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Knowledge Sharing Internationally

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Working with International Teams: How Sistema is Using This to their Advantage in Kenya

We spoke with both Sistema Bio’s Chief Operating Officer and Kenya’s Communications Manager to learn how they’re using strong communication and knowledge sharing to drive problem solving in Kenya.

Sistema.bio is, “at a very strict definition, a social enterprise, trying to solve some of the most complicated challenges of our time through a social business approach.” Sistema was founded over 8 years ago in Mexico, working with farmers to enable them to see agricultural waste as a resource. They sell a solutions package that includes a hybrid reactor digester system, technical service, financing and long-term assistance to smallholder farmers in rural areas in order to generate biogas renewable energy and organic fertilizer.

While the company has been around in Mexico for almost a decade, they only recently opened their Kenyan branch back in June 2017. In conversations with their COO Esther Altorfer, and Carlette Chepngeno, Communications Manager in Kenya based in Nairobi, we learned how Sistema Bio is using previous lessons learned from operations in their other locations to ensure sustained success as they scale in Kenya.

Challenges with working across time zones

Sistema currently has operations in five countries across four continents. While the Sistema team sees plenty of benefits to working globally, there does remain the difficulty of having to work across time zones. As Carlette noted, “we’re working with a team with an 8-hour difference, it’s not easy. Sometimes you want something ASAP as things happen. Sometimes I might want support but due to time differences, someone is sleeping in Mexico, for example. Time is hectic to deal with!”

This is to be expected when working in with such an international team. At Shortlist, we certainly can understand some of these challenges, as we find ourselves working with our team members in India and Africa. Despite some of the geographic challenges, for Sistema, the advantages of working with a diverse group of people outweigh the timing issues.

Cross-Cultural Experiences

Employees at Sistema say that one of the many benefits of working globally is the opportunity to share their cultural identities and differences. Esther particularly appreciates  “hearing at least 3 or 4 accents in English per day, speaking 2-3 languages in one day. That’s really unique and fascinating to learn more about new cultures. Especially in the rural areas, traditions about animal keeping, discovering how similar smallholder farmers are, and still how different they are, their traditions, etc.”

The team is also driven by sharing a vision that helps to create a better world.  Esther is inspired to see people from different places work together towards a common mission. “As a team, it’s exciting to meet people with the same passion who are striving to achieve the same change all over the world, who unify around biogas and are excited and passionate about it.”

While there are inherent differences in cultures and traditions across the world, it’s the similarities between people, specifically farmers, that has helped Sistema provide their Kenyan team with tools to succeed from past lessons learned.

Knowledge sharing to chart a growth path

“Farmers, a farmer in Kenya, India, Mexico is the same farmer. Their lifestyle, their day-to-day activities, etc. they’re very similar.”

This observation from Esther is a core component of their understanding of and commitment to their clients. It has helped their team members, whether in Asia, Latin America, or Africa, to support one another’s work. This is affirmed by Carlette: When looking at data with the communications team in Mexico, between Kenya and Mexico it’s very slight in difference. I was getting a lot on approaches in Mexico and thinking it could work perfectly in overcoming our barriers, like financing.”

This data-driven discovery helped Sistema to more easily provide affordable financing options for their farmers in Kenya. “When we launched in Mexico, we wanted to partner with micro-finance institutions. But that wasn’t easy because the sector is expensive. The interest rates for small loans in rural areas  are really exorbitant. Sometimes as high as 200%. That’s not affordable. Now, because of that, our team in Mexico developed an in-house financing in partnership with Kiva. This give farmers a flexible payment plan over a period of time. Knowing this worked in Mexico, we replicated it in Kenya and now also works here.”

A Winning Approach

This approach has helped Sistema get a leg up on the competition in other ways as well, such as by being able to offer a superior product with proven results. “The technology works in Mexico. Therefore it was easy to bring that to Kenya and confidently tell Kenyan people we would give them a 10-year warranty.” Overall, this approach has helped employees  to work cohesively from thousands of kilometres away, by constantly thinking about how their work can not only help their in-country team but all members of Sistema. “Maybe it was a communications strategy, or just an area we’re trying to build up, because some of what I do, what our team in India, in Mexico does, is try to learn from one another. We’ve been trying to develop and document the work we’re doing, how we’re doing it, so that someone in another country can find it and use it.”

So what kind of people do well in a working environment like Sistema’s? According to Esther, “people who excel are extremely good communicators, who are able to integrate different cultures and communication habits. People who can create different engagement across different cultures and personality.” In addition to these skills, Sistema is proud of its commitment to the environment and dedication to providing a societal benefit. “ One of our values is that we’re passionate about our impact. The first is that we’re part of the larger movement to make society work for everyone. We’re passionate about our impact so we’re willing to go the extra mile, work the extra hour, and go beyond what a normal employee selling a normal product might want to do.”

