Tag: tech

What makes you a social entrepreneur?

The Kenya study tour took us to Nairobi where we were not only introduced to some real-life applications of how technology is being used for social good but also gained a deeper understanding of some of the key drivers of social value creation.

Social value creation starts with the social entrepreneur, an individual who has made the conscious decision to focus more on value creation rather than value capture. A social entrepreneur addresses neglected problems in society, looks for sustainable solutions and operates in areas with underprivileged communities. We met several social entrepreneurs in Nairobi including Martina Taverna from Airfu, a mobile-based learning platform aimed at targeting learners of low-income status who have limited access to training and Erik Hersman, the founder of BRCK, which provides ICT related solutions and network connectivity to areas of Africa that currently have limited or no access.

Erik Hersman runs us through the technology behind BRCK

The second key driver of social value creation is scalability. As the focus of social enterprises is not on driving a profit but creating social value and finding a solution to a problem in society, social entrepreneurs need to seek alternative methods to capture value, otherwise, their solution becomes unscalable. Funding typically comes from public donations, the local government or the private sector. For Kenya, we learnt from the British High Commission that the UK government provides £300 million annually to the country.

Social enterprises must also consider the format of their business model as the traditional model doesn’t account for the focus on social value creation and therefore, needs to be developed. We were provided with a real-life example of business model innovation when we visited E4impact, who have developed a model focused on franchising. This allows them to provide higher-education to social entrepreneurs throughout Sub-Saharan Africa due to their partnerships with several international universities.

A summary of the range of services that E4impact are able to provide

It’s important to note that Kenya is already ahead of other countries in terms of technology use. The introduction of M-Pesa in 2007 revolutionised how Kenyans transacted and allowed them to skip straight to mobile banking, bypassing the traditional banking methods. Even now, Kenya is considered to be one of the top five countries in Africa that will experience significant grown in mobile phone penetration over the next six years; it is predicted to obtain nine million new mobile phone users by 2025.

It is this familiarity with technology that has allowed Kenya to be so receptive to solutions involving it and for this country, accessibility to the technology is imperative to it supporting social value creation. This holds just as much importance on a larger scale when considering how technology could be used to meet the UN’s Sustainable Developmental Goals. The UN already believes that technology will help, specifically stating that, “in order to eradicate poverty and reorient current unsustainable development trajectories over the period 2015 to 2030, affordable technological solutions have to be developed and disseminated widely in the next fifteen years.”

Kenya presents us with an abundance of social entrepreneurs using technology to create social value. Taking into account what they have done and limitations they have faced (e.g. scalability) will allow us to be able to apply their solutions on a global scale and address the challenges that currently present themselves in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Nil Sangarabalan, Executive MBA (2019)

Finding sustainable solutions through technology in Nairobi

I took part in the Technology for Social Good trip to Nairobi.

Technology provides many opportunities in creating these solutions to sustainability issues. We saw many innovative applications, both improving current solutions and developing and distributing new ones. Technology can be a key enabler in building scale and replication through standardisation, which in turn reduces the cost to provide the product. It can also play a pivotal role in accessing people who would otherwise be hard to reach.

M-Pesa, a phone app for money transfers, financing and micro-financing, is an inspiring example of this. Now, nearly 50% of Kenya’s GDP – of which 35% comes from the informal economy— is transacted on its platform and it has lifted 2% of Kenyan households out of poverty.

Technology can also be used to harness the power of data and analysis, whether it be in providing famers with better information about how and where to use fertiliser (Lentera), allowing micro-insurance to be paid on monthly rather than yearly (Blue Wave), or improving education provision (Whizz).

Technology needs to be carefully chosen to ensure that it maximises impact. Many of the businesses we met were not implementing the latest innovations but deploying clever applications of technology already in existence. As we often heard, it is important to consider the local context when determining the intended impact: start with the problem and find the most effective and cost-efficient technology to provide a solution for maximum impact. As Blue Wave highlighted to us, “innovate simply, and at the point of need.”

I was struck by some of the business models we saw, which play a key role in securing the viability of the companies and creating impact at the same time. Azuri is improving access to electricity by using a market hybrid model and offering payment terms on solar panels, lights and televisions to people too poor to afford the capital expense and factoring the receivables to fund its working capital. This is being operated on a commercial basis, even after receiving only 60c for every dollar’s worth of equipment provided.

