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Social Enterprise – Alive & Well in East Africa

Guest blog post by Rich Hoops, Board Chair and Co-Founder of Impact Hub Boulder. Taken from his July 2014 trip to Africa.

I was recently in Tanzania at the invitation of the Segal Family Foundation of New Jersey. Barry Segal built one of the country’s largest distributors of building products, and when it sold in 2006, he involved his children in the creation of the family foundation. A meeting with President Clinton, and a subsequent invitation to the Clinton Global Initiative, got Barry and his family to think about the specific mission of the foundation, geographic focus, etc. Ultimately, the foundation chose Sub-Saharan Africa (East Africa predominantly), and (like SVP) an emphasis on finding small, innovative individuals and organizations with “Big Ideas” that needed support to scale their impact (sounds familiar, right?).

In addition to traditional grant making (giving in excess of $2m per year), like SVP, the foundation invests in capacity building for their grantees (sound even more familiar?). Their capacity building involves everything from helping with networks, introductions to other funders, grants to organizations who have tools and programs (like an M&E reporting tool) that support NGOs in providing free services, and more recently, conducting a Capacity Assessment (hmmmm…:)).

Perhaps the most unique element of their capacity building efforts is the annual meeting itself. Each year, the foundation invites representatives from each of their grantees, other collaborative funders, partners etc. for networking, education, sharing best practices etc. I am not aware of any other foundation going to this length to have their grantees support each other, learn from each other, collaborate together. Being together with over 200 people from the region who are all doing great work was inspiring, to say the least.

In addition to traditional grant making to traditional NGOs, Segal has been increasingly interested in social enterprise (both for-profit and nonprofit). Over the last several years I have been collaborating with them on some of the investments I’ve made in the region given our mutual emphasis on Education, healthcare access, water, and sanitation. In addition to providing grants and investments in for-profit enterprises, they have begun to provide grant support for accelerator programs like Unreasonable Institute East Africa (coincidentally my next stop; to work with the entrepreneurs in Kampala). Given this, I was invited by the foundation to work with and participate on a panel for their grantees who are either interested in or already working on Social Enterprise.

Although the surroundings are quite different from the US (with countries in very different stages of development; e.g. Burundi is still climbing out of conflict), the interest, issues, opportunities and challenges surrounding social enterprise in East Africa are no different than back home in Boulder County. How can we diversify funding streams; how can we build models that are more sustainable via earned income? How can we balance for-profit and non-profit motives, and remain mission driven? How do we find the right people to help us develop an earned income strategy?

I’ve had a wonderful time, and as always, was completely inspired by the amazing people doing amazing work to better the lives of those in their communities.

I only hope I behaved well enough to get invited back…:).

Off to Uganda!

 

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