Thoughts on Clean Kumasi

Last week I visited Kumasi on my way back up to Tamale to see what my colleague Mark Boots is up to with his venture Voto and to get a bit of a tour of the Kwame Nkrumah Institute of Science and Technology. We also got a chance to sit in on a meeting run through one of’s projects called Clean Kumasi. They’re trying to tackle sanitation issues in a neighbourhood in Kumasi where the practice of open defecation is common. They’re working with the community and aim to go through a Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) process, which I know a small amount about due to EWB’s work in the the water and sanitation sector in Malawi. It was an interesting couple of hours observing and talking with the facilitators followed by a couple of thoughts Mark and I discussed on our walk home that I thought I’d share here.

We got a bit lost trying to find where the facilitators, Fausti and Doreen, were holding the meeting but found one of Clean Kumasi’s signs, urging residents to text a number if they noticed feces in the area. As we were waiting by the sign trying to figure out where to go next, a woman walking by asked us if we were the ones putting the signs there. We said no and asked her what she knew about them. She said she didn’t know anything, or who put them there. We asked if she had ever called or texted the number on the sign and she said no, and mentioned that there was no indication of where to find the people who were putting the signs up. Definitely an interesting first interaction! People had definitely noticed the signs but were unsure of who was responsible for them or really what they were about.

Sign asking "Is this place dirty with toilet?" in Kumasi, Ghana.

All photos credited to Mark Boots

Mark eventually got through to Doreen and she waved us over to where they were meeting. We tried to be as inconspicuous as possible (impossible task) and sat at the back of the room which was almost full of women and three men near the front. Fausti showed off some new posters and tried to demo a new service where people can call a number as opposed to texting, and it will call them back free of charge with info on the program. This seems like a great step forward to address the complaints of the woman we met earlier. The demo had some technical glitches and the meeting wrapped up with Fausti informing the group about the next possible meeting date.

A room full women during Clean Kumasi Meeting

Our view from the back.

Afterwards we got to ask Fausti about the program and where they’re going with it. She explained some of the iterations they’ve done on the signage to make sure it was locally appropriate, a good reminder that even local staff don’t get language right on the first try and testing is important. They haven’t had much engagement through texting which is why they’re pivoting to a voice-based system. It will be interesting to see any increases in engagement. They’re hoping to get in touch with the people who engage with the system and get them involved in the CLTS process when they bring a trained facilitator later on.

This particular location is next to a school and is interesting but not atypical in Ghana in that it has latrines already but the children don’t use them. As if on cue, a group of primary children on break walked right past the latrine to do their business behind it amongst the litter spread out there. I wondered how past CLTS projects have engaged children in the process, as it seems that in this particular case a significant portion of the problem is children from the school. It will be interesting to see how a “triggering” as it’s called in CLTS would trickle down to the children, especially in a fairly large urban community where I imagine only a fraction of the community would be engaged in that event.

Mark and I discussed other ideas on the way home. It’s apparent that all of the signs that Clean Kumasi has put up are in areas where people dump garbage. We wondered what the effect would be if these areas were cleaned up and concentrated. Perhaps this is a broken window type effect, where existing garbage attracts more waste, where human waste isn’t really differentiated from garbage by children (and adults sometimes). This wouldn’t necessarily solve the problem but if there’s a correlation between garbage and poop then maybe cleaning up the garbage could make controlling the poop a bit easier. If it’s primarily children who are defecating outside then perhaps engaging parents and community members in keeping areas around latrines free of garbage would get schoolchildren using the latrines more often than making the trek out to a garbage zone that is relatively far away.

The quick analysis from Fausti was that children also preferred the outside to the dark latrines. Cement latrines are hot and are not the easiest to keep clean either. Perhaps there’s a place for rethinking latrine construction with a strong aim on ease of cleaning and brightness to make them a bit more habitable for the children. Another observation was that children seemed to head out to the garbage dump in groups – maybe single-stall latrines are not the right design when it comes to schoolchildren’s social behaviour. The experience for a child using the latrine is a dark, smelly room all alone as opposed to a (relatively) nicer-smelling garbage heap with his three best friends. Privacy is something I would optimize for from my perspective but it clearly has little influence on primary schoolchildren.

