(This is one in a series of blogposts written by our Global team while on-the-ground in Lagos, Nigeria – February 2014.)
As an economist-in-training who relies on data and data-driven analysis during my daytime job, I have always thought the value I added to GEN and the mission of our trip revolve around the implementation of best practices in data collection and data analysis. Thereafter, a specific goal of my trip was to help automate a data collection system that has adds value to our organization. Aside from data, another priority of mine was to visit each of our businesses to get a more qualitative sense about their business operations and challenges. So I focused on achieving each of these two goals during this trip.
Throughout my trip to Lagos, my heaviest impression of our Fellows and our local teammates is their dedication to our work together at GEN. For instance, on our first day visiting our businesses, Timi, a Fellow in Alimosho, and our local teammates had already been waiting to meet us. Each of our Fellows carefully walked us through their business operations, records-keeping, and their business goals/challenges for 2014. Because of their dedication, my work with the local team in working out our data collection system went smoothly. A local teammate received feedback and recommendations for data collection from me. We sat side-by-side and compared files and I answered any questions regarding the logistics of our data collection system. At the end of our meeting that day we came to consensus that our next steps ahead will include effective data collection, timely data submission, and insightful data analysis on my end that would be shared with the local team.
Indeed I see many potential benefits to our improved data collection system. From the perspective of our portfolio team, this system will feed constant data on the performance of each our businesses. It also allows for portfolio tracking by pooling together the data for each business and generates a view of the entire portfolio’s performance. From the perspective of our Fellows keeping accurate and consistent records creates excellent business habits for each of them in their gradual process of expanding their businesses, analyzing strengths and weaknesses, and providing data-driven answers about their business performances to themselves. Finally, from the perspective of GEN as an organization, this system allows us to measure our impacts on our Fellow’s lives. It also allows us to show accountability, transparency, and results to our Friends, partners and donors.
As my first priority in data collection had made progress, I embarked onto achieving my second goal. So I partnered with my teammates, including Clara, Allie, Bunmi and Gerald. We interviewed our Fellows with difficult questions (i.e. what differentiates your businesses from the other businesses in local markets, and how do you gain additional profit-making margins from this differentiation). For instance, I spent an afternoon with Francis Omozuapo (pictured on the right) to think through his business challenges in terms of how to scale his cement-selling business so he can generate more revenue. He shared his concern that the effects of the upcoming rainy season will put a halt to local construction projects and thus decreasing demand for his cement. I offered some responses. There is an economic principle I learned in school called “perfect substitutes”, so my recommendation was whether he would be able to find a product that sells well during rainy seasons like paint or rain tarp for construction projects, thus cancelling the negative effects of low sales of cement on his business. I am happy to share Francis’s success story. He had been underemployed, earned a few thousand naira (a few dozen USD), and had little or no savings. Now he generates higher revenue than the minimum wage and is looking to hire an additional worker.
Taking a step back, I felt I achieved my goals and felt my trip with GEN to Nigeria was a success. I think, from the perspective of our Fellows, I was perceived as a visitor from America who was there to share and solve their challenges with them, and after working with them genuinely for several days, I was glad to find that some of my contributions to them may have left an impact. From my perspective, I think my volunteer trip offered a microfinance and job creation experience that complements my work at the Federal Reserve in macroeconomic policy and labor market improvements for a more enhanced experience. I am very fortunate to have visited Lagos, Nigeria with the GEN team.