EWB Canada (which stands for Engineers Without Borders) is the NGO who hired me for this placement. EWB focuses on systemic change as its primary goal. This is different from a lot of other development organizations, who might focus on just band-aid solutions. For example, just giving a community a well when you don’t understand the complex water system and all of the actors involved is super problematic… especially after a well breaks down in a few years and there’s nobody around who knows how to fix it (which would fall into the category of WatSat – Water and Sanitation – which is a project we run in Malawi where two of the other ProFs are based). Instead, EWB tries to understand an entire system, find out where the weak points are, and works with various actors to improve the entire system in a country as a whole. Sometimes this makes it a lot more difficult to see quick, impactful results, but in the end we feel that this way of working is likely to lead to more positive sustainable change for a larger number of people.
EWB Canada (based in Toronto) did the recruiting, the training, and help with any HR related issues I might have. 8 of us were trained together in Toronto, but we went to work for different ventures, in 3 different countries, doing really different work. As a ProF (Professional Fellow), I’ve been placed with one of the ventures (aka. project areas) called MBC (Mobile Business Clinic), who works pretty independently from the actual work of EWB. MBC was originally started as a part of BDS, but now works independently. BDS stands for Business Development Services, and their role is to provide capacity building and business development services to small and growing businesses in order to help them scale up and become sustainable.
During my first week in Ghana, I attended this stakeholders meeting as a note-taker, and it was really informative. The meeting focused on 3 ventures; MBC, Kulemela, and Growth Mosaic. I learned a lot about each venture during the beginning of the day, when each Venture Leader did a short presentation to the group. Mobile Business Clinic can be broken down into what it does based on it’s name. Its involves providing business training (in the form of a clinic) in different regions across the country (aka. mobile). Specifically, we focus on training agribusinesses on different skills that will help then to become investment ready. Each clinic takes place over a 3 month period, with the goal of running 4 clinics per year (each in a different region – Ghana has 10 regions).
During the afternoon, we broke into smaller groups to discuss the issues. Of course I stuck with the MBC group, and it was interesting to hear everyone’s perspectives! Not only were EWBers at the event (from many different ventures), there were also past clinic participants, foundation representatives, investors, and business owners. We talked about ideas for the future which would help MBC (and other groups like MBC) to grow and improve their business.
The event was a great success, and even got attention in local newspapers and on the news (which I heard through the grapevine – since I don’t have a TV here). After the event, we started planning our next clinic in the Eastern Region (which is the closest region to Accra).
Another exciting event I attended (unrelated to my actual work) was with the Young Fellows Program (YFP), which is part of an EWB venture called AfriLead, where my fellow ProF Alexis is working with (you can check out her blog here). They focus on recruiting young managers to attend a one month foundation learning session followed by a 5 month placement with a work place. The goal of the program is to train young people to work within businesses to create positive change. During the one-day session in Accra at the beginning of August, we helped to interview and work through case-studies with potential candidates. Afterwards, 2 more sessions were held (in Kumasi and Tamale) and 16 participants were selected. These 16 bright young managers are currently in the first month of training in Tamale as part of the program.
Back to MBC – The clinic will be held in October and last for 3 months, however, it’s not only in the classroom. The clinic will include 10-12 businesses from the area (selected out of those who have submitted applications). Two representatives from each business will partake, which likely includes both the CEO and a middle manager. Every two weeks a training module will take place, consisting of two days in the classroom. The three modules are: leadership and business, financial management, and project management. In addition to the training, each business is paired with a coach. The coach helps the business to understand the training, apply the training to their own business, and help the business overcome the challenges it might be facing. Each coach meets with their business at least 5 times.
At the end of three months there is a graduation ceremony. During the ceremony, each business has to explain their business model and pitch it, as if they would to future investors. One of the goals of the course is to get businesses to an “investment ready” stage, so that if they’re seeking financing to grow they will be more likely to succeed. The alumni also form the MBC Club in their city. This group can meet regularly and is a great chance to network, create partnerships, and help group problem solve with other diverse actors in the agricultural sector.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been spending a large portion of most days in one of these: a trotro! Trotros are used for both short distances (like city buses) and longer distances (between cities in different regions), though the cost changes based on the distance traveled. We’ve been meeting with all sorts of associations related to agriculture, with groups such as mango exporters and poultry farmers. We talk to the groups about what our clinic offers and invite them to apply for the upcoming clinic. These meetings can take place in halls, warehouses, and even just walking down the road. So far we have received over 16 applications (with more that are scheduled to come in this week), and the next step is to sort through those applications to find the most appropriate businesses. We will then meet with each participant at their business, fill out some forms, select the final group, and then match each business with a coach.
We are also currently ensuring we have the best coaches and trainers for the job. Another task that we’re focusing on in Monitoring and Evaluation (M+E) to ensure we have good baseline information before the training starts. The last important task before the clinic starts is looking over the curriculum (including handbooks, slides and exercises) to ensure there are no mistakes and everything is being clearly explained. There are currently only 4 of us running the entire project. This team includes myself, Mike (another ProF from Canada), my Ghanaian boss (Kombate), and a Ghanaian co-worker, Bernard (who has actually been there the longest). We have been sharing a small office with a big board room table for the last month, since we recently moved offices and are still figuring things out. The power goes out frequently, which is pretty tricky since we don’t have a generator, but we just got WiFi, which is really nice!
So what happens after the clinic in October? Well Mike and I have been wondering if this is just a project, or if it can be turned into a sustainable, long term solution to meet the needs of the community. Looking into that is the next step…