At the close of a long day, Songhai's Managing Partner Nana
Ampofo and Social Impact Director Lord-Gustav Togobo go back and
forth about the challenges facing impact-oriented clients investing
in Ghana. At the top of the list, it turns out, are 'soft'
issues surrounding communication between investors and principals,
principals and customers – four of which are laid out
Trust: Rentier economics in our countries is
well-documented and as such, investors are likely to touch down in
Accra and drive to the project site accompanied by concerns about
self-interested officialdom. However, local stakeholders will often
have a similarly low opinion of the 'outsiders' –
informed by their experience of programmes or investments quoted in
the millions, high living standards of expatriate staff and the
slow pace of progress. 'Out of the total committed, more is
going to personnel pretending to work than anything else' is a
typical refrain. The result is a 'them and us' culture
which, if not addressed properly, can harm the quality of
communication, warp relations and working practices.
Expectations: And yet, and yet. Prevailing
incentives in major impact-oriented sectors such as agriculture,
healthcare and social housing can be an impediment to productivity.
For example, as stated by a policy adviser at a recent Savannah
Development Authority (SADA) dialogue, business pipelines are
distorted by government waivers. There can also be an expectation
of 'handouts', which, if denied, might create a
constituency that will work to frustrate the proposed intervention
or at the very least, not assist.
Disjointed Strategies: There is no
shortage of individuals launching businesses in Ghana with an
implicit and real commitment to creating social goods such as
healthcare or jobs for communities that need them. They are
motivated by profit certainly but alongside that are goals for
society at large. However, at times, fear of alienating categories
of investor or customer will create distortions or contradictions
in business plans or marketing strategies.
How to Say No: Generally-speaking, there is an
aversion in our community to delivering the word, 'no'.
Points one, two and three above notwithstanding, local partners are
often reluctant to display their disagreement directly. With
everyone bending over backward to be polite, clients may miss
opportunities to get on the same page as their stakeholders.
Instead, things just will not happen as expected or seemingly
In this context, it is important that clients prioritise
culture and that they adopt a listening posture concerning internal
and external stakeholders. Learning how others have made it work,
or failed, taking time to build trust and understand the terrain
– in other words 'local intelligence' – are
equally key. Finally, in deciding how to engage, bear a Songhai
maxim in mind, 'you will spend money or you will spend
time'. In setting strategy, it is safer to keep that
expectation in mind than to seek short-cuts to making a profit and
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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