Harnessing Support for a Generation of Innovators, Entrepreneurs

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The Sahara Impact Fund, a strategic partnership between Sahara Foundation, Ford Foundation, LEAP Africa and Impact Investment Foundation, was born out of the need to support a generation of innovative solution providers. Chiemelie Ezeobi reports that recently, a cohort of 10 innovators, social enterprises and entrepreneurs from Cameroon, Rwanda, Nigeria and Malawi were churned out while new fellows were inducted

Themed “Moving from Hype to Impact- Youth in Action”, the Sahara Impact Fund (SIF) recently graduated the Resilience Cohort, a group of 10 innovators, social enterprises and entrepreneurs drawn from Cameroon, Rwanda, Nigeria and Malawi.

The Sahara Impact Fund is a strategic partnership between Sahara Foundation, Ford Foundation, LEAP Africa and Impact Investment Foundation. The partnership was born out of the need to support a generation of innovative solution providers who will increase access to clean energy and promote sustainable environments.

Essentially, this collaboration was targeted at encouraging and supporting the generation of ideas, as well as developing self- sustaining businesses by leveraging on a strong network of committed stakeholders.

When the SIF application was thrown open, out of so many applications, 10 persons, tagged ‘The Resilience Cohort’ were chosen. Over the one- year period, the 10 fellows were taken through blended capacity building sessions before their recent graduation.

Sahara Impact Fund

In October 2020, Sahara Foundation conceptualised the Sahara Impact Fund (SIF)- a strategic partnership between Sahara Foundation, Ford Foundation, LEAP Africa and Impact Investment Foundation created to support the generation of innovative solutions which will increase access to clean energy and promote sustainable environments. All of these were targeted at accelerating attainment of the SDGs in a manner that results in measurable social impact.

According to Oluseyi Ojurongbe, Sahara Foundation Manager, “Born out of the group’s desire to marry scalable impact with commercial viability in the areas of access to energy and sustainable environments, the SIF aims to encourage and support the generation of ideas and developing self- sustaining businesses by leveraging a strong network of committed stakeholders.

“The SIF application was open to Innovators, social enterprises and entrepreneurs in Africa from Ghana, Nigeria, Cote d‘Ivoire, Kenya, Guinea, South Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia who must have been in existence for at least one year and demonstrate sustainability and scalability. After a month-long call for application, 115 applications were received and later shortlisted to 10 through a three-stage assessment process leveraging the expertise of in- house Subject Matter Experts.

“Over the one- year period, the 10 fellows from Cameroon, Rwanda, Nigeria and Malawi were taken through blended capacity building sessions in the form of workshops, webinars, immersion sessions, job shadow programmes, facility tours, cohort meetings and mentoring sessions.

“Specifically, the SIF Fellows took part in 20 Social entrepreneurship workshops, five Social Impact webinar sessions, mentorship sessions, four group coaching calls by SMEs, one-on-one strategy and finance sessions and fire chat sessions. During this period, 10 employee volunteers served as mentors to these social entrepreneurs over a six-month period.”

Graduation

After their one year training, Sahara Foundation graduated the inaugural cohort in a ceremony where outstanding fellows were recognised.

According to Pearl Uzokwe, Director of Governance and Sustainability at Sahara Group, “as we celebrate our outgoing Fellows during this year’s awards and graduation ceremony, we recognise their unorthodox innovations across the continent.

” Amidst the challenging climate in 2020 and gradual recovery in 2021 from the lock- down occasioned by the pandemic, young people across the continent ran their social enterprises and implemented projects with enthusiasm. A SIF fellow said during the graduation ceremony “doing good does you good” and this is absolutely true.

“Today, we celebrate the achievements of our finalists and congratulate them on the wonderful and hopefully transformative experience over the fellowship period in-spite of the pandemic.

“Sahara Group and the Sahara Foundation remains committed to supporting and inspiring innovative ideas /initiatives by creating fit for purpose opportunities in our countries of operation.”

Beyond the graduation, SIF recognised outstanding fellows who had distinguished themselves during the one year period and monetary rewards were dished out depending on the category. While some won as much as 10,000 dollars others won 3,000 dollars. For the winners, it was such a huge pat at the back and all the encouragement they need to do more.

About Sahara Foundation

Working with the motto of “Bringing benevolence to life” Sahara Foundation, is the corporate citizenship vehicle of Sahara Group across the energy conglomerate’s locations in Africa, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

According to Uzokwe, at Sahara, the joy of energising aspirations and bringing energy to life, especially when it involves youths, remain sacrosanct.

Essentially, Sahara Foundation is committed to supporting young people by creating platforms that provide an enabling environment for their development while promoting access to clean and affordable energy in Africa.