Setting the Context
International companies are often keen to engage services from small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and smaller businesses in the countries they operate in. Local firms seeking to build their market are looking for opportunities to bid for tenders, but it is difficult for them to know how to access opportunities. Each party may be invisible to the other.
IIA Kenya was established in 2015, based on the IIA model first established in Ghana, to enable trade between large companies, SMEs and small and growing businesses (SGBs) by providing better access to markets, enhancing skills and improving access to finance. IIA Kenya connects multinationals and larger businesses to credible local suppliers (SMEs) through their procurement platform biashara.now
Introducing a Networks Approach
In 2019-21, Creative Metier worked with six membership networks in East Africa to explore their potential and to test the Converge networks approach, adapting it to the local context in Kenya and Uganda. This case study documents the journey of IIA Kenya through the initial research phase and our subsequent work together.
At the start of our work IIA Kenya saw themselves as a service provider, with themselves at the centre reaching out to each separate stakeholder and member. Our work together led to a mindset shift to view their stakeholders as a network, aligned with the vision of IIA, each playing their part in creating a sustainable ecosystem for entrepreneurs and larger SMEs. New synergies and opportunities emerged by looking at stakeholders and members as aligned partners and collaborators within the same system.
When we started work with IIA Kenya in 2019 there were +1,000 SMEs and SGBs registered on biashara.now. Today membership stands at +5,000 members. IIA Kenya operates as a diverse network of multinationals, large local corporates, local SGBs and development finance institutions, rallying around a common mission to empower SGBs to create positive impact, particularly job creation.
Deepening and Leveraging Member Engagement
There was immediate impact:
- IIA Kenya had spent two years looking for funding to support training for their members. Using the stakeholder mapping exercise introduced during the research the team identified a partner, a local bank foundation. IIA Kenya connected their entrepreneurs to the foundation who trained 500 businesses within two months, at no cost to IIA Kenya and without IIA Kenya’s direct involvement.
- A learning event for members on procurement held at a large construction company resulted in two business deals worth over 100,000 USD between the members who attended.
- Working with Creative Metier the IIA Kenya team saw the potential to deepen collaboration with one of the banks who had been providing finance for SMEs/SGBs. They then leveraged the bank’s extensive SGB network to unlock an entire SGB ecosystem, and provide access to biashara.now with close alignment, particularly around agriculture.
- IIA Kenya was struggling to engage members, spending a lot of effort getting twenty people to an event. Now +100 people regularly attend as a result of a focus on meeting member needs.
“Previously we focused on connecting SGBs to larger corporates, but adopting a network approach, we realised that the SGBs could benefit from engagement with each other. Through this work, we realised that by convening the right organisations and enabling them to collaborate while we step back, there is far greater impact, and that impact is cumulative. The impact on the SMEs themselves has been tremendous; they are able to access more services and are driving their own collaborations within the network; we are seeing increased uptake of initiatives and activities and people keep coming back” Wangechi Muriuki, formerly CEO, IIA Kenya
Continued Work With IIA Kenya
Two months into government restrictions to limit the spread of COVID-19, IIA Kenya pivoted to virtual delivery and launched the SME Survival Tool Kit. A series of webinars supported by a virtual library, the toolkit supported SMEs with initial response and business contingency plans, financial forecasting, and legal counsel through Ask An Expert Sessions. IIA Kenya then partnered with MasterCard Foundation to roll out the toolkit to 8,800 SMEs in four languages. This included one-on-one coaching for SMEs and peer mentorship drawing on member entrepreneurs and businesses.
“Through this networks approach we have been able to re-energize (member) relationships. We are re-engaging them constantly, and we are able to build a network which has a buzz …. We have been able to showcase more impact and to showcase it more intentionally. This is not the impact of Invest in Africa, but the collective impact of the entire network. From our members, we are seeing greater energy, there are enhanced collaborations between network members and connectivity among them…. We are being referred to other members, so we’re able to really attract new members who clearly align with our mission.” Terry Kinyua, Acting Country Manager and Chief Operations Officer IIA Kenya
In 2021 IIA Kenya undertook a needs assessment survey, now a regular activity, to inform stakeholder engagement strategy, and ensure delivery of value to every member.
“Metaphorically speaking, let’s take an orchestra. We have moved from trying to play all the instruments to bring some kind of melodies or music, to actually being the orchestra conductor. Our role now is to ensure all members are given a position to bring out their strengths, it’s also to coordinate (to ensure) that all key areas have the right players in place. It’s being a central point of communication, it’s coordinating the connectivity and synergy between members. And for sure together, we have had greater network value and impact over the last two years that we’ve been working with Creative Metier.” Terry Kinyua, Acting Country Manager and Chief Operations Officer IIA Kenya
We would like to thank Small Foundation for their support for this research, Converge for their willingness to share their work which was one of the inspirations for this initiative, and the IIA Kenya team who entered so enthusiastically into this work and continue to engage with us.