The Power Of African Entrepreneurs To Transform The Continent

Earlier this year, Africa notched up its first four unicorns – start-ups that have each achieved a $1 billion+ in valuation.  The success of these fintech disruptors has seen a wave of optimism sweep across a continent that is increasingly regarding purpose-driven entrepreneurship as its most promising path to sustainable socio-economic development across the continent. 

Amid this positive outlook for African entrepreneurship, the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation recently hosted AfriJam2021, the highly anticipated three-day event that brought together the participants in its three entrepreneurial development programmes coupled with the continent’s top business creators, change-makers and thought leaders.  Exploring Digitalisation, Collaboration & Sustainability, the summit presented a range of masterclasses, interactive speaker sessions and networking activities to encourage young entrepreneurial leaders to create the shared future in Africa that they can be proud of and to further inspire these young Africans to solve problems for Africa.

The Foundation’s Head of Programmes, Charleen Duncan explains, “What was clear at AfriJam2021 is that there is a significant energy invigorating Africa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, which is growing from strength to strength.  There is a keen awareness that mission-centred African entrepreneurs have a considerable power to address long-standing issues on the continent from healthcare to education, from agriculture, transportation to livelihoods.  Africans are digitally-savvy, and we have the capabilities to combine disruptive tech and innovative ideas to create social enterprises and businesses that solve problems in our communities, cities and countries.  As African entrepreneurship grows as a force for transformation, we also have the advantage of our innate ability to choose collaboration over individualism which helps to build a more robust and diverse entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Africa offers investors limitless potential

Leading entrepreneurs and investors from across the continent participated in the event’s discussions, sharing experiences, insights and perspectives. Adenike Sheriff, Chief of Staff at Future Africa which connects African innovators with resources for scaling up including global funding, emphasised that Africa holds extraordinary promise for investors. 

 “There are currently infinite possibilities for the combination of financing and disruptive tech to enable Africa to leapfrog over what have been intractable development challenges.  If you are an investor who wants to make a world-changing difference, then Africa offers you the greatest potential to have an impact across the full range of socio-economic endeavours.  In addition, we are currently the world’s youngest continent, and our population is rapidly growing.  We have huge, ever-increasing markets making investments in African entrepreneurs more viable, and potentially, much more profitable,” explains Sheriff.

While there is a rising call for increased home-grown investment by African venture capitalists, high net worth individuals and crowd-funding efforts, Sheriff noted that it does not matter where the resources come from.  “Finding common ground between investor and founder is all about impact,” she says, “We want to connect investors from Africa and around the world who are interested in innovation with the best African start-ups which they can believe in.  At this time, our focus needs to be on filling the funding gaps.  Africa’s fintech start-ups are well-proven on the global stage.  E-commerce ventures are gaining ground.  We see other areas with just as much potential, like education and healthcare.  There also needs to be a focus on supporting Africa’s women entrepreneurs who have yet to get their fair share of funding and access to resources for their great ideas to grow into thriving enterprises.”

Entrepreneurial education – a new frontier for Africa

With 77% of the continent’s population under 35 years, African entrepreneurs will struggle to realise its potential without broad-scale engagement with the younger generations who need to be educated, inspired and supported if they are to carry the torch forward.  But this is not just about developing business-savvy individuals, attracting capital or understanding how to deploy tech innovations. The promise of African entrepreneurship is also rooted in finding solutions to Africa’s social and economic challenges. 

This requires younger generations to be invested in transforming lives, defeating poverty, social injustice and defending the planet.

Chebet Chikumbu, the Africa Director of Global Citizen said, “The best entrepreneurs are change-makers and ethical leaders.  In Africa, entrepreneurship needs to go beyond personal enrichment and be embedded in a just framework.  The exciting potential lies in how African lives are changed for the better, how communities are lifted out of poverty and how people live fulfilling lives without perpetuating environmental harms.  Empowering our youth to take game-changing action is how they collaborate to create a future where they can realise their potential.”

Duncan concludes, “There’s an entrepreneurial mindset that we need to focus on developing right now, and that includes inculcating ethical leadership within Africa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.  The continent is already moving beyond survival entrepreneurship, and it’s imperative to support inclusive enterprises that solve problems across African societies.  This is the pathway to providing dignified work, creating generational wealth and transforming our communities.”

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