All in all it was an engaging few hours. I’ve never worked in the WatSan sector and definitely don’t know anything beyond the basics of CLTS but it’s always interesting to take a design lens to problems like open defecation and see where it takes things. I’m definitely looking forward to hearing more about how things progress with Clean Kumasi and as they continue to iterate on their approach and find out what works.

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A Final Return?

2012 was all things considered the most stable year I’ve had in a long time. I had the same job description, lived in the same house and grew my connection to a community that I feel at home in. It was another year of growing commitment between Erin and I in our relationship, our foundation getting stronger every day. The team I work on with Engineers Without Borders took huge steps forward in our clarity of purpose, our effectiveness as a team and our impact on the agricultural development projects we work with. I had the priviledge of working with five amazing university students from May to August, guiding them through their experience of a country that I love. Many friends have finished up their time in Ghana over the last year and it is becoming harder and harder to ignore the looming deadline of LH567, Accra with service to Frankfurt, 9pm, May 30, 2013.

If the theme of 2012 was stability then 2013 is shaping up to be just the opposite. After finishing up in Ghana Erin and I don’t know what is next. The excitement and fear of that unknown is starting to sink in. Though I’ve been back and forth many times over the past three years, coming back to live is different. In EWB we like to talk a lot about systemic change, because the systems we live and work in have incredible influence over the choices we make and the ways we live. In many ways, choosing Ghana has made living my values easy. Living life simply is much easier in Ghana than in Canada. Though life can be challenging, whether or not to face those challenges is not a choice I have to make. Nor is each day a struggle to meet my needs which makes it easy to be grateful for what I have. Canada is a different context however, and I admire everyone who I meet that is choosing to live their values in a world of seemingly infinite choice amidst the pressures of individualism and wealth. On my visits to Canada I have often ignored the challenges that we have in our systems and my own part in them, but I know I can’t do that forever. 2013 will be about finding a path in a new set of systems, renegotiating my sense of purpose and belonging.

For now I’m back home. Back to a vibrant community and a loving household. Back to some of the most inspiring and exciting work I’ve ever done as an agent for Kulemela Investments, working to solidify our model and prove our effectiveness in funding small, high-yielding agribusinesses in Ghana that are largely ignored by the rest of the finance sector. It is so motivating to see entrepreneurs like Issifu Basideen and Andrew Bille working on their visions for a prospering agriculture sector in their country. The support that we’ve received over the last few weeks from Canadians who share our vision of African agriculture as an investment opportunity, not a charity case has been overwhelming. I can’t wait to see how far we’ll be able to go over the next year.

So thanks to everyone who contributed to my 2012, colleagues in Ghana who have pushed my thinking and supported my growth, friends in Tamale who keep our small ultimate community alive and bring us together for music and meals, our neighbours who have taught me so much about love, acceptance and sharing, the kids who get me off of my computer and outside to run around the yard, reminding me to take a step back and a deep breath more often, all of the inspiring Ghanaians I work with who give me such a sense of excitement for Ghana’s future, friends and family at home who welcome me despite my poor communication, strange clothes and general sense of disorientation in a world I grew up in, and Erin for being the best partner I could ask for over the past three years in Ghana and into the next year of unknowns. Thanks to all of you for a fantastic year, and here’s to 2013, a new year of possibility.

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No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

A styrafoam takeout container with fried rice, fried chicken and salad. The words "No Such Thing as a Free Lunch" are written on the inside of the lid.

This is another post in the #lean4dev series I started up a couple of weeks back.

One of my colleagues was attending an event a few weeks, and was pleasantly surprised when they decided to hand out feedback forms. To her dismay, the first question on the form asked about the quality of food that was provided to the participants. Soooo close. So close.

The free lunch is a development sector staple. Most often chicken and rice in a Styrofoam takeout container, still hot if you’re lucky, but usually lukewarm because the workshop is already two hours behind schedule. Business lunch doesn’t seem out of place or unreasonable coming from a North American environment, but it sometimes amazes me how much people care about the free lunch. So much so that it shows up as the number one question on feedback form.

