Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Canari Frigo: learning by doing

In April 2014 I worked at Canari Frigo, a small social enterprise selling clay pot coolers in Burkina Faso. I worked with the team on marketing, sales, finance and strategy. The story of four intense weeks.

Ever heard of a clay pot cooler? It is a natural fridge which doesn't use electricity. For people who live in a hot climate in developing countries, it can make a huge difference by conserving fruits and vegetables, medicines or cooling water. Read more about the product here

In April 2014 I worked for one month with a young team of four Burkinese entrepreneurs who sell Canari Frigos, the local name for the clay pot cooler. The Canari Frigo team consists of Faiçal (22), Hamed (22), Yacouba (25) and Oumarou (26); the team operates in Ouahigouya, a small town in the North of Burkina Faso. A few months earlier, Movement e.V., the German NGO who developed the technology of the clay pot cooler at Burkina Faso, had launched Canari Frigo as a social enterprise.

The Canari Frigo team. From right to left:
Oumarou, Faiçal, Yacouba, Hamed and Joris

I came there with a mission to help out on marketing and sales to boost the number of sold Canari Frigos. Upon arrival we set out a vision and mission (a why and a how) with the Canari Frigo team. The why: ‘Let’s improve our living circumstances!’ The how: ‘Canari Frigo, our new way of saving’. From the first days, it became clear that the lack of sales of the last months wasn’t just due to a lack of efforts or knowledge on marketing and sales. The team simply didn’t have enough incentive to invest a lot of time into promoting their product. After all, they felt the profit margin per sold Canari Frigo was not high enough to live from.

It made me realize how different life in Burkina Faso is. Faiçal, Hamed, Yacouba and Oumarou are very motivated to help the population of Burkina Faso to go forward, but they all have their own heavy responsibilities. The story of Hamed is telling. A few years ago he had to quit school because, being the oldest son, he became responsible for his family. Each day he has to think how he will get the money to feed his family, allow his siblings to go to school and be prepared when his grandmother falls ill. In other words, if the team could hardly earn enough for themselves and their families, how would they be able to invest time in their social enterprise?

So we started working simultaneously on marketing, sales and finance. We surveyed different target groups, tried out different ways of promoting our product and searched for a feasible promotion in the long term. Eventually, we came to a baseline strategy with regard to promotion:
  • Selling and promoting our Canari Frigos on the busy vegetable market on Sunday morning.
  • Demonstration sessions in the neighbourhood, each time an installation of a Canari Frigo takes place.

Demonstration session in the neighbourhood: how to install a Canari Frigo?
The children were delighted to to help adding the sand in between the two clay pots. 

On the financial plan, we tried to increase the profit margin (=price-costs) for the team mainly by lowering the costs. When talking to people in Ouahigouya, we noticed that raising the price was out of the question. So we mainly focused on lowering the costs. This was a great source of motivation for the team.

Unfortunately, during my stay, sales stayed low. Many people saw the benefits of the product, appreciated the vision and mission of the team, but just would not take the risk of buying a product of 9000F CFA (14 euro) which they don’t know. The lack in sales, the intensity of the work and personal matters led to tensions in the team. A few times I had to solve conflicts within the team. Sometimes there were conflicts between myself and other team members. Indeed, I had tough moments in Burkina Faso.

Luckily, I had an amazing group of supporters behind me. As explained in this post, I was in close communication with a group of people who know the region, know the Canari Frigo team, have experience as an entrepreneur or simply wanted to contribute. They backed me with advice, ideas and moral support. A big thank you to Sandrine, Jan, Jan, Ilyas, Vera, Jasmien, Ruben, Peter, Michael, Sam, Rose and Karolien!

The project with Canari Frigo was definitely the biggest challenge of my Green Sense Tour and perhaps of my life. The cultural difference, the lack of sales, the intensity of the work combined with living together with the team members made it a tough experience. However, looking back I can only be happy I went through this experience. I learned a lot about development through social business, about human relationships, about group dynamics, about cultural differences and about myself. Seeing the world from a broader perspective, I feel ready for the next steps of my journey. 

A Canari Frigo cooling water.
A valid alternative for the zillion of plastic bags
 people buy to drink chilled water.
Note: Movement e.V., the NGO who started the Canari Frigo project, works hard to transfer the knowled in order to enable the dissemination of this appropriate technology. For more information, contact Peter Rinker or read the Canari Frigo manual in English, French or German

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