Statistics, according to Bloomberg, show that 8 out of 10 entrepreneurs who start businesses fail within the first 18 months. What does Mama Boys who sells provisions outside her house know about running her business? She just tries to keep it alive. When things go bad, she goes to someone who can salvage the situation who bails her out and life continues until the next business cycle breaks.
So when the Lagos State government through the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund in collaboration with Coca Cola Nigeria decide to empower 1000 of this category of women, Customer Passion Point Limited came on board as the training consultant to facilitate the learning sessions for them.
Chinwe Kalu, lead facilitator for this project, had a lot to say. ‘We know the business failure statistics. So it was clear to all stakeholders that basic information for running a business was critical to the success of this program. If government is willing to give loans to these women, we needed to make sure they had adequate information to run their businesses, make profit and succeed’.
‘In a conventional training room with young professionals, we are in our element, we know what to do. However, we had women who were addressed as Mama Twins, Mummy Boys etc in class. Many understood Basic English but there were those who did not. I, and all the other facilitators, had to bring all of ourselves into the classes, English, Yoruba, Pidgin’.
So while a regular business owner may be worried about how to raise funds, one of the business challenges for this category of business was how to get change. Customers would complain because the business owners cannot give them N20 change at the point of purchase. Fellow participants had to come up with ideas on how to deal with this common challenge. It was a time of learning for everyone.
Facilitating training for bottom of the pyramid micro business owners requires a little more than other types of training. Motivation is crucial. The need to show them it was possible to move from the bottom of the pyramid to higher positions.
They needed to understand that the loan from LSETF was more than just a loan; it is an opportunity if well used could actually transform their lives. It was important that they picked up a sense of being on a mission to change the course of their lives. No more sloppiness, laziness, procrastination and purposelessness.
They needed to see themselves as more than wives and mothers but as powerful and strong enablers in their families. We made them realize what business success can bring into their lives – better education for their children, assistance for their husbands, ability to live better lives. We literarily saw their faces light up with realization of the possibilities.
Also helping them understand the value of a customer was crucial. At that level of business, customer service is not part of the deal, considering that customers are basically everyday people they see all the time – the neighbours maid who runs errands, the little girl or boy, the roadside mechanic or vulcanizer, the call girl in the nearby brothel. It was important to help them understand how important it is to place appropriate value on these people who come through their doors.
Chinwe Kalu concludes, ‘As CEO of CPPL, I have found this project a very rewarding experience. It was an opportunity to really impact lives. Each woman was totally committed to paying back the LSETF loan. My bigger concern was that they could pay back from really doing the business considering that the monthly payments are less than N4000. There is the tendency to be careless with the business and pay back from other sources rather than the core business for which they took the loans. Also that the businesses grow and remaining thriving at the end of the loan period. I believe that is the intent of government when they call it ‘empowerment’.
My hope is that we have 100% success rate in terms of loan repayment, so that other women get the same opportunity. I believe that is what the training program should do for each of these women – increase their chances of success in business. That gives me a strong sense of fulfilment and purpose. I am sure I speak for all my other facilitators.’ – Chinwe Kalu.