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The Impact Investor

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Norman Beaulieu has an innovative business approach to community development in Africa, regenerating degraded land and providing solutions to mitigate climate change.

Mesmerising childhood tales from a Mombasa-based aunt and a visit to South Africa’s Alexandra township two decades ago forged a passion for Africa in Norman Beaulieu, who now wants to change the fortunes of impoverished people living in rural communities across the continent.

Boston native Beaulieu is the founder of Village Corps, a community development business which aims to use bio-energy, agriculture and modern technology to help overcome poverty and mitigate climate change in some of the poorest parts of Africa.

Norman Beaulieu

Already underway in the Akyem Abuakwa Kingdom in the Eastern Region of Ghana, the project has potential across the continent with South Africa’s Rharhabe Kingdom in the Eastern Cape next in line through continued support from the Department of Trade and Industry.

“My aunt was a nun in Mombasa, Kenya, in the early 1960s and as I grew up, she shared all sorts of fascinating stories, many of them about the challenges communities face,” Beaulieu tells FORBES AFRICA.

“Later, I was at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, and my resident advisor was South African. We became close friends and when I visited the country for the first time in 1997, we spent a day in Alexandra and I got to see where he grew up.

“I was struck by how my childhood stories of poverty became all too vivid before my eyes. Over 30 years after my aunt left Africa, it seemed like little had changed. I was devastated by the entrenched pattern of poverty, in all its many forms. So I became rather fixated on coming up with a solution to break that cycle.”

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What Beaulieu witnessed were NGOs tirelessly implementing their individual solutions, such as drilling boreholes or providing mosquito nets, in as many communities as they could reach, all the while constantly trying to raise money.

Beaulieu, who previously founded Aedi Group, a sustainable project development company in the United States, relocated to Cape Town in 2016 with his wife Kristin and two children to implement Village Corps’ innovative business approach to community development.

“The Village Corps business model is in part similar to a property developer who secures both land and then an ‘anchor’ tenant to create, for instance, a shopping center. The anchor tenant pays annual rent as well as a revenue share to the developer,” he says.

“Similarly, Village Corps secures degraded land via long-term lease from poor communities, yet varies from the conventional model in that it develops the ‘anchor’ business itself through integrated bio-energy and agriculture projects, paying annual rent for land as well as an annual revenue share back to the communities to help address varied community-based needs more systemically.”

“This integrated development model uses an organic agro-ecological farming system to regenerate land that cannot be currently used thereby helping thousands of smallholder farmers establish a more stable and diverse income that collectively creates a more resilient local ecosystem.

“Once established, other businesses can co-locate adjacent to the bio-power facility not only as a source of baseload renewable energy, but also as a source of heat generated by making electricity, which can be used in a multitude of industrial processes.”

In Ghana, Village Corps, he says, is regenerating up to 26,000 acres of illegal mining land, called ‘Galamsey’ land, and approximately 100 kilometers of polluted rivers and streams in its first project.

“Illegal miners dug holes looking for gold, which filled with water and created stagnant pools, so the instances of malaria are extremely high,” Beaulieu reveals.

“The ruined lands had also collapsed riverbanks, polluting rivers and streams, which were sources of drinking water, so deaths from diarrhea and septicemia are also very high in this community.

“We regenerate the landscape and soil in part by planting perennial grasses like cow grass and bamboo to help re-establish riverbanks. The nutritious leaves from these grasses are used for animal feed and the remaining stalks are used to make electricity through steam combustion.”

Village Corps chairman, Kofi Appenteng, is also chairman of the Ford Foundation and the CEO of the Africa-America Institute in New York.

“The Village Corps model uses bio-power to create a more stable and diverse source of income for thousands of smallholder farmers all while delivering appropriate financial returns to funders,” Appenteng says.

“An organized network of farmers producing organic raw materials is compelling for other industries to co-locate within an industrial enclave that has renewable power and a source of heat from the power plant to make their products, this creates many more jobs and tax revenues for the government.

“Over the years of vetting so many approaches to development work, the Village Corps model is the best I have seen.”

Emliano Maletta, a Spanish-based agronomist who is an expert in bio-energy, is also excited about the possibilities across the continent and echoes the view of Appenteng.

