder of how evil human beings can be, and how ignorant we can be to inhumane practices.

After the castle tour, we arrived at Hans Cottage Botel, our accommodation for the next 2 nights. The remote guest house was next to a beautiful lake, home to dozens of tropical birds and crocodiles (which we stayed well clear of!), and was a lovely location for a weekend retreat.

Hans_Cottage_Botel_Lake.JPG

We travelled out for dinner and then returned to Hans Cottage to take over the communal areas that overlooked the lake for some team building activities. Musical chairs, Mr&Mrs counterpart quizzes, a lip sync battle and more were all organised by the volunteers – a great effort from all!

Saturday we woke up early and started the day with CWW work. We discussed the learnings from working in cross-cultural pairs over the last 5 weeks, key successes, and how pairs had overcome issues with host homes, enterprises and their colleagues. It’s been a bumpy ride for most, and I am really impressed with how they have coped and allowed the issues to bring the group closer together.

Following the morning of discussions and surveys, we then travelled out to Kakum National Park to conquer the rope walk. At 30m high, it was like Go Ape on steroids and we had a beautiful view of the forest below.

Kakum_National_Park_RopeWalk.JPG

We left Kakum around 3pm to watch a local dance troop, Afokids. The group are a mixture of troubled, orphaned and deaf teenagers, brought together to give them a purpose – something to channel their energy into and teach them new skills. After a traditional African dance, they performed contemporary dances choreographed by the deaf performers, before inviting the UK volunteers to the stage to try it for ourselves. It’s safe to say they have slightly more rhythm than us, and after a 10 minute tutorial and a wobbly attempt at performing, the in-country volunteers took to the stage and got it in one…we just couldn’t compete with their moves!

Afodat

On Sunday we had a relaxed and slow commute home, stopping at Cape Coast Beach on route. The sandy shore was much cleaner than what I’d experienced in Accra, and it was lovely to walk up and down the beach with the sun shining and a fresh breeze on my face.

Cape_Coast_Beach

After an activity-packed weekend away, the host home were then more than welcoming to see us back safe and sound. Having lived away from home for years, it’s still taking some getting used to living with adoptive parents, but you can’t help but love their genuine and caring nature.

xo