The problem here is not so much the free lunch, but the incentive it provides. After a few months in the development sector, it becomes apparent how many completely useless, or at least improperly targeted trainings go on in this industry. Becoming lean is about reducing waste, and trainings are one of the first places I would start looking if I wanted to reduce waste in the development sector. This is not to say I don’t believe in capacity development. I just don’t believe capacity is built through six hours of black-text-on-white-background powerpoints (or if you’re really lucky, powerpoints branded with an NGO’s stock template). But still, people come. And part of the reason they come is for the free lunch, the per diem, the paper pad and pen, the expectation of future benefits from the project or NGO, or whatever other artificial incentives have been thrown in to sweeten the deal.

Here is a quick challenge that I would pose to any NGO running a training. I’m calling it “The Free Lunch Test” and it is extremely simple and incredibly cheap. When your participants show up, give them the option of turning right around with their free lunch (and per diem, pens and paper, eligibility for your future programs, etc.) or sticking it out through the training. Even have them sign the attendance sheet for the donor’s sake. If your participants see value in the training and are there for the right reasons, they will stay. If not they will go. And if they go then ultimately things will be better off, as participants who can’t be bothered to stick around for a training would certainly not be bothered to apply what they’ve learned.

Getting proper feedback on trainings is hard and often expensive and The Free Lunch Test certainly doesn’t answer the ultimate question of whether or not a training was effective. It does give a very good picture of participants’ motivations for being in a training however, and all at the low cost of $0. Proper motivation is a prerequisite for effective capacity building, so if a training fails The Free Lunch Test it will almost certainly fail a broader effectiveness test unless a significant amount of the training is spent on building participants’ motivations. This type of feedback one step away from the status quo of achieving failure where a completed training is counted as progress towards impact.

I’m not suggesting doing The Free Lunch Test at every training, making it some sort of development policy, silver bullet, or anything like that. But next time you’re hosting (or at) a training or workshop, I’d love for you to ask yourself, “Would this pass the Free Lunch Test?”

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Market Facilitation in Five Words or Less

We currently have seven wonderful University students gearing up to join our team in May as Junior Fellows (JFs), and a couple of weeks ago I tasked them with learning about, and writing a blog post describing the concept of market facilitation. Market facilitation has become the core of the Agricultural Value Chains (AVC) team philosophy. Here are the posts that have been written so far:

I haven’t written about it here in the past, so I thought I would join the JFs in taking a stab at defining market facilitation and why it is important. Better yet, I’ll try to do it in five words or less. Well, at least leave you with five words or less.

If I had to define the goal of market facilitation in a single word, I would start with “innovations”. Granted, that is not very descriptive, a lot of things are about innovation, but let’s start there.

Innovations. A box split into four and rearranged as a larger box.

The second word I would add is “market”, to make “market innovations”. This might seem obvious given that we started with “market facilitation”, but it qualifies the goal quite a bit. Market facilitation is about looking at an entire market system. It is not about driving innovation from the perspective of a single business, or actor within a market. It is a holistic look at how a market system itself can change. This is where market facilitators start to differ significantly from traditional business consultants.

Market. Two people stand across a table from each other.

If you allow me a third (albeit hyphenated) word, it will be “win-win”. The innovations that come out of market facilitation have to be win-win for marginalized actors in that system (small holder farmers most often) as well as for the larger, more formal businesses that are important parts of the market. After all we want to see improvements for small holders, and existing powerful players are not likely to adopt a change that disadvantages them for the sake of small holder farmers.

Win-Win. Two people hi-fiving.

Win-win market innovations. That’s it! Three words that to me capture the essence of what market facilitation is trying to achieve. I will kindly request two more words to add to the definition at the end of the post, but for now let’s leave it at three.

Win-win market innovations with corresponding pictures from above.

A great concrete example of a win-win market innovation is the case of the PrOpCom project in Nigeria. PrOpCom saw an opportunity to change the way new tractors were being brought into the Nigerian market. Before the project, tractors were only introduced through a government subsidy program, where the government bought tractors in bulk from tractor retailers and then distributed them through various channels. Individual tractor operators that wanted to buy tractors would have to wait long periods of time to get access to a tractor, and much of the benefit of the subsidy was lost through the political nature of the disbursements. Furthermore, no tractor retailers were selling tractors to individuals due to the lucrative bulk orders from the government.

