Social entrepreneurship is becoming de rigueur as an alternative to the corporate career ladder for young people looking for work that is both intellectually stimulating and meaningful.
Three young women I know play in this space. Phillipa Wheaton (30), an Australian, is the CEO of enke: Make Your Mark. Based in South Africa, the organization supports teenagers who are proactive about addressing social problems.
Karissa Samuels (29) is the South African founder and CEO of the Ntshulisa Foundation, which aims to empower the nation, starting with children, by promoting civic participation and community involvement.
UK-raised Ruth Orbach (24) works for non-governmental organization (NGO) the African Leadership Academy as a monitoring, evaluation and learning manager – a space that is becoming increasingly important.
While all three are tired of the NGO label, preferring instead social enterprise, they are equally wary of self-titled ‘social entrepreneurs’. Samuels, who has been in the field for the past 10 years, explains: “Many people who began in the space with me have left because… of them not having a real interest in having a real social impact, but rather (using the sector) as a vehicle for their personal advancement.”
There may be goodwill, but “there simply isn’t enough interrogation of the needs”, says Orbach, who helps develop tracking systems to monitor the long-term impact of an investment on an organization.
Traditionally, the link between the success of a social enterprise and its impact on a community was presumed to be strong, but increasingly there is a need to re-examine this view. “People need to move beyond ‘something is better than nothing’,” urges Wheaton.
This desire to do more and to do better has seen many non-profits applying commercial strategies to maximize social benefits. And in fact there is significant potential for crossover of best practices in the profit and non-profit sectors.
All three young women agree we need to move away from the binary logic of the capitalist firm versus the NGO with a begging bowl. Instead, they see NGOs, social enterprises and for-profit companies as increasing points along a continuum.
Ideally, it is about businesses taking on a social element and non-profits incorporating business principles into their work. While in the long run, social enterprises could conceivably take over a large proportion of NGOs’ functions, there are limits. It becomes tricky for organizations such as orphanages, for which there is no market, in the traditional sense.
Judging from the conversation between the three, it is clear this sector is going through a number of exciting changes.
A TED Talk by activist Dan Pallotta called The way we think about charity is dead wrong has been shaking up the dominant narrative of the non-profit sector. Pallotta’s core argument is that we should not judge the effectiveness of NGOs based on overheads (salaries, rent or marketing). He claims that the non-profit sector is starved of the capital needed to adequately fuel growth and innovation, in order to fully address social problems.
Sustainability is another term that keeps cropping up in the NGO field, particularly the incidence of sustainability. The distinction between a purely capitalist business and a social enterprise is that one aims to sustain its operations indefinitely, while the other looks to sustain the impact of its operations indefinitely.
Wheaton, Samuels and Orbach agree that if they are to achieve the kind of impact they aspire to, they would ultimately put themselves out of work.
At the same time, the mantra, ‘Africa for Africa, by Africa’, is gaining momentum, resulting in Westerners and foreign do-gooders being met with skepticism.
It reminds me of when Nigerian author Teju Cole ruffled feathers with his controversial reaction to Kony 2012, the viral video calling for the arrest of war criminal Joseph Kony. Using the hashtag, ‘The White-Savior Industrial Complex’, Cole tweeted: “If we are going to interfere in the lives of others, a little due diligence is a minimum requirement.” He went on: “The White Savior supports brutal policies in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening.”
However, it is important that we Africanists are careful not to alienate those with experience and expertise. At this stage of the game, our collective intelligence and financial muscle may not be enough to eliminate the social problems that lie ahead.
We will need all the help we can get from those willing to roll up their sleeves and work themselves out of the system.
Cryptocurrency for Africans
George Gordon is on a quest to revolutionize the financial system. The director of Africa Master Blockchain Company talks digital currencies, blind risks and board games.
What is this new African cryptocurrency you are offering?
Where the majority of current digital currencies are based on speculative models, AfriUnion Coin (AUC) and the AfriNational Tokens (ANT)are designed for a transactional purpose allowing international payments, remittances, foreign direct investment as well as day-to-day transactions at local retail stores and other outlets. While the option for speculative trade is available with AUC, the focus is not around that.
Each African country will have a specially-designed ANT which will allow users to pay for goods and services and bills easily through completely digital means without requiring any bank account. AUC and ANT will be fully interchangeable to one another and there will be no fees for the user.
It’s the natural next step for digital finance from mobile banking which most Africans are accustomed to. The ability to freely have the power to send and receive money locally and internationally will allow the freedom of choice and spending power many Africans don’t have currently.
What is your own investment philosophy?
I am a gambler! I believe in taking risks and putting things on the line. That being said, blind risk or whimsical guesses don’t get you very far. Always acquire enough information to understand to a reasonable level what the thing you are planning on investing is or how it works and then trust your instinct and gut feel.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs wanting to invest in blockchain?
