“During a recession, when credit is unavailable and investment funding is down, how do we help reactivate credit and financial investment in Africa.” Luella D’Angelo, President, Western Union Foundation, told me that this was the challenge that Western Union and its Foundation wanted to address.
So, “to spur the entrepreneurial passion within the African diaspora,” the company and its Foundation established a business competition for African diasporans who were creating sustainable enterprises back home. Winners would receive investment funds to accelerate or expand their businesses. The business competition, the African Diaspora Marketplace (ADM), was held in Washington, D.C. last week.
Western Union, its Foundation and its Agent Giving Circles pooled investment funds together with USAID, Ecobank Transnational Incorporated (ETI) in Africa and Irv Barr Management in the U.S. These partners also had support from the Academy for Educational Development (AED), a nonprofit organization that “combines innovative ideas with real-world perspective to change lives by improving health, education, social and economic development.”
I have assisted many companies in establishing philanthropic and corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies. My book on “Leveraging Good Will” and my Fast Company blog provide guidance and examples for readers. Western Union is a model for CSR in doing two things that I believe are essential for success in advancing both the company and the communities that the company serves. Western Union and its Foundation align their philanthropic investments with the company’s purpose; and the Foundation partners with an outstanding NGO, the Academy for Educational Development.
Advancing diasporans who strengthen their home communities matters to Western Union, because its business facilitates money transfers among migrants who send money back to their families through the company’s 400,000 locations in 200 countries around the world. Western Union’s philanthropic foundation complements the business by helping migrants and their families to get an education, get jobs, and build small businesses.
Kojo Benjamin Taylor’s business plan was one of the 14 winners at last week’s African Diaspora Marketplace (ADM). Taylor is establishing MicroClinics to provide basic healthcare and essential drugs in the small communities of Ghana, his native country, and other African countries. “The infusion of capital from winning this business competition will allow me to accelerate the expansion of my business,” Taylor explained to me. “Additionally, we’ll receive technical assistance to track outcomes to help us make intelligent business decisions as we build the franchise.” Taylor also appreciated the opportunity to present his plan at the ADM in front of other potential investors, a number of whom have already been in touch with him.
Taylor explained why African diasporan entrepreneurs are so enthusiastic about their businesses and the competition. “Our home countries have suffered from a brain drain. Those of us who have moved to the U.S. have benefited by doing business in America and learning about entrepreneurship here. Now we have confidence in what we bring back home–the business systems, work ethic, and technology. Now we are ready to apply our energy and talent in establishing sustainable businesses that improve communities and the lives of families back home.”
Ronald Mutebi, whose winning plan is to develop and implement a comprehensive solar oven program in Uganda, found the ADM very affirming for him and others who are establishing businesses in their native homes. Mutebi told me that the investment he’ll receive “will halve the time to implement our project, and also symbolizes the sponsors’ confidence in our work in Africa.” Mutebi explained how solar ovens will benefit communities and families in Uganda, his home country, by improving their health, reducing the cost of energy, and reducing environmental degradation, among others.
ADM represents “more than $22 million of potential diaspora business investment in 14 Sub-Saharan countries,” according to a Western Union statement. Full business plans were reviewed by a jury of distinguished business experts and development practitioners from the international and diaspora communities. Finalists participated in one-on-one jury interviews with ADM judges in Washington, D.C. The winners were announced at the ADM Awards Ceremony at the Academy for Educational Development (AED) on January 13.
Other winners included a consulting firm to advance the regulation of the construction industry in Liberia, a commercial goat farm in Ghana, a metal fabrication plant in Ethiopia, a partnership for small processing and packaging centers for oil palm, palm kernel oil and cassava in Sierra Leone, a mobile technology firm which uses SMS messaging to aggregate buyers and sellers of crops in Kenya, and others.
Solar oven in Uganda