Why we need Black leadership in the African social enterprise scene

Written by on July 9, 2020


In the wake of George Floyd’s death in the U.S., a Black man who died in the hands of the police, the world ignited with numerous #BlackLivesMatter protests that almost literally shut down the U.S. and other major world cities.

The protests awakened the world to a long-overlooked issue that finally became the responsibility of more than only those who were victimised by its effects.

Similarly, it brought a realisation to the corporate world that they need to look at the diversity, or lack thereof, within their teams.

Some corporates took this opportunity to make proclamations and promises on what they are going to do to embrace and support diversity — specifically towards people of colour.

This made me wonder if they were blind to these issues before the protests.

Some listed their executives who are people of colour as a way of claiming loyalty to the protestors’ cause.

I have heard arguments in support of this as a great start, although it looked like a public relations stunt by the corporate world making the people of colour look like mannequins in a boutique fashion shop which are dressed up when needed, without really solving the fundamental issue of implicit bias in their hiring processes.

This got me thinking how the social enterprise scene in sub-Saharan Africa has been marred by graphics of white founders circulating on social media implying that there is funding bias against Black and female founders.

Whenever the issue is raised, there is always a mannequin in the form of a Black or female founder who is paraded by investors to indicate diversity in their portfolio.

Many might argue that this is not our (black people and women’s) money so we shouldn’t have a say in it.

This argument might stand until you figure out that most of the funds raised by social impact investors are acquired based on the narrative that they are going to address the issues of marginalised communities, who are mostly people of colour and women.

However, after those funds are raised by the social impact investors, the funds are often not deployed to leaders who represent those marginalised communities.

Implicit biases come into play, and investment committees tend to invest in founders who look, talk and act like them.

Social enterprises mostly serve the underserved in the community which means fewer margins and higher operational costs.

This is already limiting for most founders to start and run social enterprises, especially people of colour who are mostly first wealth generation holders and are victims of “Black tax” (which is a whole other discussion altogether).

For most Black and female founders in sub-Saharan Africa to be recipients of these much-needed funds in order to start and grow their social enterprises, the key decision-makers within investment teams should be as diverse as possible, from investment committees to investment managers.

It’s proven that more diverse teams are not only right but also yield better results. With more black and female members of investment committees, there will be more empathy and understanding of the needs and cultural nuances of the intended communities that need the funding.

With investments being made to local black founders who are rooted in the communities they serve, there might be better results from a financial and impact standpoint.

With that said, a diverse investment committee is only part of the solution. It works towards mitigating the effects of implicit bias that may stifle investments toward black and female founders within the social enterprises’ space in sub-Saharan Africa.

However, this does not negate that fact that there is a definite need for a more active local investor scene. Diversity of investment committees from the global north is a start, but the more local funders we have, the closer we get to a deep understanding of the needs and cultural nuances of the target communities.

I believe there is room for all in the social enterprise scene in sub-Saharan Africa, so this is not an argument to defund non-Black male founders.

Instead, it is a call for increased diversity within investment teams to ensure balanced representation at all levels, and a fair opportunity for Black leaders and women to rise to the top.

Maurice is the Executive Director at Baraza Media Lab based out of Nairobi as well as an ardent community builder and connector of investors and startups in Africa.

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