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Opinion & Analysis

Local enterprises must scale up standards

Workers pack powdered milk at the New KCC factory in Kiganjo, Nyeri. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Workers pack powdered milk at the New KCC factory in Kiganjo, Nyeri. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

I recently watched ‘‘The Founder,’’ a movie starring Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, the American businessman who built McDonald’s from a small hamburger chain in California into a nationwide and eventually global franchise.

McDonald’s is the most successful fast food corporation in the world. For anyone wanting to start an enterprise and scale it, the movie is inspirational.

It conjures up interesting imaginations of taking up some of the successful local eateries to a higher level. As in the movie, there will be challenges of not just the owners’ fear of losing control but of raising resources for scalability.

The friction between the founders and Kroc centred on strategies of scaling up. The very aspect of strategic direction of an enterprise is perhaps what lacks locally where today many of the restaurants are foreign franchises.

In my view, the dilemma of enterprise scale-up shouldn’t be left alone to the investor.

Policy makers must play a greater role while viewing scaling up as a strategy to expand employment opportunities, utilize local production and create wealth for the farming community. To achieve this, governments, local and national must invest in social infrastructure.

There must be a budget to invest in culture and recreational infrastructure. To comprehend the meaning of this concept, you need a small tour of Nairobi’s older city estates where the colonial government ensured that each and every estate had a social hall for all manner of activities.
A recent study, ‘‘The dilemma of scaling up local food initiatives: Is social infrastructure the essential ingredient?’’ by Sean Connelly and Mary Beckie in Canada examined the challenges of scaling up local food initiatives.

They compared strategies used to scale up by a city restaurant and a farmers’ market both located in central Alberta. In their attempt to be viable, local Canadian food initiatives, like the Kenyan ones, focus on securing physical infrastructure.

The research concludes that for local foods to succeed, investment in the social infrastructure is critical in maintaining the values and integrity of these enterprises.

They also recognise that there will be challenges “of doing so when competing with the mainstream food system where price, efficiency, and convenience rule.”

However, social infrastructure “provides opportunities for a reflexive scaling up by identifying the levers and catalysts for longer-term transformative change.”

Without a doubt, there are some local eateries especially in Nairobi that have stood the test of time that could benefit from my imaginations of not just taking them into every city in Africa but globally just like Kroc did.

I will start with three examples, Mama Oliech’s, Ranalo Foods and Kwa Njuguna, but if the new administration in the city could spend a little resource in investing in social infrastructure especially in the city centre, we could have more local dishes on offer.

The brand names need not change, but branding of the restaurants has to be done. Since scalability and standardisation are two sides of one coin, recipes of local dishes have to be standardised.

This is not easy since even production of inputs has to be standardised throughout the supply chain in order to produce good predictable tastes.

For example, if it is goat meat, it must be sourced from the same place, fed the same food and slaughtered within the exact number of months.

This may turn out to be what the agricultural sector needed to embrace a bit more discipline and benefit from opportunities lost when their produce does not meet required standards of established international food chains.

Just like in the movie, founders may not have the right long-term strategy to scale up their enterprises, create more jobs and contribute to economic expansion.

It needs third parties, incentives from policy makers and the willingness of the founders to scale. We have the opportunity to exploit latent wealth in our creative entrepreneurs.

We must take this conversation further if indeed we want to help our entrepreneurs to expand.

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