Author: Ninon Duval
Site of publication: Private Sector and Development
Type of publication: Article
Date of publication: January 11th, 2022
Although the African diaspora covers a multitude of realities, like most incubators, Bond’innov looks for a typical entrepreneurial profile for the projects it partners: namely men in their thirties, with a degree and initial high-level professional experience. Thanks to its solid financial foundations and extensive network, it is in a position to take calculated risks in its specialist sphere of innovation. These high-tech entrepreneurs from the diaspora play a key role in providing fresh momentum and changing the image both of the neighbourhoods we work in (knock-on effects and showcasing cosmopolitan neighbourhoods like Bondy where we are based) and of Africa itself.
This means that the innovative diaspora – whether in France or in Africa or working between the two – are a major focus for the Conseil présidentiel pour l’Afrique (CPA) which was created in August 2017. In a speech he made a few months later in Ouagadougou, French President Emmanuel Macron reiterated his support for entrepreneurs from the diaspora who would “reinvent relations between France and Africa”.
The African diaspora invests in fintech
Six million people from the African diaspora live in France, a market that offers multiple business opportunities across many different sectors. For example, online media providing content, films and series to people of African origin is just one of the new sectors in which diaspora entrepreneurs are investing. Upendo, a French-based creative media agency with an extensive network of producers in French-speaking African countries, distributes content aimed at millennials from the diaspora. Just one year after launching, this platform has a community of 10,000 subscribers and has clocked up 700,000 views. Another example, Marodi.TV, a film production company from the Seine-Saint-Denis department just north of Paris, set up operations in Senegal in 2016 where it produces soap operas such as “Maîtresse d’un homme marié” (mistress of a married man) that are a big hit in Sahel countries as well as among the African diaspora.
With annual remittances totalling nearly US$90 billion a year, the African diaspora is the continent’s main economic driver and French-based fintechs, such as the crowdfunding platform Afrikwity, use new technologies to channel this investment into productive and innovative projects
The fintech sector is also booming and young companies are beginning to provide innovative, high-value added services to the diaspora. These include Izikare which allows people living all over the world to take out healthcare insurance for loved ones living in Africa. Wizodia helps people from the diaspora to invest in African real estate. Since it set up in 2017 in La Courneuve (Seine-Saint-Denis département) after being incubated at La Miel, it has partnered around a hundred projects, mostly in Côte d’Ivoire. In 2020, its revenue jumped by over 100% to €500,000 in spite of the pandemic and thanks in particular to a venture capital loan from Bond’innov.
With annual remittances totalling nearly US$90 billion a year, the African diaspora is the continent’s main economic driver and French-based fintechs, such as the crowdfunding platform Afrikwity, use new technologies to channel this investment into productive and innovative projects. This start-up has forged a community of over 5,000 members since it was set up in 2017, partnering the development strategies of more than 30 businesses and helping them access some €10 million in funding.
Tackling sustainable development challenges with innovation
French-speaking countries, with 300 million people throughout the continent of Africa, represent another major opportunity for entrepreneurs from the North and West African diasporas. The Ivorian entrepreneur Youssouf Ballo teamed up with the French legal services platform LegalStart in 2018 when he founded Legafrik to provide low-cost, on-line legal assistance and formalities. As the business start-up market is particularly buoyant in certain French-speaking African countries, with annual growth in excess of 30%, Legafrik targeted 17 member countries of the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA).
Many entrepreneurs of African origin are also focusing on impact projects that offer new solutions to sustainable development challenges in the fields of healthcare, job creation, agriculture or education.
One of the most successful of these is the Maison Château Rouge label created in 2015 in Paris’ “African village”. Youssouf Fofana, its founder, wanted to procure work for his friends but he was able to surf on the wave of European enthusiasm for African fabrics and motifs to successfully make the transition into fashion design, producing fashion accessories in his native region in Senegal and selling them both online and in prestigious European stores.
In the agriculture sector, the collaborative Reverdir le monde programme, an initiative of Saiffallah Ben-Youness’ French-based company Biomanity, markets water retaining agents for use in agricultural cycles. This project tackles sustainable development challenges related to access to resources and improving the incomes of African farmers. Reverdir is trying to bring together farmers organisations to provide these resources to 100 million farmers by 2030. Claude Arsène Savadogo provides us with another example in the agricultural sector. This agronomy research graduate who studied in Montpellier has set up Bioprotect in Burkina Faso along with a French partner to produce and market organic fertilizers and give advice on the use bio-chemicals to farmers in the Sahel region. However, while each of these start-ups illustrates one of the many facets of the dynamism of the African diaspora in developing innovation-based products and services, they remain fragile initiatives, dependent on both the French and African business environments.
Therefore, enterprise support programmes such as the Meet Africa and Pass Africa public initiatives, together with capacity building and financing programmes remain of crucial importance as these start-ups are highly risky ventures in terms of creation, innovation and internationalisation. Additional support measures could include increased participation from the diaspora in enterprise governance for decision-makers and public donors. Commitments similar to those enshrined in the American Small Business Act, but reserved for diaspora businesses to encourage Franco-African firms to bid for public procurement contracts that provide innovative solutions would also be an effective means of strengthening these small businesses. Lastly, developing mobility programmes and partnering ecosystems to support innovation between Africa and the Old Continent would provide this international enterprise network with both fluidity and continuity.
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