collaboration

Sistema Social Enterprise

Knowledge Sharing Internationally

800 534 Shortlist

Working with International Teams: How Sistema is Using This to their Advantage in Kenya

We spoke with both Sistema Bio’s Chief Operating Officer and Kenya’s Communications Manager to learn how they’re using strong communication and knowledge sharing to drive problem solving in Kenya.

Sistema.bio is, “at a very strict definition, a social enterprise, trying to solve some of the most complicated challenges of our time through a social business approach.” Sistema was founded over 8 years ago in Mexico, working with farmers to enable them to see agricultural waste as a resource. They sell a solutions package that includes a hybrid reactor digester system, technical service, financing and long-term assistance to smallholder farmers in rural areas in order to generate biogas renewable energy and organic fertilizer.

While the company has been around in Mexico for almost a decade, they only recently opened their Kenyan branch back in June 2017. In conversations with their COO Esther Altorfer, and Carlette Chepngeno, Communications Manager in Kenya based in Nairobi, we learned how Sistema Bio is using previous lessons learned from operations in their other locations to ensure sustained success as they scale in Kenya.

Challenges with working across time zones

Sistema currently has operations in five countries across four continents. While the Sistema team sees plenty of benefits to working globally, there does remain the difficulty of having to work across time zones. As Carlette noted, “we’re working with a team with an 8-hour difference, it’s not easy. Sometimes you want something ASAP as things happen. Sometimes I might want support but due to time differences, someone is sleeping in Mexico, for example. Time is hectic to deal with!”

This is to be expected when working in with such an international team. At Shortlist, we certainly can understand some of these challenges, as we find ourselves working with our team members in India and Africa. Despite some of the geographic challenges, for Sistema, the advantages of working with a diverse group of people outweigh the timing issues.

Cross-Cultural Experiences

Employees at Sistema say that one of the many benefits of working globally is the opportunity to share their cultural identities and differences. Esther particularly appreciates  “hearing at least 3 or 4 accents in English per day, speaking 2-3 languages in one day. That’s really unique and fascinating to learn more about new cultures. Especially in the rural areas, traditions about animal keeping, discovering how similar smallholder farmers are, and still how different they are, their traditions, etc.”

The team is also driven by sharing a vision that helps to create a better world.  Esther is inspired to see people from different places work together towards a common mission. “As a team, it’s exciting to meet people with the same passion who are striving to achieve the same change all over the world, who unify around biogas and are excited and passionate about it.”

While there are inherent differences in cultures and traditions across the world, it’s the similarities between people, specifically farmers, that has helped Sistema provide their Kenyan team with tools to succeed from past lessons learned.

Knowledge sharing to chart a growth path

“Farmers, a farmer in Kenya, India, Mexico is the same farmer. Their lifestyle, their day-to-day activities, etc. they’re very similar.”

This observation from Esther is a core component of their understanding of and commitment to their clients. It has helped their team members, whether in Asia, Latin America, or Africa, to support one another’s work. This is affirmed by Carlette: When looking at data with the communications team in Mexico, between Kenya and Mexico it’s very slight in difference. I was getting a lot on approaches in Mexico and thinking it could work perfectly in overcoming our barriers, like financing.”

This data-driven discovery helped Sistema to more easily provide affordable financing options for their farmers in Kenya. “When we launched in Mexico, we wanted to partner with micro-finance institutions. But that wasn’t easy because the sector is expensive. The interest rates for small loans in rural areas  are really exorbitant. Sometimes as high as 200%. That’s not affordable. Now, because of that, our team in Mexico developed an in-house financing in partnership with Kiva. This give farmers a flexible payment plan over a period of time. Knowing this worked in Mexico, we replicated it in Kenya and now also works here.”

A Winning Approach

This approach has helped Sistema get a leg up on the competition in other ways as well, such as by being able to offer a superior product with proven results. “The technology works in Mexico. Therefore it was easy to bring that to Kenya and confidently tell Kenyan people we would give them a 10-year warranty.” Overall, this approach has helped employees  to work cohesively from thousands of kilometres away, by constantly thinking about how their work can not only help their in-country team but all members of Sistema. “Maybe it was a communications strategy, or just an area we’re trying to build up, because some of what I do, what our team in India, in Mexico does, is try to learn from one another. We’ve been trying to develop and document the work we’re doing, how we’re doing it, so that someone in another country can find it and use it.”

So what kind of people do well in a working environment like Sistema’s? According to Esther, “people who excel are extremely good communicators, who are able to integrate different cultures and communication habits. People who can create different engagement across different cultures and personality.” In addition to these skills, Sistema is proud of its commitment to the environment and dedication to providing a societal benefit. “ One of our values is that we’re passionate about our impact. The first is that we’re part of the larger movement to make society work for everyone. We’re passionate about our impact so we’re willing to go the extra mile, work the extra hour, and go beyond what a normal employee selling a normal product might want to do.”

