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Visiting Ethiopia: How Traveling to Addis Deepened my Understanding of RENEW

By Kirsten Newman | Tue May 07 2019
After working for RENEW for almost 6 months, I finally had the chance in early March to travel to Ethiopia to meet our team and see the office. Prior to this point, I thought I understood RENEW – I had finally mastered the names, industries and investment structures of each of our portfolio companies, and I had worked (remotely) with most of the team and had the chance to negotiate with a few of our entrepreneurs. I could recite RENEW’s mission statement and values, and I thought I had a grasp of the various challenges we faced in the work that we do. I still had a few questions, like: what do our portfolio companies actually look like? does the internet actually go out that much? and is the coffee actually that good? But I felt confident I already had a firm grasp of all things RENEW.
It only took a few hours in Addis to rid me of that notion. Addis was much like what I expected, except for the sheer number of pedestrians and the traffic. I’ve never seen driving like I saw in Addis (and I live in NYC!). Shortly after landing, I joined our investors on their site visits as part of the Econ-Tourism Trip. Upon stepping inside Desta’s factory, it quickly hit me: the work we are doing is even more significant than I had thought. It’s one thing to know, on paper, the number of investments we have and the number of jobs those support, but it’s another thing to witness it firsthand. The scale and volume of production at Desta was inspiring, not to mention the impressive new factories at KROTAJ and Sadura and the state-of-the-art ambulances at Tebita. All of it was remarkable to see in person and to know that our work helped to build it.
On the third day of my trip, I arrived at the office bright and early to sit in on a session of The Exec’s Program. This was my first real day in the office. As the session wrapped up, many of the entrepreneurs stayed around to visit with each other, catch up with the RENEW team, or have coaching sessions with Matt. This is when I realized: we are doing so much more than I had appreciated. We had a new cohort of entrepreneurs participating in The Exec’s Program on Thursday morning, a new group of finance professionals attending the CFO100 on Tuesday night, and countless meetings, coaching sessions, and planning and strategy sessions in between. On top of that, we were hosting investors and GAC representatives, prepping for filming Chigign ‘Tobiya and sourcing new investments for our all-women investment package. It was hard to keep track of the number of people that came in and out of The Exchange during my two weeks there. The office is a constant flurry of activity and really does serve as a platform to share ideas and fuel growth.
That same afternoon, we hosted representatives from GAC. By sharing war stories with them over lunch and hearing more about their viewpoint as our development partner, it became clear: the work we are doing is much more challenging than I had realized. There are challenges here I had never even contemplated. Of course, we face the typical challenges of finding investments, negotiating deals and running a business. But we are simultaneously educating the entrepreneurs about private equity, financial and accounting practices, and good corporate governance. We are working across cultures, between our North American and European investors, our international RENEW team and our Ethiopian and Ugandan entrepreneurs. And we are working at a cross-section of ideas and investment philosophies, where private capital meets the public sector meets the philanthropic sector. Take all of these competing ideas and viewpoints, sprinkle in some Addis traffic, power and internet outages, and the muddy road to The Exchange when the rains come, and our RENEW team faces daily challenges, big and small.
Which leads me to my last and most important realization from the trip: just how fantastic of a team RENEW has and how great the RENEW team works together, to overcome these challenges, persevere and excel. (And, yes, the internet often does go out that much, and the coffee really is that good!)

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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