Impact Investing in Africa: Insights from Latest Report

Impact investing in Africa is in these days, with numerous established firms and startups looking to figure out how to blend strong financial returns with a social or environmental impact.

Looking to add to the emerging literature on the topic, our latest in the series of Developing World Alternative Finance reports examined how impact investing in Africa has developed to date. The data for the report comes from the Capital Finder, which you can try out for free on our site.

The Findings

Our data revealed some interesting findings. One of the headline charts is simply the top ten countries for impact investing in Africa — as in, the countries with the most active investors.
impact investing in africa

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How to Create a Free VPN in 5 Minutes

Free VPN

The following was written by Malcolm Kapuza, CTO.

Visiting in Nairobi so far has been an incredible experience. AlliedCrowds works with lot organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa and to be able to experience different issues and pain points on the ground has allowed us to rework how the Capital Finder is structured (and we have some very big changes coming soon!).

Now, more to the point, we have a lot of subscribers in the expat community living in various developing countries across the world. I am sure that many of them have been forced to deal with a problem that I have had to deal with while in Nairobi: firewalls and IP address blocking.

There are a lot of cases where US and European websites will restrict access based on the IP address you are using. Yeah, this is a real problem.

Anytime you have ever been forced to pay for a VPN  from some sketchy company peddling proxy server access, you have faced this problem.

Now, I wouldn’t be writing this blog if it were about tricking Netflix into letting you watch House of Cards. I had a much bigger issue: accessing the Massachusetts Department of Revenue’s website. Yeah, the tax man. Normally, you can pay your taxes online, except that for fraud prevention purposes, Mass DOR blocks foreign IPs.

Saying I can’t pay my taxes because I am staying in Nairobi is akin to “the dog ate my homework” and probably not going to fly.

The solution

Introducing Amazon Web Services!

It is rare that I get to apply my tech knowledge outside of building tools and applications for the AlliedCrowds team and our clients. So I am especially excited to be able to give everyone a neat hack to solve a real problem in their everyday life by creating a free VPN. Continue reading →

UNLEASH 2017: Check Out AlliedCrowds’s Presentation

unleash 2017

We’ve had a very productive summer here at AlliedCrowds, travelling around the world, sharing our experiences and vision for the future, and building out the Capital Finder. One event in particular is worth discussing: UNLEASH 2017.

The UN-led symposium was meant to mimic a startup pitching competition — Shark Tank-style judging panel, and all. The overarching focus of the event was to highlight innovative startups looking to solve problems related to the SDGs, and to help these entrepreneurs get in front of potential funders.

Our founder and managing director, Lars Kroijer, was proud to deliver a keynote address to the entrepreneurs who came to present their ideas. He was speaking alongside people we’ve admired for quite some time, including Sal Khan (of Khan Academy), and Juliana Rotich (of Ushahidi and BRCK).

Lars was there to discuss the Capital Finder and give advice to the entrepreneurs in the audience — including gems like the below:

For those who weren’t able to make it to the conference, we’re sharing Lars’s presentation below. If you were there, let us know what your key takeaways were!

Presenting the Capital Finder:

Unleash Talk Aug 2017

Where in the World Is AlliedCrowds? Dispatch from Nairobi

alliedcrowds nairobi

The following was written by Anton Root, Head of Research.

One of the many of advantages of working for a startup like AlliedCrowds is the flexibility it affords. We make decisions quickly, aren’t intimidated by trying something new, and get to optimize our working arrangement.

So when our CTO Malcolm and I decided to spend a part of the summer working from Nairobi, the trip came together in a matter of days.

While I’m currently back in London, after spending a month in Nairobi, Malcolm has decided to stay an extra month to experience the city and build out our network. Looking back at a month filled with new experiences, exciting insights, and countless meetings, here are a few takeaways from our trip to Nairobi:

