British Council

“Social entrepreneurs are not content just to be given fish or taught how to fish. They will not rest until the fishing industry is revolutionised." Bill Drayton, CEO and founder of Ashoka

Ever heard of drones being used to ferry blood to hard-to-reach communities? Or the provision of digital extension services to farmers through mobile applications? Last week, our teams in Ethiopia and Kenya convened more than 300 delegates representing five countries from East Africa and beyond to look at initiatives such as these as part of the Global Social Enterprise (GSE) programme currently implemented in 29 countries across four continents. 

The delegates included social entrepreneurs, policy-makers, and government officials from national and local administrations. In a keynote address, Peter Holbrook, Chief Executive of Social Enterprise UK, stated that eight of the world’s billionaires have equal wealth to the poorest 3.6 billion people. He said that: “Inequality has become a defining issue of our time… Philanthropy alone cannot be our response. Global sustainability and the nature of the economy will be shaped by entrepreneurship and the terms on which we create and do business with each other.”

In the last two years in Kenya, a survey of 183 social enterprises revealed that the social enterprise landscape is dominated by young people. Over half of the leaders running social enterprises established since 1980 are aged under 35. Interestingly, the survey showed 37 per cent of these social enterprises are run by people aged 25 – 34. Another interesting finding from the survey showed that nearly half (44 per cent) of all the social enterprises surveyed are run by women. Social enterprises established since 2015 are more frequently female-led. Regional Director SSA, Moses Anibaba, while commenting on the survey remarked that “…the findings on women and young people’s participation, and their success rate, were particularly pleasing to see.”

In Ethiopia, the survey showed 55,000 or so Ethiopian social enterprises are very young and so are their leaders with 75 per cent of them having started operations after 2010 and with nearly half of them being under 35. Moreover women lead over a quarter of these institutions which is a significantly higher proportion than lead mainstream businesses (4.5 per cent). Having an average of 21 full time equivalent staff, the overwhelming majority - 85 per cent - of these social enterprises expect turnover to increase in the coming year. 

But this conference was not simply a ‘talk shop’ for policy-makers, social entrepreneurs and government officials. Social entrepreneurs had stalls where they had an opportunity to demonstrate the ‘social impact’ of their enterprises. Example included the NISRE-Tenafixed wing drone innovation by Ethiopia’s Tizzita Mengesha and Kenya’s Calvince Okello’s M-Shamba. Both products demonstrate how social enterprises are leveraging on the use of technology to improve the lives of communities facing food insecurity and health challenges due to their remoteness. In the case of M-shamba, about more than 100,000 farmers in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania, are benefitting from the use of simple mobile phone based technologies and are receiving support in adapting to climate change.

The East Africa Social Enterprise Conference which took place from 16 to 17 January 2018 was attended by 300 participants from Ethiopia, Kenya, Senegal, Sudan, Ghana, UK and Poland.

The British Council has been running a two year pilot project on Social Enterprise in Kenya and Ethiopia funded by the European Union. The project, Support for Social Enterprises in Eastern Africa, is part of the British Council’s flagship Global Social Enterprise (GSE) programme which is currently implemented in 29 countries across four continents.

You can see some of the stories at: