Monday, September 17, 2012

Honey Care Africa

It’s been far too long since I last posted to this blog. I have been busy developing the Banker Corps concept--which will provide trained college graduates to work in low income communities in the United States--with a group of students at the University of Pacific. (I will write a separate post on this later.) Meantime, I have begun another overseas project with Grameen Foundation’s Bankers Without Borders (BWB) in Kenya.

As readers may recall, I began this blog to write about my first BWB project with a social venture in Indonesia called P.T. Ruma. This time I am working with Honey Care Africa, a social enterprise now over 10 years old started by local Kenyans to enable small farmers in East Africa supplement their income by selling honey from bee hives maintained on their farms. The Honey Care introduced a modern beehive model that produces higher quality and higher volume yields than the traditional models typically used by small farmers.

Honey Care works across the entire honey value chain—from manufacturing and selling hives to farmers; harvesting and processing honey and distributing the final product to retail outlets in Kenya. The Honey Care brand is known locally for its high quality and social impact. Honey Care currently supplies approximately 25% of the Kenyan market and works with over 2,000 farmers and impacts the lives of more than 25,000 individuals.

However, Honey Care has never attained the scale required to be self-sufficient. New management is addressing this issue with a new strategy that will increase the supply of honey available to consumers at the Base of the Pyramid and create hundreds of jobs for rural workers. This new strategy is designed to reach more than 50,000 farmers and impact the lives of more than 400,000 individuals over the next six years.

Creating sustainable solutions that enable those at the Base of the Pyramid to lift themselves out of poverty is difficult work. The new strategy is a huge challenge and I am very excited to be even peripherally engaged in helping to achieve it. My role is to assist the finance director and his team in creating the financial management tools necessary for measuring the company’s progress in implementing the strategy and achieving its aggressive financial goals.

Throughout my professional career I have had the opportunity to work in many countries and to hire and mentor local staff. It is always a humbling experience to meet young people who have had to work especially hard to achieve levels of competence comparable to their peers from more advantaged countries. To begin with, they are almost all bi-lingual as the resources they need to develop their skills are predominately available only in English.

The staff at Honey Care is exceptional in this regard and I know I will learn as much from them as I hope to teach. Seeing the depth of talent and passion to succeed gives one great confidence that the developing world itself will be the major factor in the alleviation of global poverty.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Larry the Shoeshine Guy

I had mixed emotions reading C.W. Nevius’ blog post at SF Gate on Tuesday. On the one hand it was so disheartening to read that “Larry the shoeshine guy,” about whom Nevius had written several inspirational columns, seemed to have fallen again on difficult times. Then again, I was glad to hear that Larry was still alive. Like many other San Franciscans, I had been moved by the columns about Larry and made efforts to help him by patronizing his shoeshine stand and, later, contributing to a fund established to help him through a very bad medical situation. After not hearing about Larry for about a year, I thought he might have passed away.

Then yesterday my wife called to say she had seen Larry back on his corner shining shoes. My shoes were looking a little scruffy so I went to see him. Sure enough, there he is, back on Market and New Montgomery in his customary dress shirt and tie, open for business again. Now this is good news and bad news. It’s good to see him back, with his up-beat attitude, fighting the good fight against his problems and trying to make a living. The bad news is that he’s only back where he started and whatever caused the setback he may have suffered is an ever-present threat to cast him into even greater desperation.

Everyone makes mistakes, has lapses in judgment. For most, such errors usually result in little more than inconvenience. For those in extreme poverty however, the consequences of bad choices, bad luck, changes in economic circumstances out of one’s control, are literally life threatening.

Larry’s back but he needs help. He needs business and he needs encouragement. Let's not give up on him.