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Stop panicking, and start transforming instead

Applying the five lean manufacturing principles.

Measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 has not only directly impacted the ability of businesses to operate, but has infected them with something even more deadly: uncertainty.

Small and medium-sized businesses are the most vulnerable segment to uncertainty, and manufacturing has been one of the worst-affected industries. Although it can be difficult to stay positive during uncertain times, those business that hope to survive must look beyond the current crisis and focus on those things that do remain in their control. “SMEs should use this time to build more efficient and effective organisations. One way to do this is to apply the five lean manufacturing principles,” says Marten Stavast, Senior Industry Expert in Manufacturing at GroFin, an impact-driven SME financier. He reminds manufacturers of these principles:

1. Define value

Any entrepreneur will agree that the customer always comes first. Lean manufacturing takes this idea beyond customer relations to also put the customer first in the production process. The true value of any product or service is defined by what your customers are willing to pay for it. Your product may seem valuable to you because of the time and resources that went into creating, but its value is determined from the point of view of the customer.

Lean manufacturing begins by determining the needs of the customer. Interviews, surveys, demographic information, and web analytics are some of the tools you can use to determine what your customers want and at what price they can afford it.

2. Map your value stream

Once you know what your customers want and value, you can map your value stream. Use your customer’s value as a starting point and identify all the activities that help to create this value. The goal is to ensure that every activity in your production process adds value to your customer and can be delivered at the price point they want. If an activity does not add value to your customer, it is a waste. If you cut out any unnecessary processes that do not add value, you can reduce production cost while ensuring your customers still get what they want.

3. Create flow

Now that only necessary and value-adding activities remain in your value stream, you should ensure that each step flows smoothly to the next. Interruption and delays in production are no different to waste. A delay is more than just a bottleneck when one production step waits on another – it is any step that takes longer than it has to. You can improve the flow of value-adding activities by breaking down every step of the process and reconfiguring it as efficiently as possible, levelling out the workload, and training your employees to be multi-skilled and adaptive.

4. Establish pull

Stock sitting on your shelves or raw materials piled up in your warehouse is one of the biggest forms of waste in any production system and often places a big drag on cashflow for smaller businesses. This is even more true in the current environment.

A pull-based production system means that you only produce products based on the needs of your customers and only at the time and the quantities needed. Strive to limit your inventory and work in process items to only the materials needed for a smooth workflow. This approach requires ensuring some flexibility in your production process and the current environment, it might just give you the edge as a small business.

Stock sitting on your shelves or raw materials piled up in your warehouse is one of the biggest forms of waste in any production system, and often places a big drag on cashflow for smaller businesses.

5. Pursue perfection

The final step in implementing lean manufacturing is by far the most important. Lean thinking should not be a once-off exercise that you complete now, while times are tough. It should become part of the culture of your company in such a way that every employee strives toward perfection and constantly getting better at meeting customer needs and reducing waste. This will not only set your business apart during times when customers are themselves under financial pressure but also when things improve.

Mend your nets

When this pandemic and the uncertainty it brings have passed, those business owners who spent this time wisely will have built businesses that can remain competitive by increasing the value they deliver to customers. There is a saying that goes “when fishermen cannot go to sea, they mend their nets.” Now is the time for business owners to do this same by using their time to transform their businesses, not just to survive the current storm, but also to look to the future.

This article was first published in the August/September 2020 issue of Your Business Magazine.

Ebony Clinic: Quality healthcare for South Africans with GroFin’s support

With an overwhelming majority of the population at 97.6% consisting of native South Africans, and only half the households having access to piped water, Kaalfontein in Johannesburg is a typical township that is struggling to cater for a high BoP population.

While townships are economically and politically significant in South Africa, they continue to lurk on the margins of neighbouring urban core economies, unable to attract much-needed private investment for essential services such as healthcare.

Kaalfontein found the answer to its prayers in Thabo Lewatle, an established entrepreneur with sound experience in managing peri-urban health clinics in South Africa, who founded Ebony Clinic in Kaalfontein in 2010.

Having run Ebony Clinic successfully for the last 6 years, Thabo wished to reach out to the community with a best-in-class maternity ward. With 31.7% of households in Kaalfontein being headed by females, the importance of maternal care cannot be emphasised enough.

