Photo: SABMiller

Helping Small Businesses Thrive in Africa

Helping Small Businesses Thrive in Africa

I recently had the pleasure of meeting a group of small retailers in Colombia, women and men from among the 780,000 “tenderos” in SABMiller’s value chain in Latin America. The purpose of the visit was to learn more about the “4e Camino al Progreso” (4e) programme developed by my Latin American colleagues together with their partners. 4e is a capacity building programme that aims to support small retailers to improve their businesses and leverage their leadership skills to work on behalf of their communities.

For some time, we in the Africa business have been observing the programme, from a distance. Having the opportunity to finally hear and learn more about it from the tenderos themselves was out of this world. It was particularly inspiring to learn that their key objective is not only to improve their own businesses, but also to make a significant contribution to the communities in which they live.

Through our Go Farming program, we already work with tens of thousands of farmers, providing them with new markets and helping to improve their access to skills and markets and therefore increase their yields and incomes. The business benefit for us comes in the short term from securing a reliable supply of local brewing materials, but over the longer term from contributing to the prosperity of the communities where we operate. When they prosper, so will our business.

The beauty of this programme is that it creates a win-win-win virtuous cycle, in a sustainable manner. The farming communities win because they get access to secure markets for their produce. Governments win because these projects create employment, alleviate poverty and substitute imports. Our businesses win because we have secure local supplies that are hedged from currency fluctuations. No amount of philanthropy can achieve that, certainly not sustainably and at scale.

We are now working to develop new programmes to support our small retailer customers across Africa. That is why we have been so eager to learn from the process that our Latin American colleagues have been through to understand and help meet the needs of small retailers; and in doing so to contribute to the growth of our own business.

As with the Go Farming Programme, we are again not creating a CSR programme. In addition, in both cases, we are looking to put the needs of small businesses at the core of the way we do business. As a business rooted in Africa, we have long been conscious of the potential we have to catalyse and enhance development. A recent study of the impact that our business has in Africa found that for every person we employ in sub-Saharan Africa, 56 additional jobs are supported – a total of 765,000 jobs across the region.

So we are working with the sales teams in Africa to understand the issues where we might be able to enhance our value proposition to retailers. As part of this process, we want to learn more about the hopes and dreams of the small retailers in our value chain – an important step in our journey to understand how we can best contribute to the success of our small business partners. As in Latin America, we will look to combine a regional approach with one that is tailored to the specific needs of each country.

I am excited about the impact we can have – not only on these small businesses, but also on our business. Our view is that as small businesses in our value chain prosper, then so will we. For many years, I have worked in the core operations of our business, in Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and South Africa among other places. Through the years I have witnessed first-hand the importance of thriving small businesses to securing our supply, growing sales, reducing risk and building a long-term consumer base. Thinking more deeply about how we relate to retailers dovetails into the work my sales colleagues have been doing on implementing a route to market transformation process.

I am convinced that supporting small retailers in Africa will have huge benefits. Spending time with the tenderos of the Rafael Uribe neighbourhood in Bogota only confirmed what I have long believed: that thriving small businesses are the backbone of local communities and economies.

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