Thursday, September 17, 2009

So, what is Mark really up to these days?

My life has become sorta normal again…although normal in a whole new way. Being sick for most of June and part of July has forced me to reset the way I think about life in Zambia. It's made me want the "nice stuff" a little more. So now, after 18 months, I feel totally comfortable about spending the entire weekend hanging out with other ex-patriots, eating at restaurants and such. So its nice to balance my Zambian life and ex-pat life.

The reason I'm writing though, is because a new EWB volunteer named Arthur asked me what I was doing here, and as I was explaining the 4 big projects I'm workign on at the moment, I found myself getting pretty excited about it all. Not sure why I was surprised by it, but either way - I figure I should share that same conversation here on "the information super highway".


I am helping a company that has a lot of good social impact, specifically in rural Zambia. With any luck, they'll have more good impact because I'm around.

Largely, I believe companies are busy trying to stay afloat, which involves either improving current operations - or creating new operations.

My first 18 months here has been focused on the first way to stay afloat, improving current operations. I've put more details about this at the end of my blog. (I'm not offended if you skip over the list)


I'll introduce each section here, and if it seems important, I'll follow up on another blog with a full description.

JOB #1 - INCREASING HONEY PRODUCTION by helping Forest Fruits get 500 new farmers producing honey in a new area.

An outgoing farmer from a totally different part of the country has been pestering Forest Fruits for 2 years to come and work with him and other farmers in the area. Finally we're going to do it, but the big obstacle to beekeeping is the price of the equipment - which is essentially the beehives & the protective gear. This job can be split into two parts.

A - get the cost of the equipment to be as low as possible

B - create some financing so the beekeepers can afford the equipment

Item A involves making hives ourselves by setting up a workshop and hiring a carpenter. (this is this weeks job) Then next week we're brining in two of the local carpenters from the village to work with us and learn how to make them so they can sell them directly without our involvement.

Item B involves a sort-of loan system. We haven't figured it out yet, but I'm liaising with the agent to put something in place that'll work for everyone. (likely a rental-type agreement with a small down payment)

JOB #2 - CREATE NEW PRODUCTS for Forest Fruits to diversify its markets

I wish I were a food technologist, or a chemist, or something. Anyway, there are a lot of opportunities to create new products from honey. Just look at what Burt's Bees has done. Right now it looks like I'll be going to South Africa for 2 weeks to train with a PhD on how to make mead. I will be responsible for bringing this knowledge back and setting up a small meadery here in Zambia so that Forest Fruits can have another high value product.

JOB #3 - RUNNING MY OWN PROJECT called rent-to-own

A few months back I got the idea of renting machines to business owners so that they could pay them off as they use them. Business owners includes farmers. Imagine a farmer who sells tomatoes and cabbage during the dry season, she'll have to carry water from the nearest source one bucket at a time to irrigate her crops. But what if she had a pump, it costs just $500 for a good diesel pump and that could boost her income by $2000. Rent-to-own just requires a deposit of 10% so the farmer only needs to give me $50 to make their business idea into a reality, rather than the full $500. In the next month I'll be starting at least 2 of these "owner - operator" relationships as a bit of an experiment. But I think it'll go well.


EWB has evolved over the past 6 years as its been working in Zambia. We started by working directly with farmers, and slowly realized we could have more impact by helping organizations that were working directly with farmers. The default was to partner with NGO's. In Ghana, EWB has worked with the government, which isn't a viable option in Zambia. So the time has come to do a fresh scan of potential partners, and I am heading up the private sector scan. I am interview companies to see what their vision is, how closely do they work with small farmers and what are their current challenges.


Turns out, these very exciting jobs are also very time consuming. My schedule for the next 3 months is a bit out of control. Should be fun though.

Please send me any questions, suggestions, thoughts, etc.


And for those interested...

here is my list of what I've accomplished by working with people inside the company over the past 18 months. As I mentioned, most of it has been towards making current operations better.

Better management systems;

§ Standard operating procedures (SOP's) are now in place

§ The management team is now able to create their own SOP’s

§ The field database on farmer info and purchasing info is now useful

§ Improved computer skills for the team (everyone is on email and can use excel)

§ New Structure for out-grower system - (group leaders now get a commission)

§ Inventory control system in place

§ Supplies procurement system on the way

§ Logical Accounting system for retail sales

§ Improved information flow via weekly reports, meeting minutes & inventory

Engineering systems I've helped to install;

§ New 500kg Weigh scale

§ New Water supply/reservoir for when the city water is turned off for days

§ Diesel burner for when the electricity is turned off for days

§ Drum filling system for higher quality honey

Creating new business operations;

§ Construction and design of the retail packaging plant

§ Design and implementation of the honey straw filling system


Elizabeth said...

Wow Mark that all sounds amazing! I'd love to hear more about the rent-to-own project/business/program, how you're setting it up, how you plan to make it work, and how it works when it starts up.
A couple of other questions: how open are private sector businesses to EWB "interference" for lack of a better term, and what would EWB be doing? (similar to what you were doing with Forest Fruits?) Also, are you looking for more large corporations/companies, small scale entrepreneurs or something in between? Just curious.
Thanks SO much for this post. I've been trying to keep up with your blog for a while, but because I only discovered it a couple of months ago, I didn't really know what you were doing. This post was great.

Mark Hemsworth said...

Elizabeth, not sure if you are an EWB member or not?

I will do a full post about rent-to-own in about 3 weeks, so you can get the details then.

[how open are private sector businesses to EWB "interference" for lack of a better term, and what would EWB be doing?]
- excellent question, and I like the word interference.

The truth is that we dont know. In fact our team is currently deciding what this might look like. So far it seems we want to work with Private Sector firms by building the skills of the employees (human resources). In a lot of ways, this is what I've been doing with forest fruits, at least 70% of my work has been done through people I work with in a way that allows them to learn new skills.

Overall, firms are lacking high-skilled people and capital. EWB can address the first issue.

The size of company matters little, of course large firms have more potential for large impact. We are still developing our criteria for who we would work with.

feel free to email me any time - markhemsworth at ewb dott ca


Steve Rioux said...

et tu pratiques ton français en Zambie ?

Anonymous said...

Steve Rioux, c'est mon futur marie!!!

Contente d'Avoir des nouvelles. Par chance que tu me courriels.

On est allé voir ton blug ensemble. On trouve que tu travailles pas mal fort!!!

U take care.

Johanne Bouchard said...

J'ai pas signé!

JO 90

jtourlouse said...

Mark, I read your notes nd look at your awesome pics and I think WOW!
You have acomplished so much, I am proud to know you!
Jo-Anne[Brads mom]

Mark Hemsworth said...

thanks everyone. feels good to have the support.