As of the first of May the LDE trainees started to work on their third and last assignment. After having carried out two assignments for the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for Frugal Innovation in Africa, I now work for the TU Delft Valorisation Centre (VC) where I mainly focus on entrepreneurship and Africa which seems to be the common theme within my trainee trajectory. Now, three months later I finally found sufficient time to reflect and write on what I am doing.
Since the VC is very fond of enhancing entrepreneurial and innovative skills of young professionals, also in Africa, I got involved in co-organising an accelerator workshop for the Water sector in Rwanda. For this workshop, a lot of preparatory work was needed. Invite Rwandese young professionals to apply, review the applications, select the workshop candidates, arrange the workshop week activities and facilities, and last but not least facilitate the five days’ workshop and final pitch sessions!
Aside from the energy all this hard work has cost, I value the trip as a great learning experience. For instance, I learned how such an entire workshop week is organised and content wise even obtained some water and ICT knowledge as well as some Rwandan cultural knowledge! Furthermore it was exciting because we introduced our newly developed toolkit for (technology based) sustainable business development. This toolkit consists of approximately 10 steps/assignments/methods which form the pathway from initial idea to a market proof business case. The participants seemed to really appreciate the toolkit and as workshop facilitators we evaluated that the kit turned out to work quite well. However, of course many iterations for improvements will follow. My personal contribution to the toolkit was to explain the importance of being aware of the market context of your business, and see how the value chain looks like. This overview helps the entrepreneur to see whether and where in the chain your business can be of value. And which consumer preferences or institutional regulations are influencing the business. E.g. If the entrepreneur makes sure the users recognize its value for money, the chances for success increase.
In line with the current policy ‘from aid to trade’ (Dutch government plans to drastically diminish future investments in development organisations), I think it is very wise of TU Delft to be engaged in these kind of capacity building activities and subsequently the early start-up phase of a company in developing countries. I think our approach of training and assisting local young professionals in entrepreneurship is something that can combat poverty in a sustainable manner because we explain rather than impose, as the famous economist Amartya Sen states ‘development as freedom’; for people of various backgrounds it must be possible to grow according to their own interests and skills.