Friday, August 22, 2014

Part 1: New Era, Same Old Ending?

Whilst sitting in a room surrounded by numerous miscellaneous objects awaiting a group of production ladies, of whom I was about to teach, I realised that I have never taught a formal lesson before. Although the idea of teaching was not one that had passed my mind often in the past, if I were ever to teach I would have not imagined such a backdrop.

If teaching my first lesson was not a daunting enough task three further challenges confronted me; teaching on a different continent, teaching a group of disabled woman and teaching implementing business tools into a business of which I have limited knowledge. Can I really help? Do they need my help? After I depart from Ghana will they continue to apply anything they have learnt? Firstly I would need to discover how eager the team are to learn from a younger, comparatively inexperienced foreigner.  It was here I accepted that, at least for the initial lessons, the teacher and student roles would be reversed.

Overall the first lesson proved educational for the ladies and, to a much greater extent, for myself. The ladies unanimously agreed that a more coherent record keeping system would be beneficial for New Era, but to devise a system that would be accessible, readable and editable to all members of the production team would be problematic due to varying disabilities present within the team. New Era was found a year ago and have since been producing soap on-and-off.  Although the lack of a clear record keeping system cannot be wholly held accountable, the inconsistent production of soap could have been avoided had a system already been in place.

New Era demonstrating their new business tools 

New Era is a social enterprise and a subsidiary of the local Disabled People’s Organisation and thus doesn’t hold the primary objective of maximising profit. However, a reasonable amount of profit is required in order for the business to become sustainable. Without record keeping and basic cash flow statements it is essentially impossible for New Era to regularly manufacture soap that can compete in the local market against its established competition. I learnt this as early as GCSE Business and have accepted it since. But does the same apply here? One of the ladies claimed that in the past she has been able to record keep in her head for over two years. This is just one example of how divergent business is conducted in different parts of the world. A soap producer in the West would view record keeping documentation as a downright necessity, whilst New Era sees it as an option. An option that may provide benefits but also will mean change, it is this word change that unfortunately is seemed to be closely associated with reluctance.
My key focus whilst working under this partnership is relatively straightforward, to implement an effective record keeping system making New Era Soap sustainable and profitable. However, in practice, attempting to pick up this soap business and introduce new ideals is proving to be a slippery slope.

You can read 'Part 2: New Era, New Beginnings' here

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