The first ever West African focused learning workshop began with an informal get together for participants, invited guests and team members on the evening of 12thSeptember 2019, at Labadi hotel in Accra, Ghana, in advance of the formal workshop to be held the next day.
During the introductory cocktail, Milton Lore, the Fund Team Leader, encouraged those present to take advantage of the opportunity to engage in one-on-one conversations for potential knowledge sharing and business opportunities.
The Fund Team Leader, Milton Lore, making welcome remarks at the participant learning event.
Prior to the start of the formal learning event the next day, participants had a brief opportunity to interact with Reeta Roy, President and CEO of Mastercard Foundation.
During the full day workshop on 3rd September 2019, participants attended multiple learning sessions, and contributed to various panel discussions facilitated by the Fund and its partners.
The workshop agenda was deliberately designed to harness the knowledge and insights of the participants present, taking into account their different business models and approaches to problem solving and achieving impact.
After introductory remarks from Milton Lore, welcoming interaction and learning during the session, Anne Maftei, Learning Manager at the Rural and Agricultural Finance Learning Lab, kicked the day off, giving brief insight into the agenda and how participants could engage. She discussed the pre-event survey sent out in advance to participants which helped shape the learning event topics around driving uptake, outreach and impact, and making the business case. In particular, she noted that participants requested networking opportunities which were deliberately built into the workshop. Anne also introduced Mentimeter, an interactive mobile-based tool that would be used during the workshop.
Anne Maftei, Learning Manager, Rural and Agricultural Finance Learning Lab, introduces learning event topics and an interactive voting tool.
Tim Hobden, Monitoring and Evaluation Manager at IPE Tripleline, presented an overview of the portfolio and it’s achievement to date, noting the Fund had disbursed over $40 million to 38 projects operating in 15 different countries. He pointed out that the Fund had already surpassed its one million reach target as well as its product launch targets – with over 70 products and services launched with Fund support by the end of 2018. (For more insights, refer to the Fund impact report summary). Tim noted that more women and youth were coming on board as the portfolio matured, and projections were for the Fund to reach nearly 3 million customers in total by of end 2019, well over target, and with a significant ‘active customer’ ratio.
Interesting observations from the participants included noting the need for insight into what was not working, what links were forming between the portfolio of participants and how to measure indirect job creation which would be beyond many participants on their own.
Thomas Njeru, Co-founder and CFO of Pula Advisors, speaks about the need to give farmers confidence to invest in their farms.
The key topic of discussion in the first panel session was ‘Finding the balance between outreach and farmer impact’. The panel session was moderated by Wambui Chege, Agribusiness Director, KPMG. The three contributing panelists were Gabrielle Roseneu, Manager at Ibero Uganda, Boniface Muthusi, Chief Credit and Risk Officer from Juhudi Kilimo and Emmanuel Yuson from Biopartenaire.
Gabrielle Roseneu noted that finding the balance between outreach and impact relates particularly to having the right business case. Tapping into her experience of working with 5,000 coffee smallholder farmers in Uganda, she noted that in the case of Ibero Uganda that works to improve productivity, their business model is resulting in increased farmer incomes and impact, with excellent repayment rates from farmers. She also stated that working with farmers is a long term journey and institutions need to be prepare for that rather than assume short-term plans would be effective enough.
Boniface Muthusi, Chief Credit and Risk Officer from Juhudi Kilimo makes a point about the need for a win-win business case to create farmer impact but also shareholder value.
Boniface Muthusi spoke of the conflict of sometimes creating shareholder value as opposed to creating farmer impact or benefit, and the constant search for the win-win. He noted that Juhudi Kilimo has been learning to find this balance from experience, for example by creating value addition and partnerships to spread the risk. He also spoke about having management in the institutions that is aligned to this balance between outreach and impact.
Emmanuel Yuson discussed Biopartenaire’s business model as they work in the cocoa sector, and how they address this topic through a productivity package for farmers, comprising input credit but also trying to meet their healthcare needs through insurers and extending into allowing savings through the right partners. He highlighted the infrastructure challenge of getting to the farmer doorstep, which has implications for impact to the business and to the farmer.
This session was summarised by Wambui Chege who noted that the discussion showed institutions do care about farmer impact, despite the need to drive revenues and shareholder value. She also noted the need for establishing a business case both at the institutional level and at the farmer level as discussed. Finally, Wambui noted that in order to strike the balance between impact and outreach, the right partnerships need to be formed.
