Feed the Future — Supporting Women-Owned Enterprises

Over the past twenty-plus years, The Challenges Group has offered support to enterprises across the globe. However, COVID-19 has posed unprecedented challenges to small and medium-sized enterprises. As we see it, our role has been to offer a route towards resiliency against such concerns, and our work with Feed the Future is an example of this.

In 2020, Challenges Uganda worked closely with Farm Reap, a yogurt company based in Kampala. In 2021, we secured the contract to work with a Tanzanian-based horticultural exporter. These companies serve as case studies that offer illustrative evidence for the issues facing enterprises in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Both companies, despite having strong business models and leadership, were heavily impacted by the pandemic. Despite the obvious concerns such as; a hit on supply chains, or reduced customer base — what was found through our interventions was much more systemic concerns.

Resilience is borne from an ability to make evidence-based decisions quickly, to deploy resources efficiently and productively, and to withstand, and perhaps even take advantage of market shocks. But how can you build resilience? How can you develop the kind of knowledge and capabilities to do so?

First, what became quickly apparent through our work with the enterprises in the project was that bold business ideas had to be combined with strong business management. In one example, the enterprise had the ambition to begin exporting avocados to Europe. Our financial analysis demonstrated that not only were they not in a position to do so, but that they were actually making sustained losses month by month on their existing business activities. This was due to a rapid pivot caused by the ceasing of exporting of crops to Europe. Although quick decision-making occurred, it lacked a strong evidence base to assess risk and opportunity.

In another example, the enterprise had ambitious plans to grow its local market, yet its plans did not take into account the competitive landscape in which it existed. Only through thorough brand and market analysis were we able to co-create the type of approach that could offer a unique selling point, and a lucrative future. Again, the underlying factor preventing the company’s ambition was information and skills, not finance.

The Long Road to Resiliency

Plenty of focus is given to access to finance, yet at Challenges, we know that another principal concern facing the SMEs of Sub-Saharan Africa is access to information. This is both internal i.e, understanding the internal mechanisms necessary to run a company efficiently, and external, in that reliable, up-to-date market information is all-too-often lacking. Our interventions always aim to tackle both head-on.

This is not simply through workshops to improve capacity, because we know that the management of most enterprises is brilliant, hardworking, and ambitious people. Building capacity also means facilitating and democratizing the use of more advanced tools, such as financial modeling, in-depth diagnostics, or supply chain analysis. To combat the dearth of market data, Challenges supports enterprises through providing robust research, using a diverse range of methodologies to create holistic system mapping and market scans.

Our work with enterprises in emerging economies began two decades ago and takes a relational approach to support growth. Enterprises need more than access to finance, workshops, and webinars promising to build enterprises. Our approach aims to walk with them on the path to resilience, closing the information gap and building the confidence and knowledge of business leaders.

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The Challenges Group

A family of social businesses committed to building a more prosperous world.