These companies started out with a clear social mission and purpose and determined a business model to make it work. There must be a fit between the business model and strategic thinking, and so for those businesses looking for social impact starting with a definition of intended purpose and then innovating around the business model to create a viable business is more likely to be successful. It is unlikely that BRCK’s business model would have maximised the impact opportunity in focusing on value spillover if its only ambition was to provide internet access in Nairobi; it manages to offer free wifi to Kenyans by charging companies for using the data storage attached to the routers. It takes an impact-focused way of thinking to consider growing a viable business whose model is based on forgoing 40% of potential revenues as Azuri does.

Many companies were also using collaborations and partnerships as a growth strategy. This helps address obstacles to transactions by reducing distribution costs, improving access and bundling products to increase willingness to pay. Organisational theorist Henry Chesbrough explained the powerful network benefits of using open innovation for idea generation and go-to-market strategies, and we saw plenty of examples of this in action to maximise the social impact of the companies we met.

Freddie Woolfe, Executive MBA (2020)

International Consultancy Week: Discovering Dublin

Dublin International Week

As the end of the Full-Time MBA programme approaches, my cohort and I visited Dublin for a week-long consultancy project. International Consultancy Week gives MBA students the opportunity to apply the academic theory we learned over the previous four modules in a real-world setting. My cohort and I were on hand to consult for a pool of start-ups and larger organisations and help them resolve issues as diverse as business development strategy, human resources, marketing and operational challenges.

During the initial selection of companies, it was no surprise that The Project Foundry, a professional project management services provider and the firm I selected to work with, was among the most sought-after projects. The business was seeking an optimal market entry strategy in the cloud-computing space within existing parameters such as budget restrictions.

This project was of personal interest to me because I created and executed a market entry strategy in a new segment for my previous company. I was excited about the opportunity to broaden my understanding of the niche field of cloud computing.

Meeting the The Project Foundry team

My team: strength in diversity

This project’s success ultimately hinged on the team I had and the various skill-sets and expertise we could collectively leverage. We had Filippo Capirone, whose knowledge of the telecom industry and cloud computing were key for our understanding of the market. I also got the chance to work again with Lina Rahmanian, who had been a part of a gruelling three-month long strategy project team in which we developed an award-winning project. I had also worked previously with Rhiannon Ludlow, who was part of my team during the professional development training workshop at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and is someone I knew I could count on under strenuous circumstances. The only person I hadn’t worked with previously was Steve Le, but his expertise in the finance world along with his PowerPoint skills won my trust. Based on the diverse skill-sets and industries represented by my assigned team, I was confident in my team’s ability to deliver a solid project.

Meeting our client

Our initial contact with our client came via WebEx a week before we flew out to Dublin. Declan Ryan, Managing Director of The Project Foundry, gave us a better understanding of the project scope and the deliverables. We also started doing background research on the cloud computing market under the guidance of our faculty supervisor, Dr Senem Aydin, to get an accurate idea of the industry.

Once we arrived in Dublin at The Project Foundry Office, we had the chance to meet Declan and the rest of his team. We met the Director David Laird, who helped us get a strong understanding of the company financials and projections; Mark Carragher, Chief Technology Officer, whose industry expertise on cloud based platform gave us great insight on future of the business; and Sai Srinivasan, who helped us with the coordination of the project as the rest of the team was constantly on the move. We also had the chance to chat with a few members of the project management team and The Project Foundry’s marketing agency to get their insight on the business.

The project

During the initial few days, we started by identifying strategic issues faced by the firm, identifying the key industry trends, conducting competitor analysis, and rounding off with the strategic approach and financials to support our findings. This research was done in conjunction with the input we received and the conversations we were having with TPF. We drafted up an action plan for TPF for the way forward, looking at both the long-term and the short-term picture. By Friday, we had an amazing presentation deck (thanks to visual expertise of Steve Le) ready to present to the TPF team. We had a great discussion with the TPF team following the presentation to get their general feedback and answer any queries they had. This was an intriguing session where each member of the group pitching in to lend their expertise and helped wrap up an amazing consultancy project. Special thanks also goes to Dr. Aydin who offered us useful advice during our daily meetings – enabling the development of the recommendations!

