As mentioned earlier, one of the side projects I have been involved with here has been as a coach for the Mobile Business Clinic Tamale Edition. This has been an immensely satisfying and eye-opening experience and I am grateful to have had the chance to work with the lads from Anibirds Farm and see them progress.
The Mobile Business Clinic (MBC) is an initiative of EWB, the Canadian Government (DFAIT), and the Lundin Foundation. It is part of a larger multi-country, multi-year project to aid small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) in the agricultural sector and create an entrepreneurial ecosystem throughout West Africa. The MBC had previously held successful clinics in the southern cities of Accra and Tema, and Tamale was selected for the third iteration from November 2013 to January 2014. The SMEs were selected from a pool of applicants from the surrounding areas and asked to send two mangers to enroll in the program. The clinic itself was broken into two main components: six full-day training sessions over the course of the first month, followed by a two month implementation period supported by an outside coach. The sessions were focused on management topics such as leadership, finances, and project management and were presented by a mix of MBC staff and Ghanaian business leaders. While the training was very well done and practical, the trainees benefited greatly from the opportunity to immediately apply their new skills directly on their businesses during the coaching period.
I had the great privilege of being matched with Eric and Issifu Basideen of Anibirds Farm Annexe (ANImals and BIRDS) based in Tamale. After a slow start through December, due to increased demand for holiday fowl, we were able to meet several times in January and February and I was blown away by the progress they were able to make. Anibirds is full spectrum guinea fowl rearing, training, sales and consulting business that has capitalized on the resurgent popularity of the bird in Ghana over the past decade. Guinea fowl look a bit like large, long-necked chickens and taste a bit like gamey, dark-meat turkey. They are endemic to West Africa and are apparently healthier than chicken, likely due to their leanness. Basideen not only raises guinea fowl keets and (chicken) fowl chicks, but builds incubator equipment, sells live birds, formulates feed, consults and gives training to other farmers, and raises a few turkeys, sheep and goats on the side. Anibirds is also an investee of the EWB spin-off, Kulemela Investments, and has used debt-financing to successfully expand its business over the past year. Below is a video from January 2013 where Basideen explains his plans for a new brooding building, which is now underway:
The approach taken by Kulemela has its merits and drawbacks as mentioned in this article last year in the Toronto Star, but I can attest to catalytic affect this has had on Anibirds’ business. However, with many small businesses, both in North America and Africa, financial capital only goes so far without sufficient “managerial capital”. This is was what the MBC program was designed to address and I feel that, although much work remains, the limited interaction we had with Anibirds produced some tangible, positive results. For instance we were able to implement some basic recordkeeping and inventory management systems, get a first draft of a business plan and budget complete and take a crack at developing an “elevator pitch” (concise mission statement and vision) for the company. My actual technical knowledge inputs were minimal, but through some very open conversations I was able to help provide context and perspective around how good organization and recordkeeping set the foundation for informed and prudent business decisions which is the ultimate point of any of this management training.
Management consulting has been an important part of the ongoing efficiency improvements in developed world businesses and the developing world is beginning to seek out the same expertise. Whether or not it truly works as advertised hasn’t been established, but that hasn’t stopped major firms such as Deloitte, Ernst & Young, MacKinsey and others from setting up offices in African countries. As this article states, there is a lot of work yet to be done to better understand which interventions produce measureable impact and which do not. It is my hope that through rapid, iterative approaches such as the MBC, these assumptions and methods can be checked quickly and the lessons learned therein shared broadly.
I hope to continue an informal relationship with Anibirds over the rest of my time in Ghana and check in on their progress every few months. Seeing the tenacity, care, and passion Eric and Issifu put into their business and the positive effects it can have on the community has been a definite highlight for me so far and I have no doubt that they will have continued success.