After a decade of hard work, the foundations are in place for substantive progress within African food systems. New tangible partnerships are emerging that combine focussed intent, long-term commitment and significant ambition. For anyone asking when African agriculture will deliver its long-touted potential, these partnerships offer the best hope for change at scale.

There is no doubt that complex problems disproportionately affect the less powerful: hunger, drought, floods, and conflict all punish the poor and marginalised first. It is understandable that the less powerful feel angry at the more powerful. They may despair or rage against the injustice. “Why me?”

The powerful may be the winners in the system – wealth, health and power accrues to them/us. They/we may have power over the less powerful, and thereby be in a position to protect the status quo. This does not necessarily mean that the powerful have much effective power over the system itself. Indeed they/we are as much a product of the system as anyone else.

As Duncan Green describes in his excellent new book How Change Happens, much effort from principled activists goes in to “speaking truth to power.” This energy can feel like shouting in to the wind, because it is like shouting in to the wind. The system’s dynamics are more powerful than any individual leader. Like the monsters of old, you could chop off its head but the system will grow another back. We attribute too much power to leaders, and they/we are often obliged to perpetuate this myth to secure their/our position. Let’s see how effective Trump is at fulfilling all his promises to “Make America Great Again.”

System change requires a different kind of power – a collective power that Wasafiri terms “adaptive capacity”. This is the ability of actors in a system to know and act upon that system, so as to intentionally change it. Like other aspects of systems, the whole is not simply the sum of the parts. Collective power is not the aggregation of the power of individuals. It is a product of the social structures, behaviours and attitudes that allow collaboration and communication at a system level. The toughest “complex” problems are those where adaptive capacity is inadequate to the scale of the challenge – climate change, violent extremism, food security. A classic power analysis will not miraculously identify the individuals who can wield enough influence to solve these issues.

This does not diminish the responsibility of leaders. They/we often hold a privileged point of view from which to perceive the system more completely. They/we certainly have convening and decision-making power that can be the basis for greater adaptive capacity and effective interventions that drive system reform. But they/we are as much part of the system as anyone else, and can feel powerless to effect change.

A family is often described as the Complex Adaptive System that is easiest to relate to. As the Dad and primary breadwinner, a pure power analysis would suggest I have most individual power in my family. Do I feel powerful as one child has a tantrum, the other refuses to do his homework, and my wife fumes? Not very.

I recently described Wasafiri’s work on system change to an old friend, expecting the usual slightly blank look followed by, “So what exactly do you do?”. Instead she replied, “Oh that sounds just like my work as a family counsellor”. She helps whole families understand how they affect each other, and then collectively they make changes to the routines, norms and behaviours that define them. She helps increase the adaptive capacity of that family to evolve itself as a micro-system. That’s the help I need as a Dad. I’m not powerful to effect change on my own. I need my whole family to be working together.

Duncan Green would describe this approach to system change as “strategic activism”, in contrast to “principled activism”. Wasafiri uses the term “Systemcraft” to evoke the long-term effort of simultaneously strengthening adaptive capacity within system, whilst also coordinating interventions to address complex problems.

Ubuntu: why adaptive capacity has profound value?

A few years ago, the Wasafiri team attempted to articulate our values. Our North Star was a sense of purpose that we struggled to articulate. It was broader than poverty-alleviation, less benevolent than compassion, less “us vs them” than solidarity. It was a sense that the problems we worked on required people to work together in new ways that transcended boundaries; that their success was interconnected, even if they did not recognise it at first.

The African concept of Ubuntu was introduced and immediately resonated. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in his book No Future Without Forgiveness, says: “Ubuntu is very difficult to render into a Western language… It is to say, ‘My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in what is yours.’ We belong in a bundle of life.” Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee defined it as: “I am what I am because of who we all are.”

This philosophy gives a value-base to why work on adaptive capacity is important. It emphasises the collective over the individual, or at least that the individual cannot understand or fulfil their humanity outside their relation to the collective. Our work is to evolve human systems in which we can all thrive. It is to increase human agency over structural constraints. This we can only do together, wielding collective power, not looking to mythically powerful leaders to resolve our problems as if they sat God-like above the systems.

Whether it is my family striving for a little more harmony, a village countering the rise of extremist ideologies, or the global community facing global warming; we must consider how to increase our adaptive capacity. That’s when power is no longer a zero-sum game, we are collectively fulfilling our humanity, and we might just counter some thorny problems along the way.

