September 29

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Develop agile thinking in a small-sized social enterprise

The advantage of working in a small-sized social enterprise in Southern Africa is that you need (and develop) multi-skilled profile with strong agility and flexibility. Indeed, in one day, you may have to start dealing with suppliers, updating your product pricelist for the sales team, checking stock & upcoming deliveries and potential shortages of products as well as looking for external partnerships, thinking visibility by deploying marketing actions rapidly, and also think sustainability of your business by preparing pitching materials as regards to fundraising actions with potential donors.

In September, I went through all these activities, playing with multi-tasking and agility around time management. I organized a Procurement committee in order to assess our “spendmap” and identify areas to reduce costs drastically. We also identified top key suppliers with which developing a REAL collaboration is KEY. Dealing with suppliers does not mean only asking for a quotation, getting a discount and launch a purchase order: it also means discussion, exchanges, sharing ideas and perspectives.  Above all, a frequent missing skill from a lot of buyers might be ACTIVE LISTENING. It is not because you’re buyer that it is only you dictating what you want from your supplier! Suppliers may know the market better than us and also organize regular commercial events that are “gold mines” with full information. With the colleague I am currently coaching, I demonstrated how much you can get from a supplier: a real partnership, working hands in hands. We want to sell more with a good profit margin, and guess what? They want the same thing! So why not working together towards the same objective? As a consequence, we visited our top spent suppliers during September. I advised my colleague to get prepared before the meeting by knowing our historical purchase with suppliers, assess our team satisfaction level regarding their performance and service support, by using a questionnaire I prepared.  Then, we launched topics for open discussions. We ended up with a fruitful meeting generating a great list of ideas and actions: suppliers will bring us on-board for upcoming commercial events they will organize to promote pharmaceutical products which will give both of us visibility on the Zambian market. Thanks to a commercial video I prepared on our social enterprise, they showed strong enthusiasm and confidence in our business model. As a consequence, they now offered us a lot of promotion materials. These free promotional materials will please our agents! I am looking forward to seeing their lovely smiles on their faces!

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As a consequence, I worked with the sales team on going on the field in some rural communities to distribute promotional t-shirts and help them setting up branded carton-shelves in their small shops. Afterwards, I will measure if the addition of such marketing accessories will impact sales or not. Logically, it should. Zambian people are extremely sensitive to brands and visibility: they love advertisement, they love promotion materials: there are huge adverts everywhere in the streets, everyone is so proud to wear a shirt with a well-known brand. They even paint logo on walls along the roads. I must say these people are thorough artistic painters. Usually, the purchase influence is generated by women in 90% of cases here! Women come to the shops, show proudly their new installation, talk about it, comment the look and will spread the word to neighbours! This is how it works here. So, there is no reason that installing such promotion materials can’t impact sales! I believe in it!

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At the same time, always think social enterprise sustainability and business. So, I also took time to interview our agents in shops regarding potential growth around our products basket: which kind of products they would like to see? What is working and not? I show them some potential products we were thinking of like antiseptic liquid. I shared also with them the idea of creating a new product category: “Baby care products”. Indeed, I have never seen so many children in the streets here! So, as a consequence, there are a lot babies (and therefore a market opportunity)! On average, a Zambian woman have 5,6 children. There is obviously a need for “baby care products” in the rural areas, isn’t it?

We talked about our product basket, product sales performance and potential other products during the “Product Working Group” I organized. This is also thanks to our suppliers again that my creativity is developing even more. Suppliers are great source of ideas regarding products developments and innovation. The idea of a new “baby care” category is actually coming from a supplier site visit!

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In such a small social business, we need to try ideas quickly, measure them and also kill ideas rapidly that do not perform. We do not have time to produce long documentary reports to justify a marketing idea. This is a small business, not a multinational! Let’s try any creative marketing idea on the market, measure it and pick it & adopt it or reject it! And this is where I enjoyed every single minute, this is thrilling!

Alternatively to this, we need to keep morale up in order for all staff member to be aligned towards the same goal. Late September, I organized a team building mixing “fun” exercises with business exercise. It was a challenge to convince the team of granting me 2,5 hours of their time. They initially thought that team building is useless and a waste of time. I promised them they will change their mind afterwards. Bingo! I succeeded! It took me more than 30 minutes to be the herder and get them ready for the team building as they were really not motivated….But, I strongly believed in this activity and the energy and motivation it can bring to a team. I set up 3 ice breakers: the first one to get to know each other by sharing an object or a photo that represents our personality, one dancing exercise and one self-blind drawing exercise! In between, I asked the team to write down on post-its ideas that come up when we give our social enterprise name “Live Well”. This is a good exercise to detect if all team members are aligned on the vision of your business, and it was the case, which is reassuring: we work towards the same directions: Social impact, Business and Livelihood improvement! As morale is quite low at the minute due to uncertainty of the business sustainability, the second exercise was to write down anonymously everyone’s concerns and thoughts about our current social enterprise situation. I read all notes in front of the team and then, push them to have honest and constructive talks! This was extremely powerful to share fears and thanks to “team spirit” everyone reassures each other as a participative problem management. In the end, we shared our strategy and next big challenge which is fundraising, the way to make our business sustainable (through receipt of grants for 2018!).

My colleagues indeed worked on the pitching materials for fundraising, and on my side, I performed a donors mapping, classifying donors potential interests in our business, doing some research on the kind of health projects they may fund… This is a new interesting world to me! Next step is to reach them and convince them in funding us…

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To close this month, I organized an info session regarding “Resilience and Energy management” at work but also in personal life to all CARE members. I prepared this presentation thanks to a great person based in GSK Belgium, Goedele Dours,  Regional Health Lead at GSK Vaccines! We worked on how to show the importance of oscillating between comfort zone and stretch zone regarding the management of our pressure and performance curve. We cannot always stay in a comfort zone at work, with no stress… this can lead to boredom. On the other side, we cannot always work in a pressured environment with a lot unknown, uncertainty creating constant and permanent stress. This can lead us to strain and burn out. We need to find the right balance: trying to get some moments of stress which can also be positive for our development and come back to some “comfort” moments for recovery at all levels (Physically, Emotionally, Mentally and Spiritually!).

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