The British Council hosted Enterprise Africa Summit that took place from 223 to 24 March 2017 in Accra, Ghana. The summit brought together over 300 delegates including academics, policymakers, investors, development partners, civil society groups and entrepreneurs from across Sub-Saharan Africa and around the globe to explore the role of entrepreneurship in building sustainable, resilient economies in Africa. Among these were East African delegates who joined their counterparts through the assistance and facilitation under the EU-funded Support for Social Enterprises in Eastern Africa project. The inter-country and inter-agency East African Delegation team consisted of leaders of ten social enterprises and a government representative from Kenya.
The ten Ethiopian and Kenyan social enterprises supported by the project were successful start-ups businesses that joined the delegation team to make their powerful cases that social enterprise can contribute significantly to the development of the sectors they work in. So were the civil society and public sector groups of participants. In this regard, the delegates well noted that at the heart of the work of the British Council in Sub-Saharan Africa including the Eastern Africa sub-region is the region's highly entrepreneurial and innovative core of small and medium businesses that offer huge potential to generate growth, employment and prosperity. They viewed that Enterprise Africa Summit was critical in drawing on these networks across the entire region with the aim of strengthening social entrepreneurship and sharing best practice in research and policy.
And, in the process, the East African delegates said that they drew very important practices, examples and lessons from other African countries such as Ghana that is recognized widely to have a developing social enterprise ecosystem in the region. They attributed the growth of the Ghanaian ecosystem mainly to the movement led by the social enterprises themselves and the emerging public policy frameworks that are favouring the development of the sector. Regarding the lessons from Ghana, Evelyn Anupi, Ministry of Education, Kenya, says “There is no shortage of opportunities for social enterprises. These opportunities are expanding rapidly due to the increasing recognition of the private sector’s role as an engine of growth as well as gaps in the government’s provision of social services. The financial services industry in Ghana is quite developed”.
The summit hosted a mix of policy and industry forums including enterprise clinics, master classes, marketplaces and networking throughout the three days. These helped facilitate interactions and engagements across four focus areas: knowledge, network, partnerships and advocacy.
The delegates were very impressed with platforms that yielded them international recognitions such as the experience sharing and learning forums with their Ghanaian counterparts, the experiences they shared with other groups, and the exhibition shows. They also ascertained that they made best use of some of the other forums hosted by the summit. Participants of the master classes, for instance, reported having developed specialized knowledge and skills in training fields such as business development. “On behalf of my organisation I would like to extend my gratitude for the opportunity. … it is a life altering summit for a local NGO like ours that do not have much experience on the concept and application of social enterprise. ” acknowledges Henock Alemayehu, Director, Timret Lehiwot Ethiopia. For aspirants like Timret Lehiwot, the social enterprise route is indeed perceived as a viable direction towards sustainability.
The East African delegation team was actively engaged in raising awareness about the social enterprise sector landscape in Ethiopia and Kenya. In this regard, the team showcased their products and services and the potential role of supporting a social enterprise sector in an Eastern African country like Ethiopia and Kenya or any other sub-region or country around Sub-Saharan Africa. Equally important was the feedbacks and ideas obtained from the hundreds of visitors of the East Africa stall in the marketplace forum at Enterprise Africa. These, said the delegates, were so overwhelming and encouraging that they became more inspired by what they and their organizations do to deliver their social missions. In general, the delegates viewed favourably that the mix of policy and industry forums were highly critical and beneficial for them in terms of creating connections and networks with their peers, exchange, knowledge sharing and learning with one another, and advocacy, which they are eager to share back home.