Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Be the change you want to see : or how to empower African businesses to succeed

Last week, the annual  African Enterprise Challenge Fund conference took place in Nairobi. It was an amazing conference bringing together social entrepreneurs from the whole continent to share their experiences and learn from each other.

Often those events have a huge registration fee, and i always wonder how social entrepreneurs who use all their small money to make the change they want to see happen spend 600 usd to attend a 2 day luxury event. So when you go to these events, you meet a lot of "wannabe save the world" people, who talk a lot but there is nothing behind.

AECF conference was different, not only i was allowed to participate for free, but even my parking fee was covered (the organizer were extremely generous as interested people could just register and join). People who joined the conference all where running businesses with their ups and downs or were investors in such ventures. For me, with my emerging poultry enterprise, it was mainly a space to learn, to understand new trends, and discover that my philosophy is part of a bigger movement. 

I learnt so many things, from contract framing, to poultry and investment strategy, which cannot fit in one blog post only. So let me start a new series under the label AECF on this blog, and take you through each of the lessons learned in small steps.

For today, the first lesson is about what AECF is. I discovered that this is a fund that allows start-up with disruptive ideas in agribusiness to get funded. It is a fund that does not help poor people with hand outs or any NGO, it just support enterprise who have the potential to bring a change to the poor in a business environment.
The ​​African ​​Enterprise ​​ Challenge ​​Fund ​​(AECF) ​​is ​​a ​​US$250m  ​​challenge ​​fund ​​for ​​agribusiness ​​in ​​Africa, ​​established ​​ in ​​2008. ​​AECF ​​provides ​​support ​​to ​​the ​​private ​​sector ​​for ​​new ​​and ​​ innovative ​​business ​​ideas ​​in ​​agribusiness, ​​rural ​​financial ​ ​services ​​and ​​renewable ​​energy/adaptation ​​to ​​climate ​​change  ​​that ​​will ​​benefit ​​Africa’s ​​small ​​farmers ​​and ​​rural ​​ households.
AECF is supported by ​some ​of ​the ​biggest ​names ​in ​development ​finance ​and ​hosted ​ by ​the ​Alliance ​for ​a ​Green ​Revolution ​in ​Africa ​(AGRA). The aim of AECF is ​to ​encourage ​private ​sector ​companies ​to ​compete ​for ​ investment ​support ​for ​their ​new ​and ​innovative ​business ​ ideas. AECF ​provides ​the ​minimum ​amount ​of ​concessionary ​finance  ​to ​make ​business ​ideas ​happen ​that ​otherwise ​would ​not. 

AECF funds ​innovative ​business ​ideas ​in ​agri-business, ​rural ​ financial ​services, ​renewable ​energy ​and ​technologies ​to ​assist ​ small ​farmers ​to ​adapt ​to ​climate ​change. (Taken from here)

It is a fund in which big donors make finances available for businesses, and it is managed by a committee chaired by Prof. Rudy Rabbinge, who I came already accross during my PhD time at Wageningen University, reminding me how small the world can be.

On Friday night I left the conference with the conviction that AECF is  one of these unique schemes that does things right : helping people to invest into their innovative ideas to lift smallholders out of poverty with their own means and let the market decide what works and what not. Isn't that how aid should be?

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