It’s Global Entrepreneurship Week this week so we’ve been catching up with some of our impressive, entrepreneurial alumni to ask them how ICSE has impacted them. Meet Fizza, Challenges Worldwide alumni and co-founder of Pinpoint!
- Why did you decide to apply for an ICSE placement with Challenges Worldwide?
I graduated in 2014 in Politics and International Relations and I decided to take some time to figure out exactly what I wanted to do, whether it was further study or go into work etc. I’ve always been sure that I want to work within international development but the very nature of international development is so broad and vast, I hadn’t decided where. I decided to have a look at the ICS programs as some of my friends had been on placements before. I was hesitant at first, assuming you would need to have a business background and I really didn’t but I applied and got it! The program stressed how you would be working with a business, leaving sustainable skills, something I am hugely in favour of. I am a huge advocate for ‘Teach a man to fish’ and I think this is hugely apt in international development. I have seen too many development programs that go and help but don’t teach or leave sustainable skills behind- the ICS-E program did not conform to such a notion. That is the thing that attracted me most to the program. I wasn’t sure which social enterprise I would be with until the interview and got told about Challenges Worldwide. All the places Challenges work looked great but being placed in Ghana was truly incredible. I have fallen in love with the country and in all honesty as cliché as it may sound had a truly life changing experience. I made friendships that I cannot be more grateful for.
- What skills did you develop during your placement and how have they helped you in setting up pinpoint?
As Pinpoint is a joint venture with a friend of mine, I think the placement really taught me how to work with a business partner. No longer are they just your friend but your colleague and there are a whole new set of rules for this set up. My Ghanaian counterpart and I got along really well and even though we didn’t know one another prior to the program, we started as friends and so it is always important to learn to balance your friendship and your work relationship with the same person to make sure you were efficient, got the best out of each other and helped one another progress toward your mutual goal. One of the biggest skills I feel I have is learning how to view things from a business mind-set. Coming from a Politics background, I had a little business experience but more of working for a big corporation rather than one where I am helping essentially run and improve a small business. It was incredible how you begin to efficiently utilise your resources, think completely out of the box whilst focusing on the aim of your business. You begin to com
e up with new innovative ideas, no matter how ambitious but then you learn to hone these and think realistically about what is possible. I have always been pretty organised and have always planned things but the placement enhanced this skills. Planning your day around power cuts, when people are available, Accra traffic etc. was incredibly important. I learnt to lead with a vision. What was our businesses vision and then all that followed was led with this idea in our heads. This has proven to be really useful in setting up Pinpoint, leading with a vision and staying true to it. Once you know what your aims and vision are, you are focused and ultimately the job gets done.
- What do you think are the benefits of supporting small enterprises as a way of reducing poverty?
When you say businesses we often think of BIG businesses, those multinational corporations, the big names but we underestimate and forget the importance of small-scale industries. It’s great to see that social enterprises such as Challenges are supporting the promotion of small businesses as they really play an important role in development. I am not saying that they will be the reason poverty is eradicated but it is a great start for governments to focus on grassroots micro businesses that are supporting the local community, which I believe are having a far larger impact. In our business we witnessed how local job employment was created. Those struggling to find a job are given the opportunity to be accountants or marketers or salespeople. Our businesses hired two more employees whilst we were there including female employees, showing the effect small businesses have on women’s economic activity. Moreover small businesses have their own value and supply chain just as large businesses do. They use raw materials from local farmers, increasing rural economy and using local suppliers, in turn lending helping hand that also employs local people. Assisting small enterprises can act as a driving force for change and modernisation within the local community, leading to sustainable and effective methods of business practices.
- What was the biggest challenge you faced during your placement and how did you overcome this?
I think there were many challenges (no pun intended). For some it was culture shock, for some it was being homesick, for some the frequent power cuts. I think for me, the biggest challenge came with learning that processes in Ghana were very slow. Some days frustration levels were incredibly high because I am used to working against a plan and deadlines but I found there was a lack or urgency in getting things done. This was evident in business owners, the people you liaised with for market research perhaps, sometimes your own partner and maybe even yourself when you began to feel demotivated with the lack of action. I think that was the most difficult thing for me, not working quickly and to a deadline and feeling as if nothing is being done.
- What was the biggest success of your placement?
It was definitely being able to really streamline our businesses processes. Unfortunately he was victim to a ‘ghost’ accountant that would not pass over details. So my partner and I had to create everything from scratch. Knowing that he is now in control of his finances and is actually aware and can monitor his profit and loss was huge. It may seem like a minute success but it really was a big one. We also forget that being able to work alongside the rest of the team and more importantly your partner is a huge success. My partner and I had our differences in opinions and sometimes work methods but we never argued or fell out. We always wanted the same thing and worked well together. Living and working with someone for 10 weeks is not easy but we enjoyed each others company and worked well together are still really good friends 6 months after the placement.
- What would you say to prospective volunteers thinking of applying to an ICSE placement with challenges?
My biggest advice would be go in with NO expectations. A lot of people asked me on my return whether Ghana met my expectations and I really had to say I had none. I had read about Ghana briefly and knew about it from friends but I just went in with a complete open mind. Because of this I did not feel disappointed and more importantly whenever things didn’t go as ‘expected’ it really didn’t effect me hugely. You have to be ready for things to not go your way, power cuts will not be on your side, it may be a complete different culture to yours and you may hate the food but when these things begin to get to you, you need to just let it go. In terms of your business, be prepared that you will have many days of frustration, you may feel like there is no progress and you may have gone in thinking you are going to completely change the business but be prepared for this not to happen. You may not make your start-up the next Uber or have the successes of facebook but your help is invaluable. You business owner will appreciate your work even if it is something fairly small, if you help him or her meet their deliverables or even just help them to think about things in a different way, it will still be an improvement for them.