EWB in 2016

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BDSA Zambia: Failing to Scale

By Indiana Baseden, Stephanie Arneson and Megan Firth
BDSA-Zambia Staff

Business Development Services Africa Zambia (BDSA) is an EWB venture that started in 2011. We are a business development consultancy that works with private sector actors in testing and developing innovative business models targeted at low-income customer segments.

However, BDSA’s ability to spread the concept of shared value (developing sustainable win-win business solutions so that commercial and competitive mandates can be met while improving the livelihoods of low income customer segments) across Zambia has been severely limited by its core model: consulting -particularly, our focus on long-term, embedded consulting.

BDSA’s strategy up until this past year, has been supporting companies interested in creating or improving upon existing shared value programs, products or services within their business. We were clearly seeing the benefit we were adding to individual companies and their clients, but it was this confidence in the impact we were having through these long-term partnerships that left us blind to seeing how this model hindered our growth and ability to scale.
If we’re really honest, we all had our doubts about the scalability of the model from the moment we joined the team, but because we (i.e. the leaders) were all fairly new to an otherwise established team, we didn’t feel we could start our time as leaders by throwing out what had come before. In hindsight, we should have spoken up earlier about our concerns and been willing to ask the tough questions about scalability from the start.

When we did step back to reflect and ask those questions in early 2016, we realized our model was extremely resource intensive (time, money, expertise), and this could potentially compromise our financial viability, and prevent BDSA from reaching as many people as we would like with information and support to create shared value.

To address this failure, we needed to expand our products and services to include offerings that were easily scalable. But without any Zambian’s on the team, we found it difficult to know how to gear our products and services to the Zambian market.

Therefore our first step was to hire four Zambian staff and provide training on shared value, human-centered design, gender, communication, monitoring and evaluation, and systems thinking, to onboard them onto our team of empowered change leaders.

Next, we needed ideas. So we organized a retreat where human-centered design (HCD) techniques were used to brainstorm and polish ideas for new BDSA products and services. We started with 110 ideas but eventually narrowed the list down (based on scalability, financial sustainability and potential for shared value impact) to our favourite eight, which we spent the rest of the retreat prototyping.

Going forward, BDSA’s next step is to pilot test our 8 new products and services (and their associated assumptions) with the market to assess demand. Our goal is to understand what ones we should move forward with in the new year. The whole team is very excited about these changes and expects to see significant growth of impact by 2017.

RonanOBDSA Zambia: Failing to Scale
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  • Sam Burke - January 14, 2017 reply

    Multiple ways. I thought my average would be higher in first semester that I’d be fitter. To be honest, I’d drink less. Definitely thought I’d volunteer more. But I made progress in all areas. Did hit goals,no. But I strived to better myself and others around me. Even if I failed.

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