Think and act for entrepreneurship in Africa

Côte d’Ivoire

Digital technology to increase school success rates in Africa

It is October 2018, 18 years since I left the school where I spent all my secondary education from the 6th grade to 12th grade. It was the local school…

It is October 2018, 18 years since I left the school where I spent all my secondary education from the 6th grade to 12th grade. It was the local school in the largest municipality of Abidjan, a large municipality with a high population density, but also and especially significant a school with a high student/teacher ratio, at that time: 80 pupils per class on average. In 2018 I found it split into 2 parts for better management of the excessive number of students, but in the same old buildings dating back more than 30 years.

Enthusiasm and nostalgia perfectly reflected my feelings when I go to present my project, a heart-felt project of great ambition: to raise the success rate for the Baccalaureate (at age  18) examination of this school, which is around 30%, similar to the Cote d’Ivoire national average for the Baccalaureate (40% on average over the last 5 years).

My name is Christelle HIEN-KOUAME, marketing and communication engineer, I have been an entrepreneur for 9 years in the field of communication and marketing, and I am passionate about the education offered to students in my country and my continent.

Help to raise the national school examination success rate, is it not too ambitious a goal?

Work in the education field is exciting and demands commitment because it concerns everybody – from the educational level of household employees to the professional performance of the employees in a firm, we are all impacted. So, for my part, it is essential to contribute in our way and with our means.

The project – www.prenezlesfeuilles.com

The initial project was to offer students a revision toolbox, a digital collection of homework and exams from the best schools in Côte d’Ivoire to:

– Prepare them to do well in their homework and exams, with tools adapted and customized: Homework and exams are defined by a school schedule in our education system

– Give them back their self-confidence, because, in reality, a child in the 3rd grade of a school well graded in the capital does not have the same level as a student in the same cycle in another part of the country!

Having defined my two primary objectives, I turned to digital solutions to offer an accessible, reliable, and innovative approach to the students. I started without any digital experience, and with only the funds of my communication agency. I collected homework from all disciplines and from institutions which had at least 70% success rate in the Baccalaureate.

My project was born. It was stolen in a neighboring country, and was therefore renamed one year later as www.prenezlesfeuilles.com, was officially presented to the authorities (Ministry of National Education), was appreciated, and finally allowed to be spread to students in all schools in the country. The difficulties of its beginning have given it more resilience, and more objectives to achieve. Making homework and exams available to students became restrictive. We had to offer more alternatives to encourage them to do their homework challenge them, motivate them to surpass themselves regardless of their series or disciplines chosen, and do better than we did in the past.

Evolution of the project

After an analysis of the success factors, one key factor seemed irrefutable (other than the environment and motivation): learning tools.

We then integrated three important tools to the platform: Motivation by reward by offering gifts for quizzes or exercises performed correctly within a given time frame, Orientation assistance by talking about jobs with different people, and enriching experiences, and Small general culture broadcasts on WhatsApp.

In August 2019 www.prenezlesfeuilles was acquired by ENEZA EDUCATION, a technology company, initiator of another innovative educational service via mobile that offers tutorials and quizzes via the SMS channel of mobile phones. Today, the Cote d’Ivoire student has access to the lessons of the entire school program explained in tutorials, and with quizzes allowing them to test their knowledge. The website www.prenezlesfeuilles.com helps students to prepare for future tests based on homework already done in the best institutions in the country.

The next challenge is to make this solution better known to all students and parents throughout the country and to prove its real impact on subscribers’ academic results.

I love to take challenges up! Like when I was 18 and I was the only girl in a science final year class in a high school in the commune of Yopougon (a working-class district in Abidjan), and succeeded at the Baccalaureate. Or like the challenge 9 years ago when I resigned from my job to set up as a young entrepreneur, and I had to assume my choice and everything that entailed. Taking up challenges is not for euphoria or pleasure but giving back a part of what we have graciously received from the family, the State and society. Because giving back is to be more alive!

