Blog - April 2016

Memories from Kenya

Kenya Focus Group

Karen BeamishABE's international product development director, Karen Beamish, describes the experience of visiting Kenya with product owner, Alice Salter.

Memories from Kenya

We have now been away from home for a seven days, undertaken six flights, to three countries, plus two transfers through South Africa.  We have been lugging around seven pieces of luggage including marketing materials and a flip stand, which in itself got us in some hot water at the airport this morning with Kenya Airlines wanting to charge us for excess baggage.

A few hours later, after a good flight, we arrived into a very warm, humid and relatively overcast Nairobi, where we were met by Aloyo Amateshe (ABE’s regional manager) and his extremely dazzling sunglasses!  We progressed slowly through the city of Nairobi and arrived at the Fairmont Norfolk.  With only half an hour to spare, Alice and I quickly went to our rooms to freshen up and then re-joined Aloyo for our third tutor focus group of the trip. 

In attendance were thirteen tutors from the Nairobi area, each from a different centre, all sat facing us quietly. However, they quickly started working together in groups, providing feedback and contributing significantly to the qualifications review process, so much so, they stayed an hour longer than planned.  They told us things we had heard in other countries, but also gave us some fresh  perspectives. 

One thing that has become increasingly apparent during this trip is the value of these groups not just to ABE, but to the colleges and students.  On all occasions we have seen the different  groups busy establishing new contacts, creating new networks, arranging to meet, and setting themselves up on various social media.   On each occasion one of the tutor and student groups has stood up and spoken on behalf of the groups to thank ABE for the opportunity to have a say in their future, be that learning or educating.

Centre focus group Kenya

Finally, the Kenya Centre focus group ended some three hours after it started with photo shoot with the new marketing collateral, with each centre representatives holding up their new ABE accredited centre badges and logos. 

Thursday morning started with a painfully early meeting at 7.30am with TVETA (the Kenyan regulator). Originally intended to be a workshop on their new regulatory framework and international  accreditation process.  We were asked lots of questions, not just about ABE but also about Ofqual (the UK regulator).

This was followed by a meeting with Nirobi Institute of Business Studies college.  Driving through the streets to downtown Nairobi is certainly not for the faint-hearted! Fumes, traffic, pedestrians, bikes, children, wagons, tuk tuks, policemen – you name it, you need to negotiate it. It was quite a hair-raising experience but we did have fun.  Once there, we had a positive meeting with the Academic Head and Head of Department for Business. 

Alice and I once again braced ourselves for the crazy streets of Nairobi and we headed back to the hotel for a late lunch and a debrief with Aloyo before running the next focus group with some ABE learners. We were not disappointed – just as in Botswana and Malawi, they were a great group of young people and we had some real characters in attendance.

Alice, Bonnie, Karen - KenyaThe most confident of the group was  Bonnie Kim (pictured with Alice & Karen) who very quickly introduced himself and presented Alice and I with his business card – Motivational Speaker, Best Selling Author, Management Trainer and Consultant. When asked to introduce himself to the rest of the group, he promptly said “hold hands to the person next to you and tell them they are the most wonderful person in the world”.  In true reserved British tradition Alice and I looked each other in horror but joined hands to join in.  So much laughter followed, not just then but for the rest of the time.

We got some great and very insightful input from the group who were really switched on and knew what they wanted. A common theme was the opportunity for more inter-college interaction and ABE learner networking events learn from their peers who may be experiencing different things.

In true African tradition, we ended with yet another photo shoot and we didn’t actually say goodbye for another 40 minutes or so while the madness of photos ensued.  I was very sad to say goodbye knowing that our learner focus groups were now complete for the time being.

And so we came to our final night in Africa and after some emailing catch-up notes we went for a late dinner, where we spent a lot of time reflecting on the trip, the experience, the learning and considering how we take account of it all in the next few months of work! Well, sort of, as our flight isn’t until 11pm at night. All packed up and with a slightly later start this morning, we prepared for our final focus group of the trip with Kenyan employers. The group very productive and we got some different insights from the group which was a bonus, particularly around the issue of localisation and readiness for the workplace. You can certainly tell that Nairobi is a commercial centre. Once again, we’ve made some great contacts who we can form continued relationships with which will be a great benefit to ABE.