Here in the UK we are living in complex times. Last month we voted to leave the EU; it turns out if being in the EU was complicated, leaving is the definition of complexity.

In the hours following the vote there was profound shock, particularly amongst those of us that voted remain. Certainly I had never imagined this result, though neither perhaps had many that voted leave. The post-mortems are mounting and if no one saw it happening, everyone can now explain why it did. Duncan Green, on his ‘Poverty to Power’ Oxfam blog, offers a great summary of contributing factors and avoids any sort of simplistic explanation. For my own reflections (once past the shock and anger), I try looking through the lens of ‘complex adaptive systems’. These are systems that, as Wasafiri, we seek out to work in, and of course unsurprisingly, find that we also live in. One of the clues to understanding such systems is to look for power; where it moves, where it pools, where it stagnates: “Identifying types of power and where they are located is an essential factor in understanding complex social systems” (1)

Well, in the EU referendum many of us saw power in all the normal places; with the business leaders, with the economists, with the analysts of political and economic impact, with our political leaders. Yet BREXIT was voted for in large numbers by those that live outside of London, by working class voters, by older voters, and above all by people who have, politically and economically, been marginalised for a long time; and it turns out however marginalised individually, collectively they held a power that few truly appreciated, at least for this vote.

And now, from the press to the school playground when I pick up my kids, our conversations are dominated by the what ifs, the maybes and the impossible to knows. What we can know is that we are part of a complex adaptive system; one that right now we are trying to change. Like all complex adaptive systems the issues are emerging and changing; they are too complex for any one person or institution to fully understand; and no one body can control, determine or even ‘lead’, let alone predict, exactly what will happen.

So what might BREXIT mean for the UK’s international aid programme? On paper, the value of our aid budget has just dropped by about $1.4 billion(2). This is due to the drop in the value of the pound and the corresponding drop in the value of our aid budget. But in the coming months, as the pound (hopefully) strengthens, or (terrifyingly) drops further, this number will prove to be what it is – a projection. More significantly, though still off somewhere in a post UK Europe, is that the UK contributes about 2 billion Euros to the EU aid budget – though whether this money ‘disappears’ from international aid, or appears in a different form is, as yet, unknowable. Beyond the money there is also the issue of influence. We already see, in many of the countries in Africa where we work, that the UK government has no monopoly on political influence; we compete for space with other national governments, with the boom in Chinese trade and with regional agendas and bodies. As we leave the EU and cease to be part of that substantial infrastructure of delegations, funding and political access, we may have more freedom to ‘sing our own tune’ but we will be singing it on our own, and not as part of a choir of 27 states.

However, as much as many of us didn’t want or vote for BREXIT, and however much we believe it is wrong for our country, we now have it. We will leave the EU. And we need to work out how to do it well. Doing it well means that the process as well as the outcome matter; and that they are actually one and the same. It means working with the emergent nature of the issues; it means engaging across all the stakeholders – those in our country and beyond –  however contradictory their views, needs and experiences; it means not pretending that any one person or institution can control, predict or, however brilliant they are, ‘save’ the process. It means recognising that we are living in a complex adaptive system and we had better not underestimate the consequences.

References

(1)

http://www.thebrokeronline.eu/Articles/Connecting-the-dots

(2)

p://www.humanosphere.org/opinion/2016/06/brexit-causes-value-of-u-k-foreign-aid-to-drop-by-1-4-billion/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-36618843

 

Africa is open for business! Or so we have been told. There is enthusiasm from investors; there are entrepreneurs with great (and some terrible) ideas; and there are businesses to be found all over the continent. Yet the flow of capital and investment into Africa are still slow. There are undoubtedly lots of reasons for this, but the question is: what can be done to encourage more catalytic investment in Africa and more successful African entrepreneurs?

As with all complex problems, the solutions are also complex and vary across the continent. For example, while Somalia is famous for its entrepreneurial and business-minded people, the chronic insecurity makes it a very hard place to invest. Meanwhile Nigeria has one of the biggest domestic markets on the continent and its $800 million ‘Nollywood’ film industry produces around 50 movies a week, making it second only to Hollywood (even bigger than ‘Bollywood’ on a per capita basis); yet the country is hampered by a reputation for corruption. Or in Kenya, where there are some fantastic, innovative businesses emerging (watch ‘mobile money’ take over the world and know it all began in Kenya); but the challenges of setting up a business and the political climate mean any investor will need a strong stomach for bureaucracy.

