This week the world is marking the Global Entrepreneurship Week, the first worldwide celebration of enterprise, which aims to unleash young people’s enterprising ideas and address some of society’s biggest issues like poverty.
At the same time on November 19, 2008, In Kigali, Rwanda, through the Legatum Entrepreneurship Prosperity Awards, Africa’s six best Entrepreneurs will be rewarded for their contribution to the continents’ development. They will share a $350,000 (Rwf192.2m.) prize.
To understand what the awards mean to the African society, JOHN GAHAMANYI interviewed ERIC KACOU, Managing Director, On The Frontier (OTF) Group, co-sponsor of the awards together with Legatum, a privately owned international investment group and S.E.VEN a Social Equity Venture Fund. Excepts
Qn. What are the Legatum Entrepreneurship Prosperity Awards?
Ans. These awards are a celebration of the role that entrepreneurs play in creating economic development on the continent. It is important to know that today Africa’s biggest challenge is the source of wealth and it appears that entrepreneurs are a very good source of wealth creation.
And what we are hoping to do through the Legatum Entrepreneurship Prosperity Awards is to recognise those entrepreneurs and make sure that the rest of the world takes notice that we have great businesses in Africa.
And these businesses are evolving beyond making money. They are having a positive impact on their customers, on the owners through the profits they generate and the workers because they train them and also on the future of the continent.
Qn. Looking beyond profit, like you said, do you reward social entrepreneurs as well?
Ans. What we think is important is that, the business of the business has to stay in business—that is to say, we believe that profits are a good thing.
If you look at developed nations, the reason why they have been able to expand is because they have a very vibrant private sector that generates the resources the government needs to actually invest in the capital base of the country.
So, we think social entrepreneurship is good, but we think what is critical in this case is to recognise those businesses that have a very unique way of working.
And that way of working, is what I and my colleagues call the “COWF” model.
What it means is Customers. Do you have great products, are you innovative, are you winning market share, and are you different from your competition
The “O” is owners; do you generate profit and are the people that are sitting in business have a stake in it and is the business sustainable?
The “W” is workers. Are your employees being trained, are they getting the skills that are required for them to be productive.
And the “F” is about the future. In the future, we include both the community, what the business can do to help the community and then the environment.
So what is really important is that we have businesses which focus on the main issue of the business, which is about making profit but that do it in a way which has a positive impact on the society.
Qn. These awards are happening in Rwanda for the second time in a row, what does it mean?
We are very excited for these awards to be happening in Kigali, because one thing that is very clear is that Rwanda has become a symbol for African success. So to be having these awards two times in a row in Kigali also indicates that we are going from one trial last year to tradition.
Qn. How do you select the winners?
It is a long process. To give you some of the facts, we began the process in June of this year. We started by getting applications from different countries.
We got 1,400 plus applications from ten countries. The countries were South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire and Rwanda.
We had the evaluations and later we had semi finalists. We asked them questions about the business and then we selected the finalists. For the finalists, we went and visited their businesses.
We talked to the owners, we talked to the workers, and customers just to understand what this whole thing was about. To really make sure we understood and got it very right.
And on November 18, here in Kigali there is going to be an independent panel of Judges who are going to decide who the six winners are. The ten finalists will be interviewed.
Qn. There’s only one finalist from Rwanda and yet last year we had three, does it put a question on the competitiveness of Rwanda businesses?
Not real. Look at how we started. Last year the countries that participated were Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda.
This year we are having 1,400 businesses registered. If anything the fact that we have a Rwandan finalist in such a diverse group of business which is very competitive, it speaks volumes about the quality of businesses that we have here.
And it may be also an opportunity for us to say something that is very important; this is about competition, about ambition, about one wanting to win.
We invite other businesses in Rwanda to participate, last year for example Gahaya Links didn’t participate, this year they participated and they got the finals. It is not any signal on the quality of business in Rwanda; it is how completive business is getting on the continent.
Qn. What does it mean to Africans and particularly that it is a Global Entrepreneurship week?
Ans. To the Africans it means that when you talk about business in this world, Africa has a voice because if you look at the international media, we have to recognise that Africa gets coverage for bad things like poverty, disease or war.
In this particular case we are cerebrating good news, we are cerebrating success, we are cerebrating people that have managed to do well. When you look at the finalists they are a reflection of the quality of the countries they come from and the private sector.
Qn. Few businesses in Africa celebrate their first anniversary. What is the problem?
Ans. That is phenomenon that is becoming natural worldwide. Even in the US out of the 10 businesses that start, its only one that will see the first year.
It is very difficult to start business, not only in Africa but also in the world, and then we have to recognise that some of the elements that are required for entrepreneurship to flourish on the continents need a business environment that is conducive.
The mind set of the stakeholders, sometimes you find that it is difficult to convince leaders to invest in the private sector, but all in all we have to admit that entrepreneurship is a very difficult thing in the world.