For the past week, I have participated on a learning journey in Kenya organized by London-based Leaders’ Quest on behalf of the Rockefeller Foundation. Twenty leaders from around the world joined the Quest to explore opportunities for impact investing in Africa. Participants include such diverse individuals as the domestic investment manager of China’s sovereign wealth fund, the Chairman of UK-based Sustainability, the CFO of the Rockefeller Foundation, the CEO of Bangalore-based Rural Shores, and many more.
The focus of the Quest was two-fold: 1) explore opportunities for impact investments in social enterprises and nonprofits in Kenya focused on business process outsourcing (BPO); and 2) connect and expand the leadership capabilities of individuals and organizations passionate about the intersection of financial profit and social mission.
In Kenya, opportunities are emerging at the intersection of business and poverty alleviation. Kenyan entrepreneurs in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector are leading the charge taking advantage of growth opportunities. Around the world, local entrepreneurs and patient capital investments from organizations like Omidyar Network and Acumen Fund are creating an ecosystem to support entrepreneurs and job creation. In Kenya, one growth sector attracting impact investments to support social entrepreneurs is the fledgling business process outsourcing (BPO) sector, or impact outsourcing. With early experience from India providing a useful roadmap, business processing outsourcing, or BPO, provides job opportunities to anyone, anywhere with internet connectivity. Two organizations encountered on this trip provide concrete examples.
Nairobits is a nonprofit training center in Nairobi that educates youth living in urban slums with skills in basic IT, web design, creative multimedia, and entrepreneurship. More than 500 students between the ages of 15-24 complete IT skills development training each year. Nairobits addresses the gap between weak public education and the demand for practical technical skills. Nairobits now counts more than 7,000 alumni since its founding in 1999. While Nairobits current model is donor-driven, Nairobits general manager – Anne Ikiara – is keen to evolve the organization into a sustainable social enterprise with a focus on generating modest fees by charging students for the training upon job placement and customizing training to meet individual company requirements.
Likewise, Enablis was conceived at the 2002 G8 Summit and founded by the Canada Fund for Africa, Accenture, and Telesystem as a private sector-led initiative that aims to help entrepreneurs in developing countries. A member-driven network, Enablis trains and mentors entrepreneurs in developing countries focused on small-to-medium enterprises for poverty reduction and sustainable development. Outside of Nairobi in Kisumu, we participated in a half-day “pitch” session in which local entrepreneurs focused on building BPO companies laid out their business plans. It was truly inspiring to experience the energy and excitement around building companies, as well as creating local, sustainable jobs.
Among all of the Kenyans I had the privilege of meeting on this journey, their focus was on jobs and critical steps away from donor dependency.
In my next blog in this series of three on my trip with the Rockefeller Foundation, I will continue with a focus on health and education and then tie the experience together with a final blog on activating new donors – and most importantly investors – to poverty alleviation in developing countries.
Chad Bolick is the Director of Impact & Innovation at Tides