By Agostine Ndungu | @StartAmbition
Entrepreneurship meets justice when investing in entrepreneurs helps build resilient local communities.
In the new age, innovation ecosystem terms such as social enterprise and social entrepreneurship aim to draw a connection between business and social issues such as poverty, youth unemployment, health and education. These are issues that have historically been associated with “emerging markets” of which “Africa” as a whole or just Sub-saharan Africa apparently represents.
We’ve all heard the cry “Africa is not a country,” yet it becomes almost impossible to challenge this way of thinking about the continent when the narrative is cloaked in hard crunchy data such as population and revenue projections.
We in the entrepreneurial ecosystem risk making the same mistake that aid organizations have long been accused of doing: constructing a generalized “African identity” around socio-economic and environmental problems which are seen as unique to the African continent, hence the need to intervene. In the end we work to justify our assumptions instead of validating them.
It is important for the entrepreneurial community to develop a deeper understanding of the historical, social and political issues around this ideological construction of a homogeneous African identity. Why? Because Identity is not just an issue of social justice, it makes business sense!
Talking about identity does not create justice, investing in people is what makes the difference.
At Impact Hub we had our own experience with this through the Resilience Initiative. Developed in partnership with Cordaid, the initiative aimed to seed the opening of six new Impact Hubs across the continent, pilot a value proposition for local entrepreneurs through the Impact Hub Fellowship for Resilient Communities and host a series of thought leadership events including the recently concluded Re-imaginging Resilience Conference in Addis.
Right from the beginning it was clear that defining “resilience” as the antonym to “fragility” would not only create a sense of alienation but it would also hinder positive ambition. People are not inspired to take entrepreneurial action from a place of negativity.
The Impact Hub Fellowship for Resilient Communities provides an opportunity for the candidate Impact Hub teams in Bujumbura and Freetown to engage with early stage entrepreneurs, figure out their needs and validate their value proposition for opening an Impact Hub in their respective cities.
Entrepreneurs need to have a deep understanding of their target market. This is not different for those, like Impact Hub, who are in the business of supporting other entrepreneurs. At the basic level data falls into two categories: Qualitative and Quantitative. What is the general profile of early stage entrepreneurs across Africa? What are their backgrounds? What are their needs? Who else is serving them? What are their frustrations? What are their aspirations? What drives them?
In established ecosystems such as Nairobi and Addis Ababa it is imperative for makers to define their value proposition relative to both entrepreneurs and other service providers so as not to be seen as adding competition to an already crowded marketplace.
On the other hand there is a strong business case for supporting entrepreneurs in countries such as Burundi and Sierra Leone, which are facing large scale socio-political and economic, shocks, political violence and Ebola respectively. Entrepreneurs play a key role in promoting and enhancing the resilience of communities in such countries by providing critical products and services that would otherwise be difficult to access.
For Entrepreneurs to remain locally rooted they need access to support services such as training, coaching, mentorship and even seed investments. These services should be made available locally and affordably.
Unfortunately, during humanitarian emergencies such as the Ebola epidemic focus tends to shift to short term aid projects involving handouts rather than fostering resilience of communities particularly through local entrepreneurs.
The Impact Hub Fellowship for Resilient Communities aims to show that supporting local entrepreneurs through teams and programs that are also locally embedded is key to ensuring that communities are able to ride through the challenging situations and eventually rebuild themselves in a more sustainable way.