Sixteen years after the term ‘impact investing’ was coined, Africa finally hosted its first Africa Impact Summit. This conference, unique in its kind on the African continent, was organized by Africans, for Africans, and in partnership with the world, as envisioned by the SDGs. The Summit aspires to be the leading forum for impact investing thought leadership and dealmaking in Africa.
But what led us to this point, what was the journey like, and where do we go from here?
When it comes to meeting climate and SDGs targets, Africa is lagging. The success or failure of Africa lies in the hands of investors, as public funds alone will never be sufficient to meet these targets. Much of the arduous journey has revolved around persuading and mobilizing private capital for public goods, ensuring it flows where it is most needed and impactful.
Susan de Witt, a self-appointed market builder in the early stage of the market, played a pivotal role in establishing the Impact Investing movement in South Africa (RSA). According to de Witt, the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship was established at the Graduate School of Business at the University of Cape Town (GSB-UCT) in 2013. One of the unit’s areas was Impact Investing and Development Finance. De Witt, working with Dr. Aunnie Patton Power, joined the unit in 2014, where they worked as market builders. This involved teaching MBAs, executive courses, researching Social Impact Bonds, writing reports, and engaging with potential stakeholders while being linked to the international community, including GSGII.
After reaching out to numerous people in banks, pension funds, and other financial institutions, a taskforce of 17 persons was established, chaired by Mr. Elias Masilela, with representation from different stakeholders of the market. The functioning of the South African NABII was initially done by a small, dedicated secretariat of 2-3 people at the Bertha Centre. In 2018, the South African NABII, along with taskforces from Zambia, Ghana, and Kenya, attended the GSGII Summit in New Delhi, India, where RSA became the first African Member of the GSGII global movement.
When it comes to meeting climate and SDGs targets, Africa is lagging.
The COVID pandemic put a halt to the planned GSGII conference in RSA in 2020. However, the lockdown made it easier for people to realize the necessity of ESG, consequently making it easier to promote impact than from 2018-2020! The RSA NABII didn’t dream alone but did it along with other African pioneers and forerunners from Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Zambia with the same determination to change the future of the African continent.
As a symbol of this collective collaboration, a new journey was launched 18 months ago leading to the fully sold-out inaugural hybrid Africa Impact Summit held from 13-14th of July 2023, entitled Unleashing African Potential through Impact Investing, at Cape Town’s International Convention Centre (CTICC). The Summit brought together 400 delegates from all over the continent and outside the continent (Asia, Europe, and North America) too, and an additional 120 paying online participants. The Summit is considered the defining moment of Impact Investing in Africa in partnership with the rest of the world, filling out an important gap in the GSGII calendar.
The Summit is about supporting the African NABIIs through plenary panel discussions and break-away parallel sessions to bring more private capital to or from within the continent to help solve the socio-economic challenges as captured by the SDGs. Or in the figurative words of CEO of GSGII, Mr. Cliff Prior, the African continent is traveling towards “a New Financial World (working for everyone, sic.) where money is about people, planet, and risk-adjusted financial returns.”
However, reaching this world with significant consequences on both people and planet will not be an easy journey. The Africa Summit, covered by five news outlets including Impact Entrepreneur Magazine, was an important leap forward because the Summit brought together African countries with clear goals of achieving far more together than alone.
Although the process started 18 months ago, the actual Summit program was put together only six weeks ago after the GSG Leadership Meeting in Istanbul, with the last changes made the night before the Summit took place. This is a testament to the persistence, resilience, and willingness of the four host NABIIs from RSA, Ghana, Nigeria, and Zambia to host the continent’s most instrumental conference against all odds.
The Summit also comes at a time where the winds of change are blowing and where the Investment strategies in South, East, and Western Africa show a clear growth in assets under management (AuM) towards Impact Investing. Could these promising numbers be the start of something truly magnificent and transformational? As the initial April 2023 Press Release stated: “We hope this summit will act as a catalyst to open doors for people to consider impact investing and to pivot towards operating sustainably as organizations.”
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