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Setting the scene ablaze: a letter from Accra

November 3, 2016

Social enterprise Africa

GSEN’s vision is for social entrepreneurs everywhere to be able access great support. To realise this vision, we bring organisations together to refine and grow their work and to share best practices in new and innovative ways.

In late October we brought together 21 participants, operating in 16 countries across Africa to build skills, knowledge and networks, helping them better support early stage social entrepreneurs.

With representatives from Ghana, Tanzania, Chad, Senegal, Nigeria, Kenya, Mali, Rwanda, Uganda, Tunisia, Sierra Leone and more, the GSEN Learning Workshop, hosted by partners Reach for Change, brought many intermediaries together for the first time. This unique experience has already sparked new connections, collaborations and friendships.

‘‘A big thank you for your amazing workshop – the first of its kind on our continent. It really was beautiful connecting everyone and coming together with a shared vision on moving the SE dialogue forward.’’

Three weeks to seven years

The range of countries represented demonstrated the beautiful diversity in the room, and a fun polaroid + map exercised helped us all to visualise it. There was diversity, too, in the length of time people had been in post – three weeks up to seven years in fact. But what united us all was a shared dream, a vision for a better future and a determination to spark this in others. Or, as one participant put it:

‘We think people in this room are the exception, not the rule. What we want to do is to scale up mindsets.’

There was a real range too in the models of support each offered, spanning pre-incubator support to incubators and accelerators, grants, investment funds, technical support, mentoring, market support etc. But what we all had in common as participants is an impact-first mission, and a focus on supporting early stage social entrepreneurs.

Setting the scene ablaze

For many participants, this was their first event specifically for intermediaries and their concerns, and their first experience of a GSEN event. In typical GSEN fashion, the workshop was designed to facilitate peer learning and exchange in order to produce new connections and ideas for participants. It was really exciting for us and our partners to be doing this in Africa for the first time.

It’s been an invaluable learning exercise with peers. There are very rare occasions that I get to interact at once with representatives from so many countries. What an amazing and diverse group – thank you!

For those unable to participate in person, Reach for Change hosted an online Twitter conversation #AfricaInnovates to enable people to feed in their questions and challenges for the workshop to discuss. Overall the discussion reached 7,000+ on Twitter, adding more fuel and fire to our discussions.

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Supporting the supporters

Some of the key learnings from the workshop came out of our discussion on topics including:

  • How to stimulate investment in early stage social entrepreneurs
  • Selecting the right stories for the right audiences
  • Building donor intelligence
  • Business models and financial sustainability for ourselves as intermediaries
  • Being an investor in social enterprises
  • Quality vs quantity of scale-up support
  •  …and much more besides…

Supporting local social entrepreneurs

With 21 social enterprise supporters assembled, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to offer real-time support to local enterprises in Accra. Crack-teams formed around each social entrepreneur to generate solutions to their challenge. We heard from Ellorum and Cecilia, whose organisation offers outdoors personal development programs for young people in disadvantaged communities. Their challenge was around seeking ways to be financially sustainable. Key takeaway: ‘That securing in-kind support from the communities that we support is as valuable as financial resources’

Josephine brought a challenge as well, and introduced her enterprise which delivers ICT education to children and young people in rural communities and in schools. They also have an app which uses storytelling and real-life scenarios to educate young people in subjects including Maths, Science and English. Josephine’s challenge was around financial sustainability too, specifically looking at ways to monetise the app. Key takeaway: ‘I have a clear proposition for sponsors or corporates to partner up on creating content for our audience’

Thirdly, Israel presented his social enterprise, and their app for effective academic performance monitoring, for schools and parents alike. Key takeaway: ‘My team made me understand that what I have in my hand is data, and data is much coveted. So, sensitively handled, my proposition to a wider audience is real.’

Workshop outcomes

  • 100% satisfaction rate among participants
  • 100% would recommend this workshop to colleagues
  • 93% made useful connections whom they will follow up with
  • 93% felt the themes were selected and relevant for their work.

Where next

The GSEN Learning Workshop was part of a larger initiative, made possible by support from the Robert Bosch Stiftung. In addition to Reach for Change, we are pleased to be partnering with GSEN members LifeCo UnLtd South Africa and Yunus Social Business on this exciting new project. We are now building towards the GSEN Annual Event in South Africa, 6-10 March 2017. The event will reach GSEN members and a wider stakeholder audience in South Africa and beyond. Click below to find our how you can be involved as an attendee, contributor sponsor or partner.

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