Four Observations from Ghana’s Back Roads

Katherine Borsecnik at Kuapa Kokoo

As a board director and a donor, I’m in a good spot to closely track Root Capital’s progress, which also gives me regular opportunities to reevaluate the wisdom of my own investments of time and money.  While most of my work with Root Capital is done an arm’s length from the impact, I recently had my third opportunity to visit Root Capital clients, this time in Ghana with fellow board members, Root Capital staff, and my 17-year-old daughter.

Here’s some of what I observed:

There’s nothing like getting OUT of the boardroom to remind yourself why you’re in it to begin with. 

Our first day of client visits found us standing in a field with Karan Chopra, who explained how his team was trouble-shooting problems irrigating a large tract of land for rice cultivation.  Karan, a charming and quick-witted entrepreneur, is a co-founder of GADCO, a Root Capital client since 2011.  GADCO has ambitious goals to develop sustainable value chains for staple foods in Ghana, and this rice farm—already the largest in the country—is their “Exhibit A.”

As we listened to Karan, I was struck with how closely his operational problem-solving method mirrored the one I’ve seen consistently at Root Capital headquarters thousands of miles away: an approach grounded in fact gathering, a search for best-in-class models, perseverance in implementation and objective assessment—in short, the kind of discipline necessary for operational success.  Though it’s just a minor example, it reflects more than shared methodology; it’s an example of alignment between the mission and model at Root Capital and its customer. From both my private sector and nonprofit work, I’ve learned (surprisingly!) that close alignment of mission with customers and their daily reality is more exception than rule.  It was a good thing to see, standing out in the sun.

Next observation:  Ambition is universal, and so is motivation.  

On the heels of our visit to the rice field, we met with a group of smallholder farmers whose adjoining fields are able to benefit from Karan’s irrigation solutions.  They told us about the increased yields and expanded income resulting from their affiliation with GADCO.

We heard a similar story the next day from Root Capital client Kuapa Kokoo, a farmer’s co-op comprised of nearly 80,000 small-scale cocoa farmers near Kumasi.  They explained that access to premium markets, enabled by credit and training, can result in a more than doubling of family income.

The farmers in both groups made clear what increased income means to them: more choices, particularly for their children, with education topping the list of priorities.  With my daughter in tow, I was reminded that all parents want their children’s footsteps to diverge from their own, when it comes to upward mobility in education and income.

There are entrepreneurs hard at work everywhere (…and many of them, happily, are women).

Charlotte Adjei-Ababio is much of the vision and energy behind Royal Danemac, an agro-processing company we visited near Kumasi.  As we were touring the impressive facility and learning in detail about soy processing outputs (all new to me!), we heard a small fact that spoke volumes:  her husband mentioned that the facility experienced electric outages on 364 days of the past year.   As impressed as I was with the plant, what struck me more were the inventiveness and the resilience of Charlotte and her enterprise, yet another example of shared cultural characteristics between Root Capital and its client.

Over the days of our visit, I noticed that women entrepreneurs are particularly visible in Ghana and are embodied by Root Capital’s own experts on the ground, Barbara Ghansah and Diaka Sall.  I love that my daughter saw each of them regarded with deep respect and warmth by Root Capital clients (what better role models?).

Finally, Root Capital’s work can enable outcomes with a startling human impact.

My Ghana trip reminds me that no board presentation or quarterly metrics report can as effectively convey the human impact of Root Capital’s work as seeing and hearing it firsthand.  The beauty of enabling a virtuous cycle, as Root does, is the momentum gained and the widening impact that results.  This ripple effect on the families of the thousands of employees, partners, and co-op members best answers the question I asked myself at the trip’s outset:  Yes, Root Capital’s formula is the best bet for my investment of time and money.

Topics: Livelihoods | Our Community | West Africa |

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