Since my last post, many things happened… First of all, It is not because I am far away that I will forget the French Bastille Day in France on July 14th. I went to the French Embassy after a tumultuous and long cycling ride (I discovered only once I arrived that the embassy’s address had recently changed!). It was a pompous ceremony with posh and trendy guests queueing to benefit a maximum from the free food at the amazing buffet and enjoy Champagne and the best French wines with Burgundy white Grand Cru and Bordeaux Premier Cru. I was expecting a lot of French people there… but finally, it was full of other nationalities from the other embassies coming here to benefit from this free reception… This is also an opportunity to build some network: I met several entrepreneurs (Italians, French and Israeli) investing here in Zambia, a land seen there as a huge business opportunity for Europeans! We exchanged business cards, as usual I would say!
At work, it is now time to build a team spirit: I proposed the team to take team pictures and build our mascot, 1 for the “winning procurement” team and 1 for the “winning sales” team.
As the social enterprise will transition by September, priority number ONE is to be ready with the procedures. So, I focused these weeks a lot on writing Procurement manual and templates with my local colleague, taking inspiration from the NGO manual. I also spent time with the procurement team from the NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) to understand how non-profit organizations work and share best practices between public and private systems. Coming from a private company with high standards and fast pace at work, I really need to slow-down a lot and adapt to the locals in their ways of working and basic understanding of business management. Some colleagues are keen on being coached around negotiation techniques, analytical methods around performance KPIs. Therefore, this is quite pleasant to advise them, share feedback and propose room for improvement in their daily tasks. Simple action to put in place: get a whiteboard and make visual coming actions and key indicators!
This is now already more than ONE month… Time flies so fast! It is unbelievable how many people I met since I am here, joining different groups (runners hash harriers group, people met at work and at the NGO Care main office, at the gym, at the residence and other expatriates which are quite numerous in the capitale). This picture below is in the storeroom with my colleague in charge of stock management, he also has a Pharmacist certificate and knows very well all general medicines. What is pleasant is the fact that due to the small size of the social enterprise (everyone seating in the same one block building), I can see on one hand the procurement process and relationships with suppliers, and on the other hand next door, I visualize directly the stock available and on the other side the sales team preparing each morning the basket of healthcare products, and the finance manager.
The picture below shows the typical dish from the canteen (when I mean canteen “we just eat outside in the garden which is very nice to sit and eat under a blue sky everyday!) at the NGO (vegeterian version for me) made of vegetables (usually Pumpkin leaves, sauce with leaves, tomatoes, onions and groundnuts as well as the famous local dish named “nshima” used as bread but with the look of mashed potatoes (this is made from the maize). The nshima is very heavy in the stomach and you can spend your afternoon having a good nap! My colleagues eat all of this with chicken (fatly prepared) and/or fried fish and capenta (small fried fishes similar to sardines from the lake Tanganyika, in Zambia Northern region. The first day eating with colleagues, I was a bit shocked seeing my colleagues eating with hands (no cutlery here, this is not the tradition), especially when they eat the meat in their hands… They roll in a flat ball the nshima and use it as support to get the vegetables. After, I got used to it and I must say that I found a positive advantage to it: Nobody picks the phone during lunch and have REAL conversations.
Having 2 hats in this social enterprise, being both in Sales and Marketing and Procurement, I started also visiting suppliers. The first visit was quite a surprise… This is far away from what I am used to see: do not expect a big warehouse but a small store in a very old and dirty building in the middle of a “slum”, very dirty, busy and noisy area (to tell the truth, I did dare to get out of the car…).. The supplier store is run by 2 Indian brothers. Indeed, I realized the Pharmaceutical industry in Africa is controlled in majority by Indian Pharma companies, importing directly their products and opening distribution centers here. Inside, it was crowded of both healthcare products accumulated everywhere on the shelves and floor. Many people were queueing, asking, talking to get supplied with any kind of health products.
A couple of days later, I had the opportunity to visit another potential supplier we identified. Indeed, it is currently winter in Africa and the cold season is the period to sell products against cold, cough and flu diseases which are increasing with peaks of cases. Unfortunately, one of our suppliers ran out of stock on a major product needed during this cold season which makes our strategy critical: “maintain reliable supply of health impact products”. We are clearly missing opportunities with this product shortage.
Therefore, we decided to find back up plan by exploring alternative suppliers. We met another indian supplier that can provide a large panel of healthcare products from cough syrup, pain killers, birth control up to surgical gloves! And I was quite impressed by their huge stock… They supply NGOs, Hospitals and retailers in Zambia, and are able to reduce lead time down to 1 day! This opportunity needs further investigation…
On the way back, I had no other choice than stopping to take the photo below of the way the Post Office is working… I had the impression to be back in the previous century. You get a mailbox with a number at an address. You set your mail in the box to be sent out and you can also receive mail back! I do not guarantee the lead time though!
During one of the weekends, I decided to accompany one of a South African guy I met here to the “Sunday Market”. This is where you can find any kind of handcraft African ethnic product from fruit baskets, scarves, masks, jewelries…
Over the last days, I decided to return directly on the field visiting compounds and locals to better understand their needs and habits around healthcare products. I prepared upfront a Market Research Strategy : sales and products consumption analysis per person, frequency of healthcare products purchase, top healthcare products and then I prepared my survey questionnaire. I questioned all day the Community Healthcare Entrepreneurs. Also, I selected a sample of products and tested their reactions and feelings around those. We had great conversations and I came back with much better understanding of their problems. There is no other secret than going directly on the field to understand and see the reality… This is the best way to decide your product strategy. If I had stayed in the office, I might have taken the wrong decisions regarding some products based on assumptions that finally were not reflecting the reality on the field…