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Goats in a tree – enterprising or unethical?

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StartUp Croydon’s CEO, Saffron Saunders, recently travelled to Morocco on holiday and witnessed a scene that was both bizarre and controversial, but which graphically demonstrated the lengths people will go to in order to survive in the face of adversity. It’s something every business owner can learn from for their own business.

Here’s Saffron’s story:

I have just returned from an amazing trip to Morocco where I’ve had time to reflect and recharge after a few hectic months at the office.

As an enterprise professional who spends most of my day working on business strategy for our own company as well as others through advising our service users, I am hearing and experiencing first hand the challenges business owners are experiencing post-pandemic, post Brexit, and during the current global uncertainty brought on largely by the Ukraine crisis. It’s a strange time and a point in history which future generations will study in history and economics classes.

Strange times often force change, and the picture above, although seemingly a natural phenomenon, is actually a man-made business pivot brought about by desperate, but enterprising farmers.

We stayed in Marrakech; an incredible place, but very hot and hectic, so we decided to take a guided tour to the windy coastline city of Essaouira. On the way we were informed that we would get the chance to see this incredible sight, and we had already been shown pictures by a tourist from Russia who we met a few days earlier sharing her experience to American tourists – all completely aghast at the pictures of goats in trees!

As our tour bus slowed down, my partner and I were shocked and a little miffed as to why the seemingly extraordinary sight was happening at only three trees in the entire field, all of which were by the roadside. Whatever was going on here clearly wasn’t a natural occurrence.

We were ushered off the bus and a baby goat was thrust into my arms. We were encouraged to take photographs and then asked for cash as a donation. It was a slick process and we were back on the bus before we knew it.

My curiosity got the better of me, so when we got back to our Riad that evening I did some research to find out more about the extraordinary sight we’d witnessed, and what I discovered created a challenging dilemma.

Africa is no stranger to famines, and the 2005–2006 Niger food crisis was no exception, so it’s easy to understand and fully support farmers looking for enterprising ways to supplement their income during these incredibly tough times. Some farmers therefore realised they could embellish the ‘goats in trees’ phenomenon for personal gain.

Goats are incredibly agile and known to climb vertical cliff edges, and they will naturally attempt to ‘climb’ trees in order to get to the fruit, so it’s not entirely uncommon to see them standing in trees.

However, what we witnessed was that these little fellas had their own shelves built on the trees, so they were not randomly up in the trees looking for argan nuts and fruit; they had been enticed by the farmers to manufacture a situation that would attract bus loads of tourists, who would then part with their cash for a photo opportunity.

It’s great that opportunistic farmers are manipulating a natural phenomenon for financial gain, but therein lies the dilemma.

If we look at the business angle here; years of incredibly tough times have forced the farmers to think outside the box for a way to generate an income, and given both the limited resources and limited opportunities, they have adapted, or pivoted their business to work for them in the face of adversity.

That is surely a lesson all business owners can learn from, and long before things become desperate too. Looking ahead to how what happens in the world might affect your own business, and figuring out how to adapt and evolve is essential to long-term survival.

I have to add that although enterprising, that experience didn’t sit well with me. The animals are left in the trees for hours and must surely suffer with dehydration in the heat, often falling and breaking limbs. The farmers are not thinking at all about the welfare of these animals; they are thinking about their own families and putting food on the table.

Morocco is a poor country and life is tough, and exploitation of animals is rife in Marrakech. Monkeys are dressed up and made to perform, and snake charmers play flutes to ‌hypnotise snakes. Camel rides have been part of the culture for generations and now the local people have evolved their use of animals to include goats for economic gain.

I was intrigued by this unnatural phenomenon and in some ways impressed that the farmers had come up with a new and innovative way to make money. Rightly or wrongly, it’s inventive and takes both effort and confidence.

We should all be looking at new revenue streams to diversify our income and evolve as life changes. How are you pivoting your business in these strange and challenging times?

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new ~ Socrates


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