So the focus groups are now complete! The insights we have gained will really help us to understand the wants and needs of our stakeholders in Botswana, Malawi, Kenya and beyond given the number of common issues and ideas raised.

All in all a good couple of weeks.

Centre focus group Kenya

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Malawi: Wow, what a place!

 

Malawi Focus Group

 

Alice SalterAlice Salter (product owner) describes meeting learners, centres, regulators and employers with Karen Beamish (product development director) on an unforgettable, first-ever trip to Malawi:

Wow, what a place!

Although, we have only been here for three days, we’ve loved it. It’s lush and green and everyone is so colourful, happy and friendly. We didn’t really love the journey though. After a slight mishap in the transit check in queue (i.e., we were in the wrong one for about 40 minutes…) meant what should have been a leisurely one and a half hours in Johannesburg turned into a bit of a mad dash!  The plane was an oven, not helped by 45 minutes sitting on the tarmac in Blantyre before a very quick final flight to Malawi. For someone who strongly dislikes take-off and landing, two take-offs and two landings in one day was a bit much!

We received a warm welcome from Harlod (ABE area manager) who had been waiting patiently for us while we got our visas and drove into Lilongwe with an impressive view of lightning over the city!

After a good rest, we were up early Monday morning for a busy day ahead. Harlod and Doreen (our ABE area manager based in Blantyre) came to pick us up. First up – a meeting with the regulator, TEVETA. We were welcomed by a strong delegation who were very happy to see us. We spent a good two hours with the TEVETA team, learning much about each other’s organisations.

Next, it was back to the hotel for our Centre Focus Group. It was a great turnout and people had travelled all the way from Blantyre, (an arduous 4/5 hour drive)! I think it is testament to the commitment of ABE centres and the work that Harlod and Doreen do on the ground.

It was a productive session and we were able to gain a good understanding of the experience of being ABE centres and what we need to consider in the future.   It was a very positive session and everyone was so grateful that we had taken the time to share our plans.  

Before long, we were all back in the car heading to the hotel for our second focus group of the day.  This time with ABE learners and what an amazing time we had. We had the privilege of meeting a fantastic group of students representing various ABE centres in Malawi. As with the centres, some of the learners had travelled all the way from Blantyre which just goes to show how important ABE is!  Once again, meeting ABE learners has been the highlight of the trip. We had such balanced, objective feedback.  They clearly value their ABE studies and have high hopes for their exam sittings later this year. 

What’s great about working with Harlod and Doreen is that they are both ABE graduates and true ambassadors for the organisation .  They are both inspiring and encouraging.

Tuesday has been another eye-opening day. As our Employer Focus Group wasn’t until this evening, we had the day to visit some of our key centres in Malawi to meet more of ABE’s most important stakeholder – the learners. It also gave Karen and I the chance to take in more of life in Lilongwe as we drove around – there was so much to see, I just wanted to get out and explore on foot!

Learners - Malawi Technical CollegeWe visited the Malawi College of Accountancy, K&M School of Accountancy and Lilongwe Technical College where we met with some very noisy, feisty and enthusiastic students. We talked to them about their studies, gave them the opportunity to tell us about their experiences of being ABE learners and wished them all the best in their exams. Before leaving each centre there was one very important thing – a photo!

We have left a legacy now by telling them that we all say ‘sausages’ in the UK when having our photos taken!  You should have heard the laughter that ensued, it was a real joy. 

After saying our goodbyes to the final college, we went back to the hotel to prepare for our final focus group in Malawi – the inaugural Employer Focus Group! There had been much anticipation about this and it didn’t disappoint! Both Harlod and Doreen were very pleased with the way it went and the employers were greatly appreciative of the chance to understand the ABE qualifications in more detail.

