Scotland’s social enterprises offered free help to export to African markets

Scotland-based social businesses can once again access free support to help them export into fast-growing African markets.

The Access Africa Programme, which opened its second round last week, is funded by the Scottish Government to the tune of £100,000 for this year, and is a rare example of export assistance specifically designed for social enterprises. Challenges, the Edinburgh-based development agency that delivers the programme, believes it is the first in Europe looking to the African continent.

AAP previously piloted the programme with 16 Scottish enterprises, with several alumni now “on the verge of significant export breakthroughs,” according to Challenges. These include Lilypads (pictured above), which makes sustainable, reusable sanitary products in Kenya and is getting help to find manufacturing and distribution partners in Zambia, where Challenges says no similar producer currently exists.

Funded support is limited and provided on a first-come, first-served basis to eligible enterprises. Those with promising ideas but not yet established as a legal entity can also apply. 

Selected businesses get two months of assistance including advice from Challenges’ UK team to identify the right market, in-country market research and business development support (the agency has offices in Ghana, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia), and publicity for the project by AAP, as well as access to hotdesking space in Edinburgh.

AAP support is also available to other impact companies on a paid basis.

Alex Baker, director at Challenges, called the programme “ground-breaking” in its efforts to help social enterprises address the various barriers to export, “from the sheer costs of launching export operations to accessing accurate market data and prototyping, as well as negotiating local legislation and trading laws.” 

Support tends to be “quite bespoke” as business needs develop, Baker said. In one case, AAP helped an organisation to incorporate its own trading company, open its own offices and recruit staff. For Clean Water Wave, an Edinburgh-based engineering firm that has a low-cost, low-power water filtration system, AAP is in negotiations with various water boards to try to get their system installed in sites across east Africa. “This has potentially massive implications,” she said.