First, do some research in terms of what the blockchain technology is being applied for or created in terms of its application to an industry or project. Thereafter, check the white paper for the design of the platform as well as its functionality and applicability to what it is trying to achieve. If it aligns with your personal investment rules, then go for it,however, remember that blockchain is continuously evolving and thus you need to explore outside the usual and standard.
First cash-less, now card-less. What is the future of online banking?
If we are looking into what is currently science fiction, I would say the future is digital contact lenses that will be able to connect you to all your social media accounts, internet, news as well as make payments by just looking at QR codes or specialized barcodes to approve and accept payments.
Now, realistically we are not far off from such innovation and technology, but for the time being, I think the next step is scanning of QR codes at retailers and having the transaction automated from your wallet to the retailers digitally.
What is your most prized investment and why?
My mind. I believe that the work I have put into developing my mind, and continue to do so every day, is the number one investment that I have ever done. It allows me to look at things in a unique perspective as well as provides me with the tools to push boundaries and create new opportunities.
Money, success, fame? Which is most important to you?
I would have to say success… because it is most likely going to bring the other two as well, right? But success in the form of starting something and letting it grow and succeed and knowing that something new exists because of your efforts.
What do you spend your money on mostly?
Board games. I love board games and believe it’s a fantastic way to expand your mind as well as have fun with friends.
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King Price Insurance’s CEO Gideon Galloway, who built an insurance company in South Africa worth over $226 million in six years, talks investments, industry trends and how self-driving cars will change the entire car insurance landscape.
Offering The American Dream
Gar Lippincott and Daniel Ryan of Atlantic American Partners were in South Africa recently looking for high-net-worth individuals wanting to invest in the US.
It’s a warm spring day in September, and Gar Lippincott and Daniel Ryan have just arrived in South Africa. It is Lippincott’s first time in the country, and he is jet-lagged.
A little over two months ago, he was booked to fly here from the United States (US) but was turned back at immigration.
“At Atlanta airport, the lady looked at Daniel’s visa and let him through and she looked at my visa and she said ‘I am afraid you can’t get on the plane because you have to have a blank page on your passport’. I said ‘I have three blank pages’ and she said ‘no, it’s supposed to be the one that says visa on it’. She said it’s the rules in South Africa so I had to sadly go back home… now when I was coming, I was told that’s not an issue anymore so I am happy they have made traveling into the country easier,” says Lippincott.
With a brand-new passport, he’s here with Ryan looking for people who want to invest in the US in exchange for a green card.
Lippincott, the Managing Partner of Atlantic American Partners, says he has always been keen on South Africa for its growth opportunities and prospects.
“From what I understand, the things that are causing short-term decline in the economy in South Africa are set up to provide long-term growth and hopefully people will understand this,” he says. Ryan, the company’s Managing Director of Emerging Markets – Africa, agrees: “I lived in Malawi for 12 years and South Africa is still considered the shining one throughout the continent. Even with all the problems, everyone still wants to come here because of the opportunities.”
According to an AfrAsia Bank report, South Africa comes second to Mauritius in boasting the highest number of high-net-worth individuals.
These are the kind of people Ryan and Lippincott target through their work at Atlantic American Partners. The company has real estate investors and professional private equity fund managers that manage money for banks, insurance companies, and pension funds. In addition, they help people get US green cards and ultimately US citizenship through the US government’s EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program.
“Basically we look for people who want to move to the United States and we help them do so legally by investing and the nice thing is, with our program, they are also able to get a nice return on investment,” he says.
According to Lippincott, for a $500,000 investment that creates 10 jobs for American workers, you could get a green card in about two years and be a US citizen in about six or seven years. “Twenty seven countries have an investor visa program but with most of them, it’s essentially a fee you pay, or you need to be actively engaged in the day-to-day operation of a business. For example, you invest $1.5 million in Australia, but you need to hire employees and generate a certain amount of revenue. One of the biggest advantages with our program is you actually invest the $500,000 into a fund. We act as a trustee of that money and within five to seven years, they get that money back with a bit of return on investment and you are a permanent citizen in the US.”
Atlantic American Partners invests the money in real estate developments like hotels, apartments and student accommodation.
“What’s nice about the program is it doesn’t only cover the investor; it covers the spouse and children under 21. Our biggest family was a Hungarian family with seven children so they got nine green cards for $500,000,” says Lippincott.
The company says it has had positive response in South Africa. “Two months ago, we were here and we had scheduled six presentations for 100 people and we ended up speaking to 450 people. Most were business people, people worried about the economy, people worried about the political future of South Africa and people concerned about the education future of their children,” says Ryan.
According to Lippincott, despite the news of the clampdown on immigration, the US economy is booming and will perish without immigration. In the era of Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant views, that’s heartening news indeed.
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