For many investors worldwide, the African market holds enormous potential for both impact and profit. The rise of impact investing – investments made with the intention of generating a social or environmental impact alongside a financial return – has been particularly pronounced. However, there's a heated debate about whether the current application of impact investing in Africa is creating unnecessary burdens on companies that are already dealing with a plethora of challenges inherent to the environment.
The prospect of a double bottom line, one that measures both financial and social or environmental outcomes, is undeniably appealing. Yet, it’s vital to recognize the unique context of African economies where establishing and maintaining a business is already a Herculean task. Balancing the drive for profitability and impact may not always be practical in such a setting and could potentially distract entrepreneurs from their primary goal of building sustainable, scalable businesses.
Consider the example of METAD, a flourishing specialty coffee company in Africa. METAD’s leadership channeled a portion of its profits towards community upliftment initiatives such as financing NGO-led cervical cancer testing for women, building community centers and funding teachers. These initiatives were not the outcome of investor pressure, but rather a strategic and smart way to operate in the African business environment. Amid regional unrest, METAD's farms were protected by the communities they had invested in, reflecting the mutual benefit of this approach.
Impact investing has to be sensitively calibrated to align with the specific realities of the African market. A 'one-size-fits-all' global approach might not always be effective or sustainable. Investing in ethical leaders who prioritize community well-being and environmental sustainability could also be another way to look at impact investing. Leaders need to understand the intricate social fabric and unique environmental constraints of their locales to steer their businesses toward holistic prosperity.
Moreover, investors should be cautious of not overburdening African enterprises with impact requirements. Investing in these companies should be coupled with providing necessary training and resources, focusing on building strong business fundamentals that can ensure their growth. The mere act of creating sustainable jobs can have a ripple effect of positivity in communities that are often plagued by unemployment and poverty.
Redefining impact investing in Africa may not necessarily mean discarding the current model entirely. It is more about adjusting the balance — prioritizing the creation of growing businesses that implicitly, through their operations, contribute to the social and environmental well-being of their communities. Let us celebrate and incentivize the leaders who are already making a significant impact through their commitment to ethical, sustainable businesses.
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.