Wanted: ‘Lost Paciolis.’ Please Apply
Until the 15th century, the merchants of Venice, like other medieval merchants across the world, were having a hard time understanding their businesses as they became complex. When operating at a very small scale, a simple financial diary and a check of the purse to see if it was full or empty were enough for them to measure their financial performances. As commence scaled, these merchants suffered from data overload and without a systematic method of keeping accounts, they could not find an easy way to track their performance.
Then came Luca Pacioli who has been credited with popularizing a method of keeping systematic accounts known as double entry bookkeeping, upon realizing that “it would be impossible for [the merchants] to conduct their business, for they would have no rest and their minds would always be troubled”. This system of bookkeeping has revolutionized how businesses keep their accounts and measure their performances.
The Missing Middle
Surprisingly, these challenges of the merchants of Venice still exist. Many micro businesses are doing just fine by counting their monies at the end of each day to determine their daily performance by way of net increase/decrease in cash flow. Though a crude method of measuring performance, to them it is easy and less demanding.
However, as many of these businesses grow, their accounting needs also grow, compliance/tax becomes an issue, and measuring performance becomes complex. We call them the “missing middle”. They are at a stage where bookkeeping and accounting is very important to their business but more often than not, they cannot afford to pay a full time accountant or set up an accounting department; or even the owners have limited knowledge on figuring out what accounting applications works best for them, the right bookkeeper/accountants to employ and the internal controls to put in place.
Introducing Built Associate Program
Today, we are looking for talents like Pacioli across Ghana who can make a difference in the lives of these businesses. We call this the Built Associate Program and it is aimed at leveraging on the gig economy and technology to offer bookkeeping and accounting services to growing businesses in a cost effective manner.
We are looking out for professionals who have exceptional accounting, tax and finance skills, entrepreneurship drive, and great written and verbal communication qualities. They should also be passionate about working with small to medium enterprises to generate positive results.
All applicants go through a rigorous vetting processes, and after their credentials are verified, they become Associates. When a growing business needs accounting, tax and finance back office support, their needs are assessed and then they are matched with Associate(s) with the domain expertise and experiences to help them.
In 2017 when we piloted in Accra and Tamale, with support from TechnoServe and the UK-Aid funded Enhancing Growth In New Enterprises (ENGINE) project, we selected 75 associates and trained them in batches. We then paired them to over 320 enterprises. They provided these enterprises with on-the-field bookkeeping training, accounting tools and tax education. After 3 months, they revisited the enterprises to go through their books, identify areas they needed further support and provided support in those areas. The results have been great, with many of these enterprises understanding the numbers behind their businesses better, understanding the tax issues they face as well as accessing finance using their financial reports.
We learnt many lessons. We were able to provide services to businesses in distant districts such as Bawku, Garu-Tempane, Nandom, Yendi and many other places that typically with our HQ in Accra, we would not have been able to reach.
Apart from the wide reach and last mile delivery the Associate Program offers us, we saw a confirmation in the statement, “… all begin with the recognition that skills and talent are far more evenly distributed than opportunity” as stated by Daniel Gross during the launch of the Pioneer Fund for lost ‘Einsteins’ early this month. The pilot brought us into contact with many talents that were un-and-under employed at the time. We call them the ‘Lost Paciolis’. These people just need an opportunity to make use of the knowledge and skills they have acquired for greater impact. Through the Associate Program, we hope to address the opportunity gap in some parts of Ghana, as by working with these growing businesses, it increases their direct contact and network with employers.
Where we are today
This year, again with the support of TechnoServe and ENGINE, we are launching the Associate Program into full scale mode, starting with 84 enterprises across Ghana. We are also partnering with working spaces providers, hubs and entrepreneurship support organizations in order to provide working spaces for Associates who will be in need of a conducive environment to work from. As a start, we have partnered Workshed Africa and have our offices at the Accra Digital Centre opened to all Associates close by.
If any of this resonates with you today, please sign up! If you know anyone who will be interested in this, share this message with him/her. If you are interested in hosting our Associates or partnering us on this journey, please drop us a line here.