Our top achievement of the day was hearing from these employers, they would definitely want to consider candidates with ABE qualifications and were really keen to engage more with ABE. This really was a fantastic and fruitful meeting – one which will be instrumental to our work on the qualifications review.

It has also allowed us to establish the foundation of future relationships with the employers of Malawi. They went on to give us their views on employability skills, general business skills, local requirements and offered much insight into potential short-courses.  They all volunteered to continue to support us and respond to surveys, have further meetings and offered up names of other contacts for Harlod and Doreen to connect. 

It's been a very long day and a seemingly relentless week and we are sat in the hotel lobby with coffee as we catch-up with emails and write this travel blog.

Tomorrow, we head to Kenya where everything is in hand for our next round of focus groups.  I can't wait!

Alice 

 

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Highlights from Botswana

As part of our Qualification Review ABE's product development team is touring the world to talk to ABE learners, centres, employers, and local regulators and education authorities about their aspirations and needs for the future.  Here, ABE Product Owner, Alice Salter, described her first stop in Botswana.

Arriving in Botswana

Alice SalterWe departed Heathrow on Wednesday night and landed in Johannesburg at around 9.30am with a few hours to spare before our transfer to Botswana.  Having dragged Karen Beamish (ABE’s product development director) out of Browns jewellery shop, it was time for our flight and we finally got to feel the South African heat as we walked across the tarmac to a rather tiny turbo-prop plane.   It aroused a series of emotions with  Karen, as it was the first time she’d been back to South Africa since she lived there in 2010, while setting up an international office.  We finally touched down in an equally toasty Botswana.

We were met at the airport by Michael Ocaya, (ABE’s Area Manager for Botswana), which was slightly tricky as none of us had ever met one another before, or indeed seen a photo! 

After a quick but much appreciated shower we headed off on our first centre visit to see the Gaborone University College of Law. We met with three of our colleagues there, including the head of department.

Friday started with an early morning breakfast meeting with two of the representatives from the International School of Business and Science (ISBS), a college that had been delivering ABE programmes for eight years. Again, we opened the meeting by listening to our colleagues and giving them chance to tell us about their experiences of working as an ABE centre. We also had the opportunity to discuss the qualifications' review and ISBS were very positive.

After the meeting wit

h ISBS, we headed off to meet with the Botswana Qualifications Authority (BQA). We were welcomed to the BQA office by four of the BQA team, three of whom met with ABE when visiting London earlier this year.   The Acting CEO, Andrew, gave us a very informative presentation about the background of BQA, their mandate, and their key objectives.  This was followed by a presentation from Karen on ABE’s product strategy.  It was an engaging and positive meeting.

We headed back to our hotel for a quick lunch and team debrief with Michael before driving over to the Tlotlo conference centre for our first focus group with ABE learners. I think I can speak for both Karen and myself when I say that this was the highlight of the visit to Botswana.

It’s always great to meet our learners and, after some nerves, we soon all got into the swing of things and got some great feedback! We had a good turnout – with learners from across several ABE centres in Gaborone. They were an energetic bunch with some determined and ambitious individuals in the group.

After a very excitable photo session – selfies were the order of the day!   The group were invited to join us for well-earned tea and cake. So deserved in fact that by the time Karen and I made it to the table, there was no cake left for us….!

Having had a bit of a lie in on Saturday morning with breakfast at 8.00am we then headed back to the conference centre for our centre focus group. We had a good range of college representatives and were really grateful to everyone for sparing us their time on a Saturday morning. The session began with an overview of our approach to qualifications’ development and the qualification review – it’s aims and our early thoughts were welcomed by the group.

After sharing lunch with our centre colleagues and thanking them for their time, Karen and I were free for the latter half of the afternoon and decided to make the most of the Botswana sunshine, but 

Botswana Learner Focus Group

not before a quick dash into the local shopping mall. We made it back to the hotel and had some well-earned rest before an early start on Sunday and a day of travelling to Malawi!  

