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Social Entrepreneurship and Impact Investing in Africa (Beijing forum)

By Yiquan Shen, Bolun Li

· Social Entrep,Startup,Youth

On August 17, Diinsider co-hosted the first African Social entrepreneurship and Impact investing Forum in Beijing, in collaboration with China Social Enterprise and Investment Forum and Rippling Education. The event attracted a wide range of participants from international organizations, multinational companies, international NOGs and foundations, impact investors and academia, as well as practitioners willing to innovate in Africa and other emerging markets.

(Below is a brief summary of the event details)

Song Bo

Secretary General of China Social Enterprise and Investment Forum,

Deputy Secretary General of Narada Foundation

In 2016, I visited Kenya's social enterprise and impact investors with Ginkgo Partnership program, and after I came back, I felt that China can learn from Kenya’s experience of social. During my visit, I was impressed by several cases.

Moringa School, a social enterprise based in Kenya, is dedicated to developing software development talents for Kenya and East Africa. Andrey, founder of Moringa School and a 20-year-old Taiwanese American girl, worked in a venture capital fund in Kenya in 2014, and found that Kenyans knew too little about software development, while many employers had need for programmers. At the same time, most of the programming courses in Kenyan universities and training institutions were outdated, so Andrey co-founded Moringa School, which specializes in programming training for young Kenyans. At present, 95% of Moringa's students find new jobs after finishing their studies, and the average salary is 350% higher than before.

In the field of communication and energy, Safaricom and M-kopa have also created great international impacts. As Kenya's largest telecoms operator, Safaricom launched the mobile payment project M-Pesa, which has become the largest mobile payment platform in East Africa and has been expanded to many countries. M-kopa mainly provides solar lighting for the poor, and enables more people to use solar panels through innovative services and payment methods.

China's social enterprises can learn from these innovations. China Social Enterprise and Investment Forum also hopes that, more excellent ideas will be brought to China's social enterprises and impact investors, to promote bilateral exchanges between China and Africa in this area.

Hannah Ryder

founder of Development Reimagined,

former head of policy and partnerships of UNDP China

I worked for the United Nations for many years before I founded Development Reimagined. In recent years, the United Nations have become increasingly aware of the importance of social entrepreneurship and impact investing for Africa, and have established a series of financing mechanisms, such as the financing for development mechanism, which was established at the Addis Ababa conference in July 2015. In addition, the United Nations acknowledges that young entrepreneurs are critical to social innovation in Africa. In addition, establishment of new international institutions (such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank) has brought new approaches compared to traditional international aid agencies.

I am very happy to participate in this forum, because it means that more Chinese people are interested in Africa's impact investing, and more Chinese investors' participation will bring a win-win situation.

Not long ago, I left the UNDP and founded Development Reimagined, a new international development advisory body. We are dedicated to building a more efficient link between China and Africa, as we are familiar with both sides. On one hand, African institutions are eager to connect with Chinese market more directly and gain China's support. On the other hand, China's "going-out" institutions are anxiously seeking more "insights" about Africa and build stronger partnerships with local Africans. At the same time, we will also serve relevant international institutions to help them improve the effectiveness of resource utilization and promote social innovation in Africa. In this process, we hope that we can work with all our friends here today to promote the development of African social entrepreneurship and impact investing.

Annie Hu

founder of Rippling Education

In April 2014, I co-founded a social enterprise in Kenya, then created Rippling Education and launched the AYL Future Youth Leadership project in China, which is committed to promoting exchanges and cooperation in the areas of social entrepreneurship and impact investing in Africa. There are various types of African impact investing institutions, among which the development financial institutions (DFIs) are the main participants, accounting for 85% of the total investment (more than $9.3 billion). Now East Africa is the more active region, with 203 funds from 155 investment institutions. Kenya is home to East Africa's impact investing, with 136 funds currently from 95 impact investing institutions.

For African social enterprises, financing and human resources are the two key factors for development. Early-stage social enterprises can generally obtain a certain amount of awards and media exposure through the development aid agency's innovation project competition. And when these initiatives grow, they can be supported by incubators, investment institutions and international development assistance funds. As social enterprises grow larger, they can be scaled up by further investment from Banks' commercial loans and big companies. The founders of social enterprises are also diverse. They could come from business schools graduates and former employees of international aid agencies. In addition, recently the percentage of women and young entrepreneurs is increasing steadily as well.

Imagine how China and Africa can cooperate effectively in impact investment? I think information sharing, communication, dialogue and visit, forum and advocacy, bilateral cooperation and project implementation are all feasible ways. Of course, the role of multinational companies is also very important. In the 2014 and 2015, I had hosted the African Technology Challenge (ATC) in international cooperation with AVIC International Holdings Limited to explore the prospects for the development of vocational education in Africa. I also hope that there will be more project cooperation in the future, to help more interested enterprises and investors in China to invest in Africa and achieve a win–win result.

Li Bolun

co-founder of Diinsider

Just now, several guests have basically explained the status quo of African social enterprises and impact investment. I think these are important insights, my speech is a little supplementary. In fact, Africa's successful social enterprises are still relatively few, we have to further think about how to help more small, grassroots social enterprises to be successful. Just as Alibaba is focusing on small and medium-sized enterprises, we should also focus on how small and micro social impact institutions and grassroots organizations can scale up and promote good models. Because if they have more chances to succeed, the grassroots changemakers who are at the bottom of the pyramid, directly serving low-income people will have more chances to succeed. However, the majority of small and micro social enterprises have less than 50,000 USD annual budget, without stable market channels to obtain sufficient profits, full-time employees, communication or investment channels, then how can they break through?

In 2014, I co-founded Diinsider with friends from Asia Pacific. The first thing we did was to create a media platform for more grassroots social enterprises, to let more institutions and individuals know their good ideas and practices, as well as challenges, and broaden their channels of cooperation. So far, our media platform Change Magazine has provided exposure opportunities for nearly 100 grassroots social enterprises. Occasionally we will jointly publish in collaboration with international agencies, including UNESCO.. In early 2017, we also began to work on the interaction between social enterprises and impact investors, enterprises, international organizations in emerging countries. And through research, consultation, and other ways to achieve precise match between social enterprises and other interested parties.

I am delighted to see that the foundation established by African banker Mr. Tony Elumelu, and the African Youth Entrepreneurship Fund announced by Jack Ma of Alibaba recently , have started to provide angel investment support to more social impact institutions. Regarding African impact investment, I also observed that some agencies have taken initiatives to create mechanism of risk control, such as the Gates Foundation's ‘first-loss’ safeguard mechanism and Credit Suisse's "impact re-investment". These will improve the existing investment framework and support more African social enterprises to succeed.

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