Entrepreneurial insights from the only all-female panel at the Social Enterprise World Forum
One of the highlights of the Social Enterprise World Forum in Addis Ababa last month was the opportunity for Challenges to host a panel discussion on young social entrepreneurs. As well as the forum’s first panel of the three-day event, it was also the SEWF’s ONLY all-female panel. It was also possibly the youngest.
Taking part in the main hall of the United Nations Conference Centre, the session was chaired by Challenges’ Ethiopian manager, Kasonde Kashulwe, and focused upon young people in African countries and how they engage with social enterprise.
Joining Kasonde on the panel were Vivian Achan from Challenges Uganda, the lead for our Youth to Work programme in partnership with Standard Chartered; Blayne Tesfaye, founder and manager of the Addis Ababa-based start-up, TruLuv Granola; Danait Tilahun, a young graduate taking part in Challenges’ RISE programme; and entrepreneur Kevine Kagirimpundu, the creative mastermind behind the massively successful Rwandan shoe business, UZURI K&Y.
Though the allocated hour was far from long enough to give justice to the subject or the speakers’ insights, the discussion that did take place was far-reaching.
As well as exploring young people’s attitudes towards businesses and a career with social purpose, Kasonde and her panel also debated the different paths young people are taking to create an impact and why, while also looking at that impact specifically.
For Blayne Tesfaye, the journey to setting up her social enterprise TruLuv had been a winding one, explaining that throughout her career she’s always been motivated by a social purpose.
“I led a programme called Careers in the Common Good while at university in the US. This was a resource for students and alumni interested in careers in the non-profit, social enterprise or public service sectors. After that I interned with non-profits, and also co-founded the US College Students for Ethiopia programme under the Ethiopian Global Initiative, which sought to encourage among Ethiopian-American students to intern or volunteer in Ethiopia.”
But it was, says the health food business owner, working in the corporate world that drove her towards establishing a social enterprise.
“There’s a bit of a disconnect. I realised that NGOs can often lack the capability to drive economic development, and I realised the solution lay in the private sector, although the capricious nature of CSR is a massive problem. A good social enterprise, which marries sustainable business with social impact from the ground up, bridges this. That’s the aim with TruLuv.”
TruLuv’s social mission is to improve employment opportunities for women and to provide healthy snacks for Ethiopians. “As Ethiopia and the wider population of Africa grows, as incomes and urbanization grow, we will be battling the double-burden of malnutrition, in which rural areas face high undernutrition rates and city populations face increasing overweight and obesity rates. I want TruLuv’s healthy snacks to become Ethiopia’s favourite healthy foods, and ensure their sustainably sourced and produced by Ethiopian women.”
“That first step can be the scariest, but don’t think of impact as a barrier. Think of it as a driver. After all, there’s no impact too small”
Graduate Danait Tilahun, who was interning with TruLuv as part of Challenges’ RISE programme to support social enterprises to secure investment and scale up, was asked whether social enterprises were destined to stay within the small and medium-sized bracket.
Citing the relative youth of the movement, Danait said: “Social enterprises haven’t really had the chance to grow up to be a corporate yet, but I am sure that, thanks to initiatives like RISE, that in the near future more and more social enterprises will be scaled up, while at the same time existing corporate companies will give social impact greater priority in their business models.”
She also suggested that addressing tax policy would help, adding: “In Ethiopia we now have an association called Social Enterprise Ethiopia. They’re trying to have social enterprises recognized by government in order to look at policy and issues such as taxation.”
Kevine Kagirimpundu established her shoe business UZURI K&Y in Kigali in 2013 with her university friend, Ysolde Shimwe. Their mission is to create beautiful yet functional footwear from recycled materials, such as rubber tyres, while also focusing on job creation and upskilling in local communities. Within its first five years it had won several business awards but also supported more 750 people through a skills and employment training programme that targets young people and women, while many of the shoes made during the programme were donated to less privileged schoolchildren from the Gahanga area of the Rwandan capital.
Kevine said: “I believe that it is necessary for young entrepreneurs to incorporate a social responsibility aspect to our innovations and our entire business should be about solving challenges in our community. Also, creating jobs makes the impact we are making more sustainable.”
Kasonde, who manages Challenges RISE programme and who chaired the panel, said she estimated that about 200 people had sat in on the discussion. She added: “This was a youthful panel, and all female, and I’m proud of both those things. But there was a tremendous amount of individual experience on the panel, too. We had Danait, a recent Ethiopian graduate taking part in the RISE entrepreneurial programme, while Kevine and Blayne have each established very successful businesses, both in terms of turnover as well as impact. And my colleague Vivian was able to share her expertise from running business programmes in Uganda that provide training to young entrepreneurs like Danait as well as support for dynamic enterprises like those of Truluv and UZURI. It was a brilliant hour, and I personally felt very privileged to be chairing a panel that provided these four brilliant young women with this important platform at the SEWF.”
Vivian, who manages Challenges Uganda’s Youth to Work programme in Uganda, agreed the quality of the discussion had been insightful, and having two young successful female social entrepreneurs and one aspirational one was inspiring. She added: “I remember one lady who was waiting to start a social enterprise, but who asked for advice on creating impact that counts, and that that had been holding her back.
“I told her that you can’t wait for the right conditions, that while of course you need to have a robust plan you should start with what you have and build from there. That first step can be the scariest, but don’t think of impact as a barrier. Think of it as a driver. After all, there’s no impact too small.”