 

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Botswana Learner Focus Group

Think Big Act Bold - ABE in China

Following an agreement with Telfort Education Group, ABE returned to China for the launch roadshow and official opening of of ABE China Examination Centres and area office. Here ABE's regional director, Ren Varma, provides a personal account of an event filled trip.

Rem VarmaThe Background

In November 2015 I celebrated my second month anniversary with ABE in China, where we signed a formal agreement with Telfort Education Group. Here in April 2016 I am back in China for the roadshow and the official launch of the ABE China Examination Centres.

The Journey

Kate Winter, ABE's marketing director, and I boarded the flight from Heathrow on 16 April at 10.30 pm. After an arduous  12-hour journey and little sleep (though Kate complained that I was snoring), we touched down at Shanghai Airport at 5.15 pm.  Here, we were picked up from the airport by Bob Pi, the Vice President, operations at Telfort Group.   I was dreaming of a nice shower and comfy bed even though I knew it wasn't going to happen. We checked in at the hotel and were driven by Bob to a nice restaurant serving Sichuan food (very hot and spicy). Brian Yang, President of Telfort and Ron Cornelius, Vice President of Telfort were waiting for us. We discussed strategy over the spicy food and planned for the next day.

The day

Brian and Ron picked us up at 8.50 am and we were driven to the Shanghai University of Technology main campus in Fuxei. Shanghai University of Technoology (SUT) is one of the top ranking Universities in China specially for Industrial Design and Engineering. The self-contained main campus accommodates 20,000 students and is as big as a town with academic buildings, indoor and outdoor stadiums, laboratories, hostel facilities for students and apartments for the staff.

At the SUT campus we were welcomed by  Prof Dr ye Yinzhong, Vice President Shanghai University of Technology, Dr Yunbin Zhang, Director and Dr Cheng Daolai, Vice Director. The meeting was excellent and the Vice President spoke more about SUT, their programmes, their mission and vision. This was followed by a talk about ABE, the vision and mission and the plan for China. We emphasised ABE’s commitment to invest and grow in China and to ensure that affordable high quality ABE qualifications are accessible to millions of Chinese learners through ABE China and Telfort, thereby creating skilled workforce and entrepreneurs of the future whilst transforming lives and contributing to  China's qualified workforce.  We spoke about the synergy between ABE’s and SUT’s mission and goals, stressed ABE’s commitment to China and the importance in today’s world in creating skilled and employable global citizens and entrepreneurs.

This was followed by a tour of the campus. This session showed us a whole new world and picture of China and how much they invest in developing learners' skills and knowledge base. This was followed by a photo session and a “simple lunch”, equates to a minimum of 16 courses. We again discussed strategy with the SUT and Telfort team .

Next we drove to the Telfort – SUT campus in Shanghai city for the launch of ABE’s first exam and study centre. The event was attended by the staff from Telfort- SUT Shanghai city campus. Brian gave the welcome speech and spoke about growing ABE China. Gareth Robinson in his speech spoke about the direction that ABE is taking in China and the commitment in creating skilled and career ready entrepreneurs and workforce. The unveiling of the ABE examination centre plaque was jointly done by Gareth and Dr Yunbin Zhang. This was indeed a truly remarkable moment for us as ABE’s Chinese dream became a reality. This was followed by an informal chat with the campus staff.

The next item on the agenda was the official opening of the ABE China office.  

We were taken to a nice restaurant serving Shanghai food for a “simple dinner”. Staff and the senior management team from Telfort joined us. More discussions and planning over the dinner followed. This was followed by a drive to the band stand to show us the high rises of Shanghai. At this point we all were very tired, but felt great. It was indeed a very productive day. 

 

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Telford - China April 2016

Patrick Muthengi Ngere, National Sales and Marketing Manager, Agrichem Africa Ltd

PATRICK MUTHENGII am 38 years old. I am married and we are blessed with two children. A boy and a girl. I am currently pursuing my MBA-Corporate management at KCA University in Nairobi Kenya. 
 
I work at Agrichem Africa Limited. We are a medium sized company with over 70 employees. The company deals with manufacture and distribution of agrochemical products and seeds. These include pesticides, seeds and farm inputs. We sell our products through selected distributors throughout the country. The company has been in operation for more than 10 years now.
 