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How businesses bounce back after conflicts: lessons from Côte d’Ivoire

Ibrahima Dosso and Florian Léon for The Conversation. For developing countries to have lasting development, they must have economic systems that are resilient to shocks such as climate change, natural…

Ibrahima Dosso and Florian Léon for The Conversation.

For developing countries to have lasting development, they must have economic systems that are resilient to shocks such as climate change, natural disasters and conflict.

Recent research has focused on evaluating the long-term effects of these potential economic shocks, and how to mitigate them. For example, several studies highlighted the fact that natural disasters and violent conflict have long-term effects on households.

In a recent study we looked at the resilience of businesses in Côte d’Ivoire after the 2010-2011 electoral crisis. Businesses play a vital role in Côte d’Ivoire’s economy. Small to medium-sized businesses alone employ nearly half the working population and account for around 20% of the country’s GDP. Yet few studies have looked at the mid to long-term effects of adverse shocks on businesses.

Côte d’Ivoire endured a protracted crisis when the incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to leave office following his defeat to Alassane Ouattara in the presidential run-off election of 2010. This resulted in widespread violence. The death toll has been put at over 3 000 and the number of displaced people at 700 000. The political standoff ended in April 2011 when military forces loyal to President Ouattara arrested Gbagbo.

We found that businesses did indeed recover, but that there were disparities in how quickly they did based on their size. For example, businesses more able to rebound tended to be those that were smaller (10 employees or less) or those that had access to credit.

After a shock

Although economic activity may contract following a shock, it does not disappear.

Extreme events tend to stimulate the development of informal economic activity. In addition, surviving businesses may benefit from a massive influx of external aid (financial, human and material), or the disappearance of competition. The effects can be differentiated according to the specific characteristics of the businesses and according to their sector.

Despite the brevity of Côte d’Ivoire’s conflict, it had profound consequences. Economic activity was severely disrupted, with an embargo on many exports, the closure of banks, and limited access to certain goods – such as medicines and fuels.

After Gbagbo’s arrest, fighting rapidly died down and the economy was able to recover in the post-crisis years.

Our study involved monitoring the activity of all formal businesses in Côte d’Ivoire (both local and foreign) from two years before the crisis to three years afterward. This enabled us to gain an understanding of how businesses bounced back from the crisis.

Our results show that three years after the crisis, businesses had made up only half of their productivity losses. However, this average masks large individual disparities.

There are several reasons why smaller companies with less than 10 employees were able to bounce back more quickly.

First of all, smaller organisations are more flexible in the face of an uncertain future. Secondly, they are more oriented towards local markets, making them less sensitive to disturbances in infrastructure. Their management system is also far simpler, enabling them to adapt more quickly to changes in the market, and to logistical challenges.

Conversely, businesses with foreign investment, which are more externally oriented and therefore require access to foreign markets (ports and roads), suffered more than local businesses, both during and after the crisis.

These businesses were weakened by restricted access to external markets, in terms of both inputs and sales. Furthermore, they were probably hit particularly hard by the exodus of foreign workers.

Our study provides two other interesting results relating to previous research.

First, businesses using more highly qualified workers or employing more executives were particularly affected. This is because many qualified workers come from neighbouring countries, or more distant ones, such as France, and were the first to flee when the violence began. Many probably never went back.

Access to financing is a major advantage

Our research also highlighted the importance of access to capital to help with business recovery.

The businesses that were the least restricted financially prior to the crisis bounced back with the most ease. Banks suffering from the effects of the crisis probably favoured their older clients over other businesses. Banks in Côte d’Ivoire suffered an increase in delinquent loans in 2011, according to data from the banking commission of the West African Monetary Union (WAMU).

This result confirms a study on Sri Lankan businesses after the December 2004 tsunami, which showed that financial aid enabled a quicker economic recovery.

Helpful insights

Our research sheds interesting light on the construction of resilient economic systems. While calling on qualified workers and executives is crucial for business development, it can be a source of vulnerability when a shock occurs. Businesses that are too dependent on a small number of individual employees can be severely affected by their death or flight.