The project staff saw an opportunity for a market innovation that would see tractor retailers selling directly to tractor operators, with financing provided by a local bank. This would allow tractor operators to acquire tractors in a timely manner, give tractor retailers a new market and add a profitable new product to the bank. Last but not least, it would greatly increase the availability of tractors and tractor services for small-holder farmers in Nigeria. A new, innovative way to organize the market, that is win-win for everyone.

There is an extensive case study on the work that this project did in tractor services here:—Making-Tractor-Markets-Work-for-the-Poor-in-Nigeria.aspx

Where things get slightly messier is in the why and the how. The term market facilitator doesn’t really exist in a Canadian context. Why are market facilitators necessary to make markets work in Ghana if we don’t need them in Canada? It is possible we do need them in Canada, but I’ll take a stab at why they are especially needed in Ghana.

The number one reason is risk. Innovation is risky, and businesses tend to be risk averse, especially when the safety nets for failed businesses are not quite as soft as they are elsewhere. Businesses in Ghana (especially agricultural businesses) are often lacking the spare operating capital required to invest in innovation. Testing a different business model when you have one that is operating reasonably well is just not worth the risk when the cost of failure is high. In the case of PrOpCom above, the project reduced the risk of the banks to loan money to tractor operators by agreeing to pay a certain percentage of the bank’s loss if a tractor operator were to default on the loan, reducing the risk for the bank.

Another reason is trust. There are few regulatory trust mechanisms in markets in Ghana, especially in agriculture where most transactions are done informally. A market facilitator can add an element of trust between small holders and businesses that wouldn’t exist otherwise. Two skeptical parties might not invest in building trust in each other, but a market facilitator can explicitly find opportunities to increase trust between actors. In the PrOpCom case, the project staff built trust between the bank, a local tractor operator association and a tractor retailer to facilitate a test of the new market model.

Finally, market facilitators make the time and space for innovations to emerge. Without clear time and space for market actors to come together and work on innovative ways of changing the way their system operates, it is unlikely to happen. Businesses are busy running their operations and farmers are busy farming. It takes a sophisticated understanding of the different market actors, their motivations, and skill as a facilitator to get everybody together in a room to discuss potential improvements to a market system.

By reducing risk, adding an element of trust, and making the time and space, market facilitators can accelerate the process of market innovation. By choosing which innovations they will invest in, the market facilitator can do her best to make sure these are win-win innovations, that benefit both powerful market actors and marginalized market actors. This process may well have happened on it’s own, but by deliberately creating the conditions for market innovations to occur they will hopefully happen faster and with a stronger emphasis on empowering those who traditionally have less power in the system.

Finally I’d like to introduce the two words I asked for earlier. Those words will be “that spread”. Market facilitation aims to create win-win market innovations that spread.

that Spread. A piece of toast with orange marmalade.

Whether it be a new business model, new market access or upgrade in quality, market facilitators want to see innovations spread. Once the innovation has been proved, hopefully there will be a “crowding in” of market actors who also take up the innovation, scaling the impact of the market facilitator’s work. A market facilitator can spread the idea himself, or make sure that the new service or idea is highly visible, encouraging other market players to offer similar products or services and change the way they operate. In the PrOpCom case, other banks and tractor retailers saw the success of the pilot, and started providing similar products on their own without support from the project. This is a great example of “crowding in” and is the ultimate goal of successful market facilitation. If innovations are being adopted by people who have not worked directly with the project, then there is a high chance of those changes being sustained once the project ends.

To recap:

  • Reducing Risk.
  • Increasing Trust.
  • Making Time and Space.

Win-win market innovations that spread.

Win-win market innovations that spread. With the four pictures from above.

The theory and practice of market facilitation can certainly become very complex, but hopefully my stab at a digestible five-word definition gives you a bit of a picture of what we’re working for on the AVC Team.

