Off to work: Volunteers in Business

All of the ICS volunteers have relocated to a new city- for the UK volunteers, a new country as well. All of the volunteers have met new people and learned new skills during an intensive week of training. But the main aim of our programme here is to support sustainable economic growth for Ghana, and to do this we will be working with small and medium enterprises in the community.

We were given the briefest outline of each business- bakeries, farms, cosmetic companies, all looking for help in areas like financial reporting or marketing. After submitting our preferences, there was nothing we could do but wait for the team leaders to match us up- one UK volunteer and one Ghanaian volunteer to each business. It was a tense moment when they revealed the allocations, since this not only dictated where we would work for the next 10 weeks, but also where we would live- it can take hours to travel across Accra so host homes were allocated geographically.

I was partnered with Francis, and we were given a coconut oil company- not one of my top cho2016-02-22 12.25.52ices, but it had some interesting business needs. “On Monday, you will meet your business owners so that they can introduce you to the company”, the team leaders explained. For us, Monday came with the news that our business owner was seriously unwell, and so we would not be working with them after all. Initially I enjoyed the prospect of having some time to settle in, but as the days wore on and volunteers started sharing stories about their projects, I began to feel restless. Ghana is an amazing place, and I was seeing new things almost every time I stepped outside, but I had not come all this way for a holiday!

Finally, we received a call from one of the programme leaders. It was the news we had been waiting for- a new business, looking for help to expand. Ele Agbe Co. Ltd. makes shea butter products, like soaps and lotions, as well as recycled glass bead jewellery and accessories like woven baskets. They are also a social enterprise, providing jobs and training for women and young people in rural areas, such as Northern Ghana where the shea butter is sourced from.

We arrived at Trade Fair to meet the owner at a small, modern building that functions as head office, factory, and showroom. The company has been established for nearly 20 years, and exports its products all over the world. However, we were able to identify a number of goals we might be able to support on. We are now keen to get started on the enterprise analysis, which will lead to a presentation of our recommendations, followed by an implementation stage where we will put agreed solutions in place.

Of course there are challenges coming in to a business as new consultants with minimal experience. We need to build trust, communicate openly, and work together to do what is best for the company. Ultimately, like all the volunteers, we hope that we can make a positive impact on both the enterprises and their wider communities.

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