Here in Rwanda, there is a great deal of attention on and energy around entrepreneurial development and, indeed, the subject is now on the national curriculum for secondary school students. So I caught up for breakfast with Sara Leedom and Julienne Oyler, founders of African Entrepreneur Collective, to talk entrepreneurs, development, investment and the value of cows. Its pilot company, of Inkomoko Business Development, (which means ‘origin’ in Kyinrwanda) has been working in Rwanda since 2012 and, with a local team of eight and a rolling supply of international mentors, has supported over 170 businesses.

Kate: What is it that inspired you to get involved in supporting entrepreneurs here in Rwanda?

Sara & Julienne: For us it is all about jobs. Across the continent there is a real need to generate a huge growth in employment. In general, African economies need to grow 8-10% per year just to keep up with the growing labour market population and maintain current levels of unemployment. If you want to reduce unemployment, then even more growth is needed; and this growth has to come from the private sector. So, across the continent, there is a need for businesses that can set up and grow to create new jobs. For us at Inkomoko, it is all about supporting the entrepreneurs to build and grow the businesses that will create these jobs.

As for starting in Rwanda, well we actually explored a number of countries and there are a few things that make Rwanda a great place for entrepreneurs and investors. For a start, structurally, Rwanda is really well set up for entrepreneurs. It is easy to open a business; it is politically stable; there are efficient systems around tax and employment; and so on. Also, politically, there is a real encouragement for entrepreneurs with things like subsidised training and support for people to start businesses. In fact it’s the only place we have worked where starting a business is seen as ‘patriotic’. So while in the USA or UK, your average entrepreneur is often quite individualistic and there is a real emphasis on personal success, here in Rwanda, being an entrepreneur is much more about collective effort and about contributing to your community and country.

There are challenges too – it is a small country and so any successful business really needs to be looking beyond national markets. Also, outside of Kigali, infrastructure such as Internet is more limited; and, culturally, there can be a more cautious, less ‘risk’ taking, approach than you traditionally see in entrepreneurs in the West.

 

Kate: I feel like I read and hear a lot of enthusiasm at the international level for investment in Africa. Yet on the ground and certainly here in Rwanda, it seems that enthusiasm isn’t quite translating into actual investments. What’s your perspective on the challenges entrepreneurs here face?

Sara & Julienne: Matching investors and business is not simple. While it is easy to talk about and get investors excited about ideas, actually getting capital into businesses is much harder. Often investors, particularly those from mature markets in the West, have unrealistic expectations about what it will be like investing in an African business. They don’t necessarily know what it means to invest in, say, an agricultural business in an emerging economy and they have unrealistic expectations about levels of mechanism, or the ways labour will be organised, or how a business will plan and report on activities. Interestingly, what we are increasingly seeing is ‘South – South’ investment, particularly from Indian investors. They often have a better understanding of how markets and supply chains work in an emerging economy and are more able to understand the risks and recognise the opportunities. I think we will see increasing flows of investment into Africa from various parts of Asia.

The other challenge is in the types of businesses that international investors are drawn to. There can be an over enthusiasm for what are seen as ‘innovative’ ideas in, for example, technology business. While tech businesses are important, especially here in Rwanda, they are not going to be the engine of large employment. In a country where 80% of the population is involved in agriculture, the business opportunities and types of business that are likely to create significant numbers of jobs, are in agriculture and, particularly, in processing. For example, at the moment we are supporting a great business focused on avocado oil and we are also trying to work out how to structure financing for some cows for a diary business. But it can be a challenge to get investors, who are new to agriculture, to really explore these sorts of businesses.

 

What next for Inkomoko?

Sara & Julienne: At Inkomoko, we are committed to expanding our work in Rwanda. Everyday we are seeing local businesses with tremendous potential and opportunity, and we want to continue to provide the support and resources necessary to see these grow.

For African Entrepreneur Collective, we want to see take our learnings from Rwanda and move to new geographies. We want to explore working with partners in other countries across the continent, to see how we can grow the model we have developed here, to support more businesses, in more countries, to grow and create more jobs. I think what we have found here is the importance of working with entrepreneurs in a very tailored, individual way. All their businesses are different and so are their challenges; and while we have developed a really good training curriculum for business skills, helping entrepreneurs really scale up their business is about supporting them at all stages.

