Can a businessperson claim to be forward-thinking if they cannot travel to other parts of the world and see how business is being done there?
The answer is no. Aware of this, entrepreneurs are embracing benchmarking. They are keen to observe the best practices in other countries.
Equally cognisant of the need to travel and exchange ideas, Absa Bank has been organising trips for its business customers over the years to and from countries where it has a presence.
The trips are largely coordinated under the Absa Business Club, an initiative of the bank designed to link Kenyan small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to markets and networks, both locally and internationally.
Just a month ago, 23 entrepreneurs flew from Kenya to Cape Town, South Africa. They spent five days touring various businesses there. Three of them have shared their experiences from the trip. We will come to them shortly.
According to Ms Susan Situma, the Head of SME Banking at Absa, these trips are designed to be eye-openers.
“Given our Pan-African footprint, we have always asked ourselves: How do we make sure that the SMEs that we are having are thinking broader than Kenya and not groping in the dark, so to speak?” she posed.
Through Business Club trips, she noted, SMEs from across the bank’s various operating markets and countries get to connect.
“We want to create those linkages where they know where to start if they want to venture into a different market, for example, Ghana,” said Ms Situma. “They can now know where to go get started with such opportunities.”
Members of the Absa Business Club enjoy special rates during such outings. Non-members pay more.
“We’ll be doing a lot more business-to-business conversations across countries where we are represented. Expect to see more of that even as we expose customers to international benchmarking standards,” noted Ms Situma.
In the South African trip, the travelling party was taken to five key locations.
The first was Deli-Co Farm, a family-owned enterprise that has been running since 1998.
The second was the Fairview Wine and Cheese Farm, an enterprise in the Western Cape province that has seen the inheritors diversify the business from where the founders left it.
There was also Ener G Africa, one of the leading energy companies in Sub-Saharan Africa. The team visited their plant in Cape Town where a women-led team assembles solar panels.
The other enterprise visited was Cape Town Biogas, an organic waste processing facility which makes use of cutting-edge anaerobic digestion technology to convert large volumes into biogas and other resources.
On the final day of the tour, the team visited Robben Island, the place where the celebrated Nelson Mandela spent 18 years in prison. The icing on the cake was a tour to Table Mountain where participants used the aerial cableway and enjoyed the views.
Among the entrepreneurs who took part in the trip are Ms Mwende Mutinda, Mr Zephaniah Ayiecha and Ms Mucha Mlingo. They have been members of the Absa Business Club for varying periods of time, but one thing is common among them — the desire to conquer new frontiers.
They had many lessons to pick. Ms Mutinda is one of the four sisters running Trianum Hospitality Limited, a company that leases buildings in Nairobi and transform them into thriving hospitality hubs. She said the family story of Deli-Co made her rethink of her business.
She says she was impressed by the written plan that the Deli-Co management had, which outlines their course of action until 2030.
“I need to learn to write, to just tell our own story as Trianum, write it down and pass it on for posterity so that 40 years from now when I’m not there and Trianum is still carrying on, that they (our children) will be able to tell the Trianum story.,” said Ms Mutinda.
At the Fairview Farm that had started as a wine farm then later branched into goat farming and cheese production – and now it receives more than 300,000 tourists a year – Ms Mutinda learnt the art of diversification.
She was also so impressed by the solar company that she is considering doing business with them.
“I’m in talks with the owners of Ener G Africa to see how they can expand their solutions to Kenya. We can always change from being purely on the grid and have a hybrid of solar plus Kenya Power,” she noted.
For Mr Ayiecha, this was an opportunity to not only meet high-flying enterprises but also to pursue new markets.
Mr Ayiecha is the founder of Fam Maza Curio Shop, a business that specialises in wooden kitchenware like salad spoons, salad bowls, serviette holders, pens, among other wooden items. He started his business in the late 1990s with Sh20,000. Thanks to loans from Absa, he says, he has grown his enterprise into a multi-million venture.
“Indeed, it is through this trip that I was able to meet new customers and create new links with the South African market. One of my highlights was engaging with the Deli-Co management who gave me an opportunity to partner and sell my items in this market,” said Mr Ayiecha.
“At the same time, I got new customers. It’s like I went there to bag work because I returned with three orders worth Sh3 or Sh4 million that I am servicing. So, my journey was not in vain,” he added. “I would highly recommend that people consider such kind of trips so they can widen their knowledge and networking opportunities. ”
Ms Mlingo was also part of the team, but unlike Ms Mutinda and Mr Ayiecha, she was in South Africa. She joined the team from Kenya while there. Ms Mlingo, a Zimbabwean married to a Kenyan, started PTS Africa, an emotional intelligence company that builds the capacity of various leaders in organisations, as a hobby. Now, the 13-year-old business has grown beyond Kenya.
“I was amazed that the programme was very well put together and for the sessions that I was able to participate in, they were very inspirational and motivational. ,” said Ms Mlingo.
Went on Ms Mlingo: “For me, the biggest highlight was networking with successful business owners. While none of them are in my line of work, there is something about interacting with an entrepreneur and getting to understand their success story and the challenges they face that truly motivates and help you to realise that you are not alone.”
As they returned to Kenya with their bags full of mementoes bought here and there, minds full of lessons and memories of the land 5 hours and 45 minutes away by air, and phone books full of new contacts, the entrepreneurs could not have been happier to be members of the Absa Business Club.
Would you want to be in the next trip? Are you interested in the Absa Business Club? Please call Absa on +254 (722) 130120 or +254 (732) 130120