THE first time I heard about the Matching Grant Facility* was at the end of a breathless tirade by one of my Non-Executive Directors who was at risk of a heart attack because a potential investor from Denmark had just pulled out after six months of discussions, negotiations and due diligence.
We had done everything within our powers except win their full confidence – our financials were perfect, our audits were clear, our operations had been streamlined and our processes were documented and simplified.
But the Groom left us standing at the Altar with a bouquet of flowers. Luckily for us, we didn’t have a throng of invited guests seated quietly behind us humming along to the celebratory hymns and remarking on our wedding dress – but we were still warm in the cheek with the feeling of being jilted.
So when this Director fell upon the announcement that we were eligible for the Matching Grant Facility of the CEDP (Competitiveness Enterprise Development Programme) of the Government of Uganda and the International Development Association (IDA) of the World Bank he almost lost his mind.
We could have easily joined him because of all the abbreviations involved and the nervous tick he developed between his discovery and the time he burst into the office to tell us about it.
We calmed him down after a while and went to the internet to establish how eligible we were and what we could do to qualify and, indeed, there was a lot right down our aisle: Management Training (we needed that); Marketing support (who couldn’t do with more of that, including the giants in this economy?); Record keeping (that was always a sore thorn even as we courted the Danish runaway Groom); Finance (are you kidding me?!). The list was even longer, and included the Acquisition of Quality Certification Systems; Business Plan Preparation; and Production Techniques.
We spent hour upon hour brainstorming before focusing on the “Matching” part of the MGF.
That was the game-changer. We hadn’t spent so much time, effort and even money on the Danish potential investor because we were doing extremely well and wanted to share profits with anyone else. The business was difficult at the time and we were in dire straits.
So this option of a Grant appeared to be a rich potential husband stepping up to take over.
Not at all, the documentation said. This was a business partner seeking to bring in resources to MATCH what we had but for our benefit – purely for our own benefit.
We dropped the idea, as a business, but I have since kept a keen eye on the Facility because I suspected it would generally be successful in some cases and it would be important to either stay or become eligible for enough time to put an enterprise on the shelf to enjoy this relationship.
The path to eligibility is not easy but every religion advises us daily to avoid the easy paths because they lead to ruin – and life proves this in every field we attempt.
From the simple things like ensuring your business is properly registered and maintains clear records and complies with tax and pension requirements, besides all the other statutory regulations out there, we learn that there is value in toeing the line.
The line items that the Matching Grant Facility supports make a radical change to one’s business regardless of how simple they appear on the surface.
Today I work for a company involved in producing and distributing beverages, and one of our main advantages is our strict adherence to quality, processes and structure.
Back then, in my private company and working with friends in the Small, Medium Enterprise struggle, even without applying for the CEDP MGF of the PSFU under the WB* (that arrangement of abbreviations always tickles me!) we benefitted.
See, we studied those documents for so long and so seriously that we began to adhere to some of the requirements because they were obviously important to people who were interested in developing SMEs like we were.
And it paid off in many ways!
At some point we discussed over lively refreshments how much more it would have paid if we HAD gone ahead and applied after making all those changes – but by then our boat had sailed…or, to stick with the analogy, the Priest had gone and the rings had been returned.
There were other businesses that benefitted, and I have watched them carefully ever since.
Close to 300 (284, to be near-exact) Small and Medium Scale Enterprises have benefitted from this fund, with US$2million dished out amongst them, which means US$4million (a rough estimate) has been injected into these businesses in a manner designed to grow private enterprise in Uganda!
Speaking to the people inside the organisations last month gave me even more accurate figures: “The MGF has to-date re-imbursed 107 activities in Agribusiness with grants of US$627,970; 39 activities under Fisheris with US$192,149; 52 activities under ICT/BPO (Information Communication Technologies/Business Process Outsourcing) with US$657,161; and 101 activities in Tourism worth US$501,872,” wrote one official.
Did you notice the use of the word “re-imburse” there?
That was the last straw that broke our camel’s back when we were considering the MGF in those old days of mine. But now that I know, believe me I am planning to accumulate the necessary funds in advance so I can one day successfully apply for the Matching Grant Facility and spur business forward at a much faster pace than I ever could on my own.
Who says private sector is impossible to manouevre? Only people who don’t read the small print.
*The Matching Grant Facility (MGF) is a component of the Competitiveness and Enterprise Development Project (CEDP) , financed by Government of Uganda/ World Bank and implemented by the Private Sector Foundation of Uganda (PSFU).