QUESTION 4: What is offered in your stewardship after participants graduate from your program? Are there other support structures offered to your users (e.g. an online platform? an app?)?
ANSWER 4: At this point the group still needs a lot of coaching to chair the monthly meeting and guide the participants in sharing their progress, barriers and getting input from their peers on how to overcome barriers and make a new work plan for the coming 4 weeks.
However, we intend that once we have coached three come back days that we can start to hand-over the monthly procedure to the group. In the last come back we selected Collins Oraka to lead and self-manage the group of the first participants. We collect the participants into one group that will create responsibility and social pressure to check on the rest of the members long after they go out of contact with the business developers.
The program encourages self-sustainability in the group so that coaching, mentorship and finances are managed and shared amongst participants themselves. The monthly progress and check-in sessions are at first 100 % facilitated by a VR trainer, but gradually support is pulled out over a 6 months period; from 100% facilitation by VR to 0% facilitation by VR and 100% group managed.
Once, in future, we have multiple self-sustainable groups, in multiple 2nd and 3rd tier cities, we can then organize “master classes” that is offered to the interested members of all the groups in town or region. When there is enough demand from groups for a master class on “retail marketing”, then we can source a “retail marketing guru” to give that lecture and/or coaching service. A financial contribution of participants allows to cover the costs of the lecture, while we also believe that we can find professionals who are willing to provide such master classes for free.
Last but not least is access to finance. During the bootcamp we experienced that a lot of the micro-entrepreneurs don’t have collateral to access small loans. Hence, we like to introduce the concept of Chama / table banking to the groups we are training. As a group, they can save money and loan one entrepreneur at the time money. The entrepreneur then repays the loan, including some interest. Then the next group member can take a loan and invest in the micro-business. So, the next level of ‘group formalisation’ would be table banking.
We have been very lean regarding online support structures till date. We use online tools that are already available and free of charge, for ourselves as well as for the entrepreneurs. Since we personally know all the entrepreneurs we have trained and coached so far, we communicate easily through a Whatsapp group and direct calling.
The Whatsapp group is used for being socially connected, for announcing opportunities for funding or to pitch their businesses at public and own events of VR, and to share individual opportunities or raise questions for others. Secondly, we have a very open culture at the training venue in Kakamega. A lot of the alumni just pop in to say hello to stay connected. Thirdly, we use dropbox as a support tool to offer trainees and trainers. It allows us to centrally upload new content in the dropbox folders as well as receiving the home work assignments when dropbox synchronises, even when there are power & internet cuts. Using offline syncing, the trainer is not at risk when there is a power failure during class.
So till date, there has been no concrete reason to develop a cloud service or app for an online support system. But this has changed recently: the most important reason to shift to an e-learning environment is that youth are starting to request the possibility to access the training content on their mobile. And secondly, we are planning to start a 2nd structural training center in Nakuru soon (when new funding is successfully raised).
Once we have two centers and also a growing number of alumni, we will experience the technical boundaries of dropbox. We need to professionalize our back office system by customizing an e-learning platform for our trainees and alumni. This is the moment to then design the desired functionalities of an online support platform; not only to disseminate training content, but also to track progress by conducting same intermediary online tests.
Besides an internal platform, it can also be an external platform where we can online showcase the start-ups and growing micro-businesses, we have coached and incubated. This will act as a marketing support service to the entrepreneurs towards potential customers as well as financiers. We believe that commercial incentives like these will drive the entrepreneurs to update their business status frequently, allowing us to be very efficient in impact monitoring. Cost and time efficient Impact monitoring is key for donors and later on also impact investors that finance further scale up of Vijana Reloaded.
QUESTION 3: How do you measure success and learnings from your participants' 4-week implementation plans?
ANSWER 3: After testing the credibility of their improved version of their idea during the bootcamp, the entrepreneurs set up an actionable four-week plan to help them actualize the ideas they will have created during the ideation phase of the bootcamp. In itself, this plan is a standard of measure of success. These entrepreneurs receive weekly follow up calls from the business developer who worked on improving their businesses. Onset from the first week, the developer could already tell the success rates of each activity. Should there be need for further help with an activity then that is provided instantly rather than wait for the four-week come back.
