My name is Dianka Diaby and I am the founder of Afrique Capable, a social enterprise that supports SMEs in Africa. I always look for creative solutions to any problem. I work over the internet, face to face or on the phone; doing what is necessary for positive, long-term results. You can find us on Facebook @Afriquecapable. Our webpage is acapable.org.
In this three part-blog, I discuss how I supported three local businesses in Senegal by fostering communication and trust.
Call me biased, but I have always seen Africans involved in local businesses as entrepreneurs despite their low literacy rates, low capitals, small outputs, and weak networks. In my eyes, with the right support, they can operate and grow like any other entrepreneurs in any part of the world. As such, I have always been interested in supporting them. I even enrolled myself in a college program to be able to do just that. However, the most eye-opening fact for me has been to learn that I can positively and measurably impact their productivity with as little as creating trust between us.
How was that possible?
I spent several months in Keur Massar, a city on the outskirts of Dakar, between 2020 and 2021. During that time, I had the pleasure of meeting and working with three local entrepreneurs who blew me away with their speedy progress. These are their stories.
Fostering a Culture of Re-use in Smaller Cities of the World
“I am against anything that destroys our environment.”- Elhadj Samb.
I met Elhadj Samb through a friend; but I came to know him as I shopped at one of the biggest supermarkets in the city. Elhadj Samb was always present, selling reusable fabric bags that shoppers could purchase in lieu of plastic shopping bags. After extensive discussions with him, I came to understand the depths of his dreams; this young man wanted to supply as many recyclable items as possible to circumvent our addiction to plastic commodities. Initially, I started to focus on a few challenges that could visibly impact his productivity and products. It was obvious that we needed to improve the quality of the cheap fabrics that he was using. As we discussed quality, we also discussed design. I browsed the internet, with Elhadj by my side, to look for inspiration on sites such as Pinterest.
After discussing the different designs and the different avenues to accessing quality fabrics, Elhadj surprised me in April this year with the first batch of bags that he produced after our meetings. I was delighted. So much progress in so little time. I could clearly see an improvement in the type of fabrics he had chosen this time (see photo 1). I made further suggestions about the sizes, the functionality and the quality of the stitching of the showcased bags. However, I was thrilled that he had been awakened to the concept of quality. Then, I started working with him on branding and visibility. Using my Canva.com account, Elhadj sat with me for a few hours while we browsed through logo and business card templates. Elhadj was deeply involved in the process, clearly directing me towards his ideal brand. Several times, he took steps back just to be able to visualize the ongoing digital products. I smiled. He wanted it to be perfect up close and from afar.
Today, Elhadj is producing high-quality bags with his personal brand “Samb Eco” (see photo 2). He has diversified the size of the shopping bags and is offering a wide variety of colors schemes appealing to both men and women. He is still selling in front of the same supermarket chain, but you can find him now in front of one of the biggest branches of the country. He is branding savvy these days too. He politely requests to take pictures of customers who use his bags and posts them on Facebook and on his WhatsApp status. He even told me that a foreign citizen who had purchased his bag in front of the supermarket had sent him a picture of himself using a Samb Eco bag as a carryon.
In the following months, Afrique Capable will work with Samb Eco to develop cost-reduction strategies to address the challenge identified by Elhadj Samb as the next big hurdle.
Catering from Home
I started working with Ndèye Marème Gassama around January 2021. Marème was looking to start an income generating activity and was looking for direction. The first steps of our collaboration entailed doing a run through of her skills and past trainings. The idea was to base her income generating activity on a personal asset, tangible, or intangible, as a way of launching a sustainable and specialized activity. Marème has a passion for cooking and wanted to turn it into a business. “Once, I dreamt of owning a restaurant; I clearly remember that the signed said “Chez Maya””, she recalled.
Due to the lack of funds, acquiring a restaurant space was impossible at the time, so the alternative was to launch a catering business from home.
As we settled on the catering business, she planned the menu according to the local taste and devised a pricing strategy. I approached Marème’s branding process the same way that I did with Elhadj Samb’s. It was a participatory, co-creative design process where my ultimate intention was to make each local entrepreneur take ownership of the branding process.Marème’s “Chez Maya” (At Maya’s in English) was born out of that process. Using canva.com, we designed her logo, her menu and her business cards, which she diligently printed out. The last week of January, Marème went from door to door to distribute her business cards and her menus. The first batch of meal orders was dished out at the beginning of February 2021. I clearly remember our excitement as she finally launched her business with 2 orders that day. Slowly but steadily, the number of daily orders grew to 3, 4, 5, then to 7 by the beginning of March 2021. I will always remember how we celebrated the day she received 7 orders; we were overjoyed. I never missed an opportunity to encourage or congratulate Marème for her work and every little bit of progress she made.
