On International Women's Day last year I was in Kurdistan, addressing an audience of hundreds of men and women looking to celebrate the strides women had made in both Kurdistan and Iraq as a whole. This year I spent the day in the City of London and then flew across to Munich to take part in a conference that looked at the role corporations have to play in supporting growth in emerging economies, both with investment and supply chain support.
In an increasingly fraught investment and economic climate, determined by the low price of oil, I wanted to share a model I believe represents real hope in terms of building stability. Although the ACRE model outlined below, doesn't currently include Iraq (although it could include Iraqi investment- see below!), it is in Palestine and Afghanistan and is looking to grow. By building awareness for what can be done and how NGOs and investors are coming together to look at development in a new way, I am hoping that around International Women's Day 2016 in Iraq, a new candle of opportunity can be lit.
Over 150 guests from investment, foundation and corporate backgrounds joined the launch of ACRE (Access to Capital for Rural Enterprises), on 8th March, International Women’s Day, in the City of London.
Panellists included Argidius investor Nicolas Colloff; Martin Rich, Sales Director of Social Finance Ltd and Practical Action’s Alison Griffiths – senior policy and practice advisor. Challenges Worldwide youth return volunteer Ellinor Jensrud and Sudanese business man Dr Mohammed Haroon completed the expert perspective on offer. Moderated by Challenges Worldwide CEO Eoghan Mackie, the need for NGO involvement in the impact investment capacity building pipeline was conclusively illustrated.
ACRE investor Martin Rich explained how support at bottom of the pyramid (BoP) level, was virtually non-existent. He went on to share the importance of this lack, as this grass roots level support was badly needed to build the pipeline into SME and export in emerging economies. He felt that it was this ‘stepping stones’ process (in terms of recognising and then building upon opportunity), that ACRE was supporting.
Nicolas Colloff added to this investor perspective;
“Argidius is looking to support programmes that are genuinely curious in terms of what works and why; from a funders point of these are exciting. The cycle of improvement, based on evidence, is what we are investing in also.”
Alison went on to describe how ACRE is helping developing economies shift the paradigm from aid to trade.
“Our involvement in ACRE is based on facilitating changes in sectors we believe are key to alleviating poverty. Businesses are catalytic within that.”
Discussions then went on to look at the kind of impact ACRE has on the ground. With Dr Haroon expressing a perspective from Sudan:
“We have suffered from a series of conflicts. Our most vulnerable people include women. I know from personal experience that they benefit hugely from a pipeline that is able to encompass the kind of labour we use in Agriproduce. The working capital ACRE is helping us raise, makes it easier for us to create the right processes and environment to buy more directly from the local producers.”
Discussions were wide-ranging and, appropriately, for a launch taking place on International Women’s Day, included the importance of investing in women-owned SMEs in developing countries as a tool for increasing employment and empowerment for women.
Questions about patient capital and the kind of long term impact that could be seen on the ground were expertly addressed. However, what shone out for me was a theme that kept recurring – a core functionality of ACRE being around supporting a learning culture in terms of what works in impact investment.
The principle behind ACRE is simple; investors are looking for companies to invest in, NGOs are experts in trying to solve problems on the ground. If money is to reach the right people in the right way NGOs are a very sensible starting point.
The last word from Nicolas was a very powerful one:
“What people are really looking for is employment, not just a job. They want to participate in a formal economy. I believe ACRE is able to support this. By tackling the missing middle of investment, it helps enterprises transition into formal SME status, which in turn leverages growth. We are looking for a transition point, one that is key if we are to build sustainable, inclusive economies. That point is based on linking human dignity to economic need.”
ACRE enterprises are drawn from the existing NGO partner footprint which spans 45 countries globally. ACRE is keen to hear from donors and investors who would like to contribute to – and learn from- the new kind of impact investment process ACRE represents. To find out more visit the ACRE site.