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Future-proof Hospitality Services for Benin
"The young entrepreneurs in Benin are really energetic. In principle, they have all the skills they need to be successful - all that's missing is a positive vibe... I'm amazed by the energy of the women, they're so creative. But the men moved me too."
These are the words of Loes Geurts, a seasoned trainer and coach with a great deal of experience in the world of project development, particularly in the field of hospitality concepts and accommodation. The common thread in her multi-faceted career has always been her drive to make people's work visible. Wanting them to be proud of what they do. And especially the work done by people who don't believe that they matter. "I see that a lot, for example in people in the facilities sector such as cleaners... yet it's hard work and so important."
Leadership and hospitality
In February 2019, Loes went to work on behalf of PUM for the second time: This time, she visited SMEs in the Hotel and Restaurant sector in Benin. Her commission was to train entrepreneurs in 'Leadership and hospitality'. Eleven entrepreneurs had registered for the course, through BeniBiz, PUM's local partner. The training course Loes gave did not only cover technical knowledge but also so-called soft factors, which play a large part in the success of any entrepreneur. Take for example awareness of your personal attitude. Or try to answer the question 'Why?'. Why do I have a business? Why do I want to expand? Why does my staff not do what I want them to? To name but a few. "Asking 'why' is extremely effective", says Loes. "It creates freedom, because in the process of answering, participants discover their own responsibility and passion."
“Asking 'why' is extremely effective", says Loes. "It creates freedom, because in the process of answering, participants discover their own responsibility and passion”.
Following the three-day training, Loes went on to travel through Benin to work individually and on location with the entrepreneurs on their specific issues. Many of the questions were technical ones about construction, or questions about hygiene. And many entrepreneurs were experiencing challenges with their staff. They struggled to deploy staff efficiently - how many employees do I actually need? And which work do they carry out, when and how? But behaviour was also an important factor. Loes recalls. "On location, I see how employees are treated. They are expected to be on-call 24/7 and at the same time, give 100%. I call my entrepreneurs to account on this." One of the female participants immediately applied her newly acquired insights and has actively involved her staff in her company. She asked them about their dreams and ideas. This step made a big difference. They set up a clear division of hours and tasks, redecorated the restaurant beautifully and switched to organic cuisine. Since then, the turnover has grown rapidly.
BeniBiz was impressed by the impact made by the first training course Loes gave and asked her to repeat it. Loes returned in the summer of 2019 and a third visit is planned for February 2020. All in all, 30 participants have taken part in the training course so far, and a separate Hospitality Training was taken by eight employees from the first group of entrepreneurs (from February 2019). Loes also trained 34 Business Advisors (BAs) of BeniBiz in coaching skills. The latter was crucial to the success of Loes's work. This allowed the BAs, who supervise entrepreneurs from all sectors, to become a part of this specific programme. The idea is that they continue to coach the entrepreneurs in Loes's absence. Passing on her knowledge to the BAs in this way was for Loes an extra way of safeguarding the lasting effect of her work.
“I hope we all visit Benin, to join our local partners in enabling sustainable development on the basis of equality. And then we can all be thankful that we were privileged to do this work.”
It's a matter of principle. "If my work did not have a lasting effect, I would not go back. It must have an impact in the long term." For that reason, all participants are given a list - binding and signed - of actions to be taken; including actions which cost nothing but are intended to lead to increased turnover. They give a monthly update over the status by way of the WhatsApp group which Loes sets up for each workshop. But those app groups serve other uses as well: the entrepreneurs introduce themselves and post photos of their companies and staff - something most unusual in the somewhat formal culture of Benin. It creates a link between the participants who often live and work a long way from each other. And that linking has in turn led to entrepreneurs setting up cooperatives in which all sorts of collaborations take place, even after the training course has been completed.
"As a country, Benin receives a lot of attention from aid organisations", says Loes. "I hope we all visit it, to join our local partners in enabling sustainable development on the basis of equality. And then we can all be thankful that we were privileged to do this work."
Text: Sylvia Szely
Photography: Loes Geurts