Growing Small Businesses Through Employee Volunteering

By [Josh Bicknell], CEO and Co-Founder, Balloon Ventures and [Rachael Barber], Head of Community Development, Citi EMEA

In 2016 Citi partnered with Balloon Ventures and VSO to launch the Volunteer Africa programme, where bankers work with high potential micro businesses in East Africa, providing support and advice to help them grow. Balloon’s insight and impact team reflect on progress made and lessons learned.

By Josh Bicknell, CEO and Co-Founder, Balloon Ventures and Rachael Barber, Head of Community Development, Citi EMEA

In April 2016, Citi partnered with Balloon Ventures (Balloon) and VSO to launch the Volunteer Africa programme where bankers work with high potential micro businesses in East Africa, providing support and advice to help them grow.

For Citi, this programme came out of a desire to support communities in East Africa, a geography where Citi has a strong presence. Citi’s citizenship objectives revolve around promoting economic progress for low income communities. Using the skills of Citi’s junior bankers to support small entrepreneurs is a powerful way to achieve that goal.

The economic need for this programme was also clear. In Kenya roughly 75% of the working population are employed through micro businesses in the informal sector. Many of these businesses have great potential to grow and become the SMEs of tomorrow. However, these entrepreneurs are often ignored and their businesses fail to achieve their full potential. Therefore, it was exciting to see how support from passionate and skilled volunteers would enable progress and economic development.

But importantly this programme also worked because Citi saw a strong business case for their investment – the potential to support efforts to recruit, retain and develop the best talent.

Like many firms, Citi seeks to attract and retain a diverse and talented workforce. Increasingly on campus, graduates are making it clear that they want the firm they choose to work for to contribute positively to society and give them opportunities to impact communities in a positive way. Volunteer Africa is one of a number of opportunities that Citi offers in response to this motivation. Equally important is the unique learning opportunity that Volunteer Africa provides for Citi’s future leaders. The optimal source of learning is based on job-related experiences, with 70% of knowledge and skills developed in that way. Volunteer Africa provides an incredible learning experience touching on a wide range of skills from relationship building to problem solving to team work. Participants also get a better understanding of the way economies work in places like Uganda and Kenya. Therefore, this programme represented a win-win from both a philanthropic and business perspective.

Balloon Ventures managed the programme on the ground and over 4 weeks, 12 Analysts and Associates from Citi EMEA Corporate and Investment Bank worked in Nakuru, Kenya. Armed with the skills they had developed at Citi and with additional training provided by Balloon, the team set out to transfer learning and empower 8 entrepreneurs to scale their businesses. Volunteers could be found mapping out business models, talking to stakeholders in the value chain, or crunching numbers to identify optimal growth opportunities. At the end of the programme, the entrepreneurs pitched for investment and low interest loans were provided to turn the entrepreneurs’ dreams into reality. 

Today we are happy to share the impact report of the 2016 programme. We offer insights about the programme as well as broader learnings around the informal sector in Kenya and how to design programmes to effectively grow SMEs.

Overall, the programme was a huge success. For entrepreneurs, 80% reported an increase in customers and business efficiency during the programme, and 9 months after there was on average a 26% increase in customers and a 53% increase in profit with 18 full time or part time jobs created.

For the 12 Citi volunteers, there were big increases in skills like creative thinking, project management, coaching, resilience and client engagement meaning they returned to Citi as better employees.

The shared value of this programme is exciting, providing value to Citi as a business through attracting talent, providing value to employees through developing their skills and experiences, and providing excellent and measurable development impact by growing small businesses in East Africa. 

From these small beginnings, the programme has grown with 24 Citi employees working in Uganda in 2017 and a larger programme scheduled for 2018. 

We welcome you to read the report here

For questions, please feel free to contact:

ra************@ci**.com (Citi)

jo**@ba*************.com (Balloon)

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