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Engineers Without Borders


WSP is excited to partner for a second year with Engineers Without Borders (EWB)! Meet Janelle de Vries, Geomatics Proposal Office Lead from Calgary, Alberta. Janelle embarked at the end of September 2016 on a journey that has taken her to Toronto (for EWB training) and then to her fellowship in Zambia until March 2017. There are more ways to follow our Engineers Without Borders fellow this year via social media (Instagram and Facebook) and Janelle’s blog (both written and video) can be found on Janelleinzambia.ca.


A closer look at Rent to Own’s assistance to Zambian entrepreneurs

January 14, 2016

First, I’d like to say a big thank you to all who have been following my blog so far! Your interest and support really mean a lot. By now you probably know a little bit about Rent to Own and the work I am doing for them, but at the same time you’re keen to hear more. As such, I’d like to offer a closer look into Rent to Own and my day-to-day work activities.


The Rent to Own team at head office

The Business Model

Many Zambians live in poverty and the country as a whole is full of unmet potential.  In particular, rural Zambians have the skills and abilities to become successful entrepreneurs but lack the means to fully execute on their abilities.  In some cases, limited financial resources are the primary obstacle.  In other cases, the remoteness of the community makes physical acquisition of business assets unfeasible.   And additionally, some entrepreneurs do not have knowledge of how to grow their businesses.  The reality is that there is a huge market in Zambia where all three of these limitations are present.  Unlike traditional microfinance, which addresses only the first of these three obstacles, Rent to Own has come up with a solution that addresses all three.

Rent to Own inventory. Defy refrigerators are a top seller!

The Rent to Own business model involves supplying productive assets to rural Zambians on hire purchase.  In simple terms, if Joe in rural Zambia needs a piece of equipment to grow his business but can’t afford to pay for it outright, he can make a down payment and pay monthly installments until his contractual obligations have been fulfilled.  At this point the asset’s ownership is transferred from Rent to Own to Joe himself.  Rent to Own screens all suppliers, makes, and models to ensure that all assets supplied to clients are effective and reliable.  All assets are procured by Rent to Own, and then delivered to the client where a field officer will spend some time training each client on proper use and maintenance.  This gives rural Zambians the opportunity to acquire critical business assets regardless of how near or far they are to a business hub such as Lusaka, and regardless of their pre-existing knowledge of how to use a particular piece of equipment.

Just as all suppliers are screened, all clients are screened as well.  While Rent to Own is a social enterprise with a vision to lift underdeveloped communities out of poverty, it is also a for-profit organization.  It is important that each client’s unique situation is understood and that there is an assessment of their ability to make payments before assets are provided.  The asset itself is held as collateral in the event that payments are not made, but with an effective application process, instances of repossession are limited.


My Role

My Rent to Own colleagues hard at work

Strong financial management is important to any business, but especially so to a small enterprise operating in a capital-intensive industry, as is the case for Rent to Own.  I have been brought in predominantly in a financial management capacity, working on financial modeling and asset pricing exercises.

I have been tasked with creating a short-term financial model for the purposes of evaluating and comparing different growth scenarios and aligning funding and financing strategies with each growth scenario.  As operations are currently limited to Zambia’s Eastern, Central, and Southern provinces (there are 10 provinces in total), and there is no direct competition, we are keen to expand our operations quickly, though not so quickly that it becomes unmanageable.  In addition to expanding geographically, there is opportunity to introduce new product lines, thereby growing our existing markets.  The financial model will help us understand what is viable, what the funding and financing implications are, and what kind of a return-on-investment prospective investors might expect.

My other focus is on revamping asset pricing processes to ensure they are of optimal efficiency and that our prices are appropriate.  It is important to find the balance between low prices and healthy margins, as this will allow us to not only have a greater impact sooner, but also facilitate our ability to grow organically.

Largely, I spend my days in Rent to Own’s head office in Lusaka working away in Excel.  Although my interaction with the field operations is limited, there are still ample learning opportunities and I’m really enjoying the role.  I have the privilege of working closely with the General Manager and CEO, and contributing valuable analysis that will help facilitate Rent to Own’s growth and in turn its social impact.  And additionally, I’m putting the skills I have developed at WSP to good use, which facilitates my ability to maximize my contributions during the limited time that I’m here.  It’s been very rewarding so far and I look forward to seeing how the next months unfold!

Every office, restaurant, and shop has a framed picture of President Lungu

If you have any questions about Rent to Own, my role, or my life in Zambia, I encourage you to reach out to me via e-mail or LinkedIn!

Connect with Brian Putre on LinkedIn



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