 

 

For more interesting information check out:

www.AfricanEntrepreneurCollective.org

http://inkomoko.com/

https://www.emergingcrowd.com/

www.growafrica.com

Complex, interconnected challenges demand new forms of collaboration and innovation between diverse partners. And yet, the many meetings and conferences that are supposed to create this collaboration continue to be managed in didactic formats, with a few dominant voices holding court whilst everyone else though present in body, is absent in mind,  awaiting the short coffee break to have the conversations that they really need to have. New ways of working need to turn this on its head. We need to create spaces that accelerate the number of connections and conversations, and get people energised, aligned and committed to action.

In October I participated in the World Economic Forum’s “Transformation Leaders Workshop” for leaders working on the challenge of boosting agricultural production around the world. This event was bold and innovative about creating the context for transformational leadership. The video below captures the spirit of these highly productive few days. Key ingredients included:

  • Inviting diverse people, united by a common overall challenge and a spirit of entrepreneurial hunger to make change happen.
  • Never, ever, having a keynote speech, formal presentation, or even a stage.
  • Creating as many conversations as possible, but each with a level of clarity and focus about the topic, and with participants free to chose which conversations to participate in.
  • Fostering community by making the event fun, playful even, with dancing and creative construction activities.
  • Focussing minds on what actions they will undertake upon leaving.

Refreshments were always available, and we never took any scheduled breaks, because essentially the event was the ultimate coffee break – two days packed full of people and conversations that were inspiring and pioneering.

“Grow Africa, your immense contribution to African agriculture is exemplary.”

Akin Adesina, Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture

 Grow Africa has received some remarkable and enthusiastic plaudits. Yet what is it about it that has enabled it to rapidly deliver change at scale, where so many others have failed?

Grow Africa can claim some big numbers. In May 2014, they announced that, during 2013, the partnership’s private sector commitments to invest in African agriculture doubled to a total of $7.2 billion. Of which $970 million was already invested, creating 33,000 new jobs and reaching 2.6 million smallholder farmers across 10 countries. At Grow Africa’s Investment Forum, leaders, including five Heads of State heralded this as remarkable progress for an initiative that is barely 2 years old. Raj Shah, head of USAID, stated that Grow Africa has shown that “success at scale is now possible. This effort can effectively end poverty and hunger in Africa.” Amena Mohamed, the UN Secretary General’s Special Advisor for post-2015 MDG planning, saw Grow Africa as a model to replicate to ensure that the vision for next MDGs could rapidly translate in to action, in a way that traditional development approaches have not proven able.

For Wasafiri, which has played an instrumental role in conceiving and managing Grow Africa, these accolades are clearly affirming and gratifying. Nonetheless, such unbridled enthusiasm begs the questions “What has made Grow Africa such a success?” and “Why is its approach not adopted more widely to deliver change on other systemic challenges?”

A recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review entitled “Shaping Global Partnerships for a Post-2015 World” examined Grow Africa alongside five other pioneering cross-sector initiatives to ask how to unlock collective impact at a global scale. It concluded, “The most important condition is establishing a backbone structure that acts as the glue, holding the partners together and ensuring that the other four conditions are in place. The backbone provides strategic coherence around the common agenda, establishes shared measurement and learning systems, supports the mutually reinforcing activities of the different partners, and facilitates continuous communication.”

While Grow Africa certainly embodies all those features, I believe the story of its success is more complex. Or rather, I think there are underlying aspects of the global political economy that usually subvert the emergence of such elements when people attempt to collectively tackle change at scale.

Alignment of interests

Grow Africa is blessed by emerging at a moment of alignment for political, commercial and social interests. The 2008 food crisis changed the underlying economics of agriculture. The world realized that Africa must become a global food basket if we are going to feed 9 billion by 2050, while accommodating changing consumption habits, and linking food to energy through bio-fuels. Enlightened businesses – small and large – realized that African agriculture was going to grow, and they had a strong commercial interest in being in the vanguard. Africa’s politicians serve citizens who are primarily rural, and half of whom are under 20. Their political imperative is to increase rural incomes and generate jobs, or risk wide-scale unrest and disaffection. And for development aficionados, agriculture represents the best opportunity to reduce poverty and hunger. Everyone from smallholders to multinationals, and from African Heads of State to G8 Development Ministers, could rally behind Grow Africa’s common agenda of accelerating investment for sustainable agricultural growth. The only sustained dissonance has come from a few Western-based, ideologically-driven voices who fundamentally distrust the private sector.

