The Swedish foundation Norrsken has opened a center for entrepreneurship and innovation in Kigali, Rwanda. Pictured: A statue depicting a woman and a child in Kigali. Photo: Andreas. Source: Pixabay.


Swedish initiatives promote entrepreneurship in Africa

Sweden is often regarded as the best in the world in surveys concerning both entrepreneurship and development cooperation. In recent times, more and more investments have been made with the goal of combining the two funds. Norrsken and Hand in Hand are two actors working to promote socio-economic development in Rwanda, Kenya and Zimbabwe with entrepreneurship as the main means.

After experiencing the famine in Bangladesh in 1974, Muhammad Yunus decided to join the fight against poverty. Shortly afterwards, he founded the bank Grameen Bank with the vision of distributing small loans with simple terms, so-called microloans, to poor residents - a vision for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

The answers about how global poverty is best fought are many. The questions are even more. But today, many share Muhammad Yunus' basic assumption about how the possibility of entrepreneurship can help individuals and communities out of poverty. The Northern Lights Foundation and the organization Hand in Hand are two current players who work to export the Swedish entrepreneurial spirit in order to improve living conditions around the world.

Want to make Kigali a city for "impact unicorns"

The Swedish foundation Norrsken aims to make life better for one billion people by helping entrepreneurs solve societal problems. At the end of 2021, the foundation opened its first center for innovation and entrepreneurship outside Stockholm and Sweden. The choice fell on Rwanda's capital Kigali, and Norrsken East Africa's CEO, Pascal Murasira, have high hopes for the investment.

- We believe that Kigali is on its way to becoming one of Africa's leading clusters for start-ups and innovation, and we want to help and accelerate that development, he says.

- With the latest debut of the Northern Lights as an incubator in Rwanda's ecosystem, sector enthusiasts believe that it can lead to the emergence of quality and scalable start-ups, writes the Rwandan daily The New Times. Andreas. Source: Pixabay.

Rwanda's Minister too for Information and Communication Technology and Innovation, Paula Ingabire, welcomes the initiative. At the inauguration, she emphasized that the initiative will promote both entrepreneurship and innovation in Rwanda. But what does it mean in concrete terms?

The investment involves a new office hotel where entrepreneurs are given the opportunity for financing, mentorship and networking. The end goal is to create conditions for so-called impact unicorns - start-up companies whose value exceeds one billion kronor and which are run with the aim of tackling problems, or creating solutions, of great social significance. Norrsken's CEO, Erik Engellau-Nilsson, points out that the definition of what this is can be broader in Kigali than Stockholm.

- Entrepreneurship in Kigali is impact. If you just create jobs, it's impact, if you develop e-commerce in the area, it's impact, if you make agriculture smarter with agritech, it's impact, he says.

When Norrsken chooses which companies in Rwanda to invest in, the opportunities are therefore both greater and more than in Europe.

Hand in Hand invests in women

Om The Northern Lights bet high, so Hand in Hand bets wide. The goal is to promote inclusive and sustainable development and to achieve this, women are needed.

Hand in hand refers to studies in which it has been found that men spend only 30 percent of their income on the well-being of their family, while women spend 90 percent of their income. An investment in female entrepreneurship is therefore an investment in so much more - in school, in healthcare and in society.

The organization is active in Kenya and Zimbabwe, where they train women in entrepreneurship. By distributing microcredit, they also enable women to start their own businesses. In this way, not only support is created for individual families, but also jobs at the societal level. This has become particularly important after the global pandemic, as the number of people in extreme poverty has increased for the first time this millennium, according to the World Bank.

In collaboration with parties such as Keep Sweden Clean The organization also works to combine poverty reduction with environmental work. By educating small-scale farmers in sustainable cultivation and creating profitable waste products, the organization meets not just one, but several, of UN sustainability goals.

While the debate on development assistance is constantly changing, people's need for an income - to eat their fill, to send their children to school, to get vaccinated - is constant. Is entrepreneurship the new aid? It remains to be seen. But in times when climate differences are expected to make the conditions in many African countries even more innumerable and the global pandemic has hit them without margins the worst, the Northern Lights and Hand in Hand shine extra brightly. 

Sweden, development cooperation and entrepreneurship

In 2020, Swedish development cooperation was hailed as the world's best. The survey, conducted annually by the Center for Global Development (CGD), ranks how countries contribute to development in low-income countries.

Regarding entrepreneurship, Sweden has, among other things, been ranked highest in Forbes' list of countries that are best for entrepreneurship.

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