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The Development Sector is Achieving Failure

I first started getting excited about the possibility of applying lessons learned in silicon valley to the world of international development projects when I stumbled upon the blogs of Steve Blank ( and Eric Ries ( and the idea of the Lean Startup. The problems they described seemed to parallel a lot of what I was seeing in development projects in Ghana. I wrote about this briefly a long time ago in this post exploring the similarities between startups and development projects. At the time I mentioned a series of posts comparing the two, but never delivered. This is my attempt to get back on that train, which I’ll be tagging with #lean4dev.

Today I want to start exploring one of the ideas that Eric Ries writes and talks about called “achieving failure”. You can check out Eric’s post on the subject here:

While in a lot of ways the development sector needs more room for failure and the discussion of failure, it does not need more of this type of failure. Eric introduces the concept with this paragraph:

“We spend a lot of time planning. We even make contingency plans for what to do if the main plan goes wrong. But what if the plan goes right, and we still fail? This is the my most dreaded kind of failure, because it tricks you into thinking that you’re in control and that you’re succeeding. In other words, it inhibits learning.”

I believe this is also the type of failure that is the most wasteful for development projects. I would argue that it is also much worse in the development sector because these types of failures are never recognized as failures at all.

A stick figure is shown successfully clearing hurdles with a completed checklist before jumping off a cliff.

Stick Man Achieves Failure

The basic assumption that underlies much of the way that many development projects operate is a two-phase design-implement model, much like an engineering project. This facilitates all sorts of things that bureaucrats love, with multiple bidders (and sometimes separate bids for the two phases), and a fair process that goes to the lowest bidder who can demonstrate they can competently meet the project goals. This process is great for engineering projects. It sucks for development projects.

Engineering is mostly science with a little art. A design can be made from day one, and based on experience and some critical thinking, there is a high likelihood that the design will be adequate and will succeed if implemented properly. This rarely if ever can work in the development sector. The nuance of human behaviour and changing environments means that a design can’t possibly be correct on day one. Even if a project is implemented perfectly to spec, it’s likely it won’t meet the objectives of actually helping people get out of poverty.

Compounding this problem is the difficulty of properly measuring success. Profitability on its own is not always a sufficient indicator of success in business, but it is at least a necessary indicator, and companies that are not profitable will fail. The basic measure of success for a development project is much less clear, and much more difficult to measure. Ultimately this means that development projects never “fail” in the way that businesses fail. A development project doesn’t depend on results for the poor to continue – the project is approved for a certain number of years and expected to implement until the money runs out. Of course there are mid-term reviews, and possible extensions, but it is the donor, not the beneficiaries who decide whether the project should continue.

All of this conspires to create a development sector that achieves failure over and over, in both big and small ways. The work gets done, boxes get checked and implementers trumpet their successes, but for your own sanity I wouldn’t ask the difficult questions about what has actually changed. Conferences achieve failure by bringing together academics, government workers and practitioners with no useful action or behaviour change as a result. Yet the conference is called a success based on participation and “fruitful dialogue”. Projects achieve failure by checking off the activities in their work plans and finding ways to appease the donors, without any lasting change for farmers. Individual trainings achieve failure by reaching the prescribed number of participants, but poorly targeting content and having no clear plan for measuring whether anything has changed in the real world. Exit surveys of participants always show positive feedback – unless your free lunch was of substandard quality or you didn’t provide an afternoon snack. As Dery explained to me after lying to a project a staff about the usefulness of a training in the village, “People want to come and do something good for us, so we can’t make them feel bad for trying.”

It’s hard to live in a city like Tamale without developing a jaded view of the development sector, whose branded vehicles choke these streets. There is another way. Ideas for dealing with these types of problems exist in many places. Design thinking, ideas from Lean Manufacturing and the Lean Startup Movement to name a few. There are plenty of people calling out the flaws in the sector, and some who are working equally hard for change. While there are days where I wish the influence of the development sector could be ignored, it can’t be. It is important to push for the changes that will see an industry that achieves failure more often than not become one that is able to deliver on the good intentions that are the foundation for its disappointments.

