Ethical Economics & Conscious Consumerism in SSA.

The Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF)[1]is taking place in October 2019 for the first time in a developing nation – East Africa’s most populous nation, Ethiopia, home to an estimated 55,000 social enterprises[2]. Motivated by a multiplicity of factors, not least of all the desire to invest responsibly and a commitment to global strategies for climate change and poverty alleviation, the USD502bn impact investment sector is upping the ante in its search for viable projects in Africa, which SEWF Addis attests to. Indeed, the advent of the forum has provided us with an opportunity to reflect on recent trends and developments we’re seeing within the impact space in SSA. Here are five of our favourites: 

·      Connecting creators to the heart of consumers: Consumers the world over are becoming increasingly discerning and global brands like H & M understand this well. The Swedish international retailer announced this month that it has selected two social enterprises whose wares will be introduced into its stores in five European countries[3]. One of them is All Across Africa[4], which connects handmade products by African rural artisans with competitive, global marketplaces. It is part of a trend of international retailers not only teaming up with local producers, but rather, celebrating the people behind the products by sharing their narrative and bolstering socially conscious supply chains. Fashion label Yevu is another example of this movement, drawing its content and inspiration from Ghanaian women in the informal sector and selling mainly in stores in Melbourne, Sydney and London. It promises to pay its workforce above the living wage and “every child of every Yevu team member attends school[5]”.  

·      ‘Mission first, profit second’ open for debate: Typically, social enterprise means “mission first” rather than profit first, which is the approach we adopted when conducting research on behalf of The British Council on social enterprise in Kenyaand Ghanarecently. But for Anna Robertson, Yevu founder, a social enterprise must understand the commercial imperatives above all else. “Our purpose is important, but if you don’t have a product that people want, then forget about it. It’s product or service first. The purpose has to come secondary[6].”

·      Local community-centred design. We spent some time with some incredibly open and intelligent students from San Francisco’s Miller Centre, who spent two months on an immersive trip to better understand the basket weaving communities in Bolgatanga. The artisans’ beautiful designs have become emblematic of the art and culture of Ghana’s Upper East Region and in 2017 alone, USD800,000 worth of baskets were exported to key markets such as the UK, US and Australia[7]. For two months, these students worked closely with artisans and after this experience they felt that a major takeaway from the experience was the need to understand the beneficiary community extremely well and learn what really matters to them, before you can really know “what impact looks like”. It can’t be done effectively, remotely.

·      Financial inclusion through legislative change. In Cote d’Ivoire, impending legislative change to laws governing marriage and property will have far-reaching ramifications for women and the economy more broadly.  The World Bank estimates that gender parity will see the nation moving to middle income status and earning between USD6-USD8billion over time[8]. Now that the bill has been approved by parliament, it is only the president’s assent that sits between women having an equal say as men on how joint marital property is managed and the current situation in which only the husbands exercise this right[9]. The reforms will also afford widows with the right to inherit property[10]. Traditionally, the death of a husband leads to the transfer of property to his male relatives, leaving the widow destitute. But the reforms will see women becoming more economically empowered, enabling them to even use property as collateral for loans for businesses.

·      Learning on the job:We’ve been having some extremely interesting conversations around how sustainable impact goes hand in hand with behavioural change. These shifts in approach and mindset can be learned, and organisations such as Footprints Africa[11], which is a proponent of “business as a force for good at scale” are committed to stimulating new ways of thinking in business. South Africa’s Social Enterprise Academy “[provides] transformational learning and development” such that social enterprises achieve their potential by offering a range of programmes including “courageous communication skills” and “theory of change”[12]. 

If you are interested in learning more about the topics discussed here, please do get in touch: