Challenges is an international business consultancy that delivers enterprising solutions to global challenges. We have three broad aims: to support small and medium-sized enterprises to improve and expand; to enable support ecosystems to work better; and to drive enterprise collaborations that address complex challenges. Training and employment for marginalised groups is a major consideration here.
Since 1999, we have worked with governments, businesses and agencies in the public and private sectors, delivering operational and advisory services, including technical expertise, business training, and practical tools. In that time we have supported more than 3000 enterprises to grow and perform better across 66 countries.
From our offices in Scotland, Ghana, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia we specialise in working with small and growing businesses, industry organisations and global organisations. We have an international team of 50 consultants and a wider pool of several hundred associates who work on a diverse programme of providing impactful business solutions to address systemic challenges in developing economies.
At the heart of Challenges is a desire to deliver innovative and disruptive solutions. This includes supporting UK-based businesses to access opportunities and market linkages in emerging economies. An example of this is our Access Africa Programme (AAP), a pioneering initiative that supports Scottish social enterprises to export their impact overseas.
Supported by the Scottish Government, the AAP works with social enterprises, charities and ethically driven businesses to bring their products, expertise or models to new audiences and providing positive social and environmental impact.
Delivered by Challenges in Edinburgh, and through our offices in Accra, Lilongwe, Kigali, Kampala and Lusaka, the AAP provides social enterprises with overseas practical support by way of market insights, staffing and access to management consultants, business development support, commercial linkages, and legal and regulatory advice. As well as on-the-ground market data sourced through its local teams and networks, the AAP also provides other elements of the Challenges offering, including pilot testing, operational support, direct partnerships, management and leadership training, and commercial collaborations. The AAP is working with social enterprises including Clean Water Wave, Giraffe Healthcare, Elpis Solar and Lilypads, and continues to seek to work with ambitious, outward-focused social businesses and organisations.
Enabling ecosystem improvements
Challenges also partners with organisations such as the Uganda Solar Energy Association, the UN International Organization for Migration, Private Enterprise Programme Zambia and Standard Chartered Bank, to name but a few. These collaborative projects range from in-depth capacity assessments of the Ugandan solar market to investment-readiness programmes for social businesses and a youth-facing initiative that trains young graduates and places them into growth-capable enterprises.
In south-east Asia, we worked with a leading INGO to support the change-management of local offices to become self-sustaining and more focused on enterprise creation and entrepreneurial support.
In Scotland, Challenges is one of the lead partners of the Montgomery Street Lane enterprise hub, and it works closely with the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations to deliver a management and leadership programme to senior personnel from a wide range of third sector organisations. Over the past three years Challenges has supported more than 50 senior managers within the Scottish third sector to achieve accredited management qualifications by improving their management practice. Outcomes ranged from succession planning to providing senior management training and support. The vast majority (95%) of the participants linked the training and accreditation with improved performance within their organisations; while all the participants said they had a better understanding of their own management style and how to adapt this to meet the needs of their organisations.
Globally, Challenges has supported 500 managers and business leaders through accredited learning qualifications and more than 10,000 people through our training programmes in 15 countries.
Addressing complex challenges
Challenges also manages larger and more complex long-term projects involving multiple stakeholders. These include our Scottish Government-funded Creating Robust Opportunities for Crop Production and Sale (CROPS) programme in Malawi and our Coffee Market Building for Peace and Prosperity project in Rwanda.
The five-year CROPS project, which launched in October 2018, aims at improving livelihoods of more than 6200 rural farmers in four districts, Nkhotakota, Salima, Machinga and Chikwawa. The project is working with four Value Addition Centres (VACs) to improve the value chains of a range of crops, and seeks to increase household incomes of more than 6000 participating rural farmers by 10% by 2023.
Challenges Malawi is supporting the four VACs in business and co-operative development through promotion of value addition and processing activities, access to finance, access to reliable markets, and institutional capacity building. Furthermore, the Lilongwe team are also working with farmers in 10 irrigation schemes to increase productivity of their crops and enhance aggregation of crops for value addition. One significant achievements of the CROPS project is the increased rice yield from 2.5 tonnes to 4 tonnes per hectare, representing a 60% increase in yield. The results of this project have been so successful that within its first year members of the Lilongwe team were invited to present the programme and its results to officials in Malawi’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development.
Launched in partnership with the Scottish Fair Trade Forum in 2017, the Coffee Market Building for Peace and Prosperity project is a five-year initiative that supports eight coffee co-operatives and their communities in Rwanda’s western and southern regions. The co-ops have a collective membership of about 5100. The project, which is also supported by Enactus and Matthew Algie Coffee, is increasing the capacity of the coffee co-operatives by delivering business, management and leadership training; improving quality control; streamlining and better enabling infrastructural and operational processes; widening access to international markets; encouraging the adoption of clean tech innovations; and working with communities, particularly women and young people, to overcome systemic barriers to economic growth.
Halfway through the programme, the Rwandan Coffee Project has so far supported the co-ops to: increase volumes exported by 15% in the first three years of the project; support the improvements of each co-op’s “cupping” score (measure of coffee bean quality) to in excess of 85, and thereby achieving the “speciality coffee” accolade; enabling partnerships with ethical lenders resulting to new financial products for smaller project cooperatives; catalysing the creation of five new start-ups; facilitating international market access, including sales visits and/or representation in Scotland and global trade fairs, and introductions to more than 15 new commercial buyers; and the training of more than 800 co-op staff, farmers and community representatives in areas including management and leadership; quality control; access to finance; and entrepreneurialism.
As well as the aforementioned, the wider benefits of the project include increased economic diversification through job creation for young people and women; access to clean energy for households; environmental improvements for the co-ops, including waste water treatment plants; partnerships with gender-based violence training organisations to reduce the impact of GBV and teenage pregnancies in order to improve the social and economic inclusion of women in Rwandan society; and supporting youth network building in communities, engaging more than 800 young people and providing access to business training and other opportunities.