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Results from a 5-year, innovative finance project in Ethiopia

By Emily Ziethen | Fri Oct 01 2021
In 2016, Global Affairs Canada’s (GAC’s) Accelerating Business Growth (ABG) program set out to do something innovative and challenging: Develop Ethiopia’s capital markets and accelerate the formation of its private sector by supporting investments and the growth of small and medium enterprises (SMEs). A number of private sector projects were already focusing on building the “demand-side” through startup incubators, accelerators and technical assistance. But ABG focused on building the “supply-side” by organizing, mobilizing and managing innovative pools of finance for SMEs. Using blended finance, ABG lowered the risks for investors and mobilized new sources of capital for SMEs. 
The ultimate outcome of the ABG program was “stronger and more sustainable job creation, including those for low-skilled workers, men, women and young adults, through a dynamic and growing small and medium business sector in Ethiopia” with the target of supporting Ethiopian women- and men-owned SMEs in attracting more than $52M CAD of capital to scale their businesses and supporting 5,000 jobs for low-skilled workers, including men, women and young adults.
Interested in learning more? Join us on Tuesday, October 26, 2021 at 9AM Eastern (4PM East Africa) to unpack lessons learned from this blended finance project. REGISTER HERE.
Where most private sector interventions focus on the “demand-side” of the private sector through initiatives that support microenterprises, incubators and accelerators, ABG focused on developing the “supply-side” or capital formation side of the private sector. Where most interventions have struggled to organize and mobilize additional sources of capital for creating impact, ABG built and expanded new sources of capital for SMEs, including global and local angel networks and the formation of new blended finance vehicles. ABG also focused on SMEs because SMEs are the greatest contributor of new job growth in frontier markets like Ethiopia. 
By focusing on capital formation and mobilization for SMEs, the project addressed a systemic issue in Africa known as the “missing middle” - a gap in the capital markets between microfinance and formal investment funds and banks where few sources of capital exist. The ABG project built a stronger supply-side of capital for Ethiopian SMEs, or “rungs” in the capital market to fill the missing middle. ABG then trained SME owners and executives on business skills to attract and improve performance once they received capital. 
After five years of implementing the project, ABG helped mobilize $79.6M CAD of capital for SMEs, supported 6,744 jobs, including 2,632 created jobs, of which 60% or 4,069 were for women. 
The ABG team is proud to have impacted Ethiopia’s private sector and achieved numerous stated project targets and complementary indirect outcomes. The project also helped influence policies, trained over a thousand companies, created a local angel network, and launched awareness programs that we believe will generate impact for years to come. A detailed summary of these ABG project results is provided below. 

  • Reached and surpassed the project’s ultimate outcome indicator by supporting 6,744 jobs over the course of the project, on the target of 5,000, of which 4,070 or 60% are held by women.
  • Realized a financing leverage ratio of 9.7x by supporting Ethiopian SMEs in attracting $79.6M CAD of financing, exceeding the project target of $52.5M. Of this, $19.1M or 24% was attracted by women-led businesses.
  • Designed and developed the Women-Owned Business Investment Fund (Women’s Fund) specifically for investing in women-owned SMEs, trapped in Ethiopia’s financing missing middle. The fund invested in Queen of Sheba, a partner of Travel Ethiopia; an eco-minded tour and safari operator that has a deep commitment to Ethiopia’s environment, wildlife and community development.
  • Successfully trained and graduated:
    • Five cohorts of The Exec’s Program, graduating 93 executives, of which 44 (47%) are women. 93 exceeds the project target of 75.
    • Five cohorts of The CFO100 Program, graduating 130 finance professionals, of which 50 (39%) are women, exceeding the project target of 100.
    • Facilitated in-person and online private equity investment seminar incubator training sessions, attended by 1,238 SME business owners and representatives, of which 433, or 35% are women. This result exceeds the project target of 650 by nearly double.
  • Expanded the Impact Angel Network (IAN) into Canada by training potential investors on the opportunities of investing in Ethiopian SMEs, engaging with local angel groups and ultimately registering an additional 93 members over the course of the project, of which 19 are Canadian (20%).
  • Due to an increased focus on gender equality, the team developed the Women in Finance (WIF) peer to peer support series during the second year of the project, aimed at energizing and empowering women finance professionals and executives in Ethiopia who face cultural and professional barriers. 10 total events were facilitated, in various formats and settings, and were attended by 328 women.
  • Launched an edutainment platform known as Chigign, aimed at raising awareness of and building interest in entrepreneurship and angel investing in Ethiopia. The TV series was broadcast on national television (FANA TV), and involves entrepreneurs looking to raise seed capital pitching their ideas to a panel that includes RENEW’s Laura Davis and other local angel investors. This program, which started as a concept under ABG, has reportedly been viewed by 40 million watchers. RENEW recently partnered with the World Bank’s Gender Innovation Lab to design a research program to measure Chigign’s content to optimize it and increase female participation in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
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