“The key is to adopt our methodology to local circumstances,” Kikuchi said. “We work with local people to make things work locally; we equip them to carry on with Kaizen on their own.”
The first phase of EKI’s partnership with JICA involved learning a new concept from Japanese experts, says Yigedeb Abay, director of metal industries at EKI. The second phase that the institute is currently engaged in involves disseminating what has been learned while adding more advanced capacity building.
EKI aims to promote and customise Kaizen in accordance with the needs of Ethiopia and, as a result, is focused on currently burgeoning manufacturing sectors such as leather, textile and sugar production.
The institute has also focused on tackling huge wastage within the construction industry,
Getahun says. As a result, construction times and costs were reduced while quality was bolstered by improving the impact of small enterprises in the supply chain.
Kaizen can even be brought to bear in the making of tasty jams. JICA’s One Village One Project (OVOP) initiative strives to enable farmers in southern Ethiopia to gain value addition for their raw produce.
Converting raw mangos into jars of mango jam sold at supermarkets for higher prices is one result of Kaizen implementation, says Talemos Data, a market linkage specialist with OVOP. Another implementation was taking fibres left over from handmade bag production – and that previously were burnt – to stuff pillows and mattresses.
“Economic development is based on incremental changes,” Getahun says. “So the principles of Kaizen are a good match for Ethiopia.” As well as being preferable to some Western approaches that are more scientific and typically require heavy investment, he adds.
Though that is not to say the Ethiopian government doesn’t want to attract serious investment: Ethiopia’s large-scale infrastructure projects such as the Renaissance Millennium Dam Project are crying out for foreign capital. That need is felt all across the economic board, with small companies struggling to access vital capital for growth from Ethiopian banks unwilling or unable to lend.
But foreign direct investment doesn’t happen spontaneously, says Jin Kimiaki, JICA’s Chief Representative in Ethiopia. Rather FDI needs to see opportunities and comparative advantages in a country. And Ethiopia isn’t in a particularly advantageous position, Kimiaki notes, especially when competing with countries that are more mineral rich, such as the likes of Tanzania with natural gas, Mozambique with aluminium and Ghana with oil, for example.
“So what is the attraction of Ethiopia?” Kimiaki posits. “An essential point for investment is the quality of its labour – it has the second-largest population in Africa, with workers that are disciplined and straight forward.”
Education and vocational training are important components of further improving the quality of Ethiopia’s labour force, he says but so is on-the-job improvements – which is where Kaizen can have a beneficial impact.