Hitting our heads on the van ceiling because of the bumpy dirt roads; waiting for 4 ½ hours for a 45 minute flight back to Accra from Lagos, Nigeria; rising at 5 am to catch the 6:50 flight to Kumasi, and other logistical hassles has not diminished our sense of inspiration and appreciation for the entrepreneurial spirit that is alive in West Africa. Persistence, perseverance, succeeding amidst all odds … these business folks may get knocked down, but they get right back up to keep fighting the good fight.
So far we’ve visited a wide range of business – paint manufacturer, soybean factory, organic farm, furniture maker, makeup training center, mobile technology company, and micronutrient processor among others. Each of these entrepreneurs who have built these companies will be participating in the Stanford SEED program. They will all assemble at the Stanford Center in Accra for an intensive week of business training (July 14 – 20) and then the coaches will work one-on-one with them on their individual issues from July 20 through December 15.
We’ve learned about the issues and opportunities facing these businesses and look forward to digging in to the details when we’re assigned to our selected firms.
Along the way, we’ve learned:
It takes a lot of work to process twenty tons of soybeans each day! The factory runs three shifts a day, except on Sunday. For an estimated salary of $3 - $5/day, these workers roast the soybeans, extract the oil and extrude the byproducts into dried chunks which are then ground into poultry feed. The shells are used for fueling the roaster; nothing is wasted. This is a multi-step process where several people need to carry large loads of beans on their heads between the steps. (When the average income of the “bottom of the pyramid” in a country is under $2/per day, this wage is a significant step up!)
Empowering women to offer makeovers and sell makeup to their neighbors and colleagues has created many success stories. The graduates of “Makeup ‘U’” (our name…) have created their own businesses selling African-centered makeup (not unlike Mary Kay in the US).
Growing and selling organic produce opens up the door to better nutrition and more delicious meals for local Ghanaians. We were especially enchanted by the restaurant opened by the entrepreneur to showcase her products as well as to use vegetables that are not quite “pretty enough” for sales through supermarkets.
Getting to and from these businesses, we’ve been traveling in a van, accompanied by Kwabena Amporful, a very accomplished young Ghanaian GSB grad working with the program. He has developed personal relationships with many of West African entrepreneurs over time, and has shared his contacts and insights with us.
Also, from the van, we’ve witnessed other entrepreneurs, who may not be in the Stanford program, but who hawk their wares each day to make ends meet and provide products and services to greater Accra. These sales folks are working on "George W Bush" highway.
Luckily, this seller made a transaction.
Another sales person was delighted when Jan purchased a hand-printed African shirt. She even altered it to fit in 20 minutes!
Our introduction and orientation to West Africa winds up on Sunday when the “intensive week” begins at the new Stanford SEED Center in Accra. We have enjoyed our meetings with entrepreneurs over the last week and look forward to meeting the others in the thirty-company cohort on Sunday.