Caren Holzman

Caren is the founder and director of Enabling Outcomes Ltd., a consultancy dedicated to driving impact and learning. She is passionate about the role that small and growing businesses can make to address inclusive growth and poverty alleviation in emerging markets. Caren works closely with Argidius Foundation, evaluating partners and contributing to Argidius’ learning agenda.

Talent challenges can inhibit growth, but solutions are possible

Key lessons learned from the Argidius-ANDE Talent Challenge
Sub-Saharan Africa
18. Apr 2019

To help overcome the “talent gap,” the Argidius Foundation and the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) launched a talent challenge in 2016 to seek out solutions for SGBs to attract, retain and develop middle and senior-level managers. The Argidius-ANDE Talent Challenge (AATC) identified five promising solutions to this challenge. After 2+ years of implementation, here are some of the lessons learned—and broader implications discovered—by these five organizations.



Talent is everywhere: the challenge is to find and develop it

The adage “talent is everywhere, opportunity isn’t” rings true in a country like Kenya. With 49.7 million people and an entrepreneurial culture, why do SGBs have trouble finding the talent they need to grow their businesses? Shortlist and Amani Institute addressed this challenge and demonstrated that talent in Kenya can be both found and developed.

  • Shortlist helps SGBs to understand the skills and attributes needed for success and use technology and aptitude tests to screen for candidates. Results have been notable with SGBs excited about the teams they are building and the high retention rates they are achieving.
  • Amani Institute developed a programme specifically for managers who need to develop the skills to lead themselves, others, and their organization. Selected staff at SGBs who participated in the programme developed the confidence and skill sets to “step up” and make a greater contribution within their organizations.

SGBs are more likely to invest in talent when it is embedded into their strategic plans

When talent sits in an HR silo, it doesn’t always get the attention it needs or it gets relegated to “we will deal with that later”. The perceived or real urgent needs around strategy, investment, or competition tend to take first priority. Open Capital Advisors and Village Capital both helped to demonstrate the importance of talent by embedding it into the larger success of the business.

  • Open Capital Advisors found that they had greater success embedding talent themes into their more traditional strategy and financial advisory work. This helped companies they worked with understand how talent challenges can constrain growth if they are not addressed and the importance of planning for and investing in talent management systems.
  • Village Capital recognised that just teaching entrepreneurs about the importance of teams was not enough. Their solution included embedding the importance of talent into their Venture Investment Readiness & Awareness Levels (VIRAL) tool. This helped companies tie talent to investment milestones and to plan for the talent and the team to make them successful at every stage of their growth and scale trajectory.


People at a business meeting
Tying talent to investment milestones. Photo Credit: Village Capital

There is hunger for coaching and creating a coaching culture

There is a shift happening within Kenya where coaching is becoming desired as a tool for leadership, delivering business outcomes, and creating a culture of support and feedback within organizations. This was evident in both the number of applicants for Creative Metier’s coaching programme and the interest in coaching from Creative Metier’s support to Amani’s Leadership for Impact Program.

  • Creative Metier had oversubscribed demand for its coaching programme. After the programme finished, there was a desire by “coachees” to continue seeking out coaching. They also found a number of local coaches who wanted to orientate their services to the SGB market.
  • Creative Metier also supported Amani’s Leadership for Impact coaching module. There were cases where middle managers sought out hiring coaches, even paying out of their own pocket to do so.

All five of these organizations delivered solutions to help alleviate SGBs’ talent pain points. Now, they must continue to build the business case for these solutions and encourage an ecosystem that focuses on—and invests in—the talent challenge.