I first arrived in Lusaka on the 8th of April 2017 to start my fellowship at Emerging Cooking Solutions. I had mixed feelings and some anxiety, which comes with visiting a new country. However, I had a warm reception from the team at Emerging Cooking Solutions. I took time to interact with everyone, and soon I was partaking in sales programs and activities related to the business. I really felt at home with the team and the new friends I made. The first week was mainly one of orientation and learning the company culture, demands, and expectations.
My next plan was to understand the business and the role I would be playing since this is critical to my success in the organization. I engaged various persons in different roles to understand what they did in the organization. I engaged the sales team individually to understand their challenges, achievements, and plans. They provided a great amount of input that gave me a good understanding of the business. It formed the basis of my discussions.
The main challenges were with making sales, repayments, sales support processes, and the systems support. The challenge with sales was finding the right group of customers to make sales to, as this directly affected the repayment ability. Some customers could not fulfill the pay-as-you-go terms, and the solar systems and stoves had to be repossessed, this therefore increased the disabled accounts rate of the company. The most critical challenge was to get customers to make payments on time. Since most of the customers did not have a regular source of income but relied on seasonal income, like proceeds from the sale of farm produce, the repayment rate is much affected. On the sales support front, there are some challenges with regard to assistance with information on agent network, mobile money, and bank payment, critical for improving sales.
What I set out to do to support the team was to form various support, report, and feedback channels to assist sales. Important among them was to encourage the engagement of buyer groups. I met with one group called Zazu, who provide a purchasing platform for farmers in Zambia. The conclusion of the meeting was that our sales team would engage their farmer groups and pitch our products to them. I encouraged the use of such buyer groups, as this will boost our sales. In solving the challenges related to disabled accounts, I instituted a reporting and feedback process from customers as to how they planned to finance their loans, and even if they were willing to continue with the use of the product. I got a lot of feedback useful for further decision-making.
The biggest takeaway from my engagement with the various teams was that the business was making many strides, and customers were generally happy with our products. The important issue is to have the right strategy and execution in order to make a greater impact. There needs to be continuous engagement with the various teams so they can in turn provide the right approach to customers. The team is very open-minded and receptive to change. I envision a team that will make a lot of impact in the pay-as-you-go solar systems and cook stove business. I believe Emerging Cooking Solutions is a great place for my LDI fellowship program.
Fellowship programs like the Landmark Development Initiative are very important to the development of businesses across the African continent, and I would encourage persons with diverse experiences in different fields to sign up for the program. The continued placement of skilled experts from varied fields will not only positively impacts the businesses where they are placed, but will be a testament of the important work of LDI across the African continent. I would highly recommend this to my network of Fin-tech professionals, as well as friends in other fields of study.
I view my fellowship program with Emerging Cooking Solutions as a great opportunity to acquire valuable skills in Financial Technology, and I am looking forward to a wonderful time.
Dominic Adongo is a 2017 LDI Africa Fellow with Emerging Cooking Solutions in Zambia.