It was early morning and I’ve just gotten into work. The air was still cool from the night, and the sun’s light had yet to break through the office window. That was the setting when I heard some of the most exciting news yet in my project. “Anthony, we’re confident enough now in our internal systems to expand.”
Just two months ago, I first arrived on location and eager to get going and see this project to its completion. “Expand the business, increase services for farmers, increase job opportunities” was part of the list of objectives on loop in my mind. They were held there by the strong understanding that I already had my return flight booked. That trip home was only five months away.
Even though the project was in the same country, this project was in a new location, a new culture and new language. All of which, I had to learn. I haven’t even started and the trip home was already fast approaching.
During the first month I embedded myself in their business and learned as much as I could about their business model, the market, their customers and their operations. I felt that the biggest challenges to expansion were:
- The difficulty for headquarters to track sales, inventory levels, cash transactions, discounts etc, in all the shops.
- The large amounts of management’s time required to investigate and sort out the details surrounding transactions at the shop level
- Inconsistency of shop managers who may fail to report shortages, market changes & trends to headquarters.
These challenges needed to be eliminated as fast as possible to save enough of my placement to observe and assist in the actual expansions. To do so, I opted to place myself with stock control staff and headquarters instead of dividing my efforts amongst the many shops.
Nowadays, everything is indicating that I’m at the halfway point. Half of my anti-malarial pills are gone, the weather is no longer cold but I know it still isn’t the hot season, Junior Fellow volunteers are already preparing to head back to university and Professional Fellows are arriving to take their place.
The last few meetings put my worries about time at ease. The questions were no longer about the processes, nor were they about what’s working and what’s not. In these last meetings there has been a strong trust in stock controllers and their reporting. They’ve been sharing what’s happening out at the shops, backed by detailed reports.
What got me excited were these two points on the agenda:
- Opening new shops
- Shop manager promotion & award system
The details of which, I can’t really share here. But, there is an opportunity to move into new locations where we aren’t currently serving farmers and high-performing assistants from other shops will be promoted to manage those new locations. Also, current shop managers have more of a path to follow if they perform. Additional perks, for effective management are now in place for them. The perks and how to get them are a little rough at the moment, but the framework is now in place to shape and refine and support high-performing managers.
Soon the weather will turn hot, and the winds will be coming. EWB staff in Zambia will soon be halved. I’m at the half-way point and excited to see the next phase of the project, the expansion, the promotions and to meet the new hires and the farmers who are served.