It was a first: at the Philanthropy House, European philanthropists’ new home in central Brussels: on 14 November members from the European Foundation Centre (EFC) and the European Venture Philanthropy Association (EVPA) met with officials from the European Commission to explore the potential for transformative collaboration. Would the gathering at Rue Royale live up to such a noble expectation?
For a start it did really well. Our afternoon roundtable on sub-Saharan Africa (which I had the honour of chairing) featured four experts in the field: Anne Holm Rannaleet, executive director of UK-based VP fund IKARE; Jean-Michel Severino, CEO of Investisseurs & Partenaires; Ambassador Roberto Ridolfi, director of EuropeAid; and Gerry Salole, chairman of Trust Africa and head of the EFC.
Anne gave a brief overview on social investments in Africa by EVPA member organizations: IKARE funding projects against the sleeping disease in Uganda, Voxtra foundation (Norway) investing in sustainable agriculture, d.o.b. foundation (Netherlands) providing equity for SMEs in Eastern Africa, the Solar for All initiative facilitating investments in rural solar electrification. Currently about a quarter of total EVPA membership impact investments flow to Africa.
Jean-Michel Severino, known as ‘Monsieur Afrique’ in France, shared with the participants the very diverse and volatile market opportunities offered by African countries. Private investment has been impressive over the last years, as has GDP growth, but there is a striking disconnect between an emerging affluent middle class and the vast majority of people, who live in poverty, untouched by economic development. This gap places African countries with fast-growing national economies still at the bottom of the Human Development Index (HDI) list. A huge challenge is the building of an advanced African industry beyond the extraction and processing of natural resources, which has to follow a different track than Eastern Asia. Jean-Michel considers a clean energy infrastructure as a critical element of any inclusive growth strategy, an area where foundations, positioned between the private sector and the NGO world, can play a catalytic role.
Roberto Ridolfi, representing the EC, wasn’t in a mood simply to digest the urgent demands for simplified application procedures, lower transaction costs for the funding of smaller projects, and generally much more EU money for Africa. He challenged the roundtable participants to put their financial commitments for impact investments in Africa on the table and further explore matching funds strategies with the European institutions, including the European Investment Bank and Fund. As an example he referred to GEEREF, an equity fund managed by the EIB providing capital for clean energy companies along with private investors. It was agreed to share concrete information on impact investment activities and a potential involvement of DG DEVCO (EuropeAid) soon.
Finally Gerry Salole, a seasoned expert on philanthropy in Europe and Africa, responded to major development issues that emerged during the discussion: China’s impact on and economic strategy in Africa; the growing gap between rich and poor; growth without employment; the huge diversity of cultures, economies and social infrastructure on the continent; the ambivalent role of European development aid with regard to human rights. The conclusion after two hours of a lively debate was: to be continued.
Peter Heller is co-founder and executive director of Canopus Foundation