Impact Investing in Informal Enterprises

Impact investments are investments made into companies, organizations and funds with the intention to generate social and environmental impact alongside a financial return. The Global Impact Investment Network (GIIN) states that this sort of investment provides capital to address the world’s pressing challenges in sectors such as microfinance, sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, conservation and affordable and accessible basic services such as housing, healthcare and education. The aspect of this form of investment that makes it stand out from other vehicles of investment is the fact that it is aimed at generating positive impact beyond financial return. In this sense, it is a viable solution to the sustainable growth and development of micro, small and medium sized enterprises. It is a tool that can be used to provide patient capital to entrepreneurs, more so if it is blended with grants.

(Source: http://www.blog.kpmgafrica.com)

A study that was conducted in West Africa by Dalberg found that impact investments are primarily made by private equity and venture capital funds, Development Finance Institutions (DFIs), Micro Finance Institutions (MFIs), foundations and institutional investors. “Impact investing in West Africa” noted that the needs of individual enterprises varied depending on factors such as their business model, size and maturity stage as well as human resource capacity. Beyond financing needs, many enterprises require business development services in a way that enables them to develop their ideas and create well managed, financially sustainable operations.

Some of the challenges that stand in the way of achieving the goal of developing sustainable business ventures in as far as engagement with impact investing is concerned include a lack of education, skills and difficulty in accessing information among the entrepreneurs that are required to turn their ideas into bankable projects. Also, the lack of awareness of the actual implications of engaging impact investors prevents many businesses from accepting this type of capital. This is due to the fact that owners of small and medium sized enterprises fear losing control of their businesses. Further, the study noted that the lack of incentives to convert from informal to formal business structures was a hindrance for impact investors in as far as engaging the informal sector in West Africa goes. The high costs that are linked to business formalization which include licences, taxes and other operating costs discourage most informal businesses from making the transition to formality.

The report put forward some ways in which the above challenges can be mitigated for an enhanced and more proactive engagement with impact investment. These include the need for a broader range of flexible products to address the gap for businesses with smaller financing needs. This is particularly necessary for new enterprises where the entrepreneurs’ funding needs are too small for traditional debt or equity financing. In this sense, they propose angel financing or royalty-based debt with manageable levels of interest as well as supporting business development services.

The other solution highlights the need for investors to adapt their investment practices to the local climate. By being more flexible in this manner, they will be in a better position to change their investment criteria, thus opening up their business to a large number of potentially profitable deals. This will also place local entrepreneurs in a position where they can access much needed capital to enhance their business ventures. This sort of engagement will support the growth of informal businesses to formal businesses and further assist them to transition into larger private equity and traditional commercial bank investments.

Last but not least is the proposal to build networks and awareness beyond impact investors to encompass business support organisations, relevant government bodies and development partners with the intention of increasing awareness of existing definitions of impact investing. Other goals of these networks should be to increase the awareness of the benefits of venture philanthropy among grant-making organizations, increase the understanding of equity investments among business owners and focus outreach efforts towards high net worth individuals and highly-educated Africans in the diaspora.

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst

 

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The African Retail Market

According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the African retail market is characterised by approximately 90% of transactions occurring through informal channels. This points to the existence of an opportunity for the increased establishment of formal retail presence to capture larger portions of this market share. Tapping into markets that are dominated by the informal economy presents formal retailers with a key to unlocking the potential of the African market in as far as leveraging the customer base presented by the population therein. However, hurdles such as the diverse consumer mix, low levels of established distribution networks, infrastructure constraints and political and economic uncertainties are some of the challenges that big formal retail chains have to contend with when setting up in-country operations.

(Source: https://thisisafrica.me)

The “African Powers Of Retailing Report 2015” published by Deloitte tracks the progress of the top African retail performers on the continent. While the top 25 retailers have a limited operational presence in Africa, operating in 21 out of 54 countries on the continent, other countries, such as Algeria, Sudan and Ethiopia, are among the top 10 countries by retail market size but have no listed African Retailer present. Nigeria is the largest retail market in Africa with a retail size of US$122.9 billion as of 2013. However, East Africa – particularly Kenya – is still being identified as the next market for major South African players. Apart from Kenya’s attractive GDP of US$56.1 billion at the time this report was published, it has 25-30% formal retail compared to 60% in South Africa.

It is worthy to note that Nigeria’s retail market is largely fragmented, with the top 6 retailers accounting for barely 2% of sales and 98% of Nigerians shopping in small, local and informal outlets. The importance of the informal economy in Africa cannot be overlooked considering the fact that small, local and informal retail transactions account for 96% in Ghana and 98% in Nigeria and Cameroon. Even in Kenya, the vast consumer base in rural areas still shops at informal outlets, which accounts for approximately 70% of retail shopping. Zimbabwe also has a fragmented retail market and is seeing a recent upsurge in small “tuck shops”.

