REACHING THE UNDERSERVED: EPISODE 3

New ways to train businesses on a growth path with Rebecca Harrison

If you can get entrepreneurs and their teams to implement some simple but effective habits, then you very quickly start to see results

-REBECCA HARRISON
Co-Founder and CEO, African Mangaement Institute (AMI)

 

Wanjiru Mbugua [00:00:00] I had this idea but had not started, RD clothing. And so when we started on the second month of my training, I remember there’s this trainer who asked us, what do you think are your four best ideas, business ideas that you can work with from the comfort of your bed? You know, something that people would be using, something that people don’t like, something unique, something interesting that you would do as a business and change your life and change other people’s lives. I said “That’s it.” That’s it for me. That was it. That’s all I needed.

Narration [00:00:48] The African Management Institute, commonly known as AMI, has developed Africa’s first scalable solution for skills and enterprise development. Their blended methodology focuses on encouraging adoption of effective business practices. It does this by combining web and mobile platforms with in-person workshops to help participating entrepreneurs develop the skills and habits they need to grow their businesses. Two years ago, AMI expanded its impact in this space by partnering with Kenya Commercial Bank, one of the largest retail banks in East Africa. Through this partnership, KCB’s business clients were invited to join AMI’s Grow Your Business program. Anna Gincherman, Partner at ConsumerCentriX sat down with Rebecca Harrison, co-founder and CEO of AMI to learn more about how blended learning works, how it addresses different profiles of entrepreneurs, particularly women, how it benefits partner banks, and how results are being measured.

Anna Gincherman [00:01:53] Rebecca, you can start with you introducing yourself and just a few words about AMI?

Rebecca Harrison [00:02:01]  My name’s Rebecca Harrison. I’m the co-founder and CEO of AMI, African Management Institute and we enable ambitious businesses across Africa to thrive. We do that through practical tools and training. AMI has been around for about five or six years. We have offices in Nairobi, Kenya, Jo’burg in South Africa and Kigali in Rwanda. We’ve trained about 27,000 people, managers, leaders, entrepreneurs and their employees in about 15 countries across Africa.

Anna Gincherman [00:02:30] The ConsumerCentriX team spent about a week in Nairobi talking to clients of KCB Bank, learning about their experience with the bank’s financial and non-financial services. And many of the clients were raving above the program. They took in 2017, which was conducted by AMI and my favorite quote from the primary school entrepreneur, Simon, was his name, was “these people (meaning KCB and AMI) don’t even know how good this program is and how important it was for us.” So very positive feedback. So it would be great if you can describe what this magic program is,  what’s different from what else is out there and why you think it was so influential?

Rebecca Harrison [00:03:22] I’m delighted to hear entrepreneurs are saying good things about us. So, Grow Your Business is a whole new approach to learning for entrepreneurs. So I guess what we’ve done at AMI, is to turn training on its heads. What traditional training does has take entrepreneurs out of their business and put them in a classroom and has an expert talk at them. And what we see, in terms of results, is that entrepreneurs really struggle to translate that kind of knowledge into any real change in the business. They might get some new knowledge, but then that doesn’t really translates into any kind of real result for the business. So what we’ve done at AMI, is we’ve really dug into the evidence base and the research around what works in developing SMEs and entrepreneurs.

And the big insight and the secret sauce of Grow Your Business is that what makes the difference for is business practices and habits. And if you can get entrepreneurs and their teams to implement some simple but effective habits, then you very quickly start to see results. So when we were designing Grow Your Business, we were thinking both about, you know, how can we really drive impact, but how can we do that in a way that’s cost-effective. And that’s where we came up with this blended model. And the idea of blended learning is that you combine online tools and resources. We provide those through a mobile app as well as an online platform. And the idea is that our entrepreneurs can access practical tools online, anytime, anywhere, and you can apply them immediately in the business. So we’re not taking entrepreneurs out of the business for days on end. We’re going to them at that point of need. So that’s the first piece is the online tools.

The second piece we’ve learned in an African context, purely online learning doesn’t really work on its own. So you still need some kind of human components, kind of human touch, as it were. We combine the online tools with experiential in-person Face-To-Face workshops. But we don’t do as many of the traditional programs. So, again, we’re not taking people out of their businesses for days on end. Over a course of six months, we take the entrepreneurs out for three days, beginning, middle and end. And they have really high impact experiences. So those are really memorable days. You know, they’re not sitting listening to someone talk. They’re interacting, they’re networking,  they’re role-playing and practicing some of these tools that they’ve been downloading on their phones and on their computers and getting a feel for what does that mean for me and my business? Blended learning often only really covers those two components online and in-person. We take it a step further and when we say, well, it’s online tools, in-person experiences and then in the business or on the job practice and application. Throughout our program, we’re journeying with our entrepreneurs to support them and incentivize them to implement these habits and practices in the business.

At the office of African Managment Institute in Nairobi, Kenya

In terms of gender, we’ve seen some really interesting trends. So we noticed on the program with KCB, for example, at the intake level, there were, I believe, it’s 55 percent men and 45 percent women. When we looked at the completing entrepreneurs, that ratio had flipped. So 55 percent of the competing entrepreneurs were women and 45 percent were men.

