The Building Blocks of Community
Sara Ollo Adico was determined to contribute to her community by opening an early childhood school and nursery. Learn how participating in TechnoServe’s business plan competition helped her make the leap from concept to reality.
Following the first civil war in Côte d’Ivoire, TechnoServe designed a program to drive job and income creation through business plan competitions and subsequent training, funded by the World Bank. From 2009 to 2012, we identified promising entrepreneurs and provided them with the tools to start and grow their businesses. Trainings were followed by a 12-month aftercare period, in which entrepreneurs had the opportunity to expand their businesses with support from TechnoServe to access business development services, capital, and markets. By the end of the program, 1,320 jobs had been created, with 156 active businesses today.
Sara Ollo Adico is the owner of one of these active ventures: La Coccinelle, an early childhood school and nursery. Eight years since participating in the program, Sara shares with us what her life was like before entering the business plan competition, the challenges and rewards she experienced when opening her school, and her dreams for the future and her community.
Tell us a bit about the business plan you entered into the competition.
I had an idea to start an early childhood school and nursery to better serve my community, but I had been waiting for the right opportunity. Then, in 2011, I saw an ad in the local newspaper inviting people to apply to a business plan competition financed by the World Bank and implemented by TechnoServe. I asked myself, “why not?” I had nothing to lose and jumped at this chance to present my idea.
Luckily my application to join the project was accepted, my idea was well received, and I was able to progress throughout all of the project’s stages, including: business plan training, mentorship, and seed capital. The financial award I received from the World Bank, along with the training from TechnoServe, enabled me to open my school, La Coccinelle, that same year.
Describe your life before enrolling in the business plan competition.
Before TechnoServe, I did not feel empowered to embark on entrepreneurship – I didn’t believe that I was capable of starting a business. I had been a school manager for 15 years and was married with a child; starting something on my own felt too risky. I knew that if I were to transition from employee to entrepreneur, technical and financial support would be essential.
After opening your school, what were the main challenges you faced?
The real challenge for me was to leave the stability of my job as an employee to become an employer! And try to succeed with something I had never attempted before. The other main obstacle was not having my own space that was appropriate for the school. I began by renting space in the city from a local landlord, but after five years, when we were really beginning to build and retain a loyal student body, the space was taken away from me and instead given to a family member of the landlord. This was a real setback for me and the team to endure.
How has your business changed since then?
On September 11, 2011, we began our first school year with 13 students and four employees. Today, we are in our eighth school year, with 105 students (65 girls) and 11 employees. We have grown from a small house to a duplex and have been able to invest in offering additional games, activities, and educational materials to the children.
What have been the most beneficial elements of TechnoServe’s training?
Receiving coaching and training on all aspects of the business lifecycle from starting to growing a business have been, and remain, most important to me. Learning about marketing and business management has enabled me to find new ways to expand my clientele on a daily basis. Additionally, it was invaluable to receive aftercare support from TechnoServe even after the official trainings completed.
How has life at home changed for you since opening La Coccinelle?
My family and I feel more fulfilled, and my husband looks at me with pride. I have gone from housewife to entrepreneur and have gained authority. The only downside is that my availability has taken a hit, but thanks to my business, I am able to contribute much more effectively to our household expenses.
Has your school contributed to any job creation within your community?
Yes – through La Coccinelle, I have created jobs, and I am proud to participate in the development of my community. Among our 11 employees, three have been with me since the beginning. They believed in our school’s mission then and now, and use their incomes to take care of their families.
Do you have a favorite memory from your time working with TechnoServe?
We have very good memories of our days working with Technoserve. Knowing that Technoserve still continues to support us even after the project has ended is one of the best memories. For our first end-of-year party, we invited representatives from TechnoServe and the World Bank to attend and present our children with their awards. Despite there being only 13 students at the time, these two partners came, which enhanced not only the quality of the event but also the reputation of the school within the neighborhood for both parents and students. It is a memory we will never forget.
What are your hopes for you, your family, and your school in the future?
I am dedicated to opening a school staffed with specialized preschool educators. Additionally, I am currently seeking investments to build on the 2,000 square meters of land I have already acquired to house an entire school complex that will range from nursery school to high school, and will include a recreation center. By next year we plan to open a primary school for our current students, own our own space, and expand to more than 200 students. I sincerely hope that La Coccinelle will be a powerful training center caring for early childhood in the community – the foundation for any successful society.