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Erin and I were biking to a restaurant nearby our house for a “date” – trying to take some time for ourselves in our busy schedules when I felt the first telltale signs. About an hour earlier I was feeling exhausted at the end of the work day, but it was then that I started to feel my back stiffening up. By the time we ordered our meal I was achy and cold. Needless to say we took the pizza as takeout and soon I was sweating it out with a modest 38 degree fever in clothes and under a blanket in our 32 degree room. I have a pretty consistent set of symptoms when I get malaria, and lucky for me they’re quite mild (or at least have been so far). The next couple of days will be a bit of a roller coaster of my fever going up and down with the treatment and Advils, and by Friday I’ll be good as new.

I know most Canadians will never have the privilege of experiencing malaria, and those of us who do happen to find ourselves at risk endure a few unpleasant days (for some more unpleasant than others) but good treatment exists and it is cheap. I don’t have to think twice about paying for a malaria test or the drugs – it’s a no brainer. The ease of that decision reminded me of an article I read recently on an interesting application of psychology to the root causes of poverty. You can read it at The basic premise is that we only have a certain capacity for making tradeoff decisions, and that capacity is also linked to our capacity for self-control. There are some fascinating implications on what that means for the ability of those in poverty to make rational, optimal financial decisions.

I think this type of research provides further justification for health insurance programs like the Mutual Health Insurance Scheme in Ghana beyond the basic idea of health insurance. If people have to use up less of their tradeoff decision-making capacity on health issues, then hopefully they will be able to make better financial decisions elsewhere. It’s also a great reminder of why our team is working on supporting responsible markets that work for small holder farmers. While economic growth isn’t the be all and end all of development, it certainly makes some decisions much easier. The more money farmers make, the less time and effort they have to spend to decide which of their children to send to school, or if they’ll see a proper doctor about an injury that’s keeping them from the farm.

Malaria is definitely not very much fun. But it’s not going to kill me, and that certainly puts into perspective both how lucky I am and how far we’ve got to go.

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Two Down, One to Go

Friday was my two year anniversary of landing in Ghana! Hard to believe how time flies.

The occasion has had me reflecting on Ghanaian realities. We haven’t had a day in the past two weeks without the power cutting out or the water turning off. Some of the water outages were due to a leaky pipe in the neighbours’ house, which required a plumber’s attention. After a slightly annoying two weeks of running behind the house to turn on the water and then turn it off again after showering or washing dishes, we decided the problem was likely a lack of money and not an unresponsive plumber.  We offered to pay the cost of the repair. Two days later and the water was flowing freely again for a grand total of $5. It’s amazing what people will cope with to save very small sums of money. That small coping mechanism was painfully obvious to us due to its impact on our water supply, but I wonder how many other small inconveniences people in the house deal with every day to save an extra dollar here and there.

At the same time as the hardships there moments of hope. We’ve recently started paying a nearby school to use their irrigated field to play ultimate instead of suffering in the dust bowl that the dry season has created out of our regular field. Our policy is that Ghanaians play for free, but my friend Mark who has had a job as a network technician for just under a year now insisted on paying because he’s now working. Seeing his pride in being able to contribute equally is an expression of exactly what I hope I’m contributing towards with my work here.

Ghana. Some days it is hard not to let the frustration of systems that don’t work completely overwhelm me. On other days it is easy for the vision of the prosperous and vibrant Ghana of tomorrow to outshine the small frustrations of today.

Two down, one to go. Here’s to another year of growth, challenge and successes in this paradox of frustration and hope. Here’s to Ghana, her people and all those working for tomorrow.

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Impact Model Canvas – The Left Side

If the right side of the canvas was about external customers, creativity and value, the left side is all about internal operations and efficiency. As a quick overview, here’s where we left off from last time after filling in the right side:

We’ll start with the Key Resources (KR) required to execute a Value Proposition. These can fall under a variety of categories such as physical resources or infrastructure, financial resources, intellectual resources and last but certainly not least, human resource. In EWB we put a strong emphasis on our human resources, have a fair amount of intellectual resources that we’ve developed over time, and have a very flexible financial resource in the untied funding we receive from so many amazing donors in Canada. While funding also shows up under Revenue Streams, the type of funding we receive is also a key resource for us because we often do work that wouldn’t be funded by money in the conventional development system. It’s thanks to this flexibility that we get to work on so many innovative and interesting new ideas.

