Business Studies in the Wilderness
Business Studies in the Wilderness
Northern Kenya is not typically associated with business development, yet there are groups of Kenyan business owners who are actively improving the lives of local people and are keen to learn and share their experience with British entrepreneurs.
Recruitment consultancy leader Gordon Adam took advantage of this opportunity last week when he joined a team of British business people for a seven-day leadership and skills exchange expedition to Laikipia, a remote region of Northern Kenya.
Adam, Managing Director of Head Resourcing, said: I was curious about businesses in Kenya and their level of expertise. More importantly, I liked the idea of doing something different and meeting local people to understand what really makes the country tick. I was in Kenya four years ago and was keen to go back, so the opportunity to live rough in the bush and avoid the tourist trail seemed too good to miss.
Kenya is an area that has historically been associated with poverty. As a result, the programmes main aim is to encourage growth and assist in the sustainable development of the African people and economy, whilst retaining the natural flora and fauna.
In an area far removed from western creature comforts, teams of British and Kenyan business people took part in a series of one day workshops and discussion groups on subjects including finance, leadership and creativity in a bid to facilitate the exchange of business ideas.
Adam said: Running a workshop was a new experience for me fortunately I was paired with a very experienced business coach who helped me to plan and implement our four hour session. The topic was Planning for the future: creativity and problem solving and we used a variety of tools to encourage people to think about the future of their business and ways to achieve their goals.
The 25 Kenyan delegates were completely open and willing to absorb and share ideas. They were all well-educated middle to senior managers, working in a variety of businesses from small SMEs (50,000 acre wildlife conservancies) to Africas largest tea and flower grower. Many of their challenges are the same as in the UK however the reliance on global economics and ecology means they face some really serious problems going forward.
During the programme Adam became aware of the significant cultural differences between the Western and Kenyan delegates. He said:
Tribal attachments are strong and the people have a great respect for tribal elders before management capability. Entrepreneurialism is not obvious. Taking the lead did not appear to come naturally for them, although when they did lead, they were brilliant, passionate and compelling.
One of the most striking features was their determination to help their staff, their childrens education and the countrys future, rather than adopting a western desire to make lots of money. In the UK people worry about their career progression because they want to buy a new house or a bigger car but in Kenya they want to look after their community. The government doesnt provide them with sufficient infrastructure or funds. As a result, many bigger companies have opened their own schools. One person in our group had to leave the programme early because he runs an orphanage as well as working full-time. The Kenyans are inherently people focussed.
This people-centric attitude inspired the British members of the group to consider their own approach to business and helped them to complete their final task.
Adam said: One of the most interesting parts of the programme was the final two days when we were asked to form six teams to create a business plan for a local business school which is currently proposed for development.
The biggest challenge was to take the shared knowledge and ideas of 34 people, and condense it into a coherent plan in 24 hours. Four Kenyans in our group presented our plan at the end of the programme. It was the most emotional part of the trip because of the presenters passion and total belief in the future of Northern Kenya.
For me, the programme was very worthwhile. I felt challenged and stimulated to focus on the future and look at generating real results in my own business.