Early/mid-career Steve Aldoni left his position as a successful Vice-President at nationally-marketed Betta Doors. He wanted to make an innovative contribution in an impoverished urban area in West Africa.
He had an idea: The Mango Mart Solar Cart (MMSC)
The most popular fruit was available at hundreds, maybe thousands, of stands along the roadsides in Bomidgi Kano. Aldoni had done his research and recognized that getting the fruit to market was difficult and merchants could only transport and set out limited quantities. Prices were universally inflated, and MMSC was a way to better consumer prices and snagging a decent market share.
MMSC as he saw it was also a way to generate income for the pastors and outreach efforts of a local synod of churches with which he been involved.
He developed the cart with some engineering friends. It was a simply cart powered by a solar battery and could carry two passengers. The MMSC advantage was that it could bring more mangos to market in one road trip than could be found at eight conventional mango stands. Mango farmers could easily get their crops to market via one MMSC owner/salesperson.
Aldoni envisioned importing the batteries and most of the cart parts, which could be assembled in Bomidgi Kano by poorer church members in need of employment.
WHY DID THE PLAN FAIL?
Aldoni had been on site many times. The churches appreciated him, his Christian connections, and the many encouraging things that accompanied his visits. Over two years he gathered a team, and he and his team moved to Bomidgi Kano. He had a good and positive relationship with many local entrepreneurs; they saw him as a collaborator. All in all he built hope among a number of people across the churches and in the community.
This is a welcoming and affirming culture. It’s also a place where verbal directness is offered only by recognized leadership, and usually only when it is invited. Some of the leadership had suggested this would be a difficult project, implying it might not work. Aldoni thought it would be difficult for him and his team and their families, but he was a convinced and convincing man.
It’s a fact. Pastor Zechariah Kenordu told me in these words as we were driving around the impoverished area where he is director of the synod:“Yes I know this man.
We told him it would not work, but he did not listen.”
There are parts of Aldoni’s vision that have much merit if not genius. But he did not hear the locals indirectly saying it would not work.
He was a man of goodwill. Yet there was unspoken (to him) resentment among many inside and outside the church. A good number of the traditional mango sellers would be driven out of business, causing the creation of some “new poor.” This in turn would produce division in the community, which would be attributed to the church. Aldoni was solving one problem by setting up a business that would generate funds to extend church outreach. But by eradicating a traditional way of life – small mango stands — his project was going to create problems that he did not see, though locals did.
How far did this BAM initiative get? Acquisition of the first five MMSC units via no-interest loans immediately put owners in a leadership club, giving them new power in the community. The assembly workers could not work hard enough to get those first five units together. Yet they also saw that work might run out. How many units could the area sustain? They felt uncertain. After six months the tensions were high. When some of the batteries had unforeseen problems, the project literally rolled to a halt.
In America, a similar well-targeted product might capture a market share,
give a steady percentage to “missions” or “mercy,”
find efficient fixes to initial flaws, and even get widely franchised.
In West Africa, Aldoni was a very welcomed entrepreneur from a foreign culture,
“but he did not listen.”
A FINAL NOTE. I made up some of this– names, etc.– but it’s based on a very true story, real events and people. And these words verbatim were clearly spoken to me as I drove through a busy marketplace with the pastor:
Yes I know this man. We told him it would not work, but he did not listen.