Part 6: Concluding the East Africa Adventure (For Now)

Writing this today, I wish I’d be able to say that we reached our goal of 1,000 students within the first year. A year later, we’re at around 500.

As an entrepreneur working in Africa, the business environment is challenging. Market dynamics are not favourable, and it’s difficult to scale and grow without partnerships.

Just as we were unsuccessful with grantors, we were unsuccessful in fostering strong partnerships with local universities, government entities, large accounting firms, or recruiting firms in the region. To us, our value proposition was clear: we can offer a low-cost solution for you to develop marketable accounting graduates with job-relevant skills. For each partner we approached, there was a very tangible benefit for them. However, this was not as evident to those organizations, and it was painfully difficult trying to advance the conversations we initiated.

In August 2019, we made the difficult decision to end our time in Rwanda, officially moving back to Toronto in October. A confluence of factors cemented this decision, the failure to secure a meaningful partnership being one of them. The other was that we felt that our consulting projects had plateaued in terms of professional growth. Even so, it was incredibly tough saying goodbye to the many amazing friends we made along the way.

Our 2 years of work identified a massive problem, and while we made a small dent by training 500 students, we believe there are over 100,000 more who could benefit immensely from the program we created.

When I reflect on it, 500 students sometimes feels like such a small number. Courses on Udemy regularly enroll tens to hundreds of thousands of students. YouTube Excel lessons can rack up millions of views. Did we even make an impact for all that time spent? Did we fail? Other times, I am immensely proud of our achievement, especially given all the headwinds we faced and the quality of the program we created despite them. I guess these are the emotions, the back and forth, that any entrepreneur has to deal with.

We are extremely grateful for all the students who put their trust in us and registered for our program. We hope our program has set them up with long-term skills and a prosperous career. Reading the end of course surveys we receive confirms that every minute was worth it.

What is the future of Haystack and the African Accounting Academy? It’s still running, and we spend a few hours each week ensuring that we’re providing our current students with the same level of care and support since day one. We turned off all marketing last year but still receive new registrations every week, primarily from referrals from our graduates, which allow us to pay for ongoing hosting and software license fees.

Our program is developed and now the ongoing delivery cost is minimal. We’ve been thinking about opening it up to all (for free), but that would be doing a disservice to our existing students who have paid for it. We continue to explore options for expansion and hope that one day, an organization sees the same potential we do and will entertain all feasible options for us to get this into the hundreds of thousands of hands that need it.

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