It further states that as the African economy continues to improve and expand, it is likely that groceries will be a key driver of industry growth across the continent’s retailing industry. The approach that retail multinationals in search of developing their presence in Africa have used in a quest to set up operations in the African retail market is that of acquisitions of local companies or directly establishing their retail stores in-country. How increased access to the informal sector will play out as retailers compete for share of wallet beyond the main urban centres remains to be seen.

Given the above statistics, an avenue which would be worth considering for formal retail multinationals is that of incorporating an informal market operational strategy into their business models. Developing deliberate linkages with this sector of the economy will be a huge game changer and bolster business for both sides of the equation.

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst

 

An Overview of the Informal Sector

The informal economy is characterised as micro and small businesses whose main reason for being established is that they offer an escape route from the tough economic conditions under which the entrepreneurs live. During the past decade, the sector’s growth has mainly been propelled by the shrinking availability of formal employment opportunities. This limited access to formal employment causes most of them to venture into alternative forms of self-employment as a means to making ends meet. As a result, there has been a change in the way people perceive the informal as being traditionally one that was the preserve of those who had attained a basic level of education. There has been a gradual shift in its perception whereby it was fondly referred to as the ‘Jua Kali’ sector, towards one which presents itself as an option for those locked out of formal employment opportunities.

(Source: https://cdn.mg.co.za/crop/content/images)

The Micro Small and Medium sized Enterprises (MSME) Survey 2016, a report released by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics established that there were about 1.56 million licensed MSMEs and 5.85 million unlicensed businesses. The findings of the survey also show that total number of persons engaged in the sector was approximately 14.9 million Kenyans. Further, the Kenya Economic Survey 2017 indicates that the number of new jobs created in the economy was 832.9 thousand. Of these, 85.6 thousand were in the formal sector while 747.3 thousand were in the informal sector. The share of jobs in the informal sector represents a 5.9 percent growth from 83 percent in the previous year to 89.7 percent, or 13.3 million people. The problem is that employment in the informal sector is characterised by numerous low quality jobs.

Some of the challenges that informal businesses face include low capacity in as far as financial and technical skills are concerned. This makes it difficult for them to access financial collateral from financing institutions and produce materials that are not standardised. Poor and substandard physical working environments as well as inadequate protective gear means that they are less advantaged when it comes to attracting customers to their establishments and are exposed to health hazards. Limited access to market opportunities is another hurdle that those engaged in informal businesses have to contend with.

The Rockerfeller Foundation puts the number of informal workers who live in extreme poverty around the world at 700 million people, contributing to their vulnerability to poor health. Most informal workers have few resources, which makes accessing health care a challenge as it requires leaving work, which reduces their income and adds to health care expenses. As alluded to above, some of the common problems that Informal workers face include poor working conditions which puts them at a high risk of getting injuries. Most employees in informal establishments have no sick time which accentuates their job insecurity, and a majority of them do not have health or social protection.

Another important element of the informal economy is small scale farming. There needs to be a more proactive approach geared towards making it a formidable employer as opportunities for growth in this area are immense. Making farming inputs competitively cheaper, as well as capacity development through the provision of access to technical services as is in the case of agricultural extension officers will go a long way in ensuring that small scale farmers attain higher quality yields. Another area that would be worth considering is that of supporting small holder out-grower enterprises that are in a dependent, managed relationship with an exporter. These include farmers who do not own or control the land they farm or the commodity they produce as they produce relatively small volumes on relatively small plots of land. A good example in this case is that of French beans farmers who sell their produce to horticultural export companies. This move will go a long way in improving product quality that will enhance the competitiveness of Kenyan produce in the export markets thus ensuring a sustainable and equitable growth in that sector.

 

An angle that clearly presents itself as far as the rapid growth of the informal economy is concerned is that of a focus on making the sector a formidable employer by raising the quality of its employment. This can be achieved by changing the societal stereotypes whereby students who pursue vocational training are seen to do so as a second option after failing to secure university admission. The role that tertiary institutions such as polytechnics play requires a keener rethinking in as far as their significance to the provision of a strategically skilled workforce for our budding industries in the informal economy goes. Also, training in financial skills is another key factor in building up these businesses in a way that they will be well equipped to manage their growth. By developing a culture of documenting financial dealings, informal businesses will be better placed to access loans and grants from financial institutions. Further, more can be done to make it easier for informal workers to access affordable healthcare.

There is increased recognition that much of the informal economy today is linked to the formal economy and contributes to the overall economy; and that supporting the working poor in the informal economy is a key pathway to reducing poverty and inequality. To maintain sustainable growth in this sector, there needs to be flexibility in the way government operates so as to accommodate and support a hugely untapped taxable avenue. Key issues that would have to be looked into revolve around the formalization and recognition of their business operations. That being said, given the proper support and plan, the informal sector in our economy will provide an avenue to the growth and development of indigenous industries.

 

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst.

