Impact!Africa Summit to “lift lid on financing myths” for social entrepreneurs

Hot on the heels of October’s Social Enterprise World Forum in Addis Ababa, East Africa is gearing up for another major gathering, with some 500 people expected to attend the Impact!Africa Social Entrepreneurship Summit in the Kenyan capital this week.

Speakers include representatives from B Lab East Africa, the Kenya Climate Innovation Centre, the UNDP and Coca Cola, plus impact investors Bamboo Capital and Wangara Green Ventures, as well as the new Africa Venture Philanthropy Alliance (AVPA), which aims to boost the amount of African money flowing to social issues.

It is the second time that the British Council and social entrepreneur network Ashoka have joined forces to host the two-day gathering, after last year’s Impact!Africa event in South Africa. The theme of the 2019 edition, taking place in Nairobi on 4-5 December, is ‘collaborative finance for social innovation’.

Kenya is among the most attractive markets on the continent for impact investors, with a growing middle class and a strong reputation for tech innovation – having blazed a trail by unveiling M-Pesa, the pioneering mobile payments system, back in 2007.

Yet access to finance is still a “major difficulty” for social entrepreneurs, according to British Council regional director for sub-Saharan Africa, Moses Anibaba. The summit this week will therefore aim to “lift the lid on the myth about financing models for social entrepreneurship, which many people think is complicated,” he said.

Research among Kenyan social enterprises by the British Council in 2016 found that 55% of those surveyed were turning a profit – but that over half also considered access to capital a barrier to growth.

The research also found that most Kenyan social enterprises are run by young people, with over half led by under 35-year-olds. While this offers opportunities, it also means that such businesses may suffer from inexperienced staff and a lack of networks with potential investors.

Leveraging the network

Strengthening connections and opportunities to learn from one another is another goal of the event.

“Last year in South Africa we got a taste of what could happen if you really bring social entrepreneurs together,” said Anibaba. “A number of them are doing great work in their community, but they are not talking to each other, not leveraging each other and actually maybe making the same mistakes.”

Speaking in a promotional video released ahead of the event, Vincent Otieno Odhiambo, regional director at Ashoka East Africa, echoed this, saying the summit would provide a platform “for leading entrepreneurs to network, connect with other enablers and scale their innovations”.

Social entrepreneurship has by now “really taken root in Africa,” he added, attracting the interest of policymakers as well as “unlikely allies”, such as large corporations wanting to go beyond corporate responsibility programmes to collaborate with social businesses. The important thing now, he said, is to grow the movement: to get social entrepreneurs to think more about the “critical paths to scale” and to encourage a scaling mindset “from the word ‘go’”.

Tickets to Impact!Africa are available at Pioneers Post is a media partner at the event – check back soon for further coverage.

Header photo: Participants at a social enterprise masterclass in Nairobi.