Jim Taylor Finding Impact

FIP 32: Designing an Organisation that People Love to Work For with Jim Taylor

Proximity Designs started in 2004 in Myanmar as a social enterprise focusing on the rural sector. Starting out with smallholder farmers, they first introduced a simple pump that dramatically improve water use and boosted productivity and incomes. They’ve since moved on to launching many products and services that can touch thousands of villages and millions of lives. Currently, their products are available to about 80% of the rural population with customers in over 10,000 villages.

On this episode you’ll learn:

  • How Proximity Designs have structured their distribution network to reach millions of farmers in their villages.
  • Jim believes that the management and operational workforce needs to be made up by local staff otherwise you miss out the nuances and parts of the culture that are critical to serving customers.
  • Where skills are unavailable locally, Proximity Designs judiciously uses international experts to embed in the organisation and train staff, who will then do the training company wide.
  • They run an in-house training facility, called Proximity School, whose core course is difficult conversations. These are inevitable to any organisation, more so when the culture is about avoidance of confronting problems. The course aims to separate the emotion from the facts.
  • Proximity Designs teach staff using 10% classroom time, with the rest on the job learning, of which formal and informal feedback via managers is critical.
  • For example, frontline sales staff are trained in sales methodology, and their managers are trained in coaching. Managers ensure a structured conversation, called a “clear conversation”, on a regular basis, with their staff.
  • To attract great staff, they offer people the opportunity to find meaning and purpose in their work, and a great work culture that supports individual learning and development.
  • To keep a finger on the pulse of a large organisation, Jim stays in close contact with manager, plus they use an intranet to encourage discussion across all levels of the organisation.
  • Culture is paramount. If someone is a high achiever, but does not fit with the values, they’ll prefer to let them go than disrupt the culture.
  • One of Jim’s roles as CEO is to ensure people are engaged. Jim measures employee engagement to keep a track of the health of the company. It’s an intentional process, not just an email that goes to staff.
  • Results of employee engagement are published internally, and broken down by different department and location.
  • Jim talks about having learnt so much about organisations and their shortcomings before starting proximity designs, so recommends learning those failures early on in your career, if you intend to lead an organisation.
  • A story of failure Jim recounts, was about how the private sector started serving the rural energy sector much more efficiently than they could, so they exited that part of the company to focus their scarce talent and resources on other more important areas, like farm finance and advisory services. It was a difficult decision that paid off.

Resources:

What was your favourite lesson from this episode? Let me know on Twitter by clicking here!

 

Grant Brooke Twiga Finding Impact

FIP 31: Tips on Building Trust and Hiring People by Founder-CEO, Grant Brooke

We talk about how to think about a CEO-Founder’s transition from day-to-day firefighting of operations to looking more on the horizon. Grant Brooke moved from fire-fighting day-in, day-out as a new start-up and getting involved in every facet of the business, to building a C-Suite who reports to the Board, to moving into a design-sprint format that looks three months on the horizon and decides what the business should be focusing on then. This episode is packed of useful tips about hiring, understanding teams, culture, building trust and expats.

On this episode you’ll learn:

  • The founder’s hired key people within their networks, with people they could trust and knew how they work.
  • A key reason for raising their first round of venture finance was to hire good people.
  • In order to attract the best people, who might otherwise be working at multinationals, they tried to offer very competitive salaries, create a very free, autonomous atmosphere, and creating a vision around where they were going.
  • Their hiring strategy early on was to identify someone in their network who they knew were good, then invite them out for a coffee or go out for a drink for a couple of months, then by which time, both parties will know if they want to continue together.
  • Grant tries to create an intellectually safe environment within the company. As a CEO, ways to do this include publicising your mistakes to encourage others to make mistakes and try new things, and be obvious about learning from your colleagues, encourage meetings to be a collective understanding of what needs to be done and volunteers to take responsibility for actions.
  • They don’t give directives. Instead, they encourage staff to step up to take on challenges that are facing the company.
  • Don’t over-promise to employees, such as using gimicky contracts that tie pay increases to individual performance. Instead, have a broad understanding that if the company does well, then everyone will do well.
  • Because trust can get eroded by simple misunderstandings in communication styles, use any interaction with employees or suppliers to be intentional about building trust in that relationship.
  • Instead of waiting to see what is ahead on the horizon, Grant tries to define the things that should be three months on the horizon.
  • Make a kindle library available to encourage employees to self-develop, and ensure everyone knows that’s a key part to progressing up the company.
  • When hiring expats, think about the learning curve for a skilled expat to fully understand the culture and customer versus up-skilling someone from the local job market who has a much better understanding of the customer and context. It’s often much cheaper the second way.
  • Hiring non-expats has important implications for the culture of the business too, in particular, in encouraging staff to speak up about how they think the business should be run.