Every come-back session, each participant will share the intended deliverables and will update the whole group what her or she has achieved in the last 4 weeks; what went well, what was hard and is still on going, and what is not done (and might need to be pivoted). You can consider the 4-weeks planning as a backlog of a 4-weeks sprints. The success lies in ‘making progress’. We have experienced in earlier experiments that making a 6 months workplan is not a very suitable timeframe. First, we experience that youth and micro-entrepreneurs are not skilled in making a long term planning. A natural way of planning is making a forecast. But making a backcast by setting an objective in 4 weeks from now, and then plan your way backwards has never done before (at least: no one of the 20 participants has ever done backcasting before).
A sneak preview of the success rate could be seen through following examples of participants: ¬ Purity, a salonist targeted to buy a blow dry machine and set a shop rather than being mobile currently. Now she owns one blow dry, though has not yet set up a shop, she requires a little more help with introductions to the County Government who are in charge of allocating such spaces. ¬ Mama Awinja, a poultry farmer set out to improve security of her current premises. Currently she bought iron sheets to set up a perimeter fence. Though her cash went down and she is now selling clothes to help her generate enough money to re-invest in poultry farming. ¬ Abel, shoe maker who received orders from schools scheduled for January. Currently he is struggling to set up a proper mechanism to deliver this order. In his own words, “this work shop taught how to knock doors, and now the doors are open, now I have to struggle and meet my clients’ expectations,” says Abel. ¬ Doris, a vegetable vendor who used to sell only vegetables wanted to diversify her products within four weeks, she is already doing it.
As these examples point out, the four-week plan is crafted to include very attainable activities that could be attained week on week. It is not mandatory that one activity must be allocated one week but rather, the activities must contribute significantly towards the long-term goal of implementing the improvements in the business. We encourage the participants to start out with the low hanging fruits i.e easy to attain activities.
So if a participant has three activities for instance, it is very feasible to score their success as 3/3, if they achieve only 1 then the score is 1/3.
Long term impact indicators: > number of jobs created/people employed > increased household salary (poverty reduction)
Long term outcome indicators: > repayment rate of loans > pull effect towards youth to join the Vijana Reloaded movement > proven micro-business growth strategies that can be replicated in other regions
ANSWER 2: In overall, the experiment in Nakuru was successfully organized involving 20 participants. At the end of the workshop participants were able: 1) to reflect on the nature of their micro-businesses; 2) to reflect on their personal character, specifically power, passion and purpose of doing business, 3) to make plans for developing their businesses further, 4) creating a dialogue with (potential) clients or business partners and 5) to draft realistic and feasible actions plans that would guide them in their business activities for the next four weeks.
On the third day, the representative of local office of the Micro and Small Enterprise Authority visited us. MSEA is a strategic partner to further develop and scale the bootcamp format. The main project challenges remain: (a) time management (how to organize the bootcamp in the most effective way but offering enough time for the participants to perform their daily activities); inclusive practices (b) how to incorporate ‘inclusion’ as a learning element; (c) how to involve persons with different types of disabilities into this project); (d) effective follow-up process (how to organize the reflective sessions on the steps taken by the respondents, how to provide them timely feedback; how to guide them further); (e) financial sustainability of the business development service (how to organize bootcamp with at least two trainers/business developers, with frequent and necessary follow-up feedback and guidance).
The main lessons learnt relates to the importance of speaking more understandable and local language with the participants, the benefit of working in smaller groups and offering more individual feedbacks to the participants, the necessity of sensitizing team on inclusion prior to the workshop. It is also important to be able to break old stereotypes about charitable nature of business development services which are sponsored by Western parties. The good local trainers are necessary who can communicate the message properly without creating a lot of expectations and remaining transparent to the beneficiaries.