Huge opportunity for impact… How faith driven entrepreneurs can get involved in supporting entrepreneurship in Africa.
When I was a child, I emigrated to the US from Africa with my family and never looked back. When I finally did go back in college, a deep desire was planted, growing stronger with each subsequent trip, to use my position of privilege and the skills I had gained to make an impact on the continent. On one such trip to my native homeland of Kenya, I met Courtney Rountree, one of my co-founders at Sinapis, and we began discussing the pressing problems we were seeing in front of us and how we could leverage the power of business to create positive economic and social impact. Although we did not know it at the time, Africa was truly on the cusp.
Indeed, its coming ascendance is well researched. In June 2010, McKinsey released a seminal report on Africa that projected by 2020, Africa’s GDP would reach $2.6 trillion, up $1 trillion from 2008. With increasing urbanization, Africa’s labor force is projected to reach 1.1 billion by 2040, overtaking China and India. By 2020, consumers will spend $1.8 trillion, a trend projected to accelerate ensuing decades. The report noted that “if Africa can provide its young people with the education and skills they need, this large workforce could account for a significant share of both global consumption and production.” As a firm believer in the power of business to bring about transformational change, this trend points to a ripe opportunity to create meaningful businesses that will shape the face of Africa for generations to come.
From a faith and business perspective, this sea change in Africa provides entrepreneurs who have a heart and passion for Jesus the opportunity to deploy their skills to help build and support businesses that are a light upon a hill. Businesses provide a tangible way to meet felt needs in sustainable ways while providing a tremendous opportunity to create meaningful relationships across a variety of stakeholders including employees, vendors, and customers. When businesses choose to operate ethically in tough environments, they have as much power to transform society as “traditional” ways of doing ministry. At Sinapis, we have seen the impact of this up close and personal with entrepreneurs who share how doing “kingdom business” (business God’s way), has ushered in trust, integrity, and vibrant communities.
So how can we support entrepreneurship in Africa? In my experience, there are at least four points of need. The first may be the most profound and least appreciated which is simply stepping up to mentor entrepreneurs operating in Africa. Seasoned entrepreneurs can always coach people in the trenches and provide them counsel and wisdom. This is especially important when trying to develop scale-able businesses in Africa. Second, for those who can, access to capital is always a felt need in the continent. People who feel equipped can either directly provide capital or help open their networks to entrepreneurs looking for money. Third, for those who feel called, Africa represents a wonderful (but not easy) place to start a business, having direct impact on the ground. And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we can all lift up Africa and its leaders and entrepreneurs in prayer as we are led.
Despite the wonderful opportunities to get involved, operating in Africa comes with major challenges. Entrepreneurs routinely face corruption which can make it feel like the system is stacked against you when you are in the trenches. Navigating regulatory and business networks to setup operations, close business deals, and build a sustainable business is not for the faint of heart. Further, a common trap among westerners is to go to Africa bringing western solutions, which is almost always a recipe for disaster. When I first started my fintech startup Caytree, I spent a lot of time trying to adapt a western approach to a uniquely African context – and it did not work.
Operating in Africa requires a thoughtful, measured approach to understanding the context and crafting solutions that work. There are notable successes in this regard. Businesses such as PesaPal, KopoKopo, Africa’s Talking, and Lynk in Kenya alone showcase the success of local and foreign entrepreneurs in building startups that are scaling successfully. Imagine being an early entrepreneur in the US at the turn of the 19th or 20th centuries, getting in on the ground floor of some of the most exciting eras in business. Or being at the forefront of China’s economic leap. Getting involved in Africa today is a chance to have significant impact despite these challenges.
When He was asked what the two most important commandments were, Jesus replied that we should love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. And He pretty much left it up to us, with His help, to figure out what that looks like. For entrepreneurs who feel a global dimension to this call, who are exploring how to take the light of Jesus to every corner of the globe, Africa’s calling. It is calling for vibrant, faith-filled people who are willing to approach their call thoughtfully to engage meaningfully, creating kingdom businesses that will leave a lasting impact on its people and economy.