Sankalp in the spotlight: 10 questions to the CEO

Social entrepreneurship in Africa, impact measurement and lessons on leadership – Anurag Agrawal, the man behind one of the key annual international events for social entrepreneurs and impact investors, takes time out to reflect on the state of the global social economy following the 2015 Sankalp Africa Forum last month.

Last month the Sankalp Africa Forum 2015 brought over 400 social entrepreneurs, policy makers and academics to Nairobi, Kenya for a series of workshops, debates and discussions about accelerating innovation to create a more inclusive Africa.

One of the busiest people at the event was Anurag Agrawal, the CEO of Intellecap – the India-based organisation that runs Sankalp. Anurag kindly gave Pioneers Post some of his precious time to reflect on the social venture landscape both in Africa and around the world.

Anurag AgrawalAnurag Agrawal. Photo credit: Intellecap

1. In just a few sentences can you summarise the business landscape across Africa? 

Africa’s strong economic growth of 5.6% in the past decade is becoming an attractive proposition for people around the globe. The economies in the region are more stable and the socio-economic mood is upbeat because of reduced reliance on natural resources. 

And the really interesting thing is that there has been a phenomenal upsurge in the number and performance of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). I am given to understand, SMEs constitute 90% of the businesses and create over 50% of employment. 

2. This all sounds extremely positive, is it really all going so swimmingly?

The picture does get complicated. Intellecap's own research on Youth and Entrepreneurship finds that an enabling ecosystem to support entrepreneurs and take high impact innovations to scale is largely missing

We see the same kind of challenges to overcoming barriers to scale in Africa as we have seen in India during the past decade.

With Development Finance Institutions (DFIs), multilaterals and private donors operating in multiple geographies, it is important to avoid re-inventing the wheel and to ensure the use tools of collaboration (South-South) with a view to accelerating the deployment of solutions. 

3. Over the past five years what developments in the social entrepreneurship sector have excited you the most?

At the macro-level globally, I see an unprecedented quantum of interest from the best talent to contribute and create impact by being social entrepreneurs or other key stakeholders in this ecosystem. 

It is exciting to see the yearly growth in the number of social entrepreneurs, professionals, impact investors, limited partners, incubators, intermediaries, DFIs, private foundations and the amount of capital being made available. 

At the micro-level, the last five years have seen an amazing amount of acceleration in how mobile technologies are impacting lives, not just in Africa but also in other developing regions like India

4. What specific challenges face social entrepreneurs across Africa in 2015?

It takes a village to raise a child and so it takes a community of support to nurture a start-up. 

There exist challenges at the ‘Firm level’ such as access to finance or access to mentoring and advisory support and those at the ‘Industry level’ such as the regulatory policy environment and the level of maturity of the industry. 

Based on our limited experience in Africa, to take the above anecdotal example of raising a child forward, we see critical gaps in the diversity and the number of actors/elements that comprise the community, and equally importantly the lack of integration within the set of actors that make up the community to nurture and help scale the start-up. 

5. To what extent should social impact measurement be a priority going forward?

Businesses hardly ever undertake a marketing initiative without measuring their returns, so there is no need for social initiatives to be any different. Without measurement and tracking it also becomes hard to course-correct.  

We undertook this challenge, and together with a number of other organisations developed PRISM. PRISM is a tool that helps impact investors, grant makers and corporate CSR articulate the impact story of their investments and programs in a holistic manner while providing the appropriate local context in which this impact can be evaluated.

6. In what sector do you see social enterprise as having the greatest potential to make positive change across Africa? 

Agriculture, energy, financial inclusion, healthcare, water and sanitation. 

7. Which African countries are leading the way with the most developed social enterprise sectors and social investment markets? 

Kenya clearly leads the pack with the most mature social enterprise landscape, followed by Uganda and Rwanda. Ethiopia and Tanzania are showing tremendous promise as well

8. What motivated you to want to be involved with social enterprise?

I’ve been with Intellecap for almost a decade, and like at the very beginning, I remain sold to the idea that businesses have the ability to deliver both inclusion and empowerment.

I enjoy being part of this group of young risk takers and continue to enjoy the exciting new things we are able to think up and deliver. 

9. What three qualities are essential in every leader?

One of the most under-rated qualities, to my mind, is the ability to just show up. 

The Australian Open concluded fairly recently so allow me to use a sports metaphor – with every impossible shot that Djokovic attempted during his games, he showed how to create opportunities in moments when no one would blame you for not trying. He was right on top of his opponents throughout the Championship but he wasn’t letting anything get away. It’s important for leaders to set this example. 

Aside from this, integrity and the ability to inspire faith would round off my top 3.

10. Predictions for 2020? 

As the social enterprise ecosystem matures both globally and in Africa, we will find increasing support from the Government. No enterprise can scale successfully without the appropriate enabling policy, regulatory environment and Government support. 


The 2015 Global Sankalp Summit will be held in Dehli between 9-10 April. Registration is now open, for more information, click here.

Photo credit: Christopher Michel