Ajima Farms Energy Division is an exciting, young social enterprise located in Nigeria that seeks to promote energy access in rural off-grid communities. Their Waste-2-Watt project uses biogas to generate electricity. Through targeting energy access to productive activities, Fatima, the founder of Waste-2-Watt, seeks to ‘transform off-grid communities by expanding energy access for socio-economic development.’ We asked Fatima and Sabrina, from the finance advisory team at BfE, for some more insights into the journey that Ajima Farms has taken so far.
Fatima, what inspired you to start this project?
Initially, we were looking to solve the issue of improper waste disposal on poultry farms and simultaneously to solve energy access issues in Nigeria. However, we quickly realised that energy access posed a severe challenge for many off-grid farming communities – and that the potential impact of electrifying such communities could be transformational. This motivated us to focus on developing our current projects in two off-grid communities.
Was finding financial support in the early stages of Ajima Farms problematic? How did you overcome this?
When we started, it was very difficult to find financing. This was largely due to the perceived risks associated with a biogas mini-grid project which had never been attempted in Nigeria before. We decided to look for alternative means of financing to demonstrate proof of concept and, as such, we started applying for grants and business plan competitions. Finally, we raised our first financing through a grant.
How did you become aware of Bridges for Enterprise (BfE) and why did you choose to connect with it?
It was through applying for The Smart Village initiative competition that I heard about BfE. I decided to connect with it to benefit from the consultancy services as we were looking to develop a sound business proposal and financial consultancy.
How has BfE taken Ajima Farms further in its journey to bring energy to off-grid communities?
The team was very helpful in providing consultancy services that identified multiple suitable financing sources for our enterprise. They also helped us to develop three critical documents: a business proposal, a financial plan and a pitch deck. These are helping us to advance our projects to benefit the communities we would like to reach.
Sabrina, what is your perspective on the project with Ajima Farms? What were your initial steps and did your approach to the engagement change?
We started off the engagement with a call with Fatima which allowed us to get a clear idea of the specific challenges facing Ajima Farms and of the nature of their work. Thereafter, we held regular meetings to work on a financial model, pitch deck and a document to detail potential funding sources for Ajima Farms. Our team found that we enjoyed meeting up to discuss and work on the engagement; as such, we continued this approach of working on the engagement together. We also regularly sought feedback from Raghul and Fitz, our finance director at BfE and our professional mentor. They allowed us to improve our services and deliver high quality work.
What was the greatest challenge for the finance advisory team to overcome and how did you respond to this?
Developing the financial model for Waste-2-Watt was certainly the most challenging aspect of the engagement because we had limited past financial data. In order to develop reasonable assumptions for the model, we carried out intensive discussions within our team. In addition, we consulted the advice of other finance advisory members in the Singapore chapter and we sought the help of our mentor, Fitz. Fortunately, Fatima was very helpful in providing us with information whenever we needed it, and she answered all our queries.
It sounds like you enjoyed working with each other to create solutions to some of the challenges that Ajima Farms was facing. What did the team learn through completing this engagement?
One of the privileges of working in BfE is learning how to apply your skills to real life engagements rather than theoretical models in a textbook. In this particular case, we learnt how to develop a thorough financial model based on an enterprise with very limited financial information. With Fitz’s expertise and advice, we also learnt soft skills on how to present our financial model in a professional manner and how to communicate the conclusions we had drawn so that they were easily understandable.
After developing our model, we gained an insight into the process of sourcing for, and screening, relevant funding sources for social enterprise startups. By conducting thorough research into grants, competitions, venture capitals and other funding opportunities available to Ajima Farms, we achieved a far clearer understanding of how young social enterprises can access initial funding and what requirements they must fulfil in order to be successful in applying for financing.
Thank you for sharing this with us Sabrina.
If you had to give two pieces of advice to someone thinking of starting their own social enterprise, Fatima, what would they be?
Be passionate about the problem you are trying to solve! In addition, stakeholder engagements are critical and always involve the beneficiary from the beginning in designing sound solutions to social issues.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
It has been an absolute pleasure working with the team at BfE and we are thankful to them for an enriching and productive engagement.
Many thanks to Fatima and Sabrina for your thoughts. We wish Ajima Farms all the best for the future.