By Reem Nassar
After a full week of preparation for our TEM Lab project on campus, we finally landed in Uganda the night of Saturday, March19th.
We spent Sunday trying to rest and recover from jet lag in order to be ready to start our project Monday morning. On Sunday afternoon, we took a little tour to discover the area around our guesthouse, had a taste of Ugandan cuisine and ended the day by having dinner at the home of the relative of one of our Thunderbird colleagues. The dinner was a great introduction to Ugandan culture and cuisine. The main cuisine is typically a sauce or a stew of beans or meat, served with mashed plantains called “Matoke” which seems to be an integral part of the main meals in Uganda, and apparently will constitute a large part of what we will be eating for the coming four weeks.
On Monday we had our first client meeting. It was interesting to finally meet our client on the ground and talk through the project’s main goals, recent updates, and activities, as well as outline client and team expectations. Much of the rest of the week was spent conducting in-depth client interviews and having discussions about their financials, marketing, supply chain, partnership structures, human resources, and technology. In addition, we had two detailed brain storming sessions. In one session we analyzed their current organizational structure and processes, and in the other we analyzed their current mission statement, studying how different variables and objectives of their mission statement will be reflected in their overall performance.
This week’s client interaction and participatory brain storming sessions made me think about the role businesses can play in society. At the grassroots level in East Africa, where almost 80% of the population earns less than $3 per day and has no access to modern energy services like electricity, an organization like smallsolutions aims to provide renewable energy and sustainable business solutions to the base of the pyramid consumer. Through carefully designed and operated programs, smallsolutions is working to mobilize individuals and communities to tap into their own growth potential in a way that will be sustainable in the long run.
How can smallsolutions build a sustainable program that can be replicated in different countries across Africa, impacting consumers and creating market development in rural Africa? What levels and kinds of partnership and collaboration will be required with civil society to gain market knowledge, access to specialized skills and to build the trust required to achieve their goals? How can we create consumer capacity by looking at affordability, access and availability of needed energy solutions and services to ensure that we are not only providing a service but are building consumer capacity and improving living standards? What are the base of the pyramid consumer needs and requirements and market infrastructure?
These are just some of the questions our team is going to be looking at and analyzing while we are in Uganda. It will be fascinating to watch this unfold, using the information, analysis and the relationships we are building on the ground to build a sustainable profitable business and an organizational structure that can impact the base of pyramid consumers and contribute to their development.