As entrepreneur support organisations, we’re always looking for new and improved ways to deliver the right support to the right entrepreneur at the right time in their enterprise’s growth journey. However achieving this ‘sweet spot’ of support can be very challenging with so many variables to consider – from the diversity of the entrepreneurs we work with, to the problems they’re trying to solve, the industries and geographical contexts they’re operating in, the cultures that surround them and their stages of growth. With environmental and social challenges being compounded by the current health, economic and social crises, we need social entrepreneurship now more than ever, and delivering relevant, high quality support to enterprises to help them grow and scale their solutions sustainably has never been more important, or challenging.
Entrepreneur support organisations often have limited time, capacity and resources. As such, we need to find more efficient and effective ways to deliver our services, and add value to the enterprises that we support.
As part of the Scaling Frontier Innovation Program Response to Covid-19 in the Pacific Islands, six entrepreneurship support organisations from Timor-Leste, Cook Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and Samoa came together to discuss and share ideas of how they can improve and grow the support they currently provide enterprises.
Four key ideas and priorities came out of our conversations:
- Grow and improve the local entrepreneur support ecosystem by providing training to existing and new entrepreneur supporters such as technical advisors, mentors and business coaches who are engaged by entrepreneur support organisations to work with their enterprises. The training would involve acquiring key skills and tools that allow them to better understand the needs, wants and cultural context of entrepreneurs across the region. This could be acquired through soft skills training (listening skills, techniques for asking clarifying questions, rapport building) as well as context-specific (cultural nuances, power dynamics, gender considerations, language etc.) and entrepreneur specific knowledge (time capacity, wearing different hats, expertise in their field). The training would also support them to better be able to tailor their approach to support enterprises that are at different stages of growth, working in different industries and exploring different types of business models. Pacific approaches to transferring knowledge and expertise, such as talanoa sessions, might be more relevant than imported methods.
- Strengthen entrepreneur support organisations to act as data intermediaries. In the Pacific Islands, market data can be difficult to come by, making it challenging for entrepreneurs to inform their business decisions. Often entrepreneurs themselves collect a lot of valuable data as they are out in the field speaking with their clients and partners. Entrepreneur support organisations do too as a result of working directly with those entrepreneurs but also with a wide group of organisations in the ecosystem, such as governments, development organisations, universities, private sector organisations, etc. The question was asked as to whether entrepreneur support organisations could play a role in collecting, aggregating and sharing data that entrepreneurs can use to grow their businesses. For example, if a social enterprise is looking to expand from Samoa to Fiji, could they reach out to an ESO based in Fiji and get access to market and contextual data that can inform their expansion plans into the country.
- Encourage enterprises to share knowledge, resources and customers by partnering with one another. Encouraging enterprises that have aligned objectives and values to partner with one another can lead to exchanging /trade contacts, knowledge, data, resources and/or gain economies of scale on shipping, facilities, and other value chain components. We have seen an expansion of the barter system during the pandemic across the islands, so we know that products and services can be valued and exchanged peer to peer. Why not do this from enterprise to enterprise? This could be formalised by having entrepreneurs give each other equity (or other type of stake) in each other’s businesses, so that both entrepreneurs are invested in seeing the other’s business succeed.
- Change the narrative around asking for support. We often encourage entrepreneurs to develop a growth mindset and ask for help. However, this can be challenging for entrepreneurs who have grown up in cultures with an emphasis on needing to listen to parents, elders and teachers, and do as they are told. It can be challenging for them to then build the confidence to ask for what they need. Entrepreneurs can also at times hold back from providing honest feedback on the quality of the support they obtain if it is provided for free, as they feel that they should be grateful for it and don’t want to be a burden.
Underlying all of these ideas, is that contextualisation is key. Support needs to be embedded in the Pacific Islands context and reflect Pacific values, cultures and narratives. If not, we risk providing support that is irrelevant, which can cause unintentional consequences.
Author: Audrey Jean-Baptiste (ygap)