December 15, 2023
Concerned that her children were consuming too many sugary deserts, Rita Aku-Shika Diabah developed a recipe for low and zero-sugar ice creams and started making them on the back porch of her home in Takoradi, Ghana. And in Guinea, a love of trucks and a desire to own her own business drew Lynn Kaba Touré to start a small logistics company.
Today, after outgrowing the back porch, Rita’s thriving company, Yesli Ice, is moving to a commercial-grade factory. And Lynn’s company, Aily Negoce International Group, is winning contracts with the large mining companies that operate in the Boke region.
Two small businesses, operating in different sectors and country contexts. But both entrepreneurs found solutions in affiliating with local business institutions, which gave them the support, training, and connections that have powered their growth.
Building up these critical institutions is one of the ways in which IFC is working to improve the lives of entrepreneurs, part of a multifaceted Canada-IFC Local Economic Development (LED) program that supports projects linked to energy and mining investments in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, and Kenya.
In Ghana, adding value for Yesli Ice and Chamber of Commerce’s other SME members
In Ghana, the efforts focused on the Ghana National Chamber of Commerce and Industry – Sekondi Takoradi. To grow membership and amplify the power of its advocacy, the chamber wanted to attract more SMEs, which represent the largest percentage of private enterprises in the area. Nearly 2 million enterprises strong, SMEs employ about 80 percent of the country’s workforce, and generate about 70 percent of the nation’s economic activity.
In partnership with the chamber, IFC’s Canada-LED program team helped revise their strategic plan to include an extensive SME component. The support included developing new SME-centered offerings that address challenges such as knowledge gaps in budgeting, workplace safety, and employment policies, along with access to markets and finance.
Ask Rita, and she will tell you that the institution-building paid off. “The business world is as big as the ocean. Without direction you don’t know where to go,” she says. “The training and mentoring I received by joining the chamber and getting connected to IFC has taken me so much further than I ever would have gotten on my own.” Since the training she has developed succession plans, set up a board of directors, and built a robust social media presence and digital marketing strategy.
“We had to show SMEs how chamber membership could help them,” explains Sir Lord Segbeawu, Regional Chairperson of the Ghana Chamber. “The IFC team built up our SME-focused capabilities so now we are truly adding value for them.”
In Guinea, where more than one-third of GDP comes from mining, the IFC team partnered with the Guinea Ministry of Mines since 2018 to create an online platform, called the Supplier and Partnership Marketplace—or Bourse de Sous-Traitance et de Partenariats (BSTP). “The idea was to create a tool to let vendors know there are tenders and to let large companies know there are local vendors that are qualified,” explains Saïfoulaye Balde, BSTP’s director. “The platform consolidates bids and matches companies with vendors for more efficiency.”
A critical aspect of IFC’s work involved bringing together the key players, including the miners operating in the area. “To achieve results, we needed to have buy-in from all stakeholders,” he notes. “With IFC’s help, we got all the big mining companies to agree.” The BSTP’s governance structure now includes a board of directors with representatives from government, the private sector, and financial institutions, as well as a board of stakeholders.
The marketplace is more than just an electronic bid-matching service, Balde notes. “We are building the capacity of local SMEs so they can compete for these tenders,” including by providing training and resources, assisting with the application process, and connecting SMEs with financing. “You can have the best written tender, but if you don’t have the financing to fulfill it, you aren’t going to win it,” he adds.
Lynn can attest to this. BSTP gave her access to much-needed financing so she could expand her fleet and qualify for larger contracts. She’s even found customers among the other registered vendors. “BSTP makes it easy for customers to find us. And there are always opportunities.” She knows she is unusual—a women owner of a business in a male-dominated industry. Through her BSTP membership she has received business advice that has helped her compete on equal footing with men, she says.
The positive changes made by the Ghana Chamber and the Guinea BSTP show what can happen when IFC partners with institutions to strengthen their focus on small businesses. The true test of this institution-building work’s impact lies in the results—jobs created, tenders won by local SMEs, barriers to small business growth broken down.
Learn more in this interview with Saifoulaye Balde, Executive Director of the Supplier and Partnership Marketplace (BSTP)
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