Resources we talk about:

Connect with Grant:

What was your favourite lesson from this episode? Let me know on Twitter by clicking here!

 

Grant Brooke Twiga Finding Impact

FIP 30: Disrupting Markets with Grant Brooke

I was introduced to Grant through Christie Peacock (Episode 6). When I later met with him in a Nairobi lunch spot, he came across as an unassuming guy just minding his own business. A little into the conversation, I was struck by his immense curiosity – which is a hint at the qualities that have led him on this path of pitching to VCs with an Amazon-like business model. Grant spent a good chunk of his time in academia before settling on business, so understood economic theory and how well functioning markets should work. As you’ll hear in this episode, this deep knowledge in his subject matter paired with true authenticity, has undeniably led him and his co-founders to create such a disruptive business model.

On this episode you’ll learn:

  • How Grant spent 2-3 months on the road asking co-ops, county governments, farmers asking tons of questions, before realising the opportunity for business in the domestic market.
  • As a simple early stage pilot, they bought a couple of tuk-tuks (small three wheeler vehicles) and hired a small warehouse, to see what would happen if took products from the farm directly to retail.
  • They found that there can be up to seven trades between farm and final retail.
  • 2-3 months after starting their first banana pilot, they participated in a VC pitch competition, and received considerable interest from investors.
  • After sketching out what size the company could become and the many small sellers putting in small orders for produce, they soon realised that this would become a technology company because a traditional business could not cope with that many transactions.
  • In order to reach cash flow positive, they were drawn to higher margin products. But in focusing on scale, they realised they needed to chase the products with the biggest demand.
  • Before they take on a new product, they figure out the tipping point for how many customers they need to reach in a single day, which they build out first, which helps reduce wastage / maximise margins.
  • Their hub and spoke model allows a truck carrying 10,000 kgs of bananas to reach thousands of vendors around the city who only need 20-30 kgs every 2-3 days.
  • Twiga’s end game is that sub-saharan africa doesn’t need large scale wholesale markets or commodities markets. They need hundreds of thousands of small vendors on the end of their mobile phone ordering their stock. controlling pricing dynamically, with produce delivered to their shop, and we can let big data and predicative analytics pull purchasing power back to farmers.

Resources:

Connect with Grant:

 

Shawn Shafner finding impact podcast

FIP 029: Breaking Taboo with Shawn Shafner

When taboos exist, issues are skipped over. This is bad news when you’re encouraging people to come together to solve societal issues. Shawn Shafner is a master at breaking the taboo of shit. He created The People’s Own Organic Power Project – AKA The POOP Project – which is breaking boundaries in a subject long bound up by stigma and taboo. I first met Shawn at the World Toilet Summit in Philadelphia in 2010 and it’s been great to watch him take his message global.

On this episode you’ll learn:

  • Breaking taboos is important not just for sanitation, but other societal challenges, such as issues of old age, death, HIV/AIDs, and menstruation.
  • Social media is by far the most scalable way to get your story out there, which can be a powerful medium to break the taboos your organisation is fighting for.
  • Other news and media companies are attracted to taboo subjects, which can be great for your marketing campaign, so your message gets amplified by others.
  • Being sensitive to audiences reactions is important, and listening is key. Making it clear in the title, what your video/blog/show is about, is one way to screen out people who might take offence.
  • “Making creativity happen” with a group of people is hard. What you can do instead is create structures that invite creativity to come. So you might throw some pipe cleaners into a group and suggest they make stuff.
  • In using communications to garner support for your cause, it can be useful to pique people’s interest by showing them the status quo, get them really angry, then show them how it can be different, and what they can do about it.