Wambui Chege, KPMG IDAS, summarises the panel discussion focusing on ‘Finding the balance between outreach and farmer impact.’
The next session of the day focused on ‘Making the business case for serving smallholder farmers. This session was moderated by Katherine Rickard, Consultant, Nathan Associates who noted that the discussion would look beyond profitability, at making this case both internally and externally to multiple stakeholders.
The panellists were Juliet Ongwae, Chief Innovation Officer, Musoni Microfinance Limited, Benjamin Njenga, Director of Operations and Co-Founder, Apollo Agriculture and Michael Malan, Managing Executive, Compuscan.
Dr. Ongwae noted that although Musoni Microfinance Limited started conservatively, it is attempting to scale its agri-financing products to smallholder farmers in Kenya. She noted that in this case, Musoni’s business case involved seeking partners and solutions which assist bringing down the cost for lending to farmers.
Dr. Juliet Ongwae, Chief Innovation Officer, Musoni Microfinance Limited discussing the role of partners in helping companies remain focused on their core business.
Another one of Musoni’s learnings has been that use of technology had introduced efficiencies for the provision of credit to farmers, and presented opportunities for scaling their business model to other markets. Dr. Ongwae went on to note that once farmers were reached, there was an opportunity to cross-sell and up-sell other products and services such as bank assurance.
Benjamin Njenga spoke about managing risk to ensure commercial viability. He started by noting farmers in Africa do not need perfect seed or tools, but good seed and tools which will have significant impact on farming operations. He spoke about the technology platform of Apollo Agriculture, which provides automation and data to allow reduction in transaction costs of serving smallholder farmers, as well as encouraging them to diversify their crops and revenue streams over time. He also noted that packaging multiple offerings into products reduces costs and also benefits farmers.
Benjamin Njenga, Director of Operations and Co-Founder, Apollo Agriculture, sharing insights on making a strong business case to serve smallholder farmers efficiently.
Michael Malan, Managing Executive of Compuscan, spoke about giving farmers the credit they deserve through the Fund project in Uganda by building a credit history for farmers repaying input loans. The outcome was that banks and MFIs could make financial and credit decisions based on this information. Michael noted that innovators need to be as aware as possible of the regulatory environment and policies as they take their business case forward, as this can be a challenge in future, as it was in the Compuscan project.
Michael Malan, Managing Executive, Compuscan sharing key learnings around understanding risks in Uganda.
Key insights of the session in making the business case included understanding business risks upfront, getting the right partners involved while remaining focused on core business, tapping into technology to introduce efficiencies and scale, and having buy-in from stakeholders in the business, who may need an appetite for failure along the way.
Katherine Rickard, Consultant, Nathan Associates summarises the key points of the panel discussion.
A third session on ‘Exploring indirect pathways from financial inclusion to job creation’ was led by Tim Hobden, Monitoring and Evaluation Manager, IPE Tripleline, with a view to exploring angles and content of relevance to participants for a learning paper to come out later in the year.
Timothy Hobden, Monitoring and Evaluation Manager discesses the Fund’s impact.
The final session of the learning day was an interesting Fireside Chat with Jonathan Ridley, Director of M-Kopa Labs. This discussion was moderated by David Crush, Program Manager of Mastercard Foundation, and explored Jonathan Ridley’s career path, his appetite for innovation and the challenges and learnings along the way that could be useful to other participants on a similar journey with their projects.
David Crush, Program Manager, Mastercard Foundation, having a one-on-one conversation with Jonathan Ridley, Director of M-Kopa Labs.
Jonathan Ridley recounted his experience with early innovation challenge funds, and his role in M-Kopa to deal with an innovation lab business unit, separated from the core business and that tests products and services before launching them into the market. He pointed out his passion for creating products and services that help customers.
Jon also shared some insights into the growth of M-Kopa Solar as well as its evolution in the range of products and services offered along with flexible payment models. As an example, he spoke about trying to grow the business into areas of Tanzania through partnerships with access to thousands of farmers, and how this did not work for the type of products that M-Kopa Solar was offering, resulting in the need to revert back to their own sales and distribution solution.
Jonathan Ridley, Director of M-Kopa Labs, sharing insights on the growth and evolution of M-Kopa labs.
The learning and networking event concluded, leaving participants, partners and team members energised and convinced that networking and sharing knowledge and insights had been very beneficial to participants and team members alike. The Fund plans to hold more networking and learning events in the future which will be announced in due course.
Article written by Colin Azavedo, Communications Consultant, Mastercard Foundation Fund for Rural Prosperity.