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According to the World Bank, remittances from Africans living in the diaspora represent the largest flows of money into Africa today, far exceeding official donor aid and foreign direct investment.

ImageFinancial resources are not the only options on offer and a number of Africans in the diaspora would also like to offer human resources to support African development. For many who want to share their skills within Africa, a combination of ineffective structures and systems as well as negative attitudes on the ground, often prove a major obstacle.

The African Foundation for Development (AFFORD), a non-governmental organisation founded in 1994 to expand and enhance the contribution that Africans in the diaspora make to Africa's development, has taken on the challenge of harnessing the skills of Africans in the diaspora for the benefit of grassroots entrepreneurs in Africa.

March 2006 saw 15 resource persons leave the UK for Sierra Leone, the first country to benefit from this programme. Recognising that for many Africans, particularly the young, entrepreneurial activities are often used as a route to migrate to the West rather than to stay at home to invest their money in a business, AFFORD’s initiative connects experienced diaspora resources with African entrepreneurs to deliver tangible results.

The programme has two aspects; training people in Sierra Leone to become trainers in basic business skills and, secondly, providing business planning sessions in Freetown and across the regions through local partners that include the Swazy Jewellers Organisation, SLIBA (Sierra Leone Indigenous Business Association), the Ministry of Youth and Sport, the Young Leaders Group and ENCISS.

The project involved extensive planning by AFFORD and was preceded by a three-week feasibility study in Ghana and Sierra Leone, including in-depth discussions with over 100 individuals from grassroots entrepreneurs to established businesspeople, business support agencies, development experts, academics and senior government officials. The selection of the resource people identified for Sierra Leone followed a rigorous assessment day that tested both the technical and soft skills of applicants.

Project Aims

A key aim of the project, which was funded by Voluntary Services Overseas and its Diaspora Volunteering Initiative, is to develop a resource pool of skilled Africans from the diaspora and in-country to support grassroots entrepreneurs through face-to-face and long-distance interaction. This approach will enhance the skills and confidence of entrepreneurs, helping to develop their business ventures and provide hope along with the creation of much-needed jobs. At the same time, it offers a chance for an often-disconnected diaspora to re-engage with “home” and find a means to contribute to society by improving in-country institutional capacity of small-scale grassroots entrepreneurs and enterprises.

“The long term goal is to help these businesses to improve and create jobs thereby reducing unemployment.”

One particular outcome of the programme is the intention to heighten awareness of business ventures most likely to have a direct poverty-reducing impact, encouraging Africans outside the continent to channel their remittances in a manner that supports enterprise and helps with job and wealth creation. The project also aims to support gender equity and diversity by providing equality of opportunity to young women entrepreneurs, young entrepreneurs with disabilities or living with HIV/AIDS.

AFFORD has an impressive record of building capacity, having worked with over 100 African organizations in the UK working for Africa’s development through direct hands-on advice, training, and networking. It has successfully pioneered many initiatives that help Africans in the diaspora support initiatives by Africans within Africa.

Project Benefits

The programme will deliver a number of key benefits by enabling more young people to draw on business support services to establish their own businesses rather than migrate.

Through gender-sensitive training, AFFORD hopes to inspire more young women to set up their own businesses, thus breaking a cycle of poverty. A longer-term benefit is the ability of the programme to foster the flow of remittances into productive investment ventures, creating a wider impact from these flows and a faster reduction of poverty. Christine Matambo, AFFORD’s Programme Officer emphasises that the organisation’s mission over the next three years is centred on enterprise and tapping into the UK diaspora as resources to provide skills, financial and social contacts.

Image"We are starting with the skills mission and this mission is allowing the diaspora to take time to share their skills, either in their country of origin or from a pan African perspective, to empower local grass roots entrepreneurs," she explains.

"The long term goal is to help these businesses to improve and create jobs thereby reducing unemployment. We’re not talking about large-scale jobs; even if one or two are created by each business, this will contribute to reducing especially youth unemployment, which is an Africa-wide problem"

"A Fantastic Experience"

The programme has proved an unqualified success and provided a memorable experience for participants. For Manja Kargbo, a resource person who travelled to Makeni with her team, the programme was evidence that business people in the informal sector do know what they need but often simply lack support.

“The mission was a fantastic experience that allowed me to look at the informal business sector with fresh eyes and share my ideas with the local participants on how to grow their businesses”, she says.  “In the developed world, most who want to start businesses can go to business development agencies for advice and support, or can easily access the internet for information- in Sierra Leone, that is not readily available.'

Matambo and AFFORD hope that the financial benefits will flow as relationships are built.  “Through these missions,” she adds, “the diaspora and home entrepreneurs will be able to develop a level of trust so that, in the near future, we hope that people from the diaspora will be able to invest financially in these small businesses.”

The next enterprise development mission is to Ghana in May/June 2006 and AFFORD are looking for Ghanaians to join the initiative.  For further details, contact: Christine Matambo, Programme Officer, AFFORD on 020 7587 3900 or Christine@afford-uk.org

Photo: Lisa Anderson

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