Resources:

Connect with Shawn:

 

David Auerbach Finding Impact

FIP 028: Fundraising, Media and Conferencing with David Auerbach

This is part two of an interview I had with David in which he dishes out tons of advice on all things communications and fundraising. David Auerbach is the co-founder of Sanergy – a social enterprise making hygienic sanitation affordable and accesible in Africa’s informal settlements. His role on the team is external relations, which concerns all things money, talent and partnerships. It’s a huge pleasure to get David on the show, he’s been a friend and peer in the sanitation sector for many years, and I’m a true fan of Sanergy. Check out episode 27 in which we talk about all things founders. Read on for a summary of my main takeaways from this great interview with David, which I’m sure will be invaluable to anyone in the social sector seeking to raise funds for their organisation.

On this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Why Sanergy believe it’s important to be forthright when talking about sanitation (not to shy away from talking about poop).
  • To avoid poverty porn when telling your story, better to talk about the problem at the community level, rather than at the suffering at the individual level. But then refer to the transformation happening to the individual.
  • Sanergy believed from day one, that any media is good media – because it could impact a future funder or a future manager on your team. So important to invest in a communications team early on.
  • Fellowships with good brands, such as Echoing Green, Draper Richards Kaplan and Ashoka, has meant bringing some great media attention to their organisation.
  • Reaching out to local media is important for reaching new talent but also to provide legitimacy to government, who are a critical partner in Sanergy’s scale.
  • Sanergy entered into many business plan competitions which had the added benefit of really honing their story early on and meant they got really good at delivering it.
  • When targeting new audiences in their communications, they’re having to rethink their pitch, especially in terms of scale if it’s a municipality you’re pitching to.
  • When the most important person in your social enterprise in the customer you’re serving, you can’t have foreigners coming in to your community watching them go to the toilet!! So Sanergy has crafted a tour which gives visitors a really good insight into their business. And they especially don’t stop the cement mixer if it’s noisy – because work must continue!
  • It’s useful to keep track of conference effectiveness via an internal scoring system, including things like (a) did we gain access to new funds, (b) did we get to efficiently check in with current funders, (c) did we get to speak, (d) did a media interview come out of it, (e) did it give a unique opportunity for a team member to develop their skills, etc.
  • It’s important to get the conference attendance list in advance so meetings can be planned – as opposed to a hit and hope strategy. Then get introductions to the people you need to meet, as cold emails are hard.
  • Writing the introduction email for your contact to forward on saves time and makes it easy to be introduced.
  • Always go to the networking events at the conferences, and never try to do the pitch there. Instead, schedule a time for the morning or later on.
  • If the priority for your organisation is fundraising, then your order of priority at your conference might be (a) meeting funders; (b) building your network; (c) attending conference lectures or talks.
  • Be very clear on next steps when meeting someone at a conference, and follow up quickly via email.
  • Sanergy uses twitter to share articles and show thought leadership, to show they’re part of the sector community, and then Facebook for keeping in touch with their fans.

Resources:

Get in touch with David:

 

David Auerbach Finding Impact

FIP 027: Founders with David Auerbach

David Auerbach is the co-founder of Sanergy – a social enterprise making hygienic sanitation affordable and accesible in Africa’s informal settlements. It’s a huge pleasure to get David on the show, he’s been a friend and peer in the sanitation sector for many years, and I’m a true fan of Sanergy. David epitomises the relentless hustle you need to be both an entrepreneur, but also one working to disrupt a very slow moving sector in Africa. He’s an alum of MIT where he met his co-founders and he has spent time working in the US and China before calling Kenya his home. David has always been available to chat, being very approachable and an all round nice guy. So I’m excited to get into this episode with him.