Biogas company working in Kenya

The Sistema team in Mexico during a recent team-building event

 

Thanks so much to Esther and Carlette for sharing their wisdom with us! We’re proud to partner with Sistema.bio and help them build happy, high-performing teams.

Using Collaboration to Achieve Growth

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How Odyssey Capital is winning by tapping into teamwork.

“I think one of the reasons many people change jobs is because they don’t feel included. They don’t feel valued, and sometimes there’s a factor of, as much as you’re present, your voice isn’t necessarily heard.” These are powerful words from Vivienne Mukoko, Human Resources Manager at Odyssey Capital Ltd. In her role, Mukoko is tasked with making sure the right people in each department are equipped with the tools they need to succeed. At a microfinance institution like Odyssey, tapping into teamwork and collaboration is essential. This ensures quick turnaround time on decision making to ensure a process as timely and effective as possible for their clients. Vivienne affirms that a solution-oriented approach with a focus on teamwork and support puts Odyssey in position to succeed as they continue to grow.

Working with colleagues to meet deadlines

Walking into the offices of Odyssey Capital it’s easy to feel the excitement. There is seemingly always a conversation going on between co-workers. Vivienne is proud of how this has manifested in terms of team success: “It’s a lot of work, but you’ll enjoy the interaction and support you’ll need while you do it. That’s one big aspect of it. High energy, high pressure, very inclusive, interactive. Your ideas will always be taken into consideration at any point in time. That’s fun.”

It’s also helped Odyssey employees to rely on one another for help and assistance when it’s needed. “Let me give an example of a situation. You have a deadline. Now you won’t be 100% on every deadline you’re trying to meet. At one point you have idea blocks and what not. You have a colleague who has come to your desk, you share with your colleague. They might suggest another co-workers you should speak to in order to assist you. Or if it’s something in line with what they’re doing, they will give their own suggestions.”

Quicker turnaround time

Vivienne has also attributed the culture of teamwork at Odyssey with speeding up the amount of time it takes to solve on-the-job issues: “Courtesy of that collaboration, you sort out challenges way faster. Anyone is willing to provide input into any challenges you’re facing.” Since this collaborative workplace is part of the larger company culture,  “there’s also reduced bureaucracy. The turnaround time for decision making is very quick. You make a proposal, it’s listened to, then we determine what we need to do to implement it. Then we hit the ground running. That’s something that’s not common in many organizations, I love it.”

Putting in the work to succeed together

While a workplace of mutual respect and appreciation is enjoyable, Vivienne doesn’t want that to be confused with a lack of hard work. Instead, it’s this culture of knowledge sharing and problem solving that elevates the productivity and output of the whole team. “I wouldn’t want to lie to you that it’s heavenly, it’s lovely, we come to hang and high five and go home. Not necessarily. It’s a lot of work, it requires a lot of creativity and ownership. Still, the fact that the people we have right now are capable of tapping into teamwork, focusing on supporting one another and winning as a team as opposed to winning as an individual is really special.”

Vivienne also acknowledges that this type of working environment may not be for everybody. A few of the qualities that make someone successful at a company such as Odyssey include: being able to think about strategy in a focused way, being curious in order to test the status quo, and having the ambition to go after particular dreams. While persistence is another key to winning as a team, that comes with a caveat: “Be persistent to see things through but also be attentive enough to calculate and assess the progress to know when to bench things.” If this sounds like you, be on the lookout for open positions at Odyssey on our website!

Thank you to Vivienne for telling us more about her team! We’re proud to partner with Odyssey Capital and help them build happy, high-performing teams. Check our open jobs to see if they’re hiring!

 

Career Passion: A True Calling in HR

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Learn how Odyssey Capital’s HR Manager left a career in fashion to find her true passion

Meet Vivienne Mukoko, Odyssey Capital Ltd.’s Human Resources Manager. Odyssey Capital is  a client-centric microfinance institution.  They extend credit to borrowers in order to buy consumer goods and appliances. Speaking with Vivienne it’s easy to hear the excitement in her voice.  She speaks passionately about her job and its importance to overall company growth. She explains just how strategic her role because  “HR is basically the person that makes sure we have the right people in the right departments. We ensure these people are equipped to add the right value to their department and overall to the organization. So without HR, the organization is not worthwhile.” In those words it is easy to uncover the passion she has in her work. However, Vivienne carved a non-traditional path to get to this point. This is how Vivienne left her career in fashion to find her true calling in Human Resources.