-REBECCA HARRISON
Co-Founder and CEO, African Mangaement Institute (AMI)

Anna Gincherman [00:06:24] Excellent. And do you think this approach fits best, a particular profile of an entrepreneur? We know the SME segment is heterogenous as there are so many different types of business, sizes of businesses, and there is a gender aspect to it. Do you think your program is best suited for a particular profile or it’s kind of a universal application?

Rebecca Harrison [00:06:47] Yeah, that’s a great question.  There’s a few different lenses, size of business and gender.  Let’s take size of business. There’s two components. So one is the content needs to be tailored for the right size of business, but also the approach. So what Grow Your Business does is we begin the program with a diagnosis where the businesses take what we call the practices survey. And the survey aims to discover which practices are already being implemented and which aren’t. So it’s not how much do they know, it’s what are they doing. And based on that survey, the entrepreneur chooses five things that they want to implement in their business. So it could be starting to forecast that cash flow, starting to do one on one meetings with their direct reports. We’re not prescribing a learning journey. The entrepreneur decides what’s important for them. Now, that works really well for an entrepreneur who’s a little bit more established and who knows enough about their business to be able to identify what they need to do. What we’ve found is with earlier stage or smaller entrepreneurs, they need more direction and so they don’t yet know what they don’t know. And so they need a more directed learning journey. So that’s the big difference that smaller micro entrepreneurs need more guidance.

In terms of gender, we’ve seen some really interesting trends. So we noticed on the program with KCB, for example, at the intake level, there were, I believe, it’s 55 percent men and 45 percent women. When we looked at the completing entrepreneurs, that ratio had flipped. So 55 percent of the competing entrepreneurs were women and 45 percent were men. So women were more likely to complete the program. It seems based on qualitative feedback that they were more likely to translate what they’d learned into real impact for their business. So they were more likely to be implementing the practices, more likely to be growing their revenue, creating jobs.

Anna Gincherman [00:08:44] And why do you think that is?

Rebecca Harrison [00:08:46] Yeah, that’s the big question.  We have a few hypotheses that haven’t been tested. We think that because there are potentially fewer opportunities available to women, that when they get an opportunity like this, they’re more likely to seize it for the reasons that, you know, you at CCX have documented, life is particularly challenging for a female business owner. And so, you know, when you get an opportunity, you seize it and you run with it.  That’s one hypothesis. Another is that the blended learning approach may be particularly well-suited to women who might have multiple responsibilities. Instead of having to take a whole week out to come to class, they’re able to access learning on their phone in the evening during a break. And we’ve had feedback quite consistently from women that they really appreciate that flexibility.

Narration [00:09:35] Through AMI’s flexible schedule and innovative curriculum. Wanjiru finally got the motivation she needed to start her clothing business.

Wanjiru Mbugua [00:09:44] After the 2017 elections,  my other business, the marketing PR business was really slow. And I was thinking, what other business can I come up with. Then a friend of mine told me about this KCB workshop that she had been invited to. So she invited me to go and I went. And after that workshop, we were invited to join a program that would take about six months. It was a pilot program, Grow Your Business, GYB. And so they said, if you’re ready, we would start in January and to finish in July. I said, why not? Because the schedule appeared to be reasonable, because it wasn’t every day like a compass or any other school program. And so it was going to work for me. I had this idea, but had not started, RD clothing. And so when we started on the second month of my training, I remember there’s this trainer who asked us “what do you think are your four best ideas, business ideas that you can work with from the comfort of your bed? ” You know. Something that people would be using, something that people would like, something unique, something interesting that you would do as a business and change your life and channge other people’s lives. I said “That’s it.” That’s it for me. That was it. That’s was all I needed.

Wanjiru gives a customer outfit ideas. 

We’ve seen our NPS score go very high because of that extra mile that we have gone with the customers and it has also increased customer satisfaction levels to double-digit growth. So the non-financial services, comes as a pillar within the business model.

– NAOMI NDELE
Head of SME Banking, Kenya Commercial Bank 

Rebecca Harrison [00:11:07] Another really interesting aspect of GYB is the peer to peer networking and mentoring.  We definitely have program managers who are journeying with our entrepreneurs to help them extract insights and apply those to the business. But also where a lot of the learning happens, we believe is between the entrepreneurs themselves.  There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that a) entrepreneurs love networking. I’ve never met an entrepreneur who does not like networking. And also, you know, being a business owner can be lonely. They really get a lot of value from engaging with other business owners and learning from them.  We actually structure quite formally into the program what we call pods, which are small groups.  In between the formal workshops and while they’re accessing tools on the online platform, they’re also meeting in small groups and they’re sharing what they’re learning and critically they’re holding each other accountable to what they’re learning. And with we’re discovering that a lot of the value seems to be coming out of these pod groups.

Narration [00:12:11] For Samuel, a private school entrepreneur based in Nairobi, the close bond of his pod outlived the duration of the program.

Samuel Njenga [00:12:19] We were also joined with other business people. We formed pod. That we could even meet without the trainer, discuss. And up today, we are still challenging each other, talking, communicating. So that has really helped me a lot.