Few other global issues currently benefit from such alignment. Climate change is riven with competing interests and public health issues struggle to attract strong commercial engagement. However, the same would have been said about African agriculture a decade ago. Perhaps part of the secret is sniffing out the right historical moment when interests align, and then to forge global partnerships to drive change at scale as fast as possible while the political window of opportunity lasts.

Coalition of the willing

Grow Africa is also unusual in welcoming all parties, without finding itself paralysed by the outcome. Many multi-stakeholder initiatives end up crippled by one of two effects. Firstly their governance often demands consensus, which means they become hostage to minority interests. For example, whilst a reasonable number of governments and actors seemed willing to act on climate change, negotiations, in attempting to accommodate everyone’s demands, have either ended up in a stalemate or conceding to the lowest common denominator. Secondly, successful initiatives are asked to layer on issue after issue, until their mandate is too diffuse and complex to meaningfully deliver anything. CAADP (Africa’s overarching plan for agriculture) is at risk of this as it is expected to address issues as varied as nutrition, climate change, job creation, regional trade, tertiary education, natural resource management.

So far, Grow Africa has evaded these pitfalls. Its clear focus on the commercial and development opportunity presented by agricultural investment, has allowed it to welcome all parties who are committed to advancing the agenda – a coalition of the willing. Co-convened by AUC, NEPAD and the World Economic Forum, but serving a wide range of stakeholders from Farmers Organisations to Multi-nationals to donors, it has created a space in which minority voices are heard, but that majority interests then drive action.

The World Economic Forum’s role in this cannot be underestimated. Most influential development actors are effectively civil service in culture – whether governments, African institutions, donors, or multilaterals. Too often their accountability pressures are to avoid obvious failure, rather than to deliver results at scale – leading to an aversion to taking risks, a focus on appeasing all interests, and a default towards extending timelines rather than making swift decisions. The World Economic Forum brings a refreshing private sector orientation that, whilst very protective of reputation, is ultimately dependent on showing it can deliver.

For more insight into the work of Grow Africa, view the latest report

Swiss Re, one the world’s leading reinsurance companies, runs a leadership programme each year for its next generation of Managing Directors. To make the learning engaging, Swiss Re wanted to present the delegates with a business challenge that was real and compelling.

Wasafiri identified that providing insurance to Africa’s 600 million smallholders offered a huge commercial and social opportunity, but one that was going to demand Swiss Re staff to rethink traditional business models. Swiss Re was already pioneering new models, such as through a partnership with Oxfam and WFP in Ethiopia to strengthen the resilience of rural communities (see video below). But how could such models be taken to scale? Against this question, Wasafiri designed a 2-day business project that threw Swiss Re’s future leaders into the challenges and dilemmas of how to provide affordable, commercially viable insurance to smallholders at scale.

http://youtu.be/JgXEEH3lqXI

2014 will be the fifth year Wasafiri has run the simulation. Each year participants not only leave with rich learning about their leadership skills, but also with renewed passion for the role Swiss Re can play in generating shared value in Africa. Over this period, Swiss Re has also significantly scaled up its engagement in Africa, and programmes like R4, that were once managed as corporate responsibility initiatives, are now managed by commercial teams.

Agricultural production in Africa, undertaken in the main by smallholders, is a highly risky activity with poor returns. To realise Africa’s potential, there is a need to commercialise smallholder production, thereby increasing returns. But amongst a range of different inputs, such commercialisation requires greater access to finance.

Value-chain finance offers an opportunity to expand and coordinate financing for agriculture, as well as to improve efficiency by facilitating financial access and lowering agricultural costs and financing risks. Agriculture investment of this nature is being provided at different levels and by a range of private- and public-sector actors, with facilities financing smallholders that are integrated into value chains through the use of inclusive business models. Such models are therefore helping financing facilities to access smallholders, because the risks and operating costs for lenders are reduced when farmers are integrated into value chains.

Wasafiri (in partnership with Prorustica) was commissioned to carry out a mapping survey on best practices in this field by the AFRACA-CTA partnership on strengthening smallholder-inclusive value-chain finance in Africa. The study also extended to gauging the use of associated tools such as (mobile) technology and risk management mechanisms for enhancing agri-finance.

The intelligence generated by the survey is expected to inform future decision-making in efforts to advance farmer-friendly rural agricultural financial products and services in Africa.