  1. The entrepreneurial culture is vibrant. The vast majority of people we encountered in Nairobi had very much a can do attitude, and were looking to do business. Indeed, many companies we met were looking to make it easier for others to do business. These included flexible and fast mobile lending platforms that helped vendors to purchase stock in the mornings, as well as startups that are helping small vendors simplify their value chain via mobile. But the can do attitude extended beyond startups and SMEs to everyday interactions. One example — I landed in Nairobi at 6am with no apartment lined up. Within hours, I had visited nearly a dozen apartments, and was able to sign a lease by 5:30pm. Compared with the process of moving to London (complete with tedious background and reference checks, and days or weeks of visiting flats), securing an apartment in Nairobi was a relative a breeze. Another example is an Uber driver who drove us 5 hours to the Masai Mara National Reserve in a car nowhere close to being equipped for off-road travel (which much of the trip ended up entailing).
  2. The alternative finance space still has plenty of room to grow. According to our database, there are nearly 250 alternative finance providers (angel investors, crowdfunding platforms, impact investors, VCs, private equity firms, and public/semi-public funders) operating in Kenya. Most of the existing players know each other well, however, and it’s a close-knit community. We were referred to the same investors by different stakeholders, and we often bumped into people we had met with outside of work. While there are constantly new investors from the region (and further afield) exploring the market, there are still plenty of opportunities for funders to enter the promising market.
  3. There’s a need for better resources to help entrepreneurs fundraise. While we met with several advisors in Nairobi that are doing important work for SMEs, there is a dearth of similar resources for smaller startups that may not have the intrinsic appeal of a tech firm. As Thomas Sankara writes, the vast majority of funding in East Africa goes to expatriate founders. A lot of that has to do with investors’ relative inexperience with working in the region, to be sure. But better training for African founders on how to pitch to foreign investors may help to close the funding gap. Additionally, with the ecosystem being as tight-knit as it is, figuring out who to contact in order to get a foot in the door is highly important — we think the Capital Finder can be a great help here.

As AlliedCrowds continues to grow, we’ll be taking the time to travel to new destinations. We’ll keep our followers updated on where we’re coming to next — don’t be shy and let us know if you’d like to meet!

Cryptocurrencies on the Blockchain: Recent Developments in Africa

africa cryptocurrencies blockchain

Written by Akachi Obijiaku.

Recently, there has been a rise in discussions concerning blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies. While some have been speculative, blockchain does indeed hold the potential to facilitate innovation and connect people in developing countries who, traditionally, have had limited access to financial services.

In simplest terms, a blockchain is a distributed ledger. Its decentralized nature implies that it does not need to be managed by a central authority. This reduces transaction costs, as the need for an intermediary is eliminated, and people can engage in transparent transactions.

Africa’s Blockchain: Potential Use Cases

The instability of central authorities in various African countries is a serious problem that blockchain frameworks can tackle. Nasdaq, for example, believes Bitcoin is immune to local inflation, which arises due to recurring political conflict, war, or, simply, mismanagement.

Another notable benefit of cryptocurrencies lies in its security. With a cryptographic-oriented protocol, information on the blockchain is highly unlikely to be alterable, as records cannot be retracted. For example, in African countries, SMEs and service providers can enter into agreements with one another on the blockchain without red tape and fear of fraud. A ‘smart contract’ can significantly reduce (or even do away with) settlement times and automatically make payments to either parties when all conditions of the business agreement have been made. Such self-executing financial contracts on the blockchain also imply that counterparty risk is reduced and, thus, they present a novel way of combating fraud and corruption (which are prominent in many developing countries such as Botswana, South Africa and Nigeria). In Africa alone, economic crime has risen by 70% since 2015.

Using cryptocurrencies (such as Bitcoin), people in emerging markets are able to move assets transnationally and escape the relatively heavy costs associated with such transfers. An interoperable system currency such as Bitcoin can make cross-border trade significantly easier. A potentially fruitful use case for this would be in Zimbabwe, where the national currency has collapsed and has engendered the use of US dollars and Chinese yuan locally; it presents an ideal test for Bitcoin as a back-end trading currency. In fact, Zimbabwean bitcoin startup, BitFinance, has just announced plans to test that idea.

However, Africa is home to only 1.4% of blockchain companies globally. There needs to be much more traction in order for such African startups to start making significant social impact. Bankymoon is an example of a company that is exploring the applications of blockchain in frontier markets. Operating out of South Africa, it aims to provide Bitcoin payment gateways to vendors of smart meters and cut out costly local authorities.

Potential Challenges

From peer-to-peer micropayments to cross-border transactions, blockchain holds hope for a future where there are reduced financial inefficiencies and more inclusive growth. If African nations can support the development of this technology — for example, through building and promoting technology hubs — they will become beneficiaries of transactional security. Nonetheless, it is essential that governments willing to experiment with this nascent financial instrument focus on the practicalities of it, rather than the hype. The functioning of blockchain applications, for example, is energy-intensive. This means that societies with poor power supply are likely to get left behind.

Hence, to really make blockchain inclusive, governments in emerging economies will need to lay a strong structural foundation and work in close partnership with entrepreneurs. Proper institutional buy-in would be needed for Bitcoin to be operational in developing societies, and a good first step would be to clarify its legalities and the extent to which it can be treated as legal tender in various jurisdictions.

Image: ‘Bitcoin‘ by fdecomite