One of the most frequent questions I get when talking about Agri Evolve is….’Are you a charity?’, to which I answer ‘No we are a social enterprise with a profit for purpose ethos’. This is a fairly new idea in the world of sustainable development. There seems to be an assumption that if your going to go and work in Africa, then it must be a charity. I want to change that idea.
We could qualify to be a charity, we meet all of the criteria, but it is our choice that we don’t want to be. We believe in the social enterprise model. The reason is simple, farming is a form of business, everywhere in the world. It involves producing a product, and then selling it to try an make money. Even in Africa, the main source of income for 80% of the population is agriculture. So, to succeed at farming, good business practice is needed, and as an organisation trying to promote sustainable farming in Africa, we need to lead by example and demonstrate good business practice. We don’t want to be an organisation that relies on constant donations and grants, we have a long term strategy to be a financially independent business. If we are expecting our farmers to make profits, and use business sense, then we have to show them that we also do that.
Our view is quite a new one, and causes a few heads to turn. It is not that we don’t like charity, in fact I and my family have been involved in a charity i the UK all of our lives and charity has its place, just not in agricultural development.
I woke up this morning to watch the news and heard Barack Obama speaking in Kenya. He said that ‘Africa is on the move… People are being lifted out of poverty, incomes are up and the middle class is growing’. He’s right, six of the twelve fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa. He went on to say that it had became clear to him that ‘to reach out to developed countries, a common theme has emerged, which was that people are not interested in just being patronised, and being given aid. They’re interested in building capacity’.
I think he is absolutely right and Agri Evolve is using tat philosophy in practice. Yes, there is still a need for some forms of aid, in providing clean water, building schools and hospitals. But when it comes to economic and business development, such as in farming, aid will not help it will only cause long term problems. This view is shared by many farmers in Uganda that I have met, who say what they want and need is investment, and an opportunity to develop their own business in a way that they can pay back the loans in an affordable and fair way. I think the views of development works is changing as well, many people I speak to agree that a new approach is required.
Africa needs young entrepreneurs with new ideas, new thinking, and rather than aid where we patronise the people, we need investment where we work with them. That is what we stand for and that is why we believe in business rather than charity.
Please share your thoughts and comments below – i’d love to hear what you think!