It is therefore important to find tools to mitigate these vulnerabilities by developing training for executives, engineers and technicians to grow the available pool of human resources, and by encouraging the return and re-training of these workers following a sudden shock (conflict or natural disaster).

Quick access to capital is also crucial for economic recovery. Emergency tools, such as IMF emergency loans, can be developed to facilitate the targeting and granting of loans post-crisis.

Furthermore, banking regulations can also be adjusted for extreme situations. For instance, a moratorium on capital ratios could be considered to enable banks to continue to finance current activity.

Lastly, it appears vital to extend this reflection beyond the banking sector (to insurance and capital investment companies, for example) and to use technological advances (such as mobile banking and fintechs) to mobilise and allocate funds in an efficient and cost-effective way.

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Improving health services through entrepreneurship: the case of the clinic PROCRÉA

Based in Abidjan, the clinic PROCRÉA offers a range of medical services dedicated to reproductive health. Founded in 2008, it stands as the leader in Côte d’Ivoire for medically assisted…

Based in Abidjan, the clinic PROCRÉA offers a range of medical services dedicated to reproductive health. Founded in 2008, it stands as the leader in Côte d’Ivoire for medically assisted reproduction, a technique that allows people who have difficulty having a child to successfully give birth. Popularizing this practice and making it accessible to the greatest number of people is at the heart of the vision of the clinic’s founder and current director, Dr. Myriam Kadio-Morokro BROU. A brief review of her career path, the obstacles she encountered and her motivations.

 

A career dedicated to medicine… and entrepreneurship

At the head of the clinic PROCRÉA, Myriam Kadio-Morokro Brou serves two functions: that of a doctor and that of a company manager. “Basically, I did not see myself working as a civil servant, which is the usual career path for healthcare practitioners in Côte d’Ivoire. Today I combine the two aspects of my activity, both of which fascinate me: practicing my profession as a doctor and managing the clinic as an entrepreneur.”

“I have always believed that entrepreneurship is essential to improve people’s living conditions. It is obvious in the sector of reproduction: it is a research profession, which requires us to move forward with our time and take certain risks”

Myriam Brou pursued her medical studies in Abidjan, where she completed a thesis on the biology of reproduction. She then moved to France to specialize in this area. At the Pierre and Marie Curie Faculty of Medicine, she specialized in reproductive biology, sterility therapy, molecular cytogenetics, and worked in several hospitals and laboratories. But her return to Côte d’Ivoire has always been an evidence:

“There is no reason that such fundamental practices should not be available in Africa! When I returned to Côte d’Ivoire in 2005, I decided to create a fertility center based on the European model but adapted to African realities.”

 

A private initiative with high impact

PROCRÉA’s offer is unique in Côte d’Ivoire, where there are very few local private initiatives in the health sector. This is explained by the fact that the vast majority of Ivorian doctors are civil servants. “Few doctors here have what we could call the “entrepreneurial spirit”, compared for example to Anglophone African countries. It is often difficult for us to find the right profiles, and recruitment is one of our main problems. The training component is essential within our team, which now has about fifty people”.

Specialized in reproductive health, PROCRÉA is working on a controversial subject, linked to many taboos in Côte d’Ivoire and the sub-region. “We are talking of delicate, sometimes intimate issues… which can also challenge certain beliefs. For example, it is still not very well understood that infertility can come from men, especially in rural areas. Mentalities are changing, but it takes time. One thing is sure: the needs are real!”

PROCREA expands access to medically assisted reproduction while guaranteeing the same standards as in North Africa or Europe. The patients are mainly from the middle class, and most of them would not have been able to afford to be treated abroad. The clinic is also looking to make this care accessible to the “lower” classes. The current reflection focuses in particular on microfinance, which could be a way to finance, at least partially, the treatment and follow-up provided by PROCREA.

 

The Clinic PROCRÉA is an interesting example of a private initiative seeking to improve local living conditions and healthcare access. Overcoming certain obstacles linked to the context (taboos, recruitment, financing, etc.), the clinic has become a leader in reproductive, maternal and child health in the past ten years. This success is due to the will of its founder, but also to the relevance of its care offer.

 

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