6 Lessons Learned:
How Salesforce Enables Agribusiness in Africa

Written by Balt Leenman, March 2018


Many Western world - Africa projects are facing challenges. There is the past of paternalistic aid projects, there are cultural differences and political issues. The trend is ‘trade not aid’. New technology can play an enabling role in development. In this paper I personally present “6 most valuable lessons learned”.


In 2013, I started a new business with a focus at ‘inclusive business’: multinationals that collaborate with international NGOs with a focus on Africa. BoP Innovation Center (BoPInc) was my first customer. This was a direct spin off of the partnership of Capgemini and Nyenrode MBA. For two years, I spent one day per week learning about international NGOs. Mr. Mackenzie Masaki, International MBA student, asked me to be his business sponsor. One of the projects was 2SCALE. My role at BoPInc was to learn and share my know-how. I advised to apply the Salesforce platform for the 2SCALE project, and we executed a successful pilot project in Africa.


Salesforce enables scalability. The ‘born in the cloud platform’ is designed to scale. An application for 5 users can easily be expanded to 5,000 or 5,000,000 users, if set up the correct way. This made Salesforce an ideal solution for the 2SCALE program.

the challenge: 1,200,000 very poor smallholder farmers in Africa to double their income

2SCALE (2SCALE.org) is a 50M€ initiative addressing 1.2M smallholder farmers in 9 African countries. These were to be organized into 500 corporations, with 4,000 private companies participating in doubling the investment of 50M€ with their contribution. 


The challenge of the program was to double the income of these smallholder farmers. Keeping track of the grants, the installments and the progress of this vast program was a big headache. Imagine the grant manager dealing with hundreds of different spreadsheets while trying to keep track of all the various stages of the project. He found himself being close to a burn-out.


Salesforce turned out to provide the perfect solution to this problem. In a pilot implementation of one week - in Accra, Ghana - we implemented the Salesforce Platform. With Salesforce, all information was gathered in one place. Moreover: automated reminders, triggers, and milestones maked sure all projects were managed effectively. That was quite a relieving experience for this grant manager.


After implementation the team worked with the system for two months. The outcome was extremely positive: the grant manager was relieved, the project manager enthusiastic, and the directors were surprised by the impact. During this project, I gained a lot of insights I would like to share with you. Here are the six lessons learned in Western world - Africa projects:


lesson 1. Listen, be aware of cultural sensitivities

During this pilot project we heard many times: "It does not work like this here in Africa!" One part of me was conscious that Africa is a completely different continent, and I surely realized that I was just an apprentice in the field of NGOs. However, collaboration and teamwork are advanced expertises I could bring to the table. By listening carefully to the African team members we were able to come to solutions and implement Salesforce in such a way that it addressed the pain points and took away a burden.

lesson 2. A scalable online platform brings a lot of value

A large, distributed program like 2SCALE comes with a lot of administration. Many reports were emailed to collect data, and with a lot of spreadsheets the administration had to be kept up. Applying the Salesforce platform, all data was to be entered only once, workflows and triggers automated the processes of decision making and brought a great relief to the project and grant managers!

lesson 3. Online collaboration is not always possible

Most African farmers have access to internet, even at locations where there is no electricity. But bandwidth is not always sufficient. Some of the locations had poor or no internet connection. It was proven that working in offline mode at some dislocations was quite acceptable: once there was internet connection the Salesforce database synchronized and that proved to be good enough. This was the most elevating experience to us, we had expected much more push back from the users in areas with low internet connection!

lesson 4. User adoption and collaboration is crucial

The African 2SCALE team was not very technology savvy: management worked with paper calendars, team members sent each other emails with attachments to run the project. Some of the locations had poor or no internet connection. Notwithstanding these hurdles, the pilot team quickly learned to adopt Salesforce and started to collaborate: touching every item only once, working together on the same page. This was a key success factor.

lesson 5. Transparency may not always be welcome

One of the things Salesforce does is create transparency. It becomes crystal clear what decisions are made and where each dollar goes. Where we initially thought this to be a big benefit, it may or may not be the case. Transparency may not always be welcomed and might even be a blocking issue. Our western, rational approach of business may not always be compliant with the local habits.

lesson 6. Understanding internal politics and pressure is important

The 2SCALE Salesforce pilot proved that using Salesforce was very beneficial: the project and grant managers were very positive about the outcome. Despite the fact that the business case was clear, senior management decided not to implement Salesforce. The reason given was that "the project is under too much pressure to have such an implementation project", even though, they admitted, the pilot was even more successful than one could have expected. To me this sounds irrational, but I realize that I cannot oversee all aspects.


These 6 lessons I learned are my own experience and from my personal perspective, but I hope they can also be inspiring or helpful to other Western people doing business in African countries, or vice versa. I am very interested in other people's experiences and would be happy to hear about it over a cup of coffee!



Would you like to know more about the business case discussed in this paper, or get in touch with us about your ideas or challenges?
Contact Balt Leenman:
Mobile: +31(0)652869224
Email: balt@g.company