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A Tour Worth Giving

By Laura Davis | Thu Jun 20 2019
A blog by
Laura Davis
(RENEW Partner & Co-Founder of the IAN). This blog is an excerpt from our 2018 Impact Report.
I am a natural born tour guide. But not every tour brings me as much joy as the one I regularly get to give at Desta for RENEW’s Ethiopia visitors. Why? There are a few reasons. 1) The company is always a beehive of activity. 2) There’s always something new to see or some new factory configuration in an effort to squeeze a bit more efficiency out of a workspace that is bursting at the seams with more than 650 employees. 3) I can’t recall one of literally 100’s of people I’ve taken to Desta who hasn’t been impressed with the dynamic company and the impact that grows alongside it. I like the smiles on the women’s faces. I like the beat of the music playing in the background. I like the energy of the place, and I am proud of the small role that I have played on the RENEW team and as an investor alongside a family of hardworking, ethical, caring, incredible people, who have built one of the largest domestically owned and managed garment facilities in Ethiopia.
My involvement with the company started a long time ago. From our apartment balcony in 2012 in Addis, Matt (my husband and partner) and I could see this busy factory, and we wondered who owned it, and what they were making behind the walls. A few months later, we unknowingly ran across the same family while searching for a place to work out. They owned the Life Fitness franchise for Addis and all of East Africa and operated a large gym in our neighborhood.
We introduced ourselves and years later after many coffees and meals together, we entered into a partnership, bringing the Impact Angel Network along to invest in their growing garment factory.
I remember delivering injera from another of our portfolio companies, Mama Fresh, to the Ethiopia Heritage and Culture Camp typically held in Virginia each summer. I sat purposefully beside Mr. Bekele, the father of the family and the Chairman of the Board, in a very obvious effort to build a relationship with the family. His English was somewhat limited, and my Amharic was even worse. That day he turned to me and said two words: “joint venture?”. And rather than correct him with the nuances of private equity, I just nodded my head.
The family doesn’t need a ton of handholding, but we lend our support where we can with marketing and branding, governance and financial management.
In my opinion, the company is a dream related to the SDGs. Textiles in Africa are, and will continue to be, an increasing employer. When I first visited Desta, there were less than 200 employees; now they employ more than 650 and we expect that to grow to well over 1,000 in 2019.
While to some of us sewing a t-shirt or polo shirt isn’t the sexiest of jobs, research shows that every job held by a female supports several household members. Each member of the household likely has better access to clean water, health care and education.
Desta is a storybook investment, and we need 1,000’s of SME investments like it to meet Africa’s job gap. Yes, 652 jobs is a drop in the bucket, but it’s a start. It’s my start; it’s the Impact Angel Network’s start; it’s the Bekele family’s start.
Renew Capital is an Africa-focused impact investment firm that backs innovative companies with high-growth potential. Renew Capital manages investments made on behalf of the Renew Capital Angels, a global network of angel investors, foundations and family offices who seek financial returns and sustainable social impact. For the latest on investing in Africa, subscribe and follow us at our social links below.

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