Being the manager in charge of sales and marketing, my job entails coming up with the strategic plans and reviews, producing and implementing action plans, preparing annual budgets, identify marketing opportunities by identifying consumer requirements, defining new markets and assessing competitors' share. It also entails collecting marketing information; analysing and summarising the information to enable the management make informed decisions. 
 
My job gives me a lot of satisfaction. As a manager I enjoy offering workable solutions to our farmers. Once our customers are satisfied with our products they will buy again and again. This in turn helps to increase my employer’s profit. I enjoy seeing satisfied staff as well as my customers.
 
Getting to this point has been a long journey for me. My first job being a driver/office messenger to a National Sales and Marketing Manager now. I attribute my success to hard work and being focused. There have been times where I have been forced to sacrifice a lot in terms of time and money to continue with my studies. My wife and our two children have been very supportive and understanding.
 
I am very passionate about my work and always aim to give more than what is expected of me by my employer. Due to this passion and commitment, I am been able to excel in my career and get to where I am to date.
 
ABE helped me to discover my strengths. The course equipped me well to discover my passion for marketing. My marketing skills were sharpened and my performance at work improved tremendously. As a result the management moved me from being an office messenger to a sales executive. Within a span of one year I got promoted to a territory sales manager. Afterwards I joined Mount Kenya University to do a degree in Business Management specialising in marketing. Because of ABE qualifications they gave me credit transfers and I joined the 3rd year.
 
To those students aspiring to start their ABE studies, I wish to inform them that ABE offers the best in terms of quality and content. After completing their advanced or higher diploma (Level 5 and 6) a student is able to advance to their third year in university. 
 
ABE will lay a good foundation for the students. Never lose hope.

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Tedetia Chance, Assistant Accountant, Donemar Limited - Jamaica

Tedetia ChanceI am the eldest of three children. I have always had an interest in business. Working in an accounting environment has provided the means in which I can express my potential. 
 
I am currently employed by Donemar Limited the island’s primary distributor for medical supplies to public hospitals and health centres.  As the Assistant Accountant my main responsibility is to manage the public accounts. I ensure that clients are kept up-to date with their account status.  Also, it is important for me to implement new policy and procedure that aids the financial performance of the business. I manage both accounts owed and payable, communicate with clients and design suitable credit terms and payment policies. I also assist with the preparation of company’s financial accounts.
 
My job allows me to make decisions that are in the best interest of the company. I like the fact that I am able to link it to things that are covered by the ABE syllabus, this provides me with guidance to carry out my everyday tasks. I also enjoy that, with the decisions I take, I have created a faster turn-around time for outstanding debt. To see result of the work I have done keeps me motivated each day. 
 
Previously, I was working at a beverage company when I decided that I need to further my studies. It was very expensive for me to fund a tertiary education plus to be working at the same time was a challenge. My tight schedule would not allow me to sit in a classroom. I came across ABE online.  I did my research and realised that it gave me the option for self-study. I decided to pursue that option because it gave me the opportunity to take on as much work as I was able to manage at any one time. The fee was manageable too. This for was a breakthrough and a foundation on which I could start my Bachelors degree
 
The ABE course work is very in-depth and current. The ABE qualification is globally accepted and can be used as entry to gain a Bachelors degree. I am now in my final semester with the Heriot-Watt University pursuing the BBA in Business Management. After five years working as an accounts receivable clerk, I was able to get a job offer as the assistant accountant at Donemar Limited. ABE has helped me to make this change in my life. I can combine my on the job experience with ABE qualification. I am proud to say ‘ONE LOVE’ ABE for creating and paving the way on which I am able further my studies.  
 
I would say to students starting out, they have embarked on a life changing programme that will impact on their career in positive ways. The lessons learnt from the ABE course will help them in their professional life. This path that these new students have taken with ABE.  It has created the foundation for further academic development. The ABE course is intense – allow sufficient time in order to achieve a desired result.

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