Economic independence of local actors is key

Entrepreneurial ecosystems
The second edition of the Beyond the Known conference was held online on 26th-28th October 2021. The event brought together a diverse range of practitioners in the field of entrepreneurship promotion and MSME development from all over the world. The conference was organised by the International Labour Organization (ILO), Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit/Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), International Finance Corporation (IFC), Swisscontact and Argidius Foundation.

With the aim of fostering a global community of practice, the conference facilitated exchange and peer learning on key entrepreneurship and MSME topics: 

  • on effective solutions that are being implemented to build dynamic and resilient entrepreneurship ecosystems
  • to accelerate MSME access to financial services and
  • to support entrepreneurship promotion in an inclusive and sustainable way.

Exploring the 'unknown' of entrepreneurship promotion

On the first day of the event, several keynote speakers engaged in a critical discussion around the unknown of entrepreneurship promotion:

  • Parminder Vir, Co-Founder Support4AfricaSMEs
  • David McKenzie, Senior Economist at World Bank
  • Irene Ochem, Founder & CEO at Africa Women Innovation & Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF)
  • Bagoré Bathily, Managing Director of the social business La Laiterie Du Berger

Topics covered included:  

  • ‘Scaling – how do we reach millions’
  • ‘Targeting – asking what types of training work best for which types of entrepreneurs’
  • ‘Long-term evidence – does training really deliver long-term, lasting impacts?’

They shared their insights about the importance of peer learning and networks, the role of the government in ecosystem building, the imperative for dynamic and flexible support services as well as the fact that economic independence of local actors is key.

Five sessions were dealing with the topic of Achieving Dynamic and Resilient Entrepreneurial Ecosystems, which was co-led by Argidius Foundation and Swisscontact. Three of those sessions moderated by ecosystem building practitioners are briefly outlined below.

Five approaches to forge connections that drive entrepreneurial growth and resilience

Collaboration and partnerships are a crucial component to ecosystem development and networks are key to spark connections. Hence, we asked our panelist to share with us their learnings as well as the challenges they see related to network approaches.

  • Invest in Africa is a group of companies working together to address the cross-sector challenges of doing business in Africa and promoting sustainable investment into the continent. Wangechi Muriuki elaborates on how Invest in Africa – Kenya increased membership five-fold after clarifying their mission and not trying to be ‘everything to everyone’.
  • Global Director at Center for Entrepreneurship and Executive Development (CEED) Peter Righi speaks about how they developed an ‘all in’ programme approach at CEED Global, allowing growth-oriented entrepreneurs to access the knowledge they need at a specific moment in their journey – through a curated network, mentor connections, peer learning and demand-driven training,
  • Davis Albohm, Director Global Partnerships at Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies (SEED), explains how launching an alumni network helped them generate more impact, create more long-term value for the entrepreneurs and cost-effectively extend their support over time.
  • Ibrahima Ba, President Enterprise Value Accelerator, shares how they developed short, simple, accessible and practical programmes and workshops for entrepreneurs, how they were able to capitalise on ICT, as well as what metrics they use to track benefits of networking.
  • Claire Sterngold of the International Trade Centre talks about the importance of a dedicated community manager to keep online communities alive and shares the example of the YE! Community – a global community connecting youth entrepreneurs with each other as well as stakeholders who can support them.

Strengthening ecosystems: top-down, bottom-up or side-to-side?

When we think of entrepreneurial ecosystems, we think of what enables or inhibits entrepreneurs from growing ventures. And we often focus more on particular conditions, such as the availability of capital or existing policies and less on the fact that ecosystems are basically a collection of actors within changing conditions. If we think of ecosystems being dynamic, constantly evolving and defined by interdependencies between actors and conditions – what does that mean for those trying to stimulate, accelerate and strengthen these systems? 

  • Ecosystem builder Sebastián Díaz Mesa shares why questioning and adapting narratives was crucial for building the ecosystem in Chile. He reveals how they did a ‘crazy experiment’ in Startup Chile and what changes happen when you put the entrepreneur at the centre and focus on ecosystem facilitation instead of building it.
  • Shawn Theunissen, Founder at Property Point, shares why they believe ecosystem building does take a top down, bottom up and side to side approach and how they have done so by integrating SMEs into private sector value chains.
  • Milos Lazovic elaborates on how their approach at the Swiss EP - Swiss Entrepreneurship Program implemented by Swisscontact and financed by SECO, is completely bottom-up, how they support local partners to either fail or succeed ‘quickly and safely’ and what role foreign experts from more developed ecosystems play in their model.
  • Leah D. Barto, Head of Endeavor Insight at Endeavor, shares insights from their research of entrepreneurial ecosystems across 50 cities around the world, highlighting the importance of successful entrepreneurs paying it forward with mentorship, advice and capital, the value of following the lead of founders and the listening to the founders who have already reached scale.

Funding and capacity building of local organisations that support entrepreneurs to increase effectiveness and resilience

While we all aim to strengthen local ecosystems at the same time, we see locally led Ecosystem Support Organisations (ESOs) face a disproportionally bigger challenge than their international peers to raise the funding they need to build their business and operational capacity. A panel of two locally led ESOs, two actors that are involved in capacity building of ESOs, ecosystem capacity builders and funders discuss this challenge and potential solutions.

  • Barbara Mutabazi, Co-Founder HIVE COLAB, elaborates on why unrestricted funding is key. She explains on how the balancing act between accepting or having to reject programme-restricted funding heavily affects the activities, sustainability and potential mission drift of local ESOs.
  • Peter Nawa, Entrepreneurship Lead at BongoHive Technology and Innovation Hub, shares the struggle they were facing in accessing funding and how they benefitted from participating in a local acceleration programme.
  • According to Executive Director at Segal Family Foundation, Andy Bryant, ‘focus on local, trusted, talented actors on the ground, provide multiyear unrestricted money – get out of the way, and support with entirely demand-driven capacity building’.
  • Devin Chesney explains why a two-stage application process and selection committees with local experts is much more inclusive of local actors and in their case completely changed the landscape of who is applying for their awards.
  • Senior Partnerships Manager at African Management Institute, Lilian Mwai, speaks about the importance of national locally contextualised quality standards for business development support which local ESOs can reference supporting local Small and Growing Businesses.
  • Rachel Crawford, Director of Special Projects at Village Capital, shares the value they see in targeted curricula and why they have been focusing on organisational diagnostics, building a strong team and accessing multi-year operational funding.
Entrepreneurial Ecosystems
Entrepreneurial ecosystems and community development for sustainable growth