On this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How the Sanergy co-founders met and how their earlier experiences shaped their desire to build a scalable development venture that could impact the lives of millions of people.
  • As expat founders, they marked the launch of the company when they actually moved their lives to Kenya.
  • Getting on with the co-founders and liking each other, and being comfortable with how decisions are made as a team, is way more important than the merit of the skills that they bring to the table.
  • How Sanergy founders did a little bit of everything in the early days, but as the business evolved, they took more specialised roles that utilise their strengths.
  • How they hired team members for the senior leadership team that filled the gaps in the founders’ expertise.
  • How they developed a rule of thumb that said if any one of the founders were spending more than 50% of their time on one specific function, they would hire someone how had the actual expertise to carry out that function.
  • In terms of equity split between founders, it’s important to be fair – but note there’s not a “right way”. Get advice from people you trust.
  • If you struggle to want to work with your co-founder, then maybe it’s not the right fit.
  • The co-founders regularly meet at least twice a week, just to talk and make decisions, and work through any issues. And they don’t vote to make decisions – they talk it out, to ensure everyone is happy before moving forward.

Resources:

Get in touch with David and Sanergy:

Vava Finding Impact Podcast

FIP 026: Disrupting the Coffee Industry with Vava Angwenyi

Vava is the entrepreneur behind Vava Coffee – a social enterprise here in Kenya which has the lives of 30,000 coffee farmers at heart. Having studied in the US, Canada and Europe, she drank alot of coffee – like many people in the west – and so began her journey of discovery that brought her home to Kenya. She’s been challenging the unsustainable coffee industry for nearly 10 years and with bucket loads of grit and determination, has started a movement in her company, Vava Coffee.

On this episode, we discuss:

  • The intention’s behind Vava Coffee, and what more it represents, which is alot more that just selling coffee.
  • The implications for choosing the path of a social entrepreneur, both positive and negative, as opposed to working for pure profit.
  • How Vava has seen the ease of setting up a business in Kenya has improved in the last few years.
  • Some of the challenges of working with government, and the tactics to employ.
  • The negative effects of being a successful woman entrepreneur in Kenya, and some of the prejudice she’s faced along the way.
  • Vava’s advice on disrupting any established industry.
  • The expectations of how long change at the grassroots level takes, and how patience is key.

Resources:

Connect with Vava:

 

Ken Banks Finding Impact

FIP 025: Time for Slow Innovation with Ken Banks

Ken Banks went from working at a primate care centre in Nigeria to being a mobile technology social entrepreneur. He is the creator of FrontlineSMS, one of the first uses of mobile technology for positive social and environmental change in developing countries. He has a long list of awards and accolades to his name – from PopTech fellow, Tech Awards Laureate, Ashoka fellow, and a National Geographic emerging explorer. He’s now working with CARE International as their entrepreneur-in-residence, and more recently doing the same with DFID in the UK. Ken’s also authored two books – The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator and Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation – which share his experiences and that of other innovators on using technology for social change. And most recently Musing of a Mobile Anthropologist, a compilation of his most popular blog posts.

On this podcast, we discuss:

  • The extraordinary amount of persistence social entrepreneurs need to win support for their idea.
  • Not to set out with something to fix, but take time to learn and observe the people you’re trying to help.
  • The benefits of championing grassroots organisations, as Ken has done throughout his career.
  • How Ken started FrontlineSMS as a hobby, while keeping a day job, and slowly, methodically getting it out there and being used.
  • Reasons why Ken made his software free to download, which all led back to his goal of serving grassroots organisations – but then we talk about the downside of that decision.
  • How patience is necessary – it took Ken 12 years of learning before FrontlineSMS taking off.
  • How you start losing control of your project as soon as you take on grant funding and investment.
  • Do as much as you can on your own, prove your committed, and people will value you for that.
  • Don’t quit your job. If you’ve got a mortgage to pay, don’t put yourself under too much pressure. Don’t be a rush.
  • Advice to those wondering whether they need an MBA for a career in social entrepreneurship.
  • How it’s a good idea to find what angers you, or what injustice drives you forward.
  • The unrealistic belief that Hackathons and such like can make any big difference. You have to get the context before you can help find a solution, which means being there, standing alongside people, and understand the situation.

