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A social entrepreneur’s guide to scaling in rural areas

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In this week’s column from this month’s Entrepreneur in Residence (EiR), Kenny Ewan of WeFarm sets out his tips for how social entrepreneurs working in hard-to-reach communities can scale-up

Many social enterprises focus on providing services and products for people who live in rural parts of the world. However, having a target market of rural communities comes with many challenges. Typically these people are very difficult to reach, both in person and through marketing. So how does one begin to promote products and services to isolated communities of people, and how do you scale in remote parts of the world?

WeFarm female farmer

In 12 months we have grown our network to more than 63,000 smallholder farmers in Kenya, Uganda, and Peru. Our network WeFarm enables these farmers to access vital information through SMS. The majority of the farmers using our service live in very isolated areas, miles away from the nearest village, without an internet connection and without access to any traditional forms of communication.

Working with these farmers as our main customer base has come with its challenges, but we have achieved excellent growth through persistence and hard work. Here are a few lessons that we’ve learned that we think might help anyone trying to make a difference with rural populations.

Involve customers in the design process

As we were developing WeFarm, we did a lot of work testing the concept with farmers and we tried to involved them in the design process as much as possible. Initially, we wanted to create an internet platform or an app, but the reality on the ground was that most people have basic feature phones, so we ended up creating a service that allows people to crowdsource information even through SMS.

WeFarm Press Photo 4

Without spending time with our future customers it’s highly likely that we would have created a working product that nobody wanted to use. My advice would be to get out there and work with the people you want to empower. Be agile, try lots of different things, find flaws, and create something that is actually useful for your customers!

Marketing to rural communities

Marketing to rural communities has been one of our biggest challenges as a social enterprise. The majority of the small-scale farmers that use WeFarm are located in remote areas with no internet access, and have limited access to other traditional forms of media, which can make it more difficult for us to achieve the same exponential growth rate as other technology businesses.

However, a lot of WeFarm’s success so far has been based on achieving great growth in this challenging environment by trying many different forms of marketing in order to reach the people we need to. The majority of successful sign-ups to our service come from radio shows, or educational programmes run in conjunction with farming co-operatives.

Other things that we have tried include local youth training programmes, partnerships models, newspaper advertising, and many more.

Seek local expertise

WeFarm female farmer pictureRecognising where you need local expertise is very important when working with rural communities. There are so many differences between regions in each country and, as a team, we are constantly encountering situations where we require the expertise of locals.

For example, with our recent launch in Uganda, we found a part-time member of staff who speaks Luganda to help us translate training materials and run workshops with farmers. Seize these opportunities where you need local advice – don’t pretend you have all the answers.

There are huge populations of people living in rural areas of the world. Often this means that social enterprises targeting these audiences fail to scale quickly enough and it’s a tragedy because these customers desperately need new innovative products and services!

But there is hope: you can scale a business in rural areas. My advice to social entrepreneurs: 1) Do your research; 2) Try hard and fail fast; and 3) Find the magic marketing activities that work for you.

About Kenny

Kenny-Ewan 2Kenny is CEO of WeFarm, a pioneering social enterprise, scaling a unique peer-to-peer knowledge-sharing platform for the 450 million small-scale farmers around the world with no access to the internet. After graduating from the University of Dundee, Kenny went to Peru in 2002 to work on sustainable development projects with indigenous communities. He loved the country so much that he decided to stay. In 2007, he became Peru’s Country Director for ProWorld Service Corps. This international development NGO specialises in projects for isolated, indigenous communities. He returned to the UK in 2009 to join the Cafedirect Producers Foundation (CPF) start-up team. He designed and managed all of CPF’s international projects across East Africa and Latin America.

European Enterprise Promotion Awards 2015: Shortlisted Projects Announced

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Hundreds of projects competed in the 2015 national competitions for a chance to represent their country in the European Enterprise Promotion Awards; 19 projects have now been shortlisted. A record number of 32 countries entered the Awards this year with the most popular category being “Promoting the Entrepreneurial Spirit”.