Home-based catering is a difficult job. Marème, who cannot hire any extra help at this time, undertakes all aspects of the business alone from marketing, procurement, cooking, delivery, and accounting. In the past 6 months since starting the delivery, we are still learning the business cycles of the catering business in Senegal.
Some months are more positive than others, however, each month is a step towards understanding the internal and external shocks as well as the opportunities that may affect her business. From February to July 2021, thanks to her perseverance, Marème saved the equivalent of 900 US dollars with a local women’s savings group.
Essentially, on average she saved 5 dollars daily from her catering business. In August 2021, when she received her total savings, she was able to pay off a previous personal debt that she owed to a bank, invest in the branding of her business, and make provisions to scale up her catering business. Through our usual WhatsApp conversations, she told me “You encouraged me; you gave me strength. Thanks to you, I am no longer scared...”. But, of course, Marème is the ultimate hero of her business.
In the upcoming months, Afrique Capable will work with Chez Maya to increase its customer base, a priority of Marème’s. Our focus will be to help Marème’s business reach a production level that will allow her business to enjoy economies of scale. In the short term, Marème would like her catering business to be financially stable enough to hire one person to share the load of the catering work. If successful, “Chez Maya” catering will be yet a step closer to Marème’s dream.
Supporting Quality Craftsmanship in Africa
‘’Anything that can be made in China can be made here too.”- Mr. Pène.
Mr. Sérigne Pène is a carpenter with over 25 years of experience in the business. Under his uncle and mentor’s apprenticeship, he honed his skills by learning to produce high-quality plane seat covers. Prior to owning his workshop and store, he produced sofas for rich local businessmen who owned furniture stores.
I became interested in Mr. Pène’s work when I noticed the quality of his workmanship. I inquired further about him, his business and the challenges that he encounters as a local businessman. I was directed to his store, “Tapisserie Wakeur SERIGNE MBACKE MADINA”, where he sold his custom-made sofas. Upon arrival, I noticed that the high-quality sofas were not displayed in an adequate environment.
Due to financial constraints, he rented a store space at a cheaper price located 1.5 kilometers from the main traffic. This, in turn, affected his sales. It was clear to me that our priority action was to move this store to a more visible area. In the following week, Mr. Pène and his wife visited several stores in prime areas. However, the cost of the lease was just not affordable. After further reflection, I proposed to him to partner with other complementary businessmen who already rented a space in the prime areas. The idea was to devise a win-win space sharing strategy where the store owner would either receive compensation for a few square meters occupied by Mr. Pène’s sample furniture or receive a portion of the sofa sales as a commission for hosting the sample sofas. After several unfruitful negotiations, a first partner came on board. He exhibited a set of Mr Pène’s sofas at his store. Unfortunately, this first partnership was not successful and Mr. Pène had to accept a loss on the sale of the first set of sofas. Other potential partners were contacted and to date Mr. Pène’s sofas have been exposed in two high-traffic stores that he would not otherwise be able to afford. Thanks to our space sharing strategy, Mr. Pène was able to sell more sofas in three months than he did in his own remote store in six months.
In the short term, Afrique Capable will continue to support Mr. Pène’s carpentry store in targeting additional partner stores. The increased revenue from this space sharing strategy will be used to promote Mr. Pène’s brand visibility and to increase his sofa production capacity.
During this journey, I have come to understand that helping small and medium enterprises in Africa is not as difficult as I first thought. During this journey, I understood that it is perfectly acceptable to pilot strategies that may be non-traditional to increase the productivity and the revenues of SMEs in Africa. The success of my partnership with these entrepreneurs stemmed from the fact that I simply listened to, communicated with, and created trust between them and me to develop the ideal strategies for their contexts.
I am more invigorated than ever and remain committed to exploring all the possible avenues to help these local businesses. The best part is that it cost me very little to create such an impact. All I needed was a computer, a phone, access to the internet, access to productivity tools and the time fully committed to this project. Today, I no longer live in Senegal, but I am just one WhatsApp call away.