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Social Entrepreneurship: 4 Industries That Are Solving Africa’s Biggest Problems

Photo by Omotayo Tajudeen from Pexels

Even as Africa’s bullish growth continues, millions of citizens in countries around the continent still face unimaginable difficulties in the pursuit of a dignified life. The cost of energy remains a hindrance, access to finance is a problem for millions, and many countries still experience perennial food shortages. 

Over the issue of morbid corruption, we all seem to have adopted a “we’ll revisit later” sort of attitude. Who has the time for politics when there’s rent to be paid and this fuel tank called the stomach to refill? 

We all know that we cannot rely on political leaders or government to solve all our problems. The trend, it seems, has been towards social entrepreneurship to fill this void. 

Defined as a way of running a business that puts the customer ahead of profit, social entrepreneurship may just be the answer to the consumerism challenge the world has been looking to solve. Across Africa, social enterprises are solving social, cultural, and environmental issues in fintech, energy, entertainment, food, among others. 

Fintech

Access to finance has always been a serious problem in many parts of Africa that remain unbanked. Moreover, inaccessibility of capital is a leading cause of perennial poverty. 

Through innovations in areas like mobile money, social enterprises have bridged a big gap and opened up new sectors of the economy. The ready acceptance of these fintech solutions just underscores the critical need they fulfil. 

In Kenya, M-pesa use is so universal that it is as good as cash. It is the currency of choice for tens of millions of informal traders. Most importantly, M-pesa has allowed millions of unbanked Kenyans to access savings, loan, and overdraft services through their phones.  

The global economy has been shifting rapidly in the last few decades. In many developed countries, e-commerce is changing the entire business landscape for the better. Africa is still playing catch up. Without the payment infrastructures needed to support online transactions, Africa trails in e-commerce. 

The fintech company Flutterwave is changing by providing other entrepreneurs with the financial tools they need to sell to global marketplaces. Launched just four years ago, the platform has already recorded over 100 million transactions. 

The list of fintech companies providing much-needed financial solutions in various fields is long. And investors are noticing. In 2018, Fintech start-ups in Africa raised over $270 million in investment. And as internet use rises among the continent’s youthful population, this field is definitely one that will keep growing. 

Energy 

In many parts of Africa, people still use charcoal and firewood for cooking. This is detrimental to the environment and people’s health. Deforestation (a result of cutting down trees to make the charcoal) is a leading cause of climate change, which threatens the livelihoods of millions of farmers and the food security of the entire continent. 

Providing alternatives to wood and charcoal, social enterprise ventures in this sector fulfil a very crucial role – environmental conservation. In Rwanda, Habona is working with households to provide renewable energy sources such as biofuels for lighting and briquettes for cooking. 

Solar as an alternative energy source has also emerged as a viable solution to Africa’s energy crisis. However, many of those who need solar solutions cannot afford to buy solar lighting products. To get around this, M-KOPA Solar, a social enterprise in Kenya, allows buyers to acquire solar lighting products and pay small instalment sums.       

Entertainment 

Africa has a serious image problem. Colonialism, followed by modernization, have effectively disconnected the continent from her roots. Thrust into the global scene less than 100 years ago, Africa as a continent is still struggling with its global image and battles to change perceptions of being the ‘inferior’ continent.

By utilizing digital tools, African creators are bridging this gap and actively changing perceptions about Africa on the world stage by telling the real African stories the world needs to hear. This has made the entertainment industry a powerful tool for cultural dissemination. 

Social enterprises like Nigerian start-up iROKOTv and Kenyan streaming service ViuSasa have given African creatives a platform to tell their stories.  Started in 2011, iROKOTv is already competing with Netflix for market share in West Africa. 

In Uganda, entertainer Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu aka Bobi Wine has used music and social media to create a large following and has become a serious contender to life-time president Museveni in the 2021 elections. In a brilliantly executed campaign – a perfect example of political entrepreneurship – Ssentamu’s campaign seeks to end decades of human right abuses and endemic corruption in Uganda.    

Food and Agriculture

“Agriculture is the backbone of the economy” seems to be the motto of most African countries.  We have heard this phrase ad nauseam, and even though agricultural commodities are our main exports, Africa still experiences serious problems in its quest to be a food-sufficient continent. In 2017, a staggering 28 of Africa’s 54 countries still relied on food aid. 

With most governments either inept or uninterested in alleviating the problems, the fate of Africa’s starving has been left to foreign aid NGOs and voluntourists. In the end, only social enterprises are presenting a lasting solution. 

Fresh Direct, a Nigerian startup, facilitates urban farming through hydroponics and vertical spaces as well as working with farmers in the fields. In Kenya, iProcure helps farmers order for farming supplies cheaply, handle farming logistics, and access market data. 

Energy, food, entertainment, and fintech are just a few of the areas where start-ups have emerged to solve a serious community problem. Africa is rising through sound business and innovations started by virtuoso entrepreneurs. And while their immediate rewards are money just like any other business, I contend that these businesses will be the future giants of African commerce.

Peter Gatuna

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