Wellspring are currently engaged in an action-research exercise aimed at developing a self-funding system to build capacity among rural businesses, partnering with Kenya Markets Trust (KMT), Kenya College of Accountancy and the Open University Business School in the UK.
As part of their market development programme funded by DfID, KMT are working with various sectors, including agrivets, water companies, radio stations and agricultural co-operatives. It has become very clear to them that new forms of business learning are badly needed, especially at the rural Micro, Small and Medium Sized Enterprise (MSME) end of the market.
Wellspring were asked initially to undertake market research, and to seek out innovative practices in Kenyan Higher Education where they are providing training and support to rural MSMEs. Among other things, this led us to the Enterprise Development Centre at Kenya College of Accountancy University where David Kairo, the Director, was running enterprise clubs in the poor urban slum areas of Nairobi. Large numbers of small and micro entrepreneurs regularly paid cash to attend.
Now we are engaged in a second assignment, an action-research exercise aimed at developing a self-funding system to build capacity among rural businesses. Among other things, we want to understand KCA’s approach, to see how it can be adapted for rural Kenya, and to consider whether it might be scaled up. But there are other important strands – for example, working with a rural radio station that has an impressive array of listener-groups.
Are we beginning to see what a genuinely African version of open and distance learning for small businesses might look like? – one that operates at scale, at very low cost, in local languages; that is gregarious and motivating and builds on existing social groups; and that addresses the day-to-day challenges that emergent businesses face as they make the transition into the formal economy.
Its early days – but these are promising lines of action and inquiry. Watch this space.