For the Agricultural as a Business Program (AAB) that we’ve been following along with, our Key Resources are our human resources (high capacity staff and Junior Fellows) as well as the AAB curriculum itself that was developed over two years with MoFA field staff from all over the Northern and Upper East regions. We also had the flexible funding to test out this idea in the first place.

Next up are our Key Activities (KA). What do we actually need to do in order to make our model work? Activities can often be separated into problem solving, manufacturing or platform building categories. Once we had developed the AAB curriculum, our Key Activities were problem solving adoption and management issues in the districts that were interested in the program, as well as physically manufacturing (printing and laminating) the AAB cards themselves.

On the far left we have Key Partners (KP). These are other actors that you depend on to deliver your value proposition. In our situation it can sometimes feel difficult to separate our customer segments and partners because MoFA seems to fit as both. I would advocate however to keep MoFA on the customer side as much as possible, with Key Partners being other organizations we rely on. Doing the canvas for AAB after the fact made us realize that we lacked a lot in the Key Partners department. Some potential Key Partners to explore might be the outsourcing of the printing and lamination of the AAB cards, or perhaps an organization to run the AAB trainings in districts instead of relying solely on EWB staff.

To finish off our left side of the canvas we’ve got our Cost Structure (C$). This is the balance to our Revenue Streams and identifies the major costs associated with providing the Value Proposition. Where does all the money go?

In the case of AAB the overwhelming cost is EWB staff costs, with some additional costs for transport of staff, training costs and the costs of materials.

And that’s it, we now have our completed canvas! Next up we’ll talk about innovating on impact models using the canvas as a starting point.

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Impact Model Canvas – The Right Side

After a long hiatus I am committing to finishing up these blog posts prior to running a session on the Impact Model Canvas in January at EWB’s National Conference in Ottawa. As another side note, I have since moved on to working with EWB’s Agriculture Value Chains team, so while I will continue to write these posts as related to my work with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, know that I’m now on to different things! You may want a quick refresher by checking out the previous posts in this series at

After introducing the notion of Value Propositions and why they are so important in the previous post we’ll now move on to the right hand side of the canvas, continuing to use the Agriculture as a Business Program (AAB) as our illustrative example.

As I discussed in a strategy sidenote, the customer that we’re serving in our Impact Model Canvas is MoFA. But who in MoFA is our value proposition targeted at? The Customer Segments (CS) building block breaks down our “customers” into specific slices that have different needs. For example, with AAB we were initially focused on finding high capacity Agriculture Extenstion Agents (AEAs) that could implement the AAB program. We also targeted District Directors of Agriculture (DDAs) who would promote the program to their AEAs. Lastly we needed to get the District Agriculture Officers (DAOs) i
Understanding each of our segments and how our Value Proposition works for or with them is key to effectively implementing a sustainable program. The high number of Customer Segments identified is also a risk in this case. The success of our work often depends on the support of all of these groups, meaning we must test our assumptions about how each segment will respond to our service or product before we step back. With AAB we have often found it difficult to retain buy-in and motivation at the supervisor (DAO) level. The value proposition for these district officers who do not work directly with farmers is not very clear, and the task of managing a program is not small. We haven’t figured out this customer segment yet, but hopefully with future work and programs will learn more and better meet their needs.nvolved as they supervise the AEAs that are implementing AAB. These are our Customer Segments, our target audience for our program. Different parts of our Value Proposition appeal to each Customer Segment. I’ve matched up the colours between segments and the components of the Value Proposition that would be most appealing to each segment.

Next up in the canvas is Channels (CH). How do we actually reach our Customer Segmentswith our message and support those that are interested?
Our main channel for AAB are

  • Cost centre meetings at the regional level that we present at
  • Past district experience – we may have had staff or a Junior Fellow in the district before
  • District tours – sometimes carried out just before setting up placements for incoming staff or our summertime Junior Fellows
  • Embedded staff
  • DDA Fellowship – see Erin’s post for more info

In the photo I’ve added coloured bands to match up which Customer Segments we reach through which Channels.

