The EMRC’S Africa Finance and Investment Forum (AFIF) 2015, which took place over three days last month in Somerset West, brought together around two hundred participants ranging from SMMEs and NGOs to top financiers and government officials, representing 41 countries.
Opening the proceedings, Idit Miller, MD of EMRC, explained that the priority of the forum was to achieve growth through sustainable policies in the key sectors of health, agriculture, infrastructure and energy. “Alongside these policies real concrete business measures must be established,” Miller added, “which is why AFIF focuses on offering a highly conducive environment for as many B2B meetings to take place”. Around 600 B2B meetings were organised over the two afternoons, with people from across all regions of the continent discussing investment opportunities.
Held for the first time in Africa, AFIF 2015 was organised by Brussels-based EMRC, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the European Investment Bank (EIB), German Development Finance Institution DEG/KfW, along with Old Mutual Investments Group, Agri Academy, Pfizer, Rabobank, BlueCloud, ICD and the International Finance Corporation (IFC). The core theme of this year’s forum was Access to Finance & Entrepreneurship. A number of key experts discussed topics such as improving access to finance for small and medium-sized companies (SMEs), and the growth of impact investment.
One of the forum’s main highlights and a first for Africa, was the Private Public Dialogue on Impact Investment, overseen by the UNDP and the African Union (AU). The panel provided a platform through which representatives of the public and private sectors discussed concrete interventions to catalyse the impact investment sector and contribute towards the achievement of the AU’s Agenda 2063 and the recently ratified Sustainable Development Goals.
Historically, African governments have supplemented their social development programmes with funds from aid agencies, but the 2008 financial crisis put this relationship on rocky ground and exposed their vulnerability to unpredictable global influences, creating a need for innovative funding.
Speaking during the panel discussion, Lebogang Motlana, Director of UNDP’s regional service center for Africa, explained that the meeting was one of several “intended to initiate a continental discussion around the concept of impact investment, how to attract investors and how to foster enterprise, and specifically social enterprise, to the benefit of all Africans”.
From impact investment discussions to the needs to simplify and create conducive environments across all countries for entrepreneurs, the entire forum produced some important points of contention and debate. Discussions evolved as the audience, mainly African based entrepreneurs, highlighted the hurdles they face. These include red-tape, lack of coherent national and regional policies and taxes as well as general national policies to educate and support the youth to believe and venture towards setting up one’s own business. Many delegates regarded that a change of attitude at all levels needed to happen so that Africa’s large educated youth population were given the support to see business as a potential source of revenue.
“This is what makes AFIF so special. You have everyone here and everyone has an equal voice. It is essential to hear all sides of the story and to find common solutions to make things really happen on the ground,” explained Pierre Van Hedel, Managing Director of the Rabobank Foundation.
The Rabobank Foundation has partnered for several years with the EMRC and was this year’s sponsor of the AFIF 2015 Entrepreneurship Award, which saw four selected projects (out of 49 applications) presented to the audience and the select committee. The pitches were made by Mary Cherop Maritim representing Classic Foods (Kenya); Lazaro Mwakipesile, MD of the Raphael Group (Tanzania); Adewumi Sule Owolabi from Cherebut Foods (Kenya) and Wachira Kariuki of Aerobic Foods (Nigeria).
Tanzanian based Raphael Group was declared the winning project for the Entrepreneurship Award 2015, taking home US$5 000 in cash and receiving a year-long marketing follow up from EMRC. Mwakipesile accepted the award with great fanfare, declaring that it was a win for his entire team and the whole of Tanzania. He said, “This is a moment for all the entrepreneurs from Tanzania. I am not only representing the Raphael Group, but also all the business people in my country who believe in what they do. This is a very special moment for me and everyone back home.” The Raphael Group implements its business activities through the SHIRCO consortium under a complete value chain model of rice, beans, groundnuts and sunflower. The company partners with other private businesses, especially agro-dealers and credit providers, that work directly with RGL contracted farmers.
On the next day of the conference some very similar and special pitches followed, focusing on the health sector in Africa. A special session on Access to Finance on Health was organised, followed by the Pfizer Health Entrepreneurship Award and a Pitching Session by The Innovation Hub (South Africa). This culminated in the nomination of Markus Labuschagne from Altis Biologics, South Africa. Altis Biologics has developed Altis OBM, the first injectable porcine derived BMP medical device in the world---an innovative product for the treatment of bone injuries and voids through the use of a regenerative biological implant. OBM is the world’s first injectable regenerating bone graft substitute. The injection of OBM leads to the rapid, safe and effective healing of problematic bone injuries, leading to the complete and natural restoration of the bone, including the bone marrow.
There was a general consensus that a lot still needed to be done within Africa’s health sector and that there was an enormous potential that had been previously overlooked. Steven Adjei of Blue Cloud Health strongly supported the idea that Africa could offer new ideas and business incentives from the global health sector and encouraged entrepreneurs and financers to open their eyes to the current strides the continent was making across the board.
The forum was closed officially with a significant milestone, the announcement of the UNDP - Cape Town Declaration on Impact Investment in Africa, which was drawn up following the Public-Private Dialogue on Impact Investment in Africa and overseen by the UNDP.
“With more than 90% of new jobs in developing countries being created in the private sector, and that many of the SMEs discussed during this forum here, are the main providers of employment in Africa, it is critical that we explore all the ways in which the private sector can engage and work with institutions like ours to contribute towards the successful implementation of regional and global development agendas,” Motlana concluded.