Biogas company working in Kenya

The Sistema team in Mexico during a recent team-building event

 

Thanks so much to Esther and Carlette for sharing their wisdom with us! We’re proud to partner with Sistema.bio and help them build happy, high-performing teams.

Benefits of an Open Office

800 533 Shortlist

We’re all familiar with working in an office where just going to work everyday feels like a big task. Coworkers rarely converse with one another and bosses sit in their offices behind closed doors. Your daily role is merely a function, and your strategic suggestions are met with a wave of the hand, that those kinds of decisions are above your pay grade. Now imagine the opposite. You walk into an office and employees are frequently working together, solving issues and challenges together in a cohesive way.

The leadership team of Momentum Credit, a microfinance lender to individuals and SMEs, has established an open office environment in order to encourage cross-departmental collaboration and knowledge sharing. Here’s some insight into what that looks like for their employees, as well as some ways in which this strategic decision has allowed Momentum to see rapid growth in its short company history.

open workplace

Momentum employees enjoy getting the opportunity to work alongside employees from different departments

No assigned seating

Wambui Kuria has been the Talent & Development Officer for Momentum for just a few months, but the homely atmosphere to the office makes her feel like she’s been here for years. “There’s something peaceful about this place. Honestly, people have a good feeling about it, even our clients, they say there’s a good feeling about Momentum.” This is in part due to the open seating arrangement that Momentum has implemented.

“It’s very interesting, we don’t have sitting positions. I don’t sit near my manager, I don’t just sit with people in HR, I sit with people in sales as well as Finance. We don’t have tags, you can sit in any desk, anywhere, at any time. It’s really open and friendly. When you’re around here, you can’t tell who is support staff and who the bosses are.” Furthermore, the openness of Momentum’s office is reflected in the leadership style of its management team.

The senior leadership of Momentum don’t just expect their employees to work in this way without leading by example: “Our managers are very open. I can walk into the CEO’s office and say to him, ‘come say hi to our visitors.’ It’s more like an American start-up, but the Kenyan way.” They have also formalized their interactions with all employees by instituting regular meetings with all staff members. “We designed a program where our CEO has to meet with everyone, every quarter. We call them 1-on-1’s. Like today, he’s meeting employees from different departments.”

Listening to & considering feedback

Management do not have these meetings simply as formalities, they take into account what their employees are suggesting. “What I like here is that leaders listen. Yeah they know much, but they actually listen to our ideas, what we say. They may not implement it, but they will certainly listen.” This critical linkage between theory and practice is vital to keeping employees bought in on the overall vision, and make for an environment where those not used to this style can adjust and succeed. “We think strategically about how things will affect performance. With people, it’s how your leadership is and how your structure is organized. With the proper leadership and structure, people will find themselves adapting well to it.”

Open office environment helps reduce turnover in salespeople

“Being in HR, just knowing the market for salespeople, their turnover in the market is around 60%. Here, we’re doing like 20%. It’s great. I don’t stress,” says Wambui. She explains that the open office extends to those traditionally seen only as out-of-office employees. “In some companies, salespeople are kind of disregarded, because they don’t have desks in the office. But if a salesperson comes here with a client, they’ll be given a room. So while they don’t usually stay here, they have a right to a room. You’ll find it very weird for normal insurance companies, or in the banking sector, it’s unique. For me it’s very different.”

She explains that for herself and other employees, there’s a bit of adjustment to this working style. “Now, if you look at most companies that do this model, you’ll find these the salespeople are rarely allowed in the office. You sell, tell your team leader whatever you’re selling, team leader will come and process. But I came here, and the shock was real, you see these people in the office, and you couldn’t even tell they were salespeople. Everyone respects them, we have a kitchen where you can take tea & bread in the morning. We all sit together. It’s a very kind place.”

microfinance offices

Karibu Momentum!

Winning Out Through Culture

Employees at Momentum clearly believe that these efforts are helping them build something special  “Once you’re here, there’s openness. If there’s a problem, we solve it quickly, there’s no bureaucracy, honestly. People here like to do things first. We are a team of dynamic people. I think our average age is 26. It’s a very dynamic office, and that whole culture translates to our clients. Our clients come here and they get surprised. It resonates with everyone. What we sell, is sold by more than 15 different companies as well. But why we sell well, is our people. In 2 years, we should win out.” Momentum may be a young company, but their growth trajectory is in part due to the culture that’s been developed among employees, allowing everyone to work together effectively.

As a client of Shortlist, we’re proud of the achievements Momentum have made in such a short time. If you think their working environment is a fit for you, check our open jobs to see if they’re hiring!