What has Nô Firmanta taught us about leaving no one behind? And why are so many left behind despite the clear repercussions?
Nô Firmanta: Lessons About Leaving No One Behind
November 4, 2023
In May 2023, an inspiring collaboration between the Accelerator Lab and the Na No Mon Platform set in motion a mission to identify and support businesses and solutions that were income-generating, innovative, and transformative, and aligned with one or more of the six areas of focus: agriculture, digital, energy, climate action, health and sanitation, and creative industries.
The initiative was born out of a profound understanding of the recurring challenges faced by entrepreneurs in Guinea-Bissau, most notably the lack of capacity building and opportunities for knowledge sharing crucial for business resilience. To ensure inclusivity and equity in our approach, we appointed 16 focal points at the national level. These individuals played a pivotal role in providing support to those who might be indirectly excluded from participating in such opportunities (read the 1st blog of the series here).
Our commitment to "Leaving No One Behind" was nothing short of revolutionary. We were astounded to receive an overwhelming response of 3,248 applications, with 83% coming from the regions, 28% representing women, and 46% applying using the focal points, all within 30 days. These unprecedented numbers underscored the keen interest and willingness within the community. However, it also underscored the harsh reality of accessibility challenges. Issues related to internet access, digital devices, literacy, gender disparities, and disabilities emerged as significant barriers standing in the way of diverse applications. Nô Firmanta came as an opportunity to empower Bissau-Guinean entrepreneurs but also revealed a deficiency in the way we reach the most vulnerable people in the country.
How did we reach people?
To extend our reach beyond the 16 identified focal points, we turned to the radios as a crucial mode of communication, considering they were the most common source of information dissemination in the country. We engaged with 21 radio stations, airing important information about the initiative in local languages at least 7 times a day with 2 different radio spots. Additionally, we held radio interviews in Bolama, Catio, Bubaque, and Bafata to answer questions live and discuss the initiative. In an effort to ensure that anyone meeting the eligibility criteria did not refrain from applying due to lack of awareness, Nô Firmanta also sponsored programs with the highest audience on 14 radio stations to maximize reach.
Why Are So Many Left Behind?
In the context of Guinea-Bissau, in terms of infrastructure, there is a challenge in reaching those furthest from the capital. Paradoxically, these are the people who need help the most and can benefit significantly from such opportunities. Even though we conducted a countrywide trip to transmit the message to all regions and formed strategic partnerships for word-of-mouth communication, we realized that some may still hear the message and be unable to apply. This realization underscores the critical importance of identifying and training the 16 focal points to address the following questions:
- How do we make sure women are included?
- How do we make sure disabled people are included?
- How do we make sure those who don’t have access to digital devices are included?
- How do we make sure those who cannot read or write are included?
This experience demonstrated that achieving inclusivity requires resources and a deep understanding of the complexities of the environment in which individuals live. To truly help those at the grassroots level, we need to spend time with them, observing their surroundings, and identifying the main barriers they face in accessing and participating in initiatives. These insights are crucial to developing sustainable solutions. While our partners in the private, public, and civic sectors are willing to do more, the challenge often lies in reaching and delivering to those who need it the most.
Entrepreneurs across the country develop businesses that meet community needs and contribute to local economies. However, they often lack the business management skills and networking opportunities available in city centres. Geographic location becomes a barrier to their success. Strategic partnerships at the grassroots level open windows of opportunity and provide valuable insights.
What is Nô Firmanta Teaching us about entrepreneurship in remote areas of the country?
The Ecosystem needs to be visible to itself.
In countries experiencing political instability like Guinea-Bissau, it's often entrepreneurs who band together and forge resilience in the face of government upheaval, ensuring they can carry on with "business as usual." The budding ecosystem in Bissau reflects a certain level of resilience, but what about those entrepreneurs in the regions? They often find themselves as the sole business owners in their remote cities. How can we integrate them into the broader entrepreneurial ecosystem?
Digital inclusion facilitates connections.
Digital transformation acts as a bridge, connecting individuals and communities. Even though just 23% of Bissau-Guineans have access to the internet, and less than 40% own smart devices, platforms like Facebook and social media hubs such as Mercado Virtual have emerged as powerful tools. Mercado Virtual, hosted on Facebook Marketplace, serves as a unifying force, fostering interactions and shared knowledge among entrepreneurs, including those situated in the most distant and remote regions.
Next steps for the winners
The ten selected candidates represent five of the nine regions, including six women, with businesses or solutions in agriculture, health, climate action, digital, and energy. Impact Hub Bissau was selected as the winning partner to move on to the next phase of Nô Firmanta. This entails implementation (if it is a solution) and scaling (if it is a business) across the country. Impact Hub Bissau will work closely with the winners for six months to impart essential business management skills and entrepreneurial habits. Weekly meetings, knowledge exchange, and financial planning will ensure they use innovative methodologies to understand market needs and sustain their business models.