Davos Agenda

How social entrepreneurs can drive an inclusive 'Africa’s century'

Social entrepreneurs in Africa are fixing problems through innovative solutions. Davos 2023

Social entrepreneurs in Africa are fixing problems through innovative solutions. Image: MyAgro

Precious Moloi-Motsepe
Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Motsepe Foundation
Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli
Managing Partner, Sahel Consulting Agriculture & Nutrition
François Bonnici
Director, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, Head of Social Innovation, World Economic Forum
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Davos Agenda

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • Africa's century can be more inclusive and sustainable if driven by the millions of social entrepreneurs already at work on the continent.
  • The potential of social entrepreneurs is increasingly recognized by the public and private sector across Africa.
  • A new initiative, Africa Forward, calls for a strategic shift around five pillars to further advance social entrepreneurship in Africa.

In what is expected to be Africa’s century, social entrepreneurs can play a catalytic role in driving inclusive and sustainable economic development on the continent.

Every day, social entrepreneurs in Africa are fixing problems through innovative solutions while running a financially sustainable business. Often leveraging the power of technology, social entrepreneurs are training and employing youth, providing access to healthcare and social protection and accelerating agricultural innovations.

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South African social entrepreneur Lindiwe Matlali, driven by the belief that no child should be left behind by the tech revolution, founded Africa Teen Geeks. This social enterprise teaches children and unemployed youth how to code, exposes them to computer science, and inspires a future generation of technology entrepreneurs and innovators.

In Senegal, Anushka Ratnayake founded myAgro to empower smallholder farmers, reduce poverty and increase food security. The organization has pioneered a new bank-less savings model that enables farmers to invest their own funds in climate resilient seeds, fertilizer, tools, and training to significantly increase their harvests and income.

These are just a few examples. Research suggests that there are millions of social entrepreneurs working in Africa: about 85,000 social enterprises in Kenya; 135,000 in Egypt; 140,000 in South Africa; and 1.3 million in Nigeria. Across Sub-Saharan Africa, social enterprises are estimated to directly create between 28 and 41 million jobs.

Opportunity in Africa

Africa is the youngest and fastest-growing continent and. By 2050, 1 in 4 people in the world will be African and by 2035 more young Africans will enter the workforce each year than in the rest of the world combined. Africa’s youthful population presents both challenges and opportunities, but there are a number of reasons to be optimistic.

According to Afrobarometer data, in a country like South Africa, where youth unemployment remains very high, youth are nonetheless more hopeful about the future and positive about their own circumstances than older generations.

Africa also holds 65% of the world’s remaining uncultivated arable land, has vast renewable energy potential, an abundance of minerals pivotal to the technology revolution and a young, dynamic energetic and creative workforce.

There is a crucial window of opportunity for African leaders and societies to translate this potential into fast, sustainable and inclusive growth, and the social economy is poised to play a pivotal role in this journey.

Growing recognition and engagement for social entrepreneurs

Encouragingly, the vast potential of social entrepreneurs is increasingly recognized by the public and private sector across Africa.

Only last November, the African Union adopted its 10-year strategy on social and solidarity economy which states that ”With its people-centered and planet-sensitive approach, the SSE is widely recognised as a model for inclusivity.” And the 2022 ILO report Social and solidarity economy: a catalyst for social innovation in Africa?, highlights the potential of the social and solidarity economy to drive sustainable and inclusive local development, as well as the creation and promotion of decent work for all.

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The private sector is increasingly engaging with social entrepreneurs across the continent. The South African based private investment group Yellowwoods acts as an African social innovation hub and has incubated numerous social enterprises, such as Harambee and SmartStart. In Nigeria, the Union bank of Nigeria and the Ford Foundation have supported 250 social innovators through LEAP Africa’s Social Innovators Programme.

In partnership with the Sahara Foundation, LEAP is additionally supporting social entrepreneurs to accelerate access to energy and promote sustainable environments through the Sahara Impact Fund Fellowship. These social innovators are leading high-impact ventures in Ghana, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Cameroon, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania.

Also, the Motsepe Foundation is committed to unlock the potential of African entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs. They run an extensive portfolio of initiatives, which foster the growth of a global community of entrepreneurs through skills development, education, knowledge sharing, mentorship and innovative prize competitions that advance scalable tech-based solutions and accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Africa's sustainable future

While these are promising signs, African social entrepreneurs are pointing to the challenges they still face in starting and scaling their businesses. For example, the 2022 study conducted by the Bridgespan Group in collaboration with the African Philanthropy Forum (AFP) revealed that just 9% of large gifts by African donors and 14% by non-African donors go to local NGOs.

African social entrepreneurs have united at Catalyst 2030 and come out with a joint initiative called Africa Forward. This collective calls for a strategic shift around five pillars:

1. Narrative shift: Restructure the approach to African narratives by profiling the African leadership of local social enterprises.

2. Ecosystem development: Undertake initiatives to enable cooperation between governments and social entrepreneurs to strengthen the social enterprises ecosystem through collaboration and wellbeing initiatives.

3. Funding: Redirect approaches to funding to ensure that at least 50% of all funding goes to African led organizations directly, without the use of intermediaries and with particular consideration for youth and gender focused organizations.

4. Job creation and career counselling: Expand the number of jobs in the social sector by 10% and use workforce development programmes and career counselling to recruit skilled African employees and bring young people into the sector.

5. Training and capacity development: Impart practical skills and knowledge on social enterprises to help organizations scale their initiatives and satisfy funder accountability requirements.

With the right policies and partnerships, social entrepreneurs across Africa may actually be the champions of an inclusive and sustainable Africa’s century.

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