By early 2016, having worked hard on getting the complex maternity building plans approved by the concerned authorities and committed considerable own capital towards the construction of a new maternity ward, Thabo needed a dedicated partner to provide the start-up expenses and initial working capital for the maternity ward’s operation.

GroFin provided both finance and support to make the maternity ward operational and help me realise my vision of providing affordable healthcare to expecting mothers in my community,” says Thabo.

On business support, the GroFin South Africa team identified areas of assistance on the occupational health and safety (OH&S)succession planning as well as administrative fronts.

Being a healthcare facility, the maternity ward poses significant risks such as exposure to infectiondiseasehazardous materials and waste for both patients and staff. GroFin is helping the entrepreneur implement a more robust OH&S plan. On the succession planning front, it was identified that a General Practitioner License is required in place of the current clinic license, with the team set to support the entrepreneur with placing either of the two other licensed doctors on the payroll as a license holder for the maternity ward. Finally, Medical Claim administration processes have also been identified as a business support area, since claims administration was so far being done by untrained staff. Based on GroFin’s assistance, a supervisor has been appointed and the Medical Claims software has also been upgraded.

With GroFin’s finance and support, Ebony Clinic reaches out to 19,000 patients each year and employs 15 members from the local community, sustaining multiple livelihoods in the Kaalfontein township.

Impact Investing & Education–Learning to make a difference in Africa

Africa’s education story is waiting to be written, but whether it will be written by Africa’s children is a pressing question that haunts the emerging continent.

Consider this – Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) still has 30 million children out of school, and tertiary education is suffering from severe capacity constraints. SSA is also the worst-performing region globally for educational quality and learning outcomes, with up to 40% of children not meeting basic learning outcomes in literacy and numeracy. Moreover, by 2035, the number of Africans joining the workforce (15–64) will exceed that of the rest of the world combined, but SSA’s education systems are not meeting workforce needs.

Sounds like a challenge for any government? It certainly is, and one that no government can possibly rise to. A report highlighting the key role that the private sector is poised to play in Africa’s education landscape then comes as a fitting response to this challenge, replete with a powerful foreword by Liberia’s President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

This definitive report by Caerus Capital is aptly titled “The Business of Education in Africa”, focusing as it does on the contribution of the private sector and on how government can act as the steward of the whole education system.

“The Business of Education in Africa” paints the current landscape of private education in Sub-Saharan Africa, goes on to discuss how African governments can better engage with private education players, highlights opportunities for investing in private education in SSA and delves deep into case studies of interesting companies in education in SSA. It ends with case studies of the education market in South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Senegal & Liberia that may well be some of the most comprehensive insights into the education markets of these key African economies as on date.

While Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 mandates that governments have and must continue to commit to access to a free, quality education for children, statistics highlight that around one billion African children will need to be educated over the coming three decades. Keeping pace with this demand requires enormous investment in schools, universities, and other infrastructure; recruitment and training of teachers, school leaders, and support staff; and learning materials. Public education systems will struggle to keep up with this unprecedented increase in demand.

Private sector education is then key to unlock the potential of this vital sector, and meet the rising tide of demand that otherwise threatens to engulf the continent’s children in a sea of darkness.

The report notes that the private sector is already playing a significant role in SSA. While publicly reported data compiled by UNESCO indicates that the private sector has a share of 13.5% in the education sector across 15 countries, the report’s own surveys indicate that the actual share of private schooling might be 21% (or one in five pupils), and this number is only set to rise (to one in four) over the next five years.

However, this enormous opportunity comes with the significant challenge of financing private players in education, with the report identifying a private investment requirement of US$16–$18 billion over the next five years.

The report highlights that education makes for a compelling investment opportunity because it delivers wider benefits in the form of high individual, social, and economic returns, and investors & donors are consequently willing to secure lower financial returns, or even a purely social return on investment.

Impact investing that focuses on social returns over purely financial returns then comes to mind as a lasting solution to the financing woes of private sector schools. While impact investing is a nascent field and impact investors in Africa are few and far between, some stories of positive change in local communities are already being written.

Be it Kenya’s Nairobi International SchoolTanzania’s Daystar SchoolRwanda’s Highland SchoolGhana’s Firm Foundation or South Africa’s Zambesi Akademie, these small businesses hailing from across the African education landscape have one strong link that binds them all — GroFin.