Back in Yorkshire, me daily commute t’ Leeds was a slow crawl down the M62 in my run down Renault Clio. When I finally arrived at the office, I’d pop the kettle on and brew me-self an industrial sized cup of coffee to keep me going until lunch, which was usually a large ham salad sandwich (with a large helping of salad cream of course!). But going t’work is a just tad different now that I’ve swapped in the office in Leeds for a small scale pineapple factory in Accra, Ghana.
Yorkshiremen enjoy nothing more than a bit of inverted snobbery so I’ll tell ya’ this for nowt – if you thought traffic was bad going over the Pennines then you’ve clearly never made the journey from Broadcasting Junction to Kasoa. Oooh you drive the car to work do ya? Luxury! I get packed onto the Tro Tro, a timetable-less, air con-less, mini bus service running in lieu of public transport.
In all fairness though I’d rather take the one hour forty minute Tro Tro trip than sit on the M621 for half an hour. What it lacks in elegance and comfort, my new commute more than makes up for with its genuine character. Amongst other perks, you can buy almost anything from the hawkers who sell from the middle of the road. This morning someone offered to sell me a leather belt, which I politely declined with the classic “by ‘eck how bloody much?!”. Well, you can take the lad out of Yorkshire…
Oh and by gum, there’s no chance of that brew when I eventually arrive at work. Ghana produces a lot of coffee but my understanding is that it mostly gets exported elsewhere. Thankfully for my health, I’ve swapped that mug of caffeine for a freshly cut coconut, which is absolutely delicious. In stark contrast with Leeds, I can’t complain that I’ve been cooked up in an office all day as my working space in Ghana is a plastic chair under a mango tree (I’m not even making that up!) My current place of work is, perhaps stereotypically, a Pineapple juice company on the outskirts of Accra.
In my first week here, we visited a UK Aid sponsored conference which highlighted the chronic issues faced by Ghanaian businesses. The guest speaker, a professor of economics, explained that banks here will typically expect a loan to be repaid within 3 years and with an incredibly high interest rate. Furthermore, the collateral required to access these extortionate loans is typically 178% the loan amount. As you can imagine, a typically tight Yorkshireman like myself balked in horror at such statistics. But this is one of many reasons why businesses in Ghana struggle to transition from small to medium size, without access to funding their potential for growth is limited.
Despite the funding problem, I and my Ghanaian counterpart Esther are doing all we can to help the factory achieve sustainable organic growth. We are acting in a consultancy role, finding solutions to problems and helping the business to grow. Of course, neither of us are experts in pineapples, but we can provide time and dedication as well as that all important outsider’s perspective.
With all the challenges facing Ghanaian business, we both know that we’ll have to employ plenty of hard graft if we want to make an impact upon our business. But this is the sort of challenge which provides its own motivation, I mean how often do you meet someone in Hull who’s worked in a pineapple juice factory in Africa? This is a unique challenge, an exciting prospect and an opportunity to make a real difference. Though I enjoyed my old job in Leeds, the commute too often felt like a chore. In Ghana, I travel twice as far and still enjoy every minute of the journey.