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How working from purpose helps strengthening our business

When Isaac Newton was confronted with a plague at Cambridge University in 1665 he decided to work from home and use the extra time to reflect. He then discovered calculus and the laws of motion. Corona has been giving me and the world time to reflect. If you have some time, consider reflecting on your purpose: it has the power to strengthen your business. This sounds like a luxury but it is needed to discover your future business.

If you understand your purpose well (and know it is so much more than just a tag line on the wall), you will find your How-to's. How to bring value and impact, how to grow, how to find new ways of serving clients and be profitable, how to leave a legacy?

In an article of the Harvard Business Review Thomas Malnight explained how purpose can make your business stronger and impact the world at the same time. I found it enlightening. It states that purpose has two essential roles: Redefining your Playing Field and Value Proposition.

Betterpreneurs guides African entrepreneurs and their leadership teams to strengthen their company. Purpose is a powerful guide. At Ecom West Africa (Ecom WAF) for example we have been using purpose to strengthen future possibilities and growth. The regular board meetings are designed in a way to take time to reflect on the two essential roles of Ecom's purpose:

1. Redefining their Playing Field

Ecom's agri-products and related services are getting more and more commoditized. Hence margins go down. They might be lucky one year with better margins and be smart in some areas and keep some margins. However, just like Newton’s law of movement, it is unavoidable to end up in a red ocean of fierce competition and lowering margins.

Ecom defined their purpose as creating rural prosperity and realized they need to see the farmers as their first (but not only) clients to serve. This creates their new playing field. Ecom is specializing on last mile distribution now and it is quite a transformation.

Previous research showed that cocoa farmers can’t meet their needs well. They can’t save money, their inputs are too expensive and many farmers have no access to good financial and health services etc. So Ecom WAF started to focus on developing good inputs and fertilizers (Crop Doctor), to see what financial service they can bring etc. In the end it is about building the value chain. Others have been following and Ecom needs to progress fast to build their brand, loyalty and market share.

When I did a homestay at a cocoa farmer last November, I witnessed a meeting of cocoa farmers (supported by our franchise holder). Once every 20 minutes the chairman would yell: 'Ghana'. The attendants would say: 'Cocoa' and the chairman would repeat: 'Cocoa'. The attendants would end this ritual by shouting: 'Business!' I concluded that the farmers are more and more aware they have a business to run instead of just a crop to harvest. They need to be treated as business partners. The only way to grow prosperity.

2. Value Proposition

The second role of purpose, the article says, is reshaping your value proposition in a holistic way. You can do so by responding to trends, to trust or to focus on pain points.

In Ecom's case they applied the IT-trend to make distribution to farmers more affordable. Ecom embarks on their attendance in the field and builds long term relationship with the farmers to gain trust. Ecom is well aware of the pain points: because the needs of the farmers are not met, their business and prosperity can’t grow. Hence, the development of a whole new range of products and services that help farmers grow their business and hopefully their income came out as a logical consequence.

During another homestay last November with farmer Mama Peace (who had expanded her original farm to seven farms), I woke early in the morning seeing a tricycle deliver the cocoa from the field so Mama Peace could process it further. The tricycle was delivered to her by her (Ecom) franchise holder. Mama Peace and I drink a cup of tea. Wouldn’t it be great, I think, that one day Mama Peace reaches out to her smartphone, checks her account, orders her Crop Doctor inputs and receives a new course of Ecom University on cashew that she is going to produce as well. Actually, eMpower, a platform Ecom WAF is developing for selling products and services directly to villagers, is working on that.

Internally Ecom had to overcome resistance to make their transformation work, and they still do. Some people left as they want to focus solely on procuring cocoa. New people came because of Ecom's purpose. They are working hard to build eMpower, make a success of Crop Doctor, improve logistics with Kiteko, expand their crops and build the new company culture to unite and motivate people.

They regularly take time to reflect if they are on the right track. Ecom hopes to come up with smart ideas like Newton did when he had extra time to reflect. They are not sure about that (!) but they do move and do believe they can build the best possible future business for Ecom in West Africa by reflecting on their purpose to create rural prosperity and use it as a force for developing their business models.

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