eLearning in formal educational settings sometimes dominates the discussion of how to integrate ICT into sustainable development. For the International Finance Corporation (IFC, a member of the World Bank Group) ICT-enhanced training is the way to get small businesses in emerging markets to run profitably. At least one small-scale farmer from Cameroon has put this advice to the test.
By Prue Goredema
“I wasn’t making much money through my farming,” says Biet Gladys Banah, a small-scale livestock farmer in south western Cameroon. Rearing goats and chickens is labour and time-intensive, but the market was there, and Banah needed a way to manage her farm profitably. It was the chance to perhaps secure a business loan which lured her to the IFC Business Edge “Training for Business Women” workshop held in Buea, Cameroon in July 2010, but she ended up deriving more than she had bargained for. “The module on bookkeeping opened my eyes to many factors I had not even considered, such as the need to run the venture as a formal business, regardless of its size.”
The IFC’s Business Edge training system was developed in Vietnam specifically for deployment in small and medium enterprises in the Middle East, China and Africa. Johane Rajaobelina, IFC’s Senior Operations Officer in Dakar, Senegal, told the eLearning Africa News Service that although the business advice they offer is valid in all markets, their work is focused specifically in areas where capacity development is a pressing need.
Working from her home in the Ombe New Layout residential area on a 20x20m plot of land, Banah has managed to turn her farming fortunes around in the two short years since she joined 23 other women entrepreneurs at the “Training for Business Women” workshop. “In areas where economies thrive off subsistence farming, it’s often women who are bearing the brunt of the work, so specifically addressing business women at the workshop made sense,” says Rajaobelina. Nevertheless, the course was for women working in various sectors since sound management principles apply across the board, says Rajaobelina. “ICT-enhanced education and training practices are increasingly accessible for those in formal education, but we also have to consider ways in which the rest of society can benefit from these innovations in education and training,” she adds.
The development efforts are best achieved when the IFC partners with local partners in the countries they serve. Along with the Business Edge programme, the IFC also provides the SME Toolkit, a free online business management primer offering information on many aspects of running a business – from accounting and human resource management to marketing, sales and information technology. It has been adopted by operators in 35 countries. “Our partners around the world translate the tool kit and offer business support that is tailored to the socio-economic conditions of each market,” explains Alan Johnson, the Product Leader at the Sustainable Business Advisory of IFC’s Farmer and SME Training Unit. “So whether we are dealing with an urban enterprise or a smallholding in a remote area, we want to ensure that people adapt the material for their specific needs.”
Biet Gladys Banah’s adventure in animal husbandry is a case in point in that the universal business principles taught at the “Training for Business Women” workshop were brought down to earth by Business Edge trainer Bibiana Mbuh Taku, CEO of Diversity Management & Consulting Ltd. Banah credits Taku’s experience in poverty alleviation through mediation, mentoring and formal coaching as one of the factors that made the workshop principles easy to put into practice – with encouraging results.
Banah’s husband Julius Abwa is supportive of his wife’s endeavours and explains that though they are happy with the hundreds of broilers they now have, they are ready to expand the livestock component further. “We have three goats, two of which are pregnant, four pigs and nine piglets. Our compound is simply too small to allow for any ambitious plans right now. So we are looking at renting space elsewhere in our village so that we can move forward with the farming.” The final decision will be up to Biet Gladys Banah since she is spearheading the project. “I am happy to have taken the course and to have access to further support from the Business Edge team,” she says, adding: “It’s never too late to embrace education and to turn your life story around.”
Catch up with Alan Johnson of the IFC at eLearning Africa 2012 Session 30SPD “Why the Private Sector Invests in Training” in Lac Asie on Thursday, May 24th at 16.45-18.15.