“I think that Village Corps projects in Ghana may become an outstanding replicable model with great benefits in Africa and worldwide,” Maletta says. “In terms of regenerating degraded and abandoned lands, this new approach enhances resilient agriculture, agroforestry and perennial grasses which increase raw material productivity at the regional level.

“By combining new farming and agro-industries’ sectors, these bio-refinieries can produce and use local renewable energy sources. A synergy with new value chains including animal feed, food and cash crops, bio-fertilizers and many other bio-materials has the potential to replace fossil-based products that are being imported, enhancing a new local bio-economy with amazing social benefits.”

With the model in place that demonstrated a path to appropriate financial returns, Beaulieu attracted private investors and secured a grant from U.S. Trade and Development Agency through the U.S. Power Africa initiative to conduct the required feasibility studies.

In addition to delivering financial returns, the model has to deliver enduring impact dividends as well.

“Village Corps has inextricably linked their solutions to mitigating climate change directly with overcoming poverty,” according to Bill Reed, who is president of the United States-based Regenesis Group, experts at working with communities to implement sustainable development projects.

“The Village Corps platform is the broadest example of how it is possible to achieve multiple value-adding benefits and impact through a single investment effort. It creates renewable energy through the restoration of degraded land into healthy soil, diverse habitat, and natural water sources in a way that will allow much more productive farming, achieve local food security and a significant reduction in sources of disease.”

From childhood stories of the struggles of the poor in Africa to a business model for community development, Beaulieu has come a long way to realizing his vision of ‘overcoming poverty by cooling the planet’.

And as the program rolls out, he will have the firm backing of Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo.

“The Village Corps platform is being developed as a Presidential Special Initiative by President Nana Akufo-Addo as it aligns with the President’s vision of implementing an integrated rural development approach to creating agricultural jobs for youth, women and ex-miners,” Nana Bediatuo Asante, Executive Secretary to the President of Ghana, tells FORBES AFRICA.

“Regenerating the Galamsey lands and waterways into resilient and productive agricultural systems throughout Ghana will benefit communities for generations to come.”

– By Nick Said

Entrepreneurs

From The Arab World To Africa

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Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi; image supplied

In this exclusive interview with FORBES AFRICA, successful Dubai-based Emirati businesswoman, author and artist, Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi, shares some interesting insights on fashion, the future, and feminism in a shared world.

Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi wears many hats, as an artist, architect, author, entrepreneur and philanthropist based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). She currently serves as the CEO of Paris London New York Events & Publishing (PLNY), that includes a magazine and a fashion house.

She runs Velvet Magazine, a luxury lifestyle publication in the Gulf founded in 2010 that showcases the diversity of the region home to several nationalities from around the world.

In this recent FORBES AFRICA interview, Hend, as she would want us to call her, speaks about the future of publishing, investing in intelligent content, and learning to be a part of the disruption around you.

As an entrepreneur too and the designer behind House of Hend, a luxury ready-to-wear line that showcases exquisite abayas, evening gowns and contemporary wear, her designs have been showcased in fashion shows across the world.

The Middle East is known for retail, but not typically, as a fashion hub in the same league as Paris, New York or Milan. Yet, she has changed the narrative of fashion in the region. “I have approached the world of fashion with what the customer wants,” says Hend. In this interview, she also extols African fashion talent and dwells on her own sartorial plans for the African continent.

In September, in Downtown Dubai, she is scheduled to open The Flower Café. Also an artist using creative expression meaningfully, she says it’s important to be “a role model of realism”.

She is also the author of The Black Book of Arabia, described as a collection of true stories from the Arab community offering a real glimpse into the lives of men and women across the Gulf Cooperation Council region.

In this interview, she also expounds on her home, Sharjah, one of the seven emirates in the UAE and the region’s educational hub. “A number of successful entrepreneurs have started in this culturally-rich emirate that’s home to 30 museums,” she concludes. 

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Kim Kardashian West Is Worth $900 Million After Agreeing To Sell A Stake In Her Cosmetics Firm To Coty

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In what will be the second major Kardashian cashout in a year, Kim Kardashian West is selling a 20% stake in her cosmetics company KKW Beauty to beauty giant Coty COTY for $200 million. The deal—announced today—values KKW Beauty at $1 billion, making Kardashian West worth about $900 million, according to Forbes’estimates.

