Tuesday May 21 2019
The room is unassuming, with pale blue walls and sunlight that filters in from the open door. Inside, Babatundé Oguidi meticulously arranges biodegradable bags and boxes on a large wooden table. A massive chalkboard covers one wall, filled with a seemingly endless list of new and completed orders. On the opposite wall, the company’s mission statement is displayed proudly: “Our goal is to supply the agri-food, industrial, and commercial sectors with packaging products of a quality level.”
I met 25-year-old Babatundé in Parakou, Benin, last month. Parakou is the largest city in northern Benin and the second-largest city in the country. Five years ago, Babatundé and two of his friends started Ola-Bio Benin, a company with the mission of providing biodegradable packaging for businesses in Parakou. Today, Ola-Bio Benin employs 12 people and is growing rapidly. Standing in the room where Babatundé and his colleagues produce their products, I listened to his story and couldn’t help but feel simultaneously energized and inspired.
“With BeniBiz, we had the happiness to better manage and control our finances. This allowed us to strengthen our working capital, increase our income, and ensure the regular payment of wages.” –Babatundé Oguidi
Growing up as a passionate advocate for the environment, Babatundé knew that Benin had a plastic problem. He only had to walk down his street on any given day to see massive amounts of discarded plastic bags, bottles, and other materials. While pursuing his degree in finance and accounting, Babatundé learned about the possibility of developing biodegradable packaging. Seeing an opportunity to reduce plastic waste and earn a good living, he decided to start his own packaging business. But the road to success was not easy.
When Babatundé started the business in 2015, he was highly motivated, but did not have the business skills and marketing connections to run a profitable business. His small team of three ran into challenges, such as competition from large international manufacturers, insufficient capital, and lack of affordable raw materials.
Babatundé (left) and two of his colleagues share examples of their biodegradable packaging.
In July 2018, TechnoServe began working with Babatundé through the BeniBiz program, a business accelerator that seeks to harness the power of entrepreneurship to create economic opportunities for young people in Benin. The program, which is funded by the Dutch and Swiss governments, provided training for Babatundé and his colleagues on business management, customer outreach, marketing, and networking. Since participating in the program, Babatundé has been able to improve his relationship with customers through systematic Facebook reminders and post-sale follow-ups.
“The identification of new suppliers of raw materials led to a 26 percent savings on the cost of materials, which has allowed us to lower selling prices and be more competitive.” –Babatundé Oguidi
“With BeniBiz, we had the happiness to better manage and control our finances,” Babatundé tells me. “This allowed us to strengthen our working capital, increase our income, and ensure the regular payment of wages.”
Babatundé spoke with great zeal about his vision for the company and how his business has grown since he took part in the BeniBiz program. In the last year, Ola-Bio Benin has more than tripled in size, and with TechnoServe’s assistance, Babatundé found new suppliers that offered raw materials at lower prices.
“The identification of new suppliers of raw materials led to a 26 percent savings on the cost of materials, which has allowed us to lower selling prices and be more competitive,” Babatundé says.
With the additional revenue, Babatundé hopes to invest in upgraded equipment, such as cutting molds that would reduce production and delivery time. Eventually, he would also like to expand Ola-Bio Benin to a bigger space, allowing him to take on even more projects and reach new markets outside Parakou.
I left my visit with Babatundé more certain than ever of the role and impact of TechnoServe’s work. As an organization, our goal is to serve as a partner and a catalyst, giving people the tools and information they need to achieve success today, tomorrow, and every day after.
I have a 17-year-old daughter at home. She is also a passionate advocate for the environment and constantly reminds all of us how we can use less plastic in our daily lives. I hope that she will be as fearless in achieving her goals and helping her community as Babatundé Oguidi in Parakou.
This article was previously featured on Technoserve's website and is reproduced with permission.