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Vital Sounouvou, the Founder and CEO of start-up Exportunity, is helping companies across Central and West Africa bolster their e-commerce distribution capabilities, through a savant mix of supply chain optimization and real-time market data monitoring – boosting intra-African trade and creating employment opportunities in the process.

A few thousand kilometres away, in Egypt, Waleed Abd El Rahman is taking on malnutrition, Uber-style. His start-up, mumm, is an online platform and delivery service connecting home-chefs to customers desperate for affordable, nutritious, home-cooked meals, as an alternative to fast food.

In South Africa, Arnaud Blancher, Founder and CEO of Last Mile for BoP Africa, is anxious to break the poverty cycle. The app he has designed, Shopit, lets informal grocery shop owners in townships and rural areas compare bulk prices at wholesalers and replenish their stock at the best price directly from their phones, with cheaper products to their customers as a result.

A springboard for social start-ups

What do all these social entrepreneurs have in common? They are all attending the Ashoka Africa Social Investment Accelerator, a mentorship program designed to instill them the skills, financial knowledge and discipline required to secure financing from investors – a critical lifeline for any start-up.

The program is run by Ashoka and co-funded by Nestlé, alongside other companies. Nestlé supports the initiative as part of its Nestlé needs YOUth initiative – by 2030, Nestlé’s ambition is to help 10 million young people around the world have access to economic opportunities.

Access to capital is key

“Social entrepreneurs from all across Africa are developing groundbreaking ideas to tackle social problems,” says Mark Cheng, Social Finance Director for Ashoka. “But without capital to help them grow, they won’t achieve the scale they need to make a difference. We’re seeking to match them with a new class of investors who want to invest for social impact as well as financial return.”

Vital, Waleed and Arnaud are among the 12 entrepreneurs shortlisted in June last year to attend the Ashoka Africa Social Investment Accelerator Program – more than 100 applications were received. “They were chosen based on the power of their ideas, their social impact and, above all, the potential that they can reach once they raise the investment to get to scale,” said Mark.

Appealing to social impact investors

For the past six months, the entrepreneurs have worked with a world-class team of business mentors – including 20 senior executives from Nestlé Africa – to develop and sharpen their business plans and investment proposals.

Ashoka mentor

Using a curriculum specifically developed by Ashoka, these mentors have helped the entrepreneurs acquire a better understanding of what social investors are after, incorporate social impact measurement into their proposals, while getting them up to speed with the more technical aspects of financing (think debt, equity, or philanthropy).

Go and get them!

In a few days, their training will be put to the test. The 12 entrepreneurs will be pitching their ideas to 40 investors – foundations, impact investment funds and private philanthropists hailing from different corners of Africa, all keen to support this new generation of social impact ventures.

Christian Vousvouras, a member of Nestlé’s Global Public Affairs team and a mentor in the Ashoka Africa Social Investment Accelerator, said the experience has been mutually beneficial. “For me, the mentoring process has been a co-learning experience,” he said.

"I have supported the entrepreneurs, but I have also gained at least as many ideas and inspiration in the process. All these ventures need to make a long-lasting and positive impact is a little boost – and it’s great to be part of that."