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Building an Ecosystem for Entrepreneurship in Africa

“Every single social and global issue of our day is a business opportunity in disguise.” —  Peter F. Drucker

Entrepreneurship continues to emerge across the globe as a response to social and economic inequality, political paralysis, and a somewhat feeble attempt by corporations to shift from a narrow shareholder perspective to a stakeholder framework. Much of this energy and activity is found in developed economies, but a growing movement in the developing world is finding fertile soil and a welcoming reception. In an age of rapid technological advances, entrepreneurship brings a refreshing focus on disruption and creative innovation, particularly to the newer entrants into the workforce in developing countries.

The African Context

Over the past few centuries, Africa has experienced waves of slavery and colonialism, followed by a “donor age” of NGO’s, philanthropy, and government aid; all of this has left Africans disempowered and largely deprived of the benefits of the technological and social revolution that accompanied globalization. Along with the rest of the developed and developing worlds, as McKenzie points out, “Africa faces the specter of systems collapse, without, however, the assets and resources of the developed world that is able to mitigate the social and economic damage. Africa will experience major disruptions that will serve to weaken political systems, bring much suffering to those at the bottom of the ladder, and undermine institutional strengths.”

Today, however, Africa is experiencing a widespread — though early-stage — adoption of entrepreneurship. The growth is fueled in equal parts by extreme social and economic conditions, alongside endless opportunities with the potential to turn problems into thriving solutions.

Africa’s serious social issues are now seen within the lens of economic opportunities that entrepreneurship brings to individuals and to African society.

What we see today throughout Africa is a new spirit of opportunity where countries are blessed with incredible natural resources, pools of youthful labor and needs, and markets primed for unparalleled growth. While much of the narrative about Africa has been about the “dark continent” — misery, civil strife, corruption, and persistent poverty — the rays of opportunity are shining through, ushering in the promise of social and economic progress, accompanied and led by an empowerment model. The opportunity to replace the system of masters and donors with a bottom-up entrepreneurship, linked to global technological innovations, brings entrepreneurship front and center for the 21st Century.

E4Impact MBA graduation class of Kenyan entrepreneurs

E4Impact MBA graduation class of Kenyan entrepreneurs

Six decades ago, the African Union set out to find “African solutions to African problems.” In many ways, entrepreneurship is designed precisely for this moment — a model that embraces disruption, sees opportunity in the midst of crisis, and, most importantly, possesses a unique DNA that acts its way into a new model of thinking. The pandemic only served to heighten the importance of letting entrepreneurs loose to ferret out the new opportunities that lay behind these problems. Into this muddled environment sits a relative newcomer to Africa — entrepreneurial ecosystems that have been bringing new energy and a model of economic development across the continent.

One of these is E4Impact. A social enterprise developed a decade ago by The Catholic University of Milan, E4Impact took up the challenge of creating a strong entrepreneurship foundation across Africa through a unique partnership with African Universities that would train aspiring entrepreneurs while at the same time build the capacity of these universities as a leading voice for entrepreneurs in their countries.

The E4Impact Experience 

E4Impact is a Pan African Alliance focused on establishing entrepreneurship across Africa as a key strategy in enhancing economic and social progress through the empowerment of entrepreneurship. Forming unique partnerships with African universities, E4Impact, over the past ten years, has built an institutional foundation across the continent to create a sustainable entrepreneurship infrastructure that is playing a vital role in job creation and the training African entrepreneurs, as well as serving to empower individuals, institutions, and the African society as a whole.

2021 graduates of the E4Impact MBA program in Zimbabwe

2021 graduates of the E4Impact MBA program in Zimbabwe

To date, the Alliance has created partnerships with African universities in 20 countries and established seven country offices. Sixteen of these countries offer the E4impact MBA in Entrepreneurship, where close to 1,400 graduates are now building business throughout their countries. Alongside the MBA program, additional components are being created to further build the capacity within each country. These include:

  • Accelerators
  • Country Centers on Entrepreneurship
  • Two PhD programs, one in Organizational Innovation and the other in Agriculture (28 associate and adjunct faculty currently enrolled)
  • Certificate programs and short courses
  • Research and development initiatives
  • Program linking E4Impact alumni with European countries to facilitate business opportunity and job growth

This first decade of the E4Impact Alliance has built a strong structure and strategy along with impressive results. Of the nearly 1400 MBA graduates:

  • An average of 6 jobs created per graduate
  • 57% of graduates started a new job
  • 98% increased their revenue
  • 80% expanded their supplier and partner network
  • 41% accessed financing
  • 22% opened new branches

Looking Ahead: Opportunity and Challenge

Africa’s serious social issues are now seen within the lens of economic opportunities that entrepreneurship brings to individuals and to African society. After the first decade of the E4Impact experience, much has been learned about the unique challenges of building an entrepreneurship ecosystem within developing economies. This same experience, however, has illuminated the potency of impact entrepreneurship as a driving force across Africa.

2019 E4Impact Alliance Launch Attendees

2019 E4Impact Alliance launch attendees

The Alliance model has established a strong network across Africa that capitalizes on mutual learning, sharing of amazing new innovations, and formation of key relationships that provide a strong voice and leadership to ensure that entrepreneurship will flourish in the years ahead. This will go a long way to creating a future that can meet the challenges and opportunities facing Africa and the developing world as they build an empowerment model long overdue and essential for the continent’s growth and prosperity.

Of course, much work lies ahead, and constantly changing social, environmental, and geopolitical issues, alongside emerging technologies, create a dynamic landscape. Who better than intrepid entrepreneurs to populate that geography!

Bradley K. Googins PhD is currently a Visiting Professor Catholic University of Milan, a Senior Fellow with E4Impact Africa and a Senior Fellow at the Institute on Social Innovation at Babson College. He was formerly a Professor at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College and the Executive Director ... Read more
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