It’s easy to be taken aback when Vivienne explains how much she liked working in the fashion industry, and yet, it wasn’t a career she wanted to continue to pursue.  “I think it was coming to a realization. I loved fashion, I loved sketching and stitching. Loved it but wasn’t passionate about it. It wasn’t my calling, even though I enjoyed it.” The differentiation can be confusing at first, but it’s clear that she felt driven to HR. She saw the opportunity to provide the greatest benefit to company strategy: “I thought about it and decided I wanted to be in a position where I add that kind of value. Not just to one department, but to all departments.”

Discovering new career opportunities

A common theme in speaking with versatile professionals is their curiosity drives them to think more deeply about their career path. This is certainly the case for Vivienne, as she describes her professional journey that led her to where she is today: “My journey has been an interesting one. I studied fashion, I enjoyed it of course, but it wasn’t for me. I started at a textile company and I used to design for them. The job was great, but I wasn’t passionate about it. In the process of my management training, I went through an induction process with the HR department and realized, ‘Goodness! HR is not just about pushing papers!’ It piqued my interest and I started researching what it entailed and if it was something I wanted to engage in.”

Vivienne completed her Bachelor’s of Science in Apparel and Fashion Design, so it wasn’t just a matter of choosing to suddenly switch to Human Resources. She had to determine what she would need to do to pivot to a vastly different career. “When I had enough information, I decided I wanted to study HR. I moved to Nairobi and got my higher diploma in HR. Then I had the opportunity to work for Deloitte. I started my HR career there, first as an HR Assistant and then grew to HR Associate. My experience there was mainly recruitment. I loved recruitment, I had a lot of fun focusing on recruitment.”

Vivienne then used this opportunity to move across industries to land where she is now:  “I slowly transitioned to different industries, from finance to diplomatic corps to security and finally back to finance here at Odyssey Capital.” Vivienne attributes this range of experiences with helping to unlock a critical step in her professional development: identifying and utilizing mentors.

The importance of mentorship & professional networks

Vivienne credits her first mentor for giving her a glimpse into how vital his role was to the company: “The head of HR in that company was very informative. He would engage me in understanding the strategic aspects of HR, not just the daily filing. I asked a lot of questions about HR and he told me a lot.” This first experience with a mentor encouraged Vivienne to continue to seek out peer leaders who could direct her learning. She says that it’s crucial to seek out the right people to help guide your learning and that it’s particularly important to find advisors who have the drive to push you further: “The mentor I have now has been influential in the growth I have had in the past year.”

In addition to mentorship, Mukoko’s hunger to excel and improve in her position has led her to identify professional networks and forums: “I try to learn not only from my experience but from other HR professionals as well. That’s why I’m in HR forum groups, I try to interact with different HR professionals. You’ll find people have very different experiences, and sometimes you’ll think you won’t find yourself in a situation, but one day you do!” Vivienne also notes the importance of being present and finding yourself in different environments in order to succeed. “Being exposed to different situations and finding yourself trying to adapt to every single one is exciting. A lot of what I’ve learned and use currently is based on those experiences.”

Uncovering Talent

One of the most gratifying aspects of Vivienne’s job is the opportunity to recognize and cultivate talent to succeed beyond their current ability. She explains that as “being able to, more or less, develop talent. You have a talented individual, you identify specific gaps, and you think about how to make this person a more improved version of themself. What kind of value can I add to this person that can  grow them further than they already are? If you can tap into that level where you can quickly identify and advise accordingly to guide that person in that particular direction, it’s such a big difference in such a small way.”

Her passion in her work shows most clearly when she talks about unlocking professional potential:  “It’s very little input in terms of all facets of HR, if I can find a way to embody all these aspects and tap into the people I support, in this particular way, that’s what makes me wake up in the morning realizing I need to be better at structuring Learning & Development that is meaningful, identifying talent needs that bridge this gap. That’s where I get the passion to wake up every morning and go to work.” Vivienne’s drive to support the development of her colleagues is one of the many reasons why Odyssey is growing so quickly!

If you share the same passion for extending credit access to small and middle-income earners and think you might be a good fit, Odyssey is hiring! As a client of Shortlist, check our open jobs to see if Odyssey Capital is hiring!

