Who are our UGEFA Business Advisors?
Challenges Uganda – the Kampala-based arm of The Challenges Group that operates in more than 70 countries worldwide – provides both direct support to SMEs (including as UGEFA Business Advisors) and implements various programmes. Their ongoing Youth to Work programme, in partnership with the Standard Charter Foundation (SCF), provides young, unemployed graduates with consulting skills and training to drive tangible change in an enterprise during a 5-month business placement. In working with the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) and others, Challenges Uganda has worked with directly green enterprises across sectors, with a strong recent focus on the productive use of energy.
Joseph Okello and George Bryson of Challenges Uganda have been busy the past few months working with the first cycle of UGEFA-supported enterprises as UGEFA Business Advisors. We caught up with Joseph and George to learn more about their experience as UGEFA Business Advisors and within their broader work at Challenges Uganda:
And, what topics do they enjoy working with business on?
Both George and Joseph stressed the importance of first knowing your customers.
“How are you supposed to understand if your marketing will work, if you don’t know who you are marketing to? How do you know if your growth strategy will be successful, if it isn’t really focused on delivering value to the customer in a better way? Or to more customers?” noted George.
Joseph echoed this sentiment: “Most organisations think finding customers is difficult, until they realise that with the right approach to micro-segmenting your markets, with the right data-driven approach, you can actually sell in any kind of industry”.
With this in mind, developing a unique value proposition does not purely mean “unique” products or services. Rather, businesses can differentiate themselves from others by focusing on unique payment models or focusing on a specific market segment that they can serve well.
In reflecting on their experiences implementing UGEFA workshops, George emphasised that “without this aspect of customer segmentation, all the other [UGEFA] tools have less power”.
Moving along the enterprise development journey with UGEFA-supported SMEs, both stressed the importance of building financial management knowledge and skills. Here, it doesn’t have to be complicated. With the right tools, financial ratios and financial plans are demystified and can serve as valuable aids in securing next-level financing and achieving key business growth objectives while balancing quarterly, urgent business demands.
What is their vision for the future of green SMEs in Uganda?
Challenges Uganda is well aware that there are many initiatives out there that focus on a particular sector or sub-sector of “green” business development, for example working exclusively with solar PAYGO businesses or biomass cookstove companies. Though valuable, this often overlooks other areas of business contributions to fighting climate change and ensuring environmentally sustainable economic development.
The type of change we need requires a cross-sector look at the role of SMEs in delivering environmental and social benefits to society. Environmentally sustainable businesses across sectors must be supported “to survive and build up their resilience”, shares Joseph, as they deliver much needed products and services to customers at the bottom of the pyramid. We must do more to support green SMEs in overcoming the unique challenges that they face relating to investment management, forecasting, cash flow management and more.
Moving forward, the unique contributions of these SMEs must be harnessed, as “SMEs are the drivers of innovation!”
Taking the renewable energy sector in Uganda as an example, most private sector actors are SMEs. The momentum to harness “green-ification” within this space is growing, with Uganda and other African nations at the forefront of this innovation. Furthermore, green SMEs are central to ensuring that national goals for green growth and climate change mitigation/adaption can be met. Some of the core national policy targets in Uganda, including for rural electrification and renewable energy access, have not yet been achieved. “Partly it’s because the private sector wasn’t fully supported to invest more and given incentives to ensure that they help extend this [electrification] infrastructure to the people”, shared Joseph. Expanding opportunities for private-public partnerships, which have been growing, with a strong role for government can be one route for leveraging the role of SMEs in achieving these targets.
How can we jointly achieve this vision?
Beyond expanding private-public partnerships, centrally, Challenges Uganda remind us of the pivotal importance of collaboration.
Both as SMEs and as ecosystem actors, we need to collaborate, not compete. Whether among biogas enterprises or among different incubation and acceleration programmes, there is a great deal more that we can learn from each other; and more that we can achieve when we do so.
George reiterated, “within the ecosystem there is a lot of knowledge, lots of best practices, lots of value that can be exchanged… But, what’s lacking is that exchange.” In particular, – despite some great examples of ecosystem actors working together – more can be done to align and deliver quality support along the full enterprise journey – moving from a start-up incubator to the next stage on that journey. Together, we can jointly create valuable, quality opportunities for SMEs to be successful.
Challenges Uganda, we agree!
So, how would you like to collaborate?