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ICS: ‘business approach’ in development
“Economic development at local level”
In-depth knowledge of agriculture, water management and other areas, combined with a fresh approach of current problems, can go a long way in Africa. ‘Development the entrepreneurial way’ is the signature of the work of ICS (Investing in Children and their Societies) on the continent.
Farming is hard work, even more so in many African countries. With the right materials, expert advice and small loans, corn farmers in Kenya can get up to four times more from their fields, says Ronald Messelink, Managing Director of ICS, an NGO for social entrepreneurship in African (and Asian) communities and the preservation of children’s rights. “From experience we know that development projects – for farming, schools, water or anything else – can collapse in time. This happens when people in communities do not feel responsible, and valuable assets are given to the people without expecting something in return. We experienced that social projects can only work in combination with economic development at a local level.”
The ICS organisation´s approach, which is supported by experts from enterprises and retired entrepreneurs, has proven to be successful. Messelink: “In western Kenya we educated groups of 10 to 20 farmers of corn and vegetables. We offered them better seeds and fertilisers on small loans, to be refunded after the harvest. We taught them new methods to use instead of the extremely inefficient practices that they had already used for ages. We managed to make them abandon the traditional ways of selling their crops at the time all farmers sell – at a low price. With the new approach, they now manage to store their crops for weeks and months, on a central location, a get more money for it in the end. The farmers also succeed in buying better seeds in off-peak periods.” Messelink stresses that farmers have to pass a serious selection process. “They really need to be extremely motivated to become part of a farmers group.”
The ICS format also works in water projects. Installing pumps in Kenyan villages sometimes may not be enough to guarantee continuity. “We include the business principle to make the initiative sustainable and make sure a water pump is properly maintained. After we have invested in the pump and the necessary features, we make sure somebody runs the facility as a water company. The water is not for free, all villagers can get it at a small fee, which brings in the money for maintenance and helps earn a living for the water entrepreneur. We have successfully introduced the concept in Cambodia and are looking for international partners to do the same in Africa.”
Injecting business sense into African development requires experienced experts as well as determined business partners. “Getting projects funded and supported with materials and money is a challenge. A positive development is that western enterprises view Africa as an upcoming market. Some companies view a contribution to social entrepreneurial projects as a first step to their commercial market entry on the continent. A new approach that we welcome.”
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