Encouraging entrepreneurial spirit and a desire to develop a sustainable and responsible economy are the driving force behind Kachile, a new enterprise trading for social and environmental purposes in Côte d’Ivoire. It is a significant achievement in a fragile country, still suffering from the trauma of conflict and lacking in confidence. Kachile develops pilot projects with a view to unlocking potential and uses ICT to enhance training and create economic opportunities. The organisation was highly commended in the latest eLearning Africa Photo Competition. We spoke with Dr Ulf Richter, founder of Kachile, who is also a teacher, researcher and entrepreneur.
By Christine Cayré
Ulf Richter arrived in Côte d’Ivoire at the International University of Grand Bassam two years ago to teach corporate responsibility and ethics. He found a country which was still unstable and where a host of obstacles confronted the budding entrepreneur. Relations with investors are still difficult to establish, access to markets is complex, and institutions do not always function well. Training is often insufficient, and creative energy is stifled by a lack of confidence. Paradoxically, this complicated situation means that Côte d’Ivoire is a country full of possibilities for Ulf Richter.
Richter does not just understand development theory – he holds a doctorate in Economic Science from the University of Lausanne, Switzerland – he is also putting his ideas into practice. For him, it was a small step from the classroom to active involvement and Kachile was the result.
Kachile means “change” in Baoulé
‘Kachile’ is an eloquent name for a social venture, which defines itself as being a creator of opportunities, an incubator for projects and a promoter of African culture. This is a vast programme, which its founder has decided to break down into three core themes: the development of e-commerce as a gateway towards new markets for small-scale industry in West Africa; the creation of a clothing collection intended for Europe and the United States; and, finally, the implementation of new technology training centres making use, amongst other things, of distance learning.
The aim was not to create a new NGO. Ulf Richter believes that the operation of Kachile fits into a market dynamic, relies upon a result-oriented culture and seeks to distance itself from typical charity and philanthropic models. It is a strategy which prevents Kachile from benefiting from certain funding only available to non-commercial projects. However, Ulf Richter sometimes invests his own capital. He uses the term invest, not donate.
Yet, whilst awaiting further investors to join with him or for projects to become self-funding, he is forced to rely on volunteers to get the wheels in motion. These volunteers include foreign students and those fascinated by the development of the African economy. At the moment, in Grand Bassam, there are around fifteen people leading projects.
Transfer of competencies – through ICT
Although e-commerce projects dedicated to the development of small-scale industry and the creation of a line of clothing are the ‘standard bearers’ of Kachile, its ambition lies more widely in the transfer of competencies and the provision of support to local small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).
The Ivorian population is young and their training is often incomplete, particularly in the use of ICT. According to Ulf Richter, young people visit cyber-cafés to use social networking sites but they have limited knowledge of computing in general. The infrastructure exists in a number of towns and cities, and Kachile hopes to exploit this though partnerships with these very cyber-cafés as well as with secondary schools which already have the equipment in place.
Pilot project in secondary education
A pilot project is due to start in a secondary school in Grand Bassam, which will be a test for potential investors and project sponsors. Training will be shared between entrepreneurs and students. Kachile hopes to identify young people who may themselves then go on to become teachers.
Class content will be largely taken from the lessons Ulf Richter already gives and expanded through contributions from academics throughout the world.
Universities, such as Plymouth University in the UK, have also agreed to provide distance training. Young people between18-30 will be the target group for this training, which will cover the specific needs of a post-conflict society. These training programmes and consultations will be fee-paying services, even if the amounts are small, as Ulf Richter believes this demonstrates proof of seriousness and commitment. The pilot project at Grand Bassam is set to be launched late 2010.