Resources:

Connect with Ken:

 

Jonathan Golden Finding Impact

FIP 024: Finding Your Calling, with Jonathan Golden

Jonathan setup a coffee company with a conscience – called Land of a 1000 Hills – which provides employment and community investments to over 2,500 Rwandan farmers and their families. He’s also a business coach, a priest and a public speaker, and a true adventurer in social enterprise. In his book Be You. Do Good: Having the Guts to Pursue What Makes You Come Alive, Jonathan gives plenty of advice on how to find your calling. We dig into that process, which he also uses in his coaching sessions, and we talk about his journey as a social entrepreneur.

On this episode, we discussed:

  • Taking action: the balance of just getting things done versus time for strategic analysis.
  • Jonathan’s journey as a social entrepreneur, which started with an idea and he gathered a few people together, but hit a brick wall when no one did anything.
  • So he took the action himself and made the first step.
  • Acting on an inkling, or “your gut”, which was the element of risk, matched with a little bit of research. That was the beginning of his business, which is now selling coffee in shops across America.
  • An idea is no good, unless you can take a step today. Don’t put it off.
  • The importance of listening and getting the market’s feedback.
  • The method of finding your calling: the 7 principles of life’s calling which Jonathan explains in his book: Be You. Do Good.
  • When figuring out your purpose and clarifying what’s important to you, it’s useful to think what you would do if you only had one year to live.
  • On finding your passion, find out what gets your blood boiling or makes your heart sing.
  • When looking for your calling, finding out who are the people groups that you’re most compelled to serve. Who do you want to help the most?
  • On where to direct your work, identify the places that you relate with and the places that resonate with you.
  • Understand the concept of “A provision for living” i.e. not how much you want, but how much you need.
  • Discover your proficiency – look at your talents, your knowledge area, your skills. Look at what you can do, to help you discover your life’s calling.
  • Finally, all the above is tied together with a plan – a plan to implement.
  • Our calling, or life’s work, should be very close to the way we played as kids – don’t overthink it. Do what comes natural, and makes you come alive.
  • We all need mentors and guides to help us follow our life’s calling – just like our community provided in years gone by. This is why coaching is so important in our professional lives.

Resources:

Connect with Jonathan:

 

Xavier Helgesen Finding Impact

FIP 023: Local Talent and Learning to be a CEO, with Xavier Helgesen

Xavier is a veteran entrepreneur, having founded two million-dollar businesses in his 20’s, including Better World Books – a profitable social venture with $60M in revenue selling books online to fund literacy. In 2011 he received a Skoll scholarship to study an MBA at Oxford Saïd Business School, and it was there that he became obsessed with energy access. So in 2012, after Oxford, he landed in Tanzania with just a business plan and some seed funding to kick off Off Grid Electric, the world’s first distributed clean energy utility, providing affordable, solar energy to households that struggle with spotty or nonexistent grid access. They sell solar energy systems on a pay-as-you-go, lease-to-own model – costing some homes as little as $7 a month.
There he started everything from scratch, building the hardware side, the sales & distribution component, the consumer finance piece, and finally the software to track and monitor the hardware.

On this show, you’ll hear:

  • Why Xavier went after energy as his problem to solve.
  • How they made the decision of which country to expand to and the strategy they employed for expansion, including setting up dedicated expansion team.
  • The practical approach to discovering their expansion market.
  • The kinds of talents the expansion team need to have.
  • What their first milestone of customer sales were, that proved the broader market to their investors.
  • Why local staff and not expats are key to embedding faster and achieving sales, and who deeply know the local market.
  • Some of Xavier’s hard won lessons, that he’d definitely try to avoid next time.
  • What Xavier had to learn and get good at as the company grew, and how he thinks about talent and building a team.
  • About the role of a CEO and some tips for how entrepreneurs can grow into the role.
  • The role of mentors and peer relationships, in terms of their skills and expertise that you can specifically learn from.

Resources

Contact Xavier