Friday 27 October 2017

Tangaza University College hosted an international  conference on social entrepreneurship which was organized as part of its planned activities under the Support for Social Enterprises in Eastern Africa project and successfully held from 22 to 23 September 2017 in Kenya. Over five hundred participants took part in the two day event. The theme of the conference was Social Enterprise: Engine of Africa Socio-Economic Transformation. The vision of the conference was to have a socially transformed African continent.

On the opening day, the Vice Chancellor Prof. Fr. Stephen Mbugua gave the importance of the conference to Tangaza and Kenya. The spirit of enterprise is growing rapidly in Kenya. He encouraged more and more groups to support this spirit and bring about social transformation among the poor of society. 

The chief guest was Ms. Susie Kitchens, the Deputy High Commissioner and Permanent Representative to the UN Environment Programme, British High Commission in Kenya. Her speech touched on the stakeholders of entrepreneurship, whom she placed into five categories. These were entrepreneurs, university, finance, corporations and Government. On the university, she emphasized the importance of creating hubs, incubators and bringing together people who think about social enterprises. 

Corporations play a key role in providing new ideas in the ecosystems and incubate new support for the industry. They can also act as vacuum fillers through research when innovations are not forthcoming. The government was picked out as a key stakeholder because of the massive role and space it occupies. Governments can help move things forward by providing a conducive and enabling environment for business investment. The government can also provide profiles for entrepreneurs; for instance, in East London where the UK Government supports and grows enterprises. The government can provide funds. Ms. Susie cited Department for International Development (DFID) as being behind the initial funds that started off the MPESA initiative in Kenya.

The second part of the morning discussed disruptive innovation. Dr. Mwaniki of Netfund kicked off the session with keynote address. Others were Ms. Rosemary Wahome, CEO of Beyond Profits and Mr. Maurice Mashiwa, CEO of Serano Africa. The core argument here was that through research we can innovate and be disruptive. How do you embed innovation within an ecosystem? Research enriches our perception of innovation and hence disruption of the ecosystem. Other panelists also added their voice. Dr. Beatrice Gakuba from Rwanda reminded the participants that networking and use of technology should be the key to empowerment of women across the continent. 

Prof. Mwenja discussed that academic institutions should help build capacities of entrepreneurships and be the link between the market and the products of entrepreneurs. The exhibitions outside the hall were a good example of how Tangaza had just fulfilled that purpose. Therefore, the government cannot lead social entrepreneurship but academic institutions and teaching staff there can.

Prof. Mwaniki, Netfund, excited the audience with his analysis of how social entrepreneurship can contribute effectively to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They can fight hunger and poverty, help sustain the environment and provide fresh clean water.

The last day was full of great speeches and contributions from the floor. Dr. Gachie, Programme Leader, Social Entrepreneurship, gave highlights of the previous day. However, the opening session was the highlight of the day. The Director of KCB Foundation helped clear the air that banks do not fund small and micro enterprises (SMEs) unless from their own initiative. The foundation was passionate over designing innovations that work. Banks are ready to put money there. Kenya’s economy is huge with over demand of 7 trillion shillings. It means social entrepreneurs alone cannot fill the gap. More people are required with innovative ideas. KCB Foundation is keen on such support.

The final afternoon was presided over by Ms. Anne Soy of BBC Africa. It was to help the experts nail the question: Is social enterprise engine of Africa socio-economic transformation? For Dr. Kipngetich, CEO of Uchumi, what was important was to demand there is a cabinet seat for Small Business Administration (SBA). The USA Government has such a cabinet post and one can see how innovation blossoms in the USA. At independence, Kenya had created corporations to serve the needs of the public. For instance, ICDC was created in the 1960s for SMEs funding. ICDI (now CITAM) helped bring in Coca Cola and General Motors (GM) to Kenya. KIRDI was to provide research for SMEs and Uchumi Supermarkets was as result of SMEs. Why can we not do such innovations today? 

For Sr. Mary Kleen, Mukuru Foundation,

The key to the future is work ethics. If the youth cannot grow up knowing how to fix things then the future is lost. The future is in work ethics basically when one is given a task and does it well or sees rubbish and can turn it into a resource.

The closing was done by Prof. Fr. Selvam whose message was of encouragement and inviting more such conferences to the region. 

The launch of the Social Enterprise society of Kenya  crowned the day.