Aduna pioneers African healthy tree product exports

I’ve just had an excellent presentation from a guest speaker to my Global Strategy students at Hult Business School.  Nick Salter is one of the founders of Aduna, a London-based venture that creates demand through clever marketing for African super foods – products with remarkable health benefits from trees growing in Africa .  They currently import, add value to and market Baobab fruit, Moringa leaves and a special healthy form of Cacao.   They are the main marketer of these products in outlets like Holland and Barret, and remarkably for a small company, re-export their products to 18 other countries in Europe, the Middle East and Far East


His heartfelt belief is that the key to lifting Sub-Saharan  Africa out of poverty is “trade not aid”.  At least not aid the way it is generally configured.  Alot of aid to agricultural projects fails to deliver sustainable benefits to the targeted economies because it fails to generate demand for the produce, and because they are project-based (ie time limited), when the money runs out,  the development unwinds – eg trees are felled or abandoned.  Much better, he argues, for aid to be directed at creating demand in developed economies for these products.  This is what Aduna spend significant amounts of their investors’ money on.   And they are seeing significant social impact as a result.

I am with him on this. I have been visiting Uganda for the past ten years,  with a combined education and business development mission.   Dependency on aid is a real issue – made worse by the lack of transparency of what happens to the aid funds.  The real opportunity in a highly fertile country like Uganda is to create value-added (ie processed) exportable agricultural produce from the millions of acres of un-used but suitable land.   But “exportable” is the key!  Demand, which is satisfied with the right quality of product.

This is pioneering work.  It means breaking existing models and mindsets – changing not only how consumers in developed countries perceive these health products, but the business models and supply chains that deliver them.  It means challenging and possibly disrupting the way that “aid” works.  In marketing these kinds of health products, which by definition cannot be patented, it may at the same time mean challenging the way the health sector  delivers health solutions. This level of change means risk.

In my book, “Risky Strategy”, I have a chapter on “Strategic Pioneering”. I state in it that as well as a winning aspiration and an understanding of the key variables, the right risks are often those based on an opportunity to innovate or a need for change.  As we deliberately step into new territory, we know less about that territory, so the variability of possible outcomes is that much bigger, ie, it’s more risky.  We know that innovation and risk are inextricably linked.  Innovation means change and change inevitably feels risky.

Part of my exploration looks at how innovators feel safe with this kind of risk.  I will watch closely to see how this plays out with Aduna.


The start of a journey

I write this as my wife and I are about to start a new journey, moving to Uganda to help set up a new business education venture.

Nile journey

It seems appropriate to post a picture of the so-called “Source of the Nile” at Jinja in Uganda, at the point where the river flows out of Lake Victoria.  It was the mission of nineteenth century pioneers like Speke to try and find the source of the longest river in the world, and the water heart of early Egyptian civilisation.  We are intrigued by the question as to whether this “Pearl of Africa” ( a phrase coined by Winston Churchill to describe Uganda),  can still realise its potential to be the source of fruitful enterprise.

This new journey is the sequel to my previous one, to write “Risky Strategy”, and is perhaps an echo of that pioneering theme.  In the opening chapter I wrote:

“I also need to tell you that this book is a journey, for me and I hope for you, the reader.  It’s a journey that begins here, but I’m afraid doesn’t end within the confines of this book. If you are looking for a book that gives you the answers to all your questions about risk and strategy, then I would suggest you stop here, for you will be disappointed.  My hope is that this book asks a number of good questions that may help you think differently about how you approach strategic decision-making.”