This wasn’t my first visit to Lawra in the Upper West Region of Ghana. As a former Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) volunteer I worked in the neighbouring district for two years and visited Lawra several times. When asked if I would travel back to the Upper West in my role as trustee and work together with the ATE Ghana team to deliver the BizATE Small Business Conference it was an easy choice to make.
What’s the aim of the conference?
The aim of the BizATE training is to support small business owners in Lawra to create and sustain significant income generation so they can stand on their own two feet. Their success in business also boost the local economy, providing a much wider benefit to Lawra district.
The initial ATE grant provided to small business owners is important, but even more vital is the opportunity for continuous learning and peer-to-peer sharing that takes place twice a year. It is through the BizATE conference and training programme that small business owners develop and share their skills and knowledge which enable them to continue growing their businesses.
Don’t take my word for it, here’s the reflection of one small business owner who attended: “The training has helped me to save my profits over the last 6 months and allowed me to buy new things to support my business”.
Working in partnership
I wasn’t there to deliver and run the conference single-handedly. The ATE team in Ghana – Habib, Ernest and Proper – have organised and participated in the BizATE training many times and have strong ownership over the conference programme. I worked alongside Habib Albeboure, ATE’s Operations Manager in Ghana, as he led the training. I mostly acted as a sounding board for questions about facilitation.
Delivering training in an interactive style can be a challenge in Ghana because the education system heavily promotes rote learning, colloquially known as ‘chalk and talk’. This is what people are familiar with, but it doesn’t make learning very interesting or dynamic! The ATE team in Ghana are becoming more confident in varying training activities; using a mixture of group discussions, role play, demonstrations and sharing experiences to embed the learning among participants.
The BizATE Conference
Thanks to generous funding from the Commercial Education Trust, ATE has been able to invest in and make continual improvements to the BizATE Conference. This has helped make the training more effective.
To start, we run a one-day workshop for consultants. The aim of this is to build the consultants skills in their one-to-one role with the small business owners during the forthcoming BizATE Conference. We focus on developing consultants mentoring and coaching skills. It gives the consultants opportunity to practice translating the business concepts into Dagaare (the local language).
Feedback from consultants tells us the workshop is useful: “The workshop gave me more confidence in explaining the Core Competencies – the technical and core skills. It was useful to have a refresher and especially helpful to practice translating the words”
Small business owners also tell us they value the consultants support: “Most small business owners are illiterate so the consultants are very important. My consultant helped to deepen my understanding of the training and develop the ideas with me”
Next, the BizATE Conference is delivered through three separate trainings. We’ve realised through our evaluations that smaller groups provide a better learning environment. We’ve also listened when business owners say it’s helpful to be grouped together with others in a similar business; it makes peer-to-peer sharing more effective.
- The sellers – those who sell things (soap, small items, baskets)
- The manufacturers – those who make things (weavers, hairdressers, seamstresses)
- The trades people – those who mend things (mechanics, electricians, vets)
Building on the previous training in January, the small business owners participated in an interactive programme which focused on the value of business planning. They were encouraged to review their business plans developed at the beginning of 2017, looking at what worked and didn’t work and why. Success stories and challenges were shared. Tools and techniques for prioritising were introduced. The concept of working ‘smarter not harder’ was emphasised. At the end of the conference, with the support of the consultants and the ATE Ghana team, each business owner created their action plan for the next six months.
What’s the result?
After the BizATE conference we gathered feedback from three separate groups – small business owners, consultants, and staff. This helps us evaluate the training and see how we can improve next time.
- We continued to build on the success of previous conferences in quality and effectiveness.
“The level of translation from the consultants has greatly improved from previous workshops” (Anon, small business owner)
“[The consultant workshop] had a great impact. It guided me in how to have an effective one to one with the small business owner. They were very open and frank with me” (Anon, consultant)
- Small business owners value the peer learning opportunities
“Some of us don’t know about profit and loss or how to manage the ups and downs but when we come to the conference we learn about the different processes in business and we share ideas about how to manage these things” (Anon, small business owner)
- Small business owners benefitted from the increased focus on business planning
“The most important thing I’ve learnt is to have a business plan. To know where I’m starting from and to know what my aim is, to know what I need to do today, tomorrow and the next month which will lead me to achieve my target” (Anon, small business owner)
“The small business owner I worked with had control over his action plan, the issues and the goal that he set. I’m certain he will work to implement the plan” (Anon, consultant)
I was delighted during the feedback discussions that ATE Ghana staff and some of the more experienced consultants had been keenly evaluating the conference and had lots of thoughtful suggestions.
Most suggestions centred around the challenges of translation or ideas for post-training follow-up. Other proposals focused on using videos and case studies to make the training even more interactive. There was also a suggestion to invite a Ghanaian business person to provide an inspirational keynote speech.
I am enthusiastic about the value of the training for the small business owners – their thriving businesses mean there is money for health insurance, for school equipment and other vital necessities. But beyond this, I am excited at to see how the ATE Ghana team and the senior consultants will continue to own and improve the BizATE conference in the future. It is their community and they are proud of what ATE has achieved in Lawra.
By Alice Delemare, ATE Trustee
Everyone at ATE would like to give thanks to Commercial Education Trust (http://www.lccicet.com) for funding The BizATE Small Business Conference. The support and funding from this generous trust is making a remarkable difference to the success of the BizATE program and the sustainability of the ATE supported small businesses in Lawra.