Insight Through Stewardship

Giving Back: Scott Bowman, Partner at Clareo, Provides Training to Growing Businesses in Kyrgyzstan Stewardship is core to the DNA of Clareo. It emerges out of the recognition that we've been blessed with assets and capabilities, and should use those to help others and foster prosperity. We’ve also heard that “it’s more blessed to give than to receive.” A few months ago, I gained insight into why this is the case.

Context

In November 2011, I made my second trip to Central Asia, this time to southern Kyrgyzstan, to provide coaching for micro-entrepreneurs as well as more intensive training for Oasis Agro, a mid-sized business looking to scale its operations. Oasis Agro has a strong core business in chicken farming and grain-feed production. But far more interesting is the network-based business model they’ve created. I believe it could act as a blueprint for others in the developing world.

Oasis has created a training operation appropriately called “the school,” which trains interested local entrepreneurs in all aspects of chicken farming operations, and offers them a short-term apprenticeship at the company. When farmers complete their schooling, Oasis provides them with the chicks, equipment, initial feed stock, and a micro-loan to begin their own operation. Since Oasis is being supported and coached by a leading poultry and egg producer in the U.S., their operational processes are very well-tuned. But the real “secret sauce” at Oasis is their feed operation: they’ve engineered a high-protein super-concentrate, which they combine with grain in special formulations and sell to farmers who have gone through their program. As of today, Oasis has built up a network of over 150 such farmers (a true “micro business network”) and has become one of the leading grain-feed operations in all of Kyrgyzstan. This is very impressive.

However, Oasis faces many challenges. They envision multiple growth options, or alternative ways to grow their business, and have struggled with how to prioritize and focus their efforts. They recognize they need to build a strategic plan for their business – something they’ve never had, and don’t know how to build. And, they need to evolve the capabilities of their leadership team, all of whom are bright and well-meaning people but who have not received the level of business and leadership training many receive here in the developed world. Finally, they’re facing basic challenges common to all emerging businesses, such as P&L and cash flow management.

When I learned about their needs in the summer of 2011, I realized that I had the skills and background to help. Naturally, I do not possess an operational background in poultry and feed (fortunately, that’s not what they need). However, at Clareo, I work with companies in a range of industries and sizes, helping them with growth strategy, strategic planning, and capabilities development. I also had personal motivations. My faith has taught me that I have a purpose and responsibilities beyond myself: to use my talents and skills to serve others who can benefit from my gifts.

Work Effort

And so, in November, I spent time training the Oasis Agro team in the principles of strategy, strategic planning and growth. I facilitated workshops, where we applied the concepts from our sessions to their business. I purposely simplified the concepts to a level that would make sense to them – remembering the words of Colin Powell: “great leaders are great simplifiers.” I helped them begin to create a strategy for the business – on a single page.

For them, the time was powerful and energizing. Oasis Agro pulled together as a leadership team, talked about the business strategically, and developed a mission, vision, values, and set of strategic objectives to focus their efforts. They mapped out and prioritized their growth options, and defined strategies, actions, and requirements to deliver. They aligned. They learned. They grew together, as a team.

Insights

What I didn’t expect was how much I would learn and grow through this experience. I learned first that strategy is strategy, business is business. The issues they were dealing with were the same as those facing global enterprises and emerging businesses in the developed world. They were just scaled differently.

I also found that there is power in forced simplicityForcing myself to simplify strategy down to a level that is relevant for a farming operation in southern Kyrgyzstan (try it – it’s pretty hard) was extremely valuable. In doing so, I developed versions of time-tested frameworks that would work in their context. As I did, I realized the frameworks would be immediately useful with corporate clients in the developed world, and have since begun applying this framework in my practice at Clareo. The exercise of forced simplicity helped bring clarity and focus to my own thinking. In short, Kyrgyzstan taught me something.

Finally, on a visceral level, I didn’t realize how profoundly the whole experience would affect me. I too was blessed by my time with them. I found the experience of giving to others in this way truly energizing. Despite being jet-lagged, leading sessions all day and being up late meeting with the teams, I finished the week feeling more rejuvenated than if I had been on vacation. That in and of itself was rewarding – truly it is more blessed to give than to receive.

It has been said, to whom much is given, much is required. We in the developed world have an important responsibility: to be stewards of the assets we possess and to give of ourselves for the benefit and prosperity of others. Let’s do that together in 2012.