Thousands of Karibu (welcome) and Habarigani (what’s up) welcomed me warmly at the Nyrere airport. The friendly eyes and smiles, the eclectic smells and vibrant colors of Tanzania immediately absorbed and charmed me.
My ‘Wow what a well-maintained road’ quickly disappeared once Francis’ car hit the bumpy side roads. If golf has a challenge getting a ball in a small hole, here it is the opposite: avoiding to get your care in a pothole or a ditch is really an art. I cannot imagine you would even think of checking your cell at the same time but some are obviously of a different opinion. No surprise if you see the immense colorful billboards of Vodafone, Mpesa, Zantel, Airtel,…to name only some. The mobile hype has also hit this country and competition is fierce. The same goes for the bank adds trying to seduce the customers with Islamic microfinance, free ATM card transactions, innovative products such as Akiba’s Umeme (electricity) loans.
Akiba fills the gap in the continuum between community banks and high-end commercial banks and targets low-income urban entrepreneurs. Its branches adapt to the local surroundings. During my visits to the branches to get a look and feel, I noticed that some branches are more specialized in Solidarity Group Loans whereas others (like the head office) have a more corporate approach.
Bigger or better poses a real prisoner’s dilemma in microfinance. Addressing both seems to be the only answer but getting new customers and retaining staff in such a competitive microfinance/banking environment seems not a cinch. What is the optimal solution? How to bridge the mission of the commercial manager interested in increasing sales figures and HR’s mission to create a working environment where employees shine. I liked the way Mary, the Head of Marketing and Communication at Akiba, formulates it: ‘We are building on one house: one brings the bricks, another the sand and the water, communication is the cement. As long as all within the organization know what house we are building, we are on track.’
Being on the ground, meeting clients and staff, understanding their problems and concerns and first and foremost keeping focus seem to be key.
Next week I’ll be involved in the roll-out of the employee engagement survey, communication, mystery and client visits…so more food for thought soon.
How do you eat an elephant (figuratively of course)? Indeed by cutting it into pieces.
Meanwhile help chewing the pieces by sharing via the comments!