The acquisition, which is set to close in early 2021, will leave Kardashian West the majority owner of KKW Beauty, with an estimated 72% stake in the company, which is known for its color cosmetics like contouring creams and highlighters. Forbes estimates that her mother, Kris Jenner, owns 8% of the business. (Neither Kardashian West nor Kris Jenner have responded to a request for comment about their stakes.) According to Coty, she’ll remain responsible for creative efforts while Coty will focus on expanding product development outside the realm of color cosmetics.

Earlier this year, Kardashian West’s half-sister, Kylie Jenner, also inked a big deal with Coty, when she sold it 51% of her Kylie Cosmetics at a valuation of $1.2 billion. The deal left Jenner with a net worth of just under $900 million. Both Kylie Cosmetics and KKW Beauty are among a number of brands, including Anastasia Beverly Hills, Huda Beauty and Glossier, that have received sky-high valuations thanks to their social-media-friendly marketing. 

“Kim is a true modern-day global icon,” said Coty chairman and CEO Peter Harf in a statement. “This influence, combined with Coty’s leadership and deep expertise in prestige beauty will allow us to achieve the full potential of her brands.”

The deal comes just days after Seed Beauty, which develops, manufactures and ships both KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, won a temporary injunction against KKW Beauty, hoping to prevent it from sharing trade secrets with Coty, which also owns brands like CoverGirl, Sally Hansen and Rimmel. On June 19, Seed filed a lawsuit against KKW Beauty seeking protection of its trade secrets ahead of an expected deal between Coty and KKW Beauty. The temporary order, granted on June 26, lasts until August 21 and forbids KKW Beauty from disclosing details related to the Seed-KKW relationship, including “the terms of those agreements, information about license use, marketing obligations, product launch and distribution, revenue sharing, intellectual property ownership, specifications, ingredients, formulas, plans and other information about Seed products.”

Coty has struggled in recent years, with Wall Street insisting it routinely overpays for acquisitions and has failed to keep up with contemporary beauty trends. The coronavirus pandemic has also hit the 116-year-old company hard. Since the beginning of the year, Coty’s stock price has fallen nearly 60%. The company, which had $8.6 billion in revenues in the year through June 2019, now sports a $3.3 billion market capitalization. By striking deals with companies like KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, Coty is hoping to refresh its image and appeal to younger consumers.

Kardashian West founded KKW Beauty in 2017, after successfully collaborating with Kylie Cosmetics on a set of lip kits. Like her half-sister, Kardashian West first launched online only, but later moved into Ulta stores in October 2019, helping her generate estimated revenues of $100 million last year. KKW Beauty is one of several business ventures for Kardashian West: She continues to appear on her family’s reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, sells her own line of shapewear called Skims and promotes her mobile game, Kim Kardashian Hollywood. Her husband, Kanye West, recently announced a deal to sell a line of his Yeezy apparel in Gap stores.

“This is fun for me. Now I’m coming up with Kimojis and the app and all these other ideas,” Kardashian West told Forbesof her various business ventures in 2016. “I don’t see myself stopping.”

Madeline Berg, Forbes Staff, Hollywood & Entertainment

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Entrepreneurs

Covid-19: Restaurants, Beauty Salons, Cinemas Among Businesses That Will Operate Again In South Africa As Ramaphosa Announces Eased Lockdown Restrictions

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South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation announcing that the government will further ease the country’s lockdown restrictions.

Restaurants, beauty salons, cinemas are among the businesses that will be allowed to operate again in South Africa.

The country is still on lockdown ‘Level 3’ of the government’s “risk adjusted strategy”.

President Ramaphosa also spoke on the gender based violence in the country.

“It is with the heaviest of hearts that I stand before the women and the girls of South Africa this evening to talk about another pandemic that is raging in our country. The killing of women and children by the men of our country. As a man, as a husband, and as a father to daughters, I am appalled at what is no less than a war that is being waged against the women and the children of our country,” says Ramaphosa.

Watch below:

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