Anna Gincherman [00:12:35] From what we know that the partnership with KCB Group in Kenya was one of the first of AMI’s partnership with a banking institution. And we see more and more leading banks try to expand their SME proposition, understanding that it’s not only about access to finance, but it’s also about access to knowledge, access to skills, existing network, and that can really facilitate that business growth of their clientele. So from your point of view, where do you see the kind of the benefit for banks of partnering with institutions for yours?

Rebecca Harrison [00:13:20] Yeah. Well, first of all, we loved working with KCB. They’re a great partner, really engaged and really invested in the success of that of their business club members, entrepreneurs. Yeah. I mean, for me, the key benefits for the bank are around de-risking of the businesses.

Narration[00:13:38] As the head of SME banking at KCB, Naomi Ndele pays close attention to the impact of non-financial service programs on clients and on the bank’s overall portfolio growth.

Naomi Ndele [00:13:51] We had customers whose loans were going to be called up, but from the lessons of this training, they were able to restructure their finances and pay up their loans and actually completed the repayment of the loan within that the year of the AMI program. So the benefits of the blended learning were really impactful to the customers, which also resulted in a benefit to the bank in the sense that we were able to recover loans that were almost going bad.

Rebecca Harrison [00:14:22]  The second is just the power that it gives the brand, I think. I mean, when we worked with the KCB clients, we really saw them that the way that they felt towards KCB really turned around and shifted during the course of that program. So many of them saw such transformation and they saw KCB as an intrinsic part of that transformation and an intrinsic driver. So again, for the bank, having your brand associated with transformation in a business and the impact that’s going to have, I would imagine on a loyalty, client loyalty and kind of net promoter score would be really significant.

Naomi Ndele [00:15:01] We’ve seen our NPS score go very high because of that extra mile that we have gone with the customers and it has also increased customer satisfaction levels to double-digit growth. So the non-financial services, comes as a pillar within the business model. It goes beyond just giving products and solutions to walking the journey of building a business with a businessperson.

Samuel at his school in Nairobi, Kenya 

Rebecca Harrison [00:15:35] The other kind of real differentiators of your business is that we’re razor-sharp focused on business impact. Most training programs, the only metric they track is bums on seats or number of people trained and they really don’t track in any kind of rigorous way the real impact on the business. For a lot of the traditional training programs in entrepreneurship around Africa, we don’t actually really know if they work. Not only do we take impact measurement really seriously, but we’ve actually embedded it into the core of the program. We believe that if you measure it, it gets done. A core part of this program is helping entrepreneurs see that if they understand what’s happening in their business, they can identify the core drivers and they can make good decisions. the first thing they do when they come on to grow your business is to start tracking their revenue, their costs, their profits. And we also ask them about the size of their workforce. So we can eventually track job creation and what we see immediately as once they start doing that, they suddenly realize are not quite making the amount of money that I thought I was. And that really quickly concentrates their minds. They get bought into the program really quickly because they start seeing where they can make more money, which is all entrepreneurs want to do. And they quickly start then using some of our tools to negotiate with suppliers to reduce their costs through minimizing waste. They stop serving their customers so they can see what their customers really want. How can they maximize revenue? They start changing the way they deal with their team and thinking about how they deal with their employees.

Samuel Njenga [00:17:10] One is how my staff are today. The way I deal with them, with the training that I got, they are very happy. We do a lot of team building. We do a lot of training and therefore they are really empowered. It is through them that I’m able to get the results that I’m getting in the classroom because I’m the manager. I’m not able to teach every child or even I don’t teach. I do the management. Therefore, by empowering my staff, by giving them a lot of exposure, doing a lot of team building, meeting their needs as they give the feedback, they do the work and therefore we get the results.

Rebecca Harrison [00:17:53] So you see that because they’re measuring what’s happening in the business, that’s what actually drives the impact. And then, you know, of course, it feeds itself. So then we go on to kind of measure business impact against those metrics on a regular basis during and beyond the program.

Narration [00:18:09] Since Anna sat down to talk with Rebecca in late January, AMI has had to make considerable changes to their delivery of educational material as a result of the public health implications of Covid-19. For the foreseeable future, all of AMI’s classes and session will be online. To retain the aspect of  “human touch element,” AMI will be conducting webinars and video conferencing where participants will have the opportunity to role play and network with other members in their cohort. For businesses struggling to adjust to new financial burdens and changing work environments, AMI is now offering a free ‘Covid-19 virtual business survival bootcamp. Through this bootcamp, entrepreneurs can learn how to manage remote teams, lead in a crisis, optimize  health and hygiene at work, and financial forecast  in an economic slowdown.

In these uncertain times, the need for SMEs to learn, adapt and thrive is paramount for the global economy to rebound. Over the next few years, ConsumerCentriX looks forward to partnering  with AMI on developing scalable solutions that will equip SMEs across Africa with the right practices and habits to grow their business and create economic stability for their families and communities.

To learn more about AMI's COVID-19 bootcamp click here

Anna and Rebecca after wrapping up the interview