Umar Mahmood and his consultancy team hard at work

Discovering Dublin

The Dublin Consultancy Week was not just about work! TPF hosted many fun social occasions, and Dublin is a young, vibrant and cosmopolitan city. Highlights for me were seeing the sights the city had to offer such as Trinity College and watching football matches in the historic Temple Bar Neighbourhood.This trip did culminate in a self-guided tour and a group dinner at the Guinness Storehouse. All groups got the chance to talk about their experience working with their companies and delivered some memorable presentations. This was also when the realisation sunk in that this was probably the last time all of us would be in the same room together, as just around the corner our international electives and the BMP Project are set to begin.

The International Consultancy Week will be a cherished highlight of the Full-Time MBA programme to me. Specifically, it was great to work with a fast-growing start-up and to learn more about how business is conducted in Ireland. I got the chance to work with an amazing group of individuals. Despite the hectic work schedule and the sleepless nights that came with it, I wouldn’t trade this dynamic experience for anything.

Fun in Dublin

My top three insights from International Consultancy Week

  1. There will often be times when you have to work with limited information – making a “decent” plan based on existing parameters is often more prudent rather than waiting for the “perfect” plan to develop, as the situation continually evolves.
  2. In the spirit of Leading the Adventure: always keep an open mind and be willing to learn something new, or have your viewpoints challenged.
  3. A unified team makes even the toughest jobs enjoyable.

Umar Mahmood, Full-time MBA (2019)
Contributions from Oliver Yogananthan, Full-time MBA (2019)

You will NEVER think the same way again

‘Tis the season of winter warmers, twinkly lights and Strategic Leadership on Cass Business School’s Executive MBA (EMBA) programme.

As I sat in a coffee shop, sipping my Choca-mocha-glitter latte ― the trendy hot drink this season ― with my fluorescent highlighter to hand, I began to read the case study for my next class with Professor Novelli.

The cold Cola war

Reflecting on last week’s case study, there was more to the Pepsi and Coca Cola war than I’d first thought.  The analysis, the controversies – it  astounded my brain cells! Most importantly, it undermined my conviction that there was a difference in taste between the two drinks – a bubble-bursting moment! Oh, how I was learning new things at every moment on this EMBA!

As my mince pie was served, I pondered what had compelled me to spend nearly £10 on a fancy-pants latte and mince pie. Was it the experience of sitting in a cosy chair, of having a place to read? The quick customer service? Or the brand?

As I continued sipping away at this costly warmth, I noticed this coffee shop had a new layout. The counter was now split into two sections. Now there was a Click-and-Collect service for coffee― how millennial! I was reminded of Dr. Kocabasoglu-Hillmer’s Operations Management class. Responding to consumer trends is key to business and this coffee shop had clearly adapted to changing market trends. Customers no longer tolerate waiting in long queues, so now they just download an app, place their orders, pay online, walk in and collect: ingenious!

I was intrigued, also, by how they forecast their inventory. They were selling many Christmas delights, so what effect did these new additions have on the supply chain? How did they source their coffee beans? Was the company sustainable for the next 10 years? What was their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) policies? All these questions were buzzing around, so I Googled whilst munching the mince pie.

Later, as Michael Bublé greatest hits came to an end, I took my final sip and concluded my reading of the case study. I prepared to go to class, looking forward to seeing my cohort.

Coolest cohort

At present, we are forming friendships, enjoy debating in class, and the plurality of characters and characters and backgrounds is stimulating. Everyone has their own idiosyncrasies: whether it’s the chocolate rice cake connoisseur, the skateboarding CEO, the passionate Greek or the cyclists with their love of sushi and pension funds. We learn from each other’s interests, heritage and worldviews. An MBA is not easy; sometimes you can feel overwhelmed. But with mutual support and such a wealth of viewpoints, hardly any challenge feels truly insurmountable.

In Professor Novelli’s class, as I waited for my lecture to begin, I reflected that a few months into the MBA. It was evident that my studies were already paying-off. After taking my place in that coffee shop, I realised that my entire outlook on the world had now changed.

Nushma Malik
Executive MBA (2020)

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