Over the past 3 weeks, 2 other Ivey graduates and myself have been planning and facilitating workshops for local entrepreneurs to develop skills to grow their businesses. We have had our ups and downs but the benefit have far outweighed any cost. The following are some of the key things I have learned during my time in Ghana.
Ghanaian entrepreneurs face different challenges than Canadian entrepreneurs:
1. Securing Capital
When it comes down to it, you need money to grow your business. Whether it is hiring another employee or expanding your service/product offerings or acquiring a new skill you need money to do it. With high interest loan rates from the banks, our entrepreneurs were primarily worried about securing capital.
“Ghana Interest Rate averaged 16.56 Percent from 2002 until 2013, reaching an all time high of 27.50 Percent in June of 2003”. Back home (Canada) you’re taught from a young age how to keep your credit clean and getting a small loan or a line of credit can be as easy as applying. Many entrepreneurs expressed the need for very small sums of money to complete plans they had been saving up for but were discouraged by the high interest rates they knew they couldn’t pay back. Many said friends and family were unwilling or unable to offer financial support, which meant they were self-reliant to find the funds. In order to try to overcome this issue we have contacted numerous microfinance institutions and other youth leaders/ small business support in an effort to create a network and develop opportunities for synergistic relationships in the future.
2. Microfinance , NGOs and other support exist but then comes the challenge of getting in touch….
I cannot count the number of institutions we tried to contact whose webpages have been inactive since 2000 or they have 3 phone numbers, of which none work. These are formal established organizations that operate in Ghana, but to find legitimate contact information was similar to detective work. We found the lack of documented information available to be particularly frustrating because we are so used to information being readily available on the internet. You can’t just pick up the phone and call or e-mail someone and expect a reply. The business networks are more informal and social so to be “on the inside”, you need to know where to look and who to talk to in order to get the information you need. I found that the best way to overcome this is through utilizing community partners because they have existing connections and better understand the norms of networking here. Thank goodness for our community partners, the YMCA, we would have been at a loss without them! They were able to get us in touch with the youth leaders in Ghana and we were able to find contacts to make our time here more valuable
3. Unforeseen challenges
Little things we take for granted back home can have a huge effect on your productivity. There are times when I am frustrated with people being late or on Ghanaian time (30mins to an hour after the actual indicated time). I previously attributed the tardiness to a lack of enthusiasm or care but I realize now there are a lot of external factors that could make someone in Ghana late. Transportation for example: a trotro is a shared minibus that leaves when it is full. That means if you need to go somewhere you may leave immediately or maybe you have to wait for 2 hours. Sometimes internet and phone networks are down completely so you cannot contact anyone to let them know your whereabouts or the status of your project. Also running water and electricity can be on and off so if you need to charge your computer or phone, you could be out of luck . These are things that never cross our minds at home. It really amazes me how resourceful Ghanaians are because they have been able to adapt and deal with these seemingly huge inconveniences that would completely debilitate us in North America.
The biggest lesson I learned is that teaching is more about listening. Once we allowed the entrepreneurs to talk about their businesses and future plans, it put us in a better position to find specific focus areas to develop rather than just trying to copy paste lesson plans from back home. Our entrepreneurs are so bright and talented and listening to them talk passionately about their businesses inspired me to want to start something of my own back home. Entrepreneurs in general, whether in Canada or Ghana or anywhere else all have similar qualities and characteristics. I’ve come to see passion, drive, persistence and perseverance to be underlying traits that drive a person to start their own business and to succeed by overcoming obstacles. Entrepreneurs have the desire to achieve limitlessly and desire the creative independence to control their value. I have heard many great leaders (as well as our entrepreneurs) indicate that being self-employed is important to create wealth for a community and to use your business to employ/teach and help others. It is amazing how seemingly different our two countries are but how similar we are as people. I realize at the end of this we play more of facilitation and coordinating role rather than a teaching role. I couldn’t teach any of the young leaders how to run their business better than they already are.
To have a long-term sustainable impact, our next step is to be the middleman that can connect our entrepreneurs with the business support they need. We are holding a micro-enterprise conference tomorrow where we are trying to connect the network and community that will enable their businesses to grow after we have gone.
– Kayleigh Gaspari, Youth Leadership Team, Ghana 2013