SEWF 2019: Connections, collaborations – and coffee

Sixteen UK social entrepreneurs secured bursaries from the British Council and Social Enterprise UK to attend the Social Enterprise World Forum 2019 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which brought together 1,200 delegates from 67 countries in October.

We invited two of them, Sado Jirde of the Black South West Network and Christabell Amoakoh of Coventry’s Highlife Centre – to reflect on their experiences. 


Sado Jirde, director, Black South West Network

Sado Jirde SEWF 2019The Social Enterprise World Forum provided an unparalleled opportunity to meet some of the globe’s most fantastic social entrepreneurs, who are working tirelessly to improve the quality of life of their populations and are tackling some of the world’s most wicked issues while sharing good practices from their social innovation work. 

We expected an event which was based on western-centric ideas, but what was delivered was so completely driven by the people of Africa and yet global in nature. Perhaps some of the greatest things we learned were that: 

  1. The ambition in Africa is to change the lives of billions not thousands and this is reflected in social enterprise as a global movement which is around ‘BIG thinking’ and change. 
  2. Social enterprise in Africa works from the principle that learning is not exclusively ‘North to South’. This is an area in which ‘western’ countries are not necessarily leading the way but in which the flows of information, innovation and learning is a two-way street. There is amazing work happening around the world! 

Social enterprise is our way to go as a globe. Social enterprise is the answer

  1. Investors expect enterprises in the ‘South’ to be social and thus that there is an expectation of grant funding, but we learned that this could not be further from the truth. Entrepreneurs expect the model to be paid for via the purchase of the product or service they sell – just like any other business.
  2. Tech in Africa is central to scaling and improving impact and access. 
  3. In South Africa, the absence of government structures has enabled the sector while in Scotland, government intervention has enabled the sector. This leaves questions around the role of government, but these sorts of questions are context-specific. 

On our last evening there, we sat around a traditional coffee stall talking about a revolution (to quote Tracy Chapman!). What we realised during this discussion is that this revolution is already happening, whether through corporate social responsibility, social enterprise or social impact investing. The SEWF 2019’s closing message was, “Social enterprise is our way to go as a nation”, but it was clear to us that social enterprise is our way to go as a globe. Social enterprise is the answer. 


Christabell Amoakoh, CEO, the Highlife Centre

Christabell Amoakoh SEWF 2019I had the pleasure of connecting with some inspiring and amazing social entrepreneurs from across the globe and discussed the possibilities of collaborative work and exchange programmes that will complement our provision. 

Conversations with British Council staff based in Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Zambia and Nigeria highlighted the need to learn from best practice from the continent to support young people of African origin here in the UK and vice versa. 

Young people involved in creative sector in Africa can be role models for those based here in the UK and vice versa

In addition, young people involved in creative sector in Africa can be role models for those based here in the UK and vice versa. In doing so, this will establish international opportunities for cultural exchange programmes bridging the identity gap young people currently have.

My main highlights are the discussions specifically the reminding of the need for social enterprises to lead the way in tackling inequality. The session did not only highlight the urgency we face to create appropriate pathways for those under-represented and underserved, but also to enable the communities themselves to become responsible leaders in the process, in order to create jobs and generate income to develop their communities

Most of all, my highlight was the amazing people I met from across the world who are doing amazing work for people, planet and their local economies. I am inspired and motivated to work hard to affect change for those whose voices are unheard.