This year’s jury was made up of members of the outgoing Latvian Presidency of the Council of the European Union and the current Luxembourg Presidency along with representatives from the European Commission, the Committee of the Regions, business, and academia. Following much deliberation, the jury established a shortlist of 19 nominees in six categories. The winners for each of the categories will be announced at a central event of European SME Week, the SME Assembly in Luxembourg, to which all nominees will be invited. The prestigious Grand Jury Prize winner and special mentions will also be announced at the European Enterprise Promotion Awards ceremony.

Category 1: Promoting the Entrepreneurial Spirit

France: Youth Awareness Week for Female Entrepreneurship sees female entrepreneurs go into schools over the course of the week and put on presentations, talks or forums for young people aged 13–25 about female entrepreneurship and how women can start businesses and find success. The initiative aims to increase  young  people’s  awareness  of  female entrepreneurship,  and  how  women  can  start businesses and find success. Over the past three years 816 woman entrepreneurs, 18,000 young participants and more than 250 educational establishments – colleges, secondary schools and higher education institutions – have been involved.  

Responsible organisation: The 100,000 Entrepreneurs Association

Organisation website: http://www.semaine-entrepreneuriat-feminin.com/

Netherlands: ZomerOndernemer allows young people to start their own companies and experience entrepreneurship during their summer holidays. By turning young people into proud business owners, the initiative helps them develop crucial skills as well as stimulate the spirit of entrepreneurship. Launched in 2010, the project has already attracted 265 young people and helped produce 82 companies.

Responsible organisation: The New Entrepreneur Foundation

Organisation website: www.zomerondernemer.nl

United Kingdom: The John Cracknell Youth Enterprise Bank supports the development of an entrepreneurial culture within the City of Hull by engaging young people from the age of 5, allowing them to gain “soft skills” and entrepreneurial experience. The initiative raises awareness of the self-employed option as a pathway post education. It has supported over 350 young people interested in business from across Hull and the East Riding area.

Responsible organisation: Hull City Council

Organisation website: www.youthenterprise.co.uk

Category 2: Investing in Entrepreneurial Skills

Denmark: The Mobile FabLab is entrepreneurship on wheels, designed to raise awareness on new prototyping technologies and entrepreneurial skill by visiting and facilitating a large number of events, workshops and meet-ups all over Denmark for pre-entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs and SMEs. They have initiated the first mobile FabLab-facility of its kind worldwide, put on more than 60 events reaching almost 28,000 people, 232 SMEs have been through FabLab- counselling and competence development courses and they have facilitated workshops for 1600 students in FabSchool.

Responsible organisation: FabLab Danmark c/o Væksthus Sjælland

Organisation website: www.detmobilefablab.dk

Ireland: Going for Growth focuses on encouraging female entrepreneurs to be ambitious and supports them to achieve their growth aspirations. Based on annual cycles, the initiative leverages the volunteer efforts of successful female entrepreneurs. The impact is measured in increased revenues, employment created and first time exporters, as well as in greater ambition, confidence, and a heightened strategic perspective among the participants; to date, over 400 ambitious owner managers have been supported.

Responsible organisation: Fitzsimons Consulting in association with the Gender Equality Division, Department of Justice and Equality

Organisation website: Going for Growth focuses on encouraging female entrepreneurs to be ambitious and supports them to achieve their growth aspirations.

Italy: Alternating Work & School Experience provides students in secondary education with the professional skills required by businesses today, through a range of programmes and work experience opportunities. The initiative aims to ensure the best work experience school programmes are created to benefit the greatest number of students possible in the province. Some of the skills that are developed through the initiative are centred around business innovation, the corporate culture, the development of relevant statistical data, problem solving and marketing and business plan development. Since the initiative has been implemented, there has been a marked improvement for the schools and businesses involved, particularly in terms of skills and knowledge acquired.

