Thursday, 13 September 2007

Invest Don’t Give?

We here at the Shell Foundation have long argued that we need to be putting Africa’s entrepreneurs at the heart of the poverty equation - not more aid and debt-relief; the subjects that dominate the mainstream development agenda. You could sum this message up as: ‘Invest Don’t Give.’

That is crudely what we do. By acting like an investor, we identify financially sustainable solutions to poverty and environmental challenges - rather than ones reliant on the next aid cheque (that so often doesn’t come).

Of course the reality is we need to ‘Invest AND Give’. While some aid is poorly spent, other aid is spent well and much needed.

The trouble is that most mainstream NGOs consistently pedal negative images of Africa - of fly-covered children with extended bellies. The media, with its eye for dramatic stories and pictures does the same. The result: the ‘give more aid to save Africa’ message dominates, while attempts to show how we could really help African entrepreneurs fulfill their potential - and in turn create much-needed jobs and economic growth - get drowned out.

This is a real shame because it could be so different. Imagine a world where people ‘invest’ £1 in an African entrepreneur rather than give. They could get £1.05 back as the entrepreneur repays the loan (which they could then re-invest in another entrepreneur) - and the entrepreneur would be free to build a business, rather than being treated as an aid victim.

We have just published a new report Down to Business: New Solutions to Old Problems that outlines how we are ‘investing not giving’. It also explains how we deploy ‘Business DNA’ - business thinking, disciplines and models - to create sustainable enterprise-based solutions to poverty and environmental challenges. We hope that by publishing reports like this we will begin to turn the tide away from talk about ‘aid’ and towards talk about ‘investing’ in Africa.

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