One of the interesting take-aways I had when reading about channels was the need to create space for your customer to evaluate your value proposition. This turned on a lightbulb for me because I don’t think districts spend much time evaluating what we as EWB have to offer. In some ways we look like a handout – a Canadian coming to work in a district for free. Without this evaluation stage there is less of an opportunity for us to clearly communicate what we expect from the district in return if they are to accept our offer. We are looking at building this evaluation phase into our channels in a much more prominent way in the future.

Another important element of any model is our Customer Relationship (CR). What is the face of EWB to someone using AAB? Traditionally this has been an embedded EWB volunteer who is dedicated to implementing and supporting the program in the district. As we transition out of districts and expect them to continue running AAB we will need to add to this block in order to serve ongoing support needs.

The last element on the right side of the canvas to be filled in is the Revenue Streams (R$) that our model generates. This is where things get a bit interesting because as an NGO our revenue doesn’t come from our customers. Instead of complicating things too much we’ll simply fill in this box with our sources of cash – where does the money come from to run AAB? An overwhelming majority of this money comes from our team budget supplied by EWB. Recently there has been a move to try and generate revenue from AAB by consulting for the private sector or the NGO sector in order to finance the work we do with government.

Here is the completed right side of the canvas.

In summary, the right side of the canvas captures the value we’re creating, who we’re creating it for, how we communicate with our “customers” and the channels we use to deliver our value proposition.

Next we’ll move on to the left side of the canvas that describes how we go about generating the value on the right side, and what we need to do it.

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Nasara’s Smile

This is Nasara. NasaraShe is two and lives next door to Erin and I. She spends most of her day running around outside trying to get the attention of her father, our landlord by repeatedly saying “Da! Da!” until he notices. Sometimes when I get home from work, Wuntira her brother is riding his bicycle of about three weeks around and around the yard, over and over. He pauses briefly and greets me “Mr Azundo!” (my local name) and I greet him back. Nasara wants to join in and she attempts a slightly muffled “Aphumdo!” “Azundo!” I say back. “Aphumdo!” she tries again. “Azundo!” I say. “Azumdo!” “Eh-heh!” I say, smiling, (it’s close enough) and she smiles back at me.

The funny thing about two year olds is they are terrible at speaking. It’s funny and it makes us laugh, and it makes them smile and keep trying. Their eyes light up when they finally get it right and everyone celebrates the small success on what seems like an impossibly long journey, especially to someone like me who has been trying to learn Dagbani for the last year. Yet no doubt in three months time or less Nasara will be speaking much better Dagbani than I ever will.

That third not-quite-successful utterance of “Azumdo” and my corresponding positive reinforcement got me thinking about one of my favourite topics: failure. I’ve written about failure in the past and I think coming to terms with it and even promoting our ability to be comfortable with failure is important for both personal development and for finding innovative solutions to the problems we are seeking to solve. But how many times do I encourage others through failure the way I encouraged Nasara? How often do I push someone despite them failing once or twice before on the exact same thing? How often do I just ignore the uncomfortable situation that is another’s failure? That possibly embarrassing admission of incompetence? This is not to say I should be treating people like two-year-olds but bringing the spirit of encouragement and not backing down from failure. How else can we ever hope to make it in our most difficult tasks?

Beyond supporting others I also thought a bit about how I act when I fail. Most people don’t like failing much, and I’m not exception. I’m certainly not smiling and looking for encouragement when I don’t deliver on an objective at work, forget a commitment that I made to someone else, or even just lose at cribbage. It got me wondering about how I can be more child-like in my failures. I need to fail like Nasara fails, with a smile on my face and the resolve to get up and try again. I need to invite encouragement from others who know more or are more skilled than I am and go forward with the same enthusiasm I started with.

Failure is the first step to learning, and expecting to succeed without it seems ridiculous when I think about it. Yet sometimes it is so hard to make that commitment to something I think I will fail at. No matter how I rationalize it there is that emotional connection with failure. Going forward I’m hoping to keep Nasara’s smile at the forefront of my mind and remember that I can smile my way through my failures too.

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