The Role of Informality in Urbanization and Industrialization

The Economic Report on Africa 2017 was released by The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa(UNECA). This year’s report looked into ways in which the continent can harness industrialization to better structure the fast pace at which urbanization is taking place. Given that Africa is the fastest urbanization region after Asia, the report puts emphasis on the fact that only under the right policy frameworks can this momentum be leveraged so as to accelerate industrialization.

Image result for urbanization and industrialization africa

(Source: http://www.uneca.org)

Some of the proposed measures point to ways in which informal businesses can be made a part of this process. One such measure was to bank on the links between informal and formal sectors, for these are mutually beneficial and dependent. Those involved in industrial land use planning should consider the needs of informal enterprises, given their importance for job absorption and the challenges they often face in finding adequate premises for work.

One option is to try to meet industrial firms’ location-specific needs through Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and industrial zones. These will bring the most benefits if they are well connected to the urban economy, including the informal sector firms that can provide low cost inputs and use linkages as a path to growth and formalization. SEZs present opportunities for co-investment by formal firms and the public sector in infrastructure and technical and vocational education and training, which can broaden participation in economic growth and provide avenues for inclusion of critical workforce groups such as women and youth. These links to markets and skilled labour are critical.

The report further states that studies suggest that informal operators benefit from clustering through the various sectors in which they operate, and that they generally have a positive impact on their formal sector counterparts. It is with this in mind that agglomeration economies should be considered in the context of locational policies related to the informal sector and a path to formalization. Agglomeration economies can benefit the informal sector particularly through proximity to suppliers and purchasers.

Also, low-tech, labour-intensive infrastructure projects accessible to SMEs are a major opportunity for urban job creation. Lower-skilled labour-intensive technologies have high potential in some public investment sectors, including roads. A good example is that of Ethiopia whereby between 2005 and 2008 through a cobblestone roads and pavement programme, more than 90,000 jobs for young people were created. This led to the establishment of 2,000 small and medium enterprises. The project included backward linkages to domestic inputs—cobblestones—and labour-intensive skills in quarrying, chiselling, transporting and paving. The programme, implemented in 140 towns and villages, built around 350 km of road.

In terms of access to finance, Sudan has taken steps to improve this for industrial firms, including SMEs. Policy efforts in 2013 simplified the regulatory framework for financial access and new bank branches, and the central bank made preparations for mobile banking. These reforms targeted small enterprises, which make up 93 per cent of manufacturing firms, by requiring that commercial banks set aside 12 per cent of resources for microfinance. It is with this spirit that African countries must leverage the force of urbanization to drive and enable industrial development for a prosperous and equitable future.

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst

 

How to develop partnerships between Formal and Informal Business

While exploring into some of the ways in which business linkages can be developed between formal and informal firms in a previous article, I looked into how both sides of the divide can take advantage of the opportunities within their realms to build symbiotic relationships. In this piece, I will highlight some of the approaches which formal firms should consider when trying to initiate and foster positive networks with the informal sector. 

https://i0.wp.com/www.dynamicbusiness.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/business-partnership.jpg

(Source:www.dynamicbusiness.com.au)

The first and foremost aspect that formal firms should look into is that of the business structure that is present in the informal business that they intend to partner with. The importance of ensuring that they establish this aspect is, among other factors to assist them in better understanding the client profiles of the clients serviced by the informal firm.  This will help them come up with tailor made marketing structures around which they can sell their products and services.

The other aspect that is of importance in as far as fostering beneficial relationships relates to the different levels of capacity present in the informal firms. These include, but are not limited to technical and financial skills. Most informal firms primarily under perform due the low levels of the above mentioned. Formal firms can work to improve the level of these skill sets which will go a long way in improving the quality of goods and services that they produce. Mentoring informal firms in this way will enhance their capability to deliver goods and services that are of a higher quality as well as enhance their systems of operation. This will further improve and strengthen the various aspects that are related to the operational systems of formal firms such as their chains of distribution.

Further, the longevity of an informal business should be a point of consideration when looking into partnership opportunities. One of the weaknesses that informal businesses have is that of shutting down after short periods of operation. The Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) Survey 2016 indicates that 46.3 per cent of the establishments were closed within the first year of operation. The trend in closing rate slowed down with the age of the business which points to the fact that informal businesses stabilized with time. On average, it was observed that the age of establishments at closure was 3.8 years.

Another area that would be worth exploring for formal firms as they seek to establish formidable links with informal businesses is that of targeting businesses that are part of an association. Micro, small and medium sized businesses that are members of associations within their realms of operation tend to be more focused and better organized. This is due to the fact that they draw valuable lessons from each other on best industry practices. These sort of associations provide a pillar of stability for informal businesses for it is through them that they can better interact with government bodies in cases of conflict resolution. Associations also give them financial security for it is through these that they can access loans to grow their businesses.

By looking into the above factors, formal firms can have a better understanding of informal businesses when trying to create partnership opportunities that grow their businesses. Working with the associations that informal businesses are a part of will enhance the capability of formal firms to choose credible businesses through which they can further harness their growth agenda.

litualex@gmail.com

Informal Economy Analyst