Investing and Scaling Inclusive Impact
Upon the invitation of the German Corporation and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), last week I was in Johannesburg, South Africa as part of a delegation of pan-African ecosystem enablers to represent Cape Town, South Africa at the Seedstars World Africa Regional Summit 2019. The full week spanned across cocktail evenings and dinners, intense boot camps and 1-1 sessions with mentors and investors for nearly 50 technology startups and the highly anticipated summit with an audience of 300+ comprising of 26 Sub-Saharan African countries.
To kick off the regional summit at an evening cocktail, I was joined on stage by Anicha Abdul who is the Managing Director of EP Management and Consulting (Mozambique) and the Program Manager for Empow'Her Côte d'Ivoire, Chloe Roncajolo, moderated by Seedstar’s Fanny Dauchez to be part of an incredible panel called "Generation SHE" to engage on gender equality across the ecosystem. This discussion inspired a series of conversations, and actions which included men and women who actioned for gender parity during another panel discussion, not to discuss gender equity within the ecosystem, but to contribute to the solutions driven workshop based on their expertise. And throughout the course of the week, Seedstars seems to have been intentional about this role of not only diversity, but that of inclusion too.
Equity Scale is Transferable if Intentional
Highlighting the role and participation of women across the border in the technology, startup and investor community was a focus for the global organisation. This was made visible in the rising number of senior persons in leadership held at Seedstars across the Africa region, the 40% of female attendance and the articulate (and strategic) history making of having an all female jury panel for the pitching competition made up on 10 women-led businesses amongst the 24 that pitched.
Shifting the equity scale and accelerating gender parity requires continuous action, surgical focus and enabling conversations that are in inclusive spaces to inspire the actionable change to design the necessary frameworks to thrive.
Africans need to become Connected
By now, it should be no secret that Africa is not a country, however it shouldn’t diminish the need for Africans to become interconnected. This week, what enlightened me the most, was how eager everyone was to connect with each other and expand their networks to benefit the 300+ people in attendance; if this is what the African Trade Agreement has in store for the continent, then hope there is. However, with the provision of the opportunities of trading and investment opportunities, comes the vile reminder of the fact that Africans still require visas to travel to over 50% of other African countries, restricting the continent-spread movement and making it more expensive to travel. And, as a result, we had a few startups who unfortunately weren’t able to be present at the summit to pitch their entities and had to opt for a video-recorded pitch. Even with the launches of milestones such as the African Continental Free Trade Area and the Single African Air Transport Market, the state of a truly connected Africa is not changing significantly over the years.
The President of the African Development Bank Group, Akinwumi A. Adesina articulated it quite well when he said that regional integration and trade based upon the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital should be and is at the core of the business of the African Development Bank, because it recognises the opportunities in the economy that these agreements have in place, this in the 3rd edition of the Africa Visa Openness Index Report 2018 published by the African Development Bank and the Africa Union Commission.
There is no shortage of Scalable Solutions
Powered by the African Development Bank Group, with my fellow mentors, we had the opportunity to contribute to these high impact and high growth startups from across Africa in various sectors at the Investor Forum ranging from business development to investor readiness advisory. It was an opportunity, and one of the many sessions (including rigorous bootcamps) delivered by respective experts and investors to prepare the 24 Seedstars local winners to advance to the final stage of the competition, the Seedstars World Final stage in Lausanne, Switzerland to win up to $500k in investments. In the end, only 10 startups from the Sub-Sahara Africa region were able to make it: Exuus (Rwanda), mVocia (Ghana), Pezesha (Kenya), Teheca (Uganda), OKO Finance (Mali), Afrikamart (Senegal), Nadji Bi (The Gambia), Vectra (South Africa), Roque Online (Angola) and Crop2Cash (Nigeria). Although not every startup was able to be chosen, the capital (monetary, intellectual, social etc.) that was injected this past week speaks to the true value that both Africans and non-Africans, investors and ecosystem enablers, government and private sector sees in the potential of scaling solutions across African markets.
Diversity is a great conversation starter, and the right direction in the role that inclusion has to play in investing in an Africa that is ready and geared for the global takeover, because the world is ready to if we’re not up to the task. Inviting more women to become a part of decision making processes, pitching at startup competitions, inviting government and policy makers to make intra-African trade less taxing and more open and engaging in these conversations is a step that Seedstars, and the week that was last week showcased that not only the organisation, but the stakeholders involved are promoting and working towards.
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