 

3 Tips to Excel Professionally

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Hear from a panel of local experts on their career journeys

On the evening of 22nd August, we held the first of our monthly series of networking events for young professionals at Metta Nairobi. Shortlist’s Top Finance Talent Meetup brought together a select group of finance professionals to hear from three experts within the field of finance. Ariane Fisher, Shortlist’s Managing Director of African Operations, was joined on the panel by Peace Osangir, COO of Kopo Kopo, Sharon Olende, Lendable’s Director of East Africa, and Job Muriuki, CEO of Momentum Credit. This highly informative discussion contained a wealth of insights on topics such as their career journeys, future trends in the field and the importance of cultivating mentorship. In addition, our guests shared their lessons on professional development and lifelong learning.

Here are “3 Tips to Excel Professionally in Kenya” by our panel of finance experts

1. Education Doesn’t Always Equal Results

Peace Osangir shared that, in her experience, many young people are more focused on accumulating credentials and degrees than on how those experiences will enhance their learning. “Someone can have two Master’s, but the output doesn’t tally. How do you make sure that the type of information you’re getting is going to create a difference in terms of your output? Sometimes someone can come in without any background in finance and is able to excel. And that’s because the level of execution really differs. It’s not about how many credentials you accumulate but how your output changes as a result of your learning.”

Sharon noted similar observations from her previous experience of two decades in the banking sector. She spoke about the value of having the right mindset in your professional life,  adding that “it’s not about what you know, it’s about your attitude and what we can teach you. A lot of things can be taught to you. Accumulating degrees with no work experience doesn’t help you. We’re recruiting for people we think can learn. We just want to see your thought process, how you think about a problem. I can tell you that we have put out job adverts looking for someone with five years experience, but we hired someone with two.”

Job lamented the tendency for youth in the workforce to be close-minded when they view their career paths. “I believe to be successful you have to have fun. Too many young people decide to put themselves in a box. If you’re in your 20’s, you’re gonna work for another 40 years or so. So why put yourself in a box when life has so many experiences before you decide what you’re going to do? Think outside the box.” He went on to share that there are plenty of ways to continue your learning outside of the classroom: “The best education I have received in my life has been reading a lot of books. It’s good to enrich your mind with non-conventional thinking, push the envelope, read interesting things. Try not to conform to what people expect you to be.”

Engaged participants listening to our speakers reflect on their career journeys

2. Be reliable and always execute

Throughout the conversation between the panelists, the topic of execution came up frequently. The added benefits of being reliable in your professional life reach far beyond excelling in your current role. As Sharon remarked, “execution is the best thing ever. If you can execute, and people know they can rely on your work, you’ll go far. We’ve all sat in jobs we didn’t like, but you keep performing, because that will open your next opportunity for you.”

It might appear easy for a panel of highly experienced and respected professionals to share this advice  when they are at a point in their careers where they can be highly selective. However, as Peace shared, they got to this point through having a track record of excellence: “To have the luxury of selection, you have to have the execution and stand out from the crowd. Having that ability to select and question decisions comes from understanding your capability and ability to execute.”

3. Learn the tough lessons from early on in your career

Each of our panelists shared harsh truths they gained from past decisions they had made in their professional lives. Peace expressed the uneasiness she encountered when she switched from a role in finance to one in transfer pricing. Since she had no previous work in doing so, she had to apply herself to get up to speed with her colleagues. In turn, she acquired valuable life skills from that opportunity. “That was a moment of challenge. With time, I made sure I understood transfer pricing rules and guidelines. To make sure I could execute the cycle better than I could have. This took a bit of time, being able to start writing 200-page reports, but I needed to make sure I learned it so next time I could  execute. My brand shouldn’t be impacted by the decisions I make. Despite setbacks, I make sure I know where my gaps are so everything is good the next time around.”

Sharon provided an anecdote about the importance of managing people, based on an unfortunate situation she found herself in at a previous position. She explained that it’s not just about managing those beneath you in the organizational structure, but “how you manage people above you is equally important.” She went on to say that “in large corporations, there’s a lot of politics. Unfortunately, to some extent, you have to learn some politicking. Particularly more senior people.”

Job shared a particularly difficult moment when he decided to make a decision without consulting with his supervisors. While the decision he made was the wrong one, he learned immensely from the experience. “Since that day it’s fundamentally changed the way I do everything. Even now as a CEO, I can make any decision I want, but I don’t. It’s not the right way to do things. It was a painful lesson to learn. That was a tough lesson for me because you can be really smart, but it’s important to work as a team.”

Attendees stayed afterwards to network among their peers and gain further insight from the panelists.

After the panel, participants had the opportunity to make peer connections as well as discuss finance and their career with our guests. It was a wonderful opportunity to see so many high-caliber professionals take ownership over their career and professional journey. Be on the lookout for future candidate events offered by Shortlist! And as always, if you’re looking for a new position, check out our open jobs. As partners of Shortlist, KopoKopo, Lendable or Momentum might be hiring!