Francois Bonnici, Head of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, explains how African impact entrepreneurs will continue to rise.
Does impact investment favor expats over African entrepreneurs? If so, how can it be fixed?
There is a growing recognition all over the world that investment is not a fully objective process, and is biased by the homogeneity of investors, networks and distant locations.
A Village Capital Report cited that 90% of investment in digital financial services and financial inclusion in East Africa in 2015-2016 went to a small group of expatriate-founded businesses, with 80% of disclosed funds emanating from foreign investors.
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In a similar trend recognized in the US over the last decade, reports that only 3% of startup capital went to minority and women entrepreneurs has triggered the rise of new funds focused on gender and minority-lensed investing.
There has been an explosion of African startups all over the continent, and investors are missing out by looking for the same business models that work in Silicon Valley being run by people who can speak and act like them.
In South Africa, empowerment funds and alternative debt fund structures are dedicated to investing in African businesses, but local capital in other African countries may not also be labelled or considered impact investing, but they do still invest in job creation and provision of vital services.
There is still, however, a several billion-dollar financing gap of risk capital in particular, which local capital needs to play a significant part in filling. And of course, African impact entrepreneurs will continue to rise and engage investors convincingly of the growing and unique opportunities on the continent.
What are the most exciting areas for impact investing and social entrepreneurship today?
After several decades of emergence, the most exciting areas are the explosion of new products, vehicles and structures along with the mainstreaming of impact investment into traditional entities like banks, asset managers and pension funds who are using the impact lens and, more importantly, starting to measure the impact.
At the same time, we’re seeing an emergence of partnership models, policies and an ecosystem of support for the work of social entrepreneurs, who’ve been operating with insufficient capital and blockages in regulation for decades.
The 2019 OECD report on Social Impact Investment mapped the presence of 590 social impact investment policies in 45 countries over the last decade, but also raises the concern of the risk of ‘impact washing’ without clear definitions, data and impact measurement practices.
In Africa, we are also seeing National Advisory Boards for Impact Investing emerge in South Africa and social economy policies white papers being developed; all good news for social entrepreneurs.
What role does technology play in enabling impact investing and social entrepreneurship?
The role of technologies from the mobile phone to cloud services, blockchain, and artificial intelligence is vast in their application to enhancing social impact, improving the efficiency, transparency and trust as we leapfrog old infrastructures and create digital systems that people in underserved communities can now access and control.
From Sproxil (addressing pirated medicines and goods), to Zipline (drones delivering life-saving donor blood to remote areas of Rwanda) to Silulo Ulutho Technologies (digitally empowering women and youth), exciting new ways of addressing inclusion, education and health are possible, and applications are being used in many other areas such as land rights, financial literacy etc.
While we have seen a great mobile penetration, much of Africa still suffers from high data costs, and insufficient investment in education and capacity to lead in areas of the fourth industrial revolution, with the risk that these technologies could negatively impact communities and further drive inequality.