Guest author

The IAP Annual Conference and Awards – an inspiring day marks the end of a successful pilot.

Sub-Saharan Africa
25. Nov 2013

Over 100 people, of which about 25 were IAP grantees, spent an inspiring day under the hot Zambian sun on the 18th of November this year. We got to hear stories from the grantees themselves, of how they are winding their way around obstacles standing between them and success. If you were unable to attend the conference, we have uploaded video recordings of most of the sessions here on the Hub (click on the links to the sessions below to see the corresponding recording.

The presentations and background materials from the conference are also available for download on the Hub. Being an entrepreneur targeting the BoP market means having a firm belief in WHAT you want to achieve, while having to be flexible and responsive to signals from the market in order to understand HOW to reach that goal. We heard about the importance of respect and dignity in the approach to this market and that the fact that these people are poor makes them extra careful in the choice of how they do spend the money they have. Aspects such as trust, but also aspirations, of the customers should not be underestimated in the marketing.

Many grantees gave evidence of having to develop their business plans in iterations, going back to the drawing board more than once during the project implementation period. Luckily Sida does not see failure as anything negative, but rather as something that contributes to the learning process. The emphasis put in the IAP programme on learning lessons was also stressed by Jenny Åkerbäck from Sida, who participated in the conference.

Market intelligence is a particular challenge when it comes to understanding the BoP market, since it is not covered by the mainstream statistics and market studies. Most of the grantees had spent a considerable amount of time collecting the information needed (through pilots, interviews etc.) prior to launching their projects. Local NGOs, farmers associations and other professional associations were cited as key sources of data, while IAP grantee Text to Change told us about how they built their business around this lack of data.

Separate sessions were held on getting investment ready and lessons that Sida and other donors can draw from the pilot. In the latter we noted that while IAP must be seen as a success overall, with expected success rates of the 66 projects in the portfolio at par with venture capital funds, there are things that could have been done differently. A more systematic use of mentoring and technical assistance, and a much more flexible definition of project activities and budgets, were identified as features that would have made it easier both for grantees and Sida.

With around 20 companies exhibiting their projects in the room where coffee and tea was served there was plenty of opportunity for exchanges on a one-to-one basis between grantees and other participants. Judging by the volume in the room there were many who took advantage of this opportunity.

The concluding awards ceremony, where the Swedish ambassador to Zambia, Lena Nordström, presented the IAP Innovator of the Year award to Ignitia, was a fitting end to an inspiring day. A key message to all of you aspiring and struggling entrepreneurs out there is that it is OK to fail, or as Sanga Moses from Eco-Fuel Africa put it – Fail Fast and Learn Fast. That is how we help build workable business models for the BoP market.