Miami — Hundreds of North American, European, and African investors and potential investors gathered in the U.S. state of Florida last month, alongside government officials, utility companies, and banks, for the Powering Africa Summit. Before the public conference, there was an invitation-only meeting of public and private sector partners of Power Africa, an inter-agency United States government programme to increase energy access on the African continent. Nolu Crockett-Ntonga caught up with United States African Development Foundation (USADF) President and CEO C.D. Glin to talk about the Foundation's impactful work in the energy sector in Africa.
C.D., you spoke, first, to the Power Africa meeting, and then, publicly, to the Powering Africa Summit. Why is it important for USADF to be here? What perspective do you bring to the table? You have spoken in the past about how your work is a part of building peace amid conflict, while addressing issues such as poverty and joblessness.
Right now, there are challenges and opportunities in Africa, and they are fragmented - almost binary. There is fragility in the Horn (northeast Africa region). There is Boko Haram, al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, and al-Shabaab who are carrying out terror attacks on populations and disrupting livelihoods. There are post-conflict areas in the Great Lakes regions that need help re-building and stabilizing.
I've lived in these places. I've lived in northern Kenya and northern Nigeria. Now I lead programs that are in the midst of Boko Haram and al-Shabaab operations. We need to have a locally-driven, grassroots model of development in those communities so people can see that it is possible to go from hopelessness to hope and real opportunity.
Young people, especially, are looking for alternatives. In places like Somalia, they are asking fundamental questions: do I join al-Shabaab, put on a suicide vest, and get $50 a month for an eventual suicide mission when I have to blow myself up? Or, do I start a business so I can support myself and my family?
Who is helping them to have those alternatives? In the parts of Africa where the reality is conflict, it is often poverty that leads to such conflict. We need solutions, and USADF is committed to investing in African-led solutions, so Africans can take the lead in transforming their communities.
USADF offers a path from poverty and conflict to peace and prosperity.
Where conflict is the reality in Africa, it's risky to make investments. USADF is there de-risking some of the investment risks. And we hope that other tools of the U.S. Government will come on board, and we'll be able to link our investments with their investments, whether through USAID's trade hubs that are being expanded as part of the U.S. Government Prosper Africa initiative or the newly-established U.S. International Development Finance Corporation and some of their investment capital.
We want to be part of the foreign assistance toolkit for combatting global fragility and helping to stabilize fragile states in Africa. That's first and foremost.
Second, we're part of the toolkit for trade and investment on the side of growing small- and medium-sized enterprises in Africa: those coffee cooperatives that become traders with Peet's, Starbucks, Compass Coffee, and other U.S. companies. USADF is on the side of producers of cocoa and agricultural commodities, whether it's nuts or shea butter or cashews, to name a few sectors that we support.
It is going to take some time, but every business takes time to start and scale. And USADF is there to support each phase of an entrepreneurs' journey. We can look at an enterprise development model where USADF comes in early, providing operational assistance grants and enterprise growth and expansion grants, and then link entrepreneurs to follow-on funding. USADF plays a unique role in terms of transitioning groups from development assistance to development finance. We are the bridge, and a pathway to prosperity.
So, the United States wants to increase two-way trade and investment in Africa, right? Great! Which U.S. government agency is helping create and support African businesses that can trade and invest with U.S. companies? USADF does this all day.
We're using and leveraging taxpayer dollars to help start and scale African businesses that can both buy U.S. goods and services and sell products and services to the United States.
How does that engagement relate to your presence in Miami this week?
We are here at an energy conference. The energy solutions that USADF is funding in Africa are more innovative than what you see coming out of Silicon Valley, because this is a necessity. Africans are not converting from fossil fuels. In some places, they have no energy, and where they do, it's often insufficient access to it. So, the immediate solution to enhanced energy access for them, besides wood and charcoal, is solar, hydro and other forms of renewable energy.
It's not: 'Oh, we have other solutions, and we think this will be nice and cute. Let's just be innovative.' This is about survival. That's why USADF is in these hard to reach places where fragility is rampant. We know we need solutions and local ownership that can bring about economic growth.
That is why, over the last five years in the off-grid energy sector, USADF has invested $9.5 million in 90 African energy enterprises to impact over 368,000 people.
So at large, who are USADF's constituents?
We have three constituencies. One is the U.S. Congress and the American people, because that is where most of our funding comes from. It's U.S. taxpayer dollars that we are investing in Africans and their ideas, to the benefit of both Africans and Americans. And we think of that partially from a social impact return on our investments: is it going to help create economic opportunity and peace and economic stability in hard-to-reach places, whether in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, or the Great Lakes region.