Responsible organisation: Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Crafts and Agriculture of Macerata

Organisation website: http://www.mc.camcom.it/P42A0C176S166/The-Chamber-of-Commerce.htm

Category 3: Improving the Business Environment

Croatia: Your Business Friendly Town acts as an accessible and practical example of how new and established entrepreneurs have the opportunity to succeed, by strengthening the capacity of local government. It has opened the doors of domestic and foreign investment to create new jobs, promote entrepreneurship in the local area, and to overcome administrative hurdles by adopting local government as “business partners”. The initiative has successfully increased the number of investors, entrepreneurs and jobs in the Economic zone of Jalševac, doubling the number of jobs in to over 850.

Responsible organisation: City of Jastrebarsko

Organisation website: www.jastrebarsko.hr

Malta: Strengthening the Business Environment through Active Social Dialogue focuses on providing professional management support to SMEs, as well as working to educate the general public on employment-related issues. Due to a series of specialised and focused activities, at least 14% of the SMEs in Malta have been empowered to become increasingly active participants in social dialogue in Malta.

Responsible organisation: Malta Employers’ Association (MEA)

Organisation website: www.maltaemployers.com

United Kingdom: Creative Quarter describes itself as an ‘incubator without walls’, which aims to support creative SMEs to generate prosperity and create jobs. It develops highly-skilled local workforce who are ready to compete with one another to transform The Creative Quarter area in the city to make it a great business location. The initiative has supported over 700 businesses and has created just over 600 jobs. It has also contributed to the development of over 7,500 sq m. of new workspace for SMEs, entrepreneurs and creative businesses.

Responsible organisation: Creative Quarter Nottingham Limited

Organisation website: www.creativequater.com

Category 4: Supporting the Internationalisation of Business 

Estonia: GameFounders is a global gaming industry accelerator that aims to support technically strong teams with developing a business model and guidance on product development. Since its launch, the accelerator has implemented four cycles and has worked with 28 teams from 16 countries. GameFounders has contributed to the increase of Estonian gaming industry start-up numbers.

Responsible organisation: GameFounders OÜ

Organisation website: www.gamefounders.com

Latvia: TechHub Riga is a major technology and IT co-working space for startup companies. The space was created with a view to bring together like-minded startups that can help each other to successfully develop their projects. The initiative has provided office space for more than 30 technology startups since its creation. More recently, over the past 2 years, 50 businesses have been incubated, as well as several international and local conferences, meetings, and experience sharing events being organised and held each year.

Responsible organisation: Foundation TechHub Riga

Organisation website: riga.techhub.com

Italy: The Temporary Export Manager project provides businesses with the option to employ a junior/trainee member to the team to work in a company in close cooperation with company management in an international marketing position. The project aims to spread a culture of internationalisation among micro businesses and SMEs in the region, thus responding to the need for technical skills required by companies to possess and consolidate their business with those companies located overseas. Throughout the four years, over 150 new university graduates have been inserted in as many companies in the region.

Responsible organisation: Regional Union of the Chambers of Commerce of Emilia-Romagna

Organisation website: www.ucer.camcom.it

Category 5: Supporting the Development of Green Markets and Resource Efficiency

Austria: Resource-efficient Industrial Park Liesing works to help coordinate the management of the neighbourhood in the former industrial park of Liesing, ultimately creating a positive identity for the area. Research and advisory activities focus on resource-saving and resource-efficient economies. The initiative has successfully raised awareness of the issue of conserving resources, – both with companies and businesses and the local population – and have committed to the preservation of the industrial park as a site for manufacturing companies and businesses.

Responsible organisation: Vienna Chamber of Commerce

Organisation website: www.wkw.at

Luxembourg: SuperDrecksKëscht works to certify waste management concepts of facilities and plants, promotes the consumption of sustainable products and supports the further development of resource-efficient recovery operations. It aims to develop the classical waste management process for the recycling/de-manufacturing industry, and thus, expand and provide support to the environmental technology and services. The initiative has recorded an increase in the number of participating plants implementing ecological waste management, and has contributed to an increase in the sales of sustainable products.

