Each local Orange Corners hub has one or more ambassadors: alumni who continue to play a very active role in the Orange Corners community locally, long after graduation. They provide information to prospective applicants, organise activities for their fellow entrepreneurs, and foster collaboration between alumni from different cohorts in general. During a recent trip to Ghana, your travelling reporter met with Orange Corners Ghana ambassadors Victorine and Bright.
Lovely to meet you guys! To start, could you introduce yourself and your business?
Victorine: I’m Victorine Vondee, and I joined the Orange Corners programme in 2019, as part of the first cohort together with Bright. As Vonvic, I make clothing for everyday wear from hand-woven, indigenous textiles. We provide access to market for local artisans in Ghana. We liaise with them to get their fabrics and then we make them into everyday wear.
Bright: My name is Bright Adoboe, and since 2018 I’ve been on a mission with Achiever Foods to save lives through organically grown turkey berry-based food products. When my wife got ill with anaemia and was admitted to the Accra Regional Hospital, I discovered the healing power of the turkey berry plant when one of the doctors advised me to add it to her meals. After doing that for two weeks, she recovered!
I’m a chemist and my wife is a food scientist by profession. So after her recovery, we decided to come up with food products that can help people fight anaemia specifically. The turkey berry is rich in iron, antioxidants and vitamins and can be used for many therapeutic solutions. If you’re already anaemic, it helps you restore your iron levels. And if you don’t have an anaemic condition, it can prevent its occurrence.
Both of you are alumni ambassadors. Why did you become an Orange Corners ambassador?
Bright: I feel so blessed to be part of this movement. The funding in particular means a great deal. When COVID came, Orange Corners gave us some grants to cushion our business against the shock. And afterwards, we had the opportunity to apply for OCIF and were granted a 70/30 quasi loan for two years. Due to our good credit history, we were among the three businesses out of over 50 that qualified to apply for additional funding after that. We were shortlisted, because we never defaulted on the previous loan. We used the majority of the funding to purchase equipment, which should arrive in about two weeks now. That was huge for us at Achiever Foods. So that’s why when the opportunity came for a leadership position, as an ambassador, I opted to do it.
Victorine: Orange Corners classes such as the Corporate Social Responsibility class made me think about how I impact my environment. It makes me ask questions like “What am I giving back to my community or my environment?” Orange Corners has done a lot for us. They make funding available at a very low interest rate. I just love how we’re able to work towards investor readiness. And compared to other programmes, I think Orange Corners is a programme that listens and then acts on the feedback from members, like us alumni. We wanted to become export-ready for example, and during COVID we started having export readiness classes online, which benefitted so many people. Even those of us who weren’t export-ready yet, they got to know the requirements, could prepare themselves psychologically.
And even if after the programme you didn’t get any funding, you could still benefit from the network itself. Up until now, wherever there’s some opportunity for alumni, as ambassadors we make sure that all alumni have access to the information. We share it via a WhatsApp Group that all entrepreneurs are in, for example.
I think Orange Corners is doing marvellous work and there’s even more potential. We have a community here, programmes are on-going.. and there’s lots of impact that we can collectively make as Africans. I’m looking forward to see what the future holds especially for upcoming businesses like myself, who’ve seen things, are going through good processes.
Bright: As entrepreneurs, we’d like to have a continuous relationship with the Orange Corners team. As ambassadors, we’re the leaders on the ground who can relate with their colleagues. If you plan a programme without involving us, usually you don’t get the best results. So it’s always good to reach out to your ambassadors. And in Ghana, they’re already taking our advice to heart. For example, we mentioned that we’d like to learn from Fidelity Bank, the institution that’s responsible for the OCIF funding in Ghana. We raised that point during a valuation meeting with the Orange Corners lead and MDF (the implementing partner for Orange Corners Ghana) organised a training for all entrepreneurs with Fidelity Bank. And they set up a mentorship programme which also helped some of the alumni network with each other.
We have over 300 alumni now, and the question is “What’s the impact of these numbers?” We need to think of programmes that can unite them, which we’ve started to do in Ghana. We’re also ready to partner with all the other programmes that you have on board as well as with the private partners. For example, Vivo Energy is a partner. They’re also the owner of Shell all across the country, and they have a lot of spaces, stores, supermarkets. I’m therefore suggesting to Orange Corners to consider another kind of partnership with these institutions where successful businesses who have products would be given shelve space to list their products. This will be a better pro-training support to business to grant them access to market.
We’re still in the early stages of creating alumni communities in Ghana and elsewhere. Do you also see possible benefits of connecting with alumni from other programmes?
Bright: The Orange Corners network alone is huge. Businesses can partner with each other to grow and access some market spaces using the network which would’ve taken a longer time for them to achieve individually.
Victorine: Or some expertise that my business may need, and that I can get from the network.
What would be your advice to us to improve the network?
Victorine: The HQ could help us get the most out of platform like the VC for Africa platform.
Bright: As ambassadors, it would help us if members of the network in Ghana would know their global alumni ambassadors. I’m not sure we were ever formally introduced to the private partners like Fidelity Bank and Vivo Energy. That would make it a little more official and would help us to engage them, champion new ideas to those in power. Making it official would also help us in getting to know other alumni. I know those in my cohort, the people I’ve interacted with at conferences, but not everyone else.
Victorine: And funds! Money to organise events and to engage people.
Bright: An official introduction would be the start. And then maybe put up a programme to train the ambassadors, tell us the vision behind it. Because if you share your vision on paper with us and leave us to interpret it ourselves, it’s different from inviting us and telling us “hey, this is our vision, we want to do it together!” This engagement, this involvement, is very important so we take our role more serious. We all run projects, so we can testify that it’s not just about monetary budgets, but also about human resources! Lastly, it would be good to receive some stipends as ambassadors to encourage us on this journey. I belong to other similar platforms by the US Embassy and a few others and I can import some of the initiatives that work best for the Orange Corners network to grow.