We ask ourselves whether our investments in Africans and their ideas is something that leads to better global development. Are we building African enterprises and entrepreneurs that can eventually startup and then scale up to be able to trade and invest with the United States? That's really important from a U.S. government and Congressional standpoint because that's where the majority of our funding comes from.
The second constituency is comprised of African governments and African leaders, because this isn't a giveaway. These are grants, but it's not free money because there is a level of conditionality involved.
We want to partner with African governments and assist them in meeting their own challenges and their people's needs. And we want them to see us as real collaborators and co-funders, and not donors. We want them to know that they can invest in some of these hard-to-reach places and marginalized people to bring about solutions, alongside us. USADF is a model of doing development differently and a trusted partner for African governments.
Eight African countries have committed U.S.$40 million - that USADF will match - to invest in moving from aid to self reliance.
That's why, over the next five years, eight African governments have committed a total of $40 million in funds that USADF will match and co-invest in African enterprises and entrepreneurs who are addressing food insecurity, insufficient access to energy, and unemployment, particularly among youth and women.
Lastly, our third constituent is African communities, because this isn't a model for doing something to African communities. This is with them and through them. We want to be demand-responsive to the local needs and demands that African communities have for themselves and ask: how can USADF meet them where they are and help them move to a new level?
USADF is not coming into African communities and trying to motivate them. Instead, we are working with people who are already motivated and who are saying, "Look, I don't want a handout, I want a helping hand, and if you help me a little bit, we can go a long way together."
We want African communities to know that USADF's model of development is about self-reliance and self-sufficiency. But they need startup capital. They need a boost: a catalytic jumpstart. Youth, women, people in rural areas, refugees, and a host of others often feel like their governments and, maybe even international entities, have left them behind. So if we invest in them and provide the support they need, that's a significant sign for them to be able to take charge of their own lives.
USADF does direct grantmaking, and then, more importantly, we link them with non-financial support. We know that some of the entrepreneurs and start-up enterprises have never had $5,000, let alone $50,000 or $100,000. They need to know how to manage money. That's why USADF has operational assistance and enterprise grants, to help them learn how to manage capital.
Do African enterprises and entrepreneurs apply to USADF directly?
Yes, they do. USADF often issues call for proposals. Since we are here at an energy conference this week, I'll focus on our energy calls and challenges.
Under the U.S. government-led Power Africa initiative, USADF partnered with the private sector to launch the Off-Grid Energy Challenge and Women in Energy Challenge, which both award grants of up to $100,000 to African energy enterprises. Challenge winners have near-term solutions to power the needs of productive and commercial activities, including agriculture production and processing, off-farm businesses, and commercial enterprises.
This year, we will issue grants under USADF's new Sahel-Horn Off-Grid Energy Challenge to African energy enterprises in Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Somalia, and South Sudan.
One of the truly unique things about USADF is our use of 100% local African, on-the-ground teams in each of the 21 countries where we operate. We have an African country program coordinator, and we have African local implementing partners. Our local African teams on the ground also assist us in sourcing and selecting African enterprises with solutions in which we can invest.
USADF is so small compared to the Millennium Challenge Corporation and other assistance and investment agencies; when you talk with other agencies in the U.S. government, what is your message?
There are important messages to the others in the U.S. government. The first is that we are multifaceted in our impact. We're talking to communities that are underserved, forgotten, and marginalized and investing in places that are tough and where larger agencies don't have people on the ground. Our agility, our ability to access and move in areas where other people can't, is our differentiator.
USADF is not trying to be in this business forever. We believe we should work ourselves out of a job. That's why we use a participatory development model. We are co-creating the solutions and not coming with a top-down, Washington-generated approach. This is about sustainable development; this kind of development is at the heart of peace and security, so the U.S. government, in its entirety, should care about the work and impact of USADF and partner with us.
Where do we Americans buy our coffee, our cashews, our shea butter? We don't grow shea or cashews. They come from African companies. Yes, coffee is in Latin America, but it's also grown in Ethiopia, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Kenya. For me and my team at USADF, this is about trade and investment.
Our message is that USADF is a multi-pronged solution provider that looks at African enterprise development as a key contributor to peace and security, global development, and trade and investment - unlike any other agency, because ours is about local ownership. And when people own their solutions, when they really see themselves as part of it, it's not a U.S. government project anymore. It's theirs.