Across the continent millions of Africans can identify with the tale of having a relative or a family that lives abroad while supporting the family back home. Many people would not be able to make it day to day without the support of the African Diaspora. To put this statement into perspective one simply needs to look at the fact that remittances from the diaspora contribute to roughly $40 billion a year. However this is not the only contribution they make to the continent they often send home lessons of development, add new layers to the African narrative, and to some extent provide support during humanitarian emergencies. It is for these reasons that USAID and Western Union partnered to bring us the African Diaspora Marketplace, a business plan competition that supports US-based African diaspora entrepreneurs. These selected entrepreneurs must have innovative, high-impact ideas and established business in sub-Saharan Africa. The reasons why anyone would love a competition on this calibre are innumerable, but allow us to list a few below.
Sustainable Economic Growth – One major problem that African entrepreneurs face is growing for the sake of growth, like a pyramid scheme. Those businesses that adopt such a model do not make it far in life and often cause more problems than they fix. Suitably one fundamental pillar of the business plan competition is sustainable economic growth that can endure the ever-changing terrain of the African economy. By assisting businesses that demonstrate high-impact potential they are ensuring that employees of these businesses will be able to support their families thus increasing the quality of life for thousands across the continent. They do this by awarding the fifteen to thirty winners with grants of as much as $50,000 and technical assistance grants worth $10,000 – $20,000.
Promoting Collaboration – Another aspect of the African Diaspora Market Place (ADM) is the importance of Networking. They provide a platform to connect lenders and investors across the continent. Since inception in 2009 ADM has hosted two Small Medium Enterprise (SME) banking forums, an SME investor pitch event in addition to trainings and webinars to help Africa successfully access external financing. They also provide industry, trade and technology information to support business growth and innovation. Through this aspect of collaboration the ADM is practically illustrating that the only way to succeed is together.
Global Perspective – ADM is the only one of its kind, one that is actively pushing Africans living in the Diaspora to contribute to the well-being of their continent. The effect is quite obvious in that these Africans end up needing to come home thus further helping the continent rise. One of the eligibility criteria’s is that a member of the African diaspora must be “people of African origin, including people of African descent not only first generation immigrants.” Additionally applicants must demonstrate a minimum of one-to-one leverage ratio of applicant contributions to ADM grant funding. Moreover, grant recipients must be willing to provide other non-financial economic development such as overall employment, training, gender participation in the workforce etc. These limitations narrow participation to the highest global standard and ADM must be commended for that.
Entrepreneurs who met the first round deadline in December will have to wait until the 2nd of April to know their fate. This will be followed by business plans being submitted by the 20th of May. Successful applicants will then progress to the final stage where they will undergo one last evaluation and the receipt announcement will be made between the 28th and 30th of June.
No matter how we strip it down the ADM is unmistakably a competition, in the wise words of the famous Roman poet Ovid, “a horse never runs so fast as when he has other horses to catch up and outpace.” The whole concept of competition is to push people to do that much better, and in this case to inspire innovation that will impact the lives of thousands.