Responsible organisation: The Environmental Administration/The Ministry for Sustainable Development and Infrastructures.

Organisation website: www.sdk.lu

Spain: Green Business Network is the first networking platform in Spain to specialise in green business. Targeting entrepreneurs and investors, the project seeks to promote entrepreneurship in the environment sector and to encourage sustainable business development. The initiative has already attracted over 7,000 members, including 100 investors and funders.

Responsible organisation: Biodiversity Foundation of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and the Environment

Organisation website: www.fundación-biodiversidad.es

Category 6: Responsible and Inclusive Entrepreneurship

Austria: Business Start-up Programme for the Unemployed works with the Austrian Public Employment Service to provide start up advice, company specific qualifications and livelihood security for the unemployed. It does so through three core services: 1. Start-up advice from a commissioned third-party consulting firm 2. Company-specific qualifications and 3. Livelihood security. Their aim is to support unemployed people in taking up successful and sustainable self-employment. They have achieved a high number of start-ups (in 2014: 5,169 UGP start-ups, of which women accounted for around 40%), very good labour market success and “survival rates”: 64% after 5 years, and additional employment effects: 25% of company founders employ staff.

Responsible organisation: Public Employment Service Austria

Organisation website: www.ams.at/service-arbeitsuchende/finanzielles/foerderungen/unternehmensgruendungsprogramm

Germany: Enterability is a management consultancy for people with disabilities that provides help before and after starting a business. The overarching goal is to enable people with disabilities to participate in the labour market through targeted counselling and training for self-employment. They provide peer counselling, advice, seminars with specific contents and methods, sign language interpreters and information on accessing loans specifically for disabled people.

Responsible organisation: Social Impact gGmbH

Organisation website: http://www.ifd-enterability.de/

Greece: Vocational Training & Certification of the unemployed workers of the ship repair industry in the Piraeus area, aimed at reduction of unemployment and recovery of the sector aims to enhance the capabilities of the Chamber of Commerce & Industry by providing a programme that hopes to increase employment levels in the local area. The programme aims to enhance entrepreneurship, mainly in the ship repair sector, and to reduce unemployment by involving those that are unemployed. Of the 1,500 unemployed who participated in the Vocational Training Programme, 867 obtained certification, and 150 gained employment.

Responsible organisation: Piraeus Chamber of Commerce & Industry (EVEP)

Organisation website: www.pcci.gr

Portugal: Lisbon Micro Entrepreneurship is a programme working to support responsible and inclusive entrepreneurship, be it through helping to develop business plans, to advising on how best to obtain funding. It was set up in 2013 with the aim of stimulating the city’s economy and supporting company and job creation. The initiative is therefore a part of Lisbon Municipal Council’s (LMC) global strategy to support entrepreneurship, bringing together public, private and local and national bodies with a local focus, enabling anyone to get support for projects in a range of fields, from the planning phase through to the first years of activity. Support comes in the form of help to structure ideas, developing business plans, help with implementing their projects, and obtaining funding. Over 50 companies have been set up, 27 of which have been funded, over 100 jobs have been created, and over 550 meetings have been held with entrepreneurs.

Responsible organisation: Lisbon Municipal Council

Organisation website: http://www.cm-lisboa.pt/www.cm-lisboa.pt

About the awards

Since 2006, the European Enterprise Promotion Awards have rewarded excellence in promoting entrepreneurship and small business at a national, regional and local level. Over 2 800 projects have entered since the awards were launched and in total they have supported the creation of well over 10 000 new companies. Its objectives are to identify and recognise successful activities and initiatives to promoting enterprise and entrepreneurship, showcasing and sharing examples of best entrepreneurship policies and practices, creating a greater awareness of the role entrepreneurs play in European society and encourage and inspire potential entrepreneurs.

For more information on the European Enterprise Promotion Awards, visit the website, follow the Awards on Twitter or visit the official Awards Facebook page. For more information on European SME Week you can visit the website and follow on Twitter.

Watch a video of last year’s winner, Start-ups by Mothers with Young Children.

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