The just concluded Global Entrepreneurship Summit was a high-octane event, and one that will propel the economy to higher levels, if well followed through.
Post the event, we take time to reflect and re-strategise with amended plans or chart new paths altogether. Clearly everyone had a take home, whether or not they are aspiring entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs, or even public and private sector employees and public office holders. Whether young or old, there were numerous lessons to be learnt.
The participation of US President Barack Obama and his commitment to GES 2015 made it clear to the global audience that America had arrived in Kenya, and good change is inevitable going forward.
Spearheaded by the highest level of government, the GES 2015 shone the spotlight on the extraordinary potential of entrepreneurs committed to creating Kenyan-based solutions to the country's challenges, and by extension African solutions for Africa’s problems.
Regardless, we keep in mind the presence of the president of the world superpower was to protect the interests of America first and foremost. Secondly, to build a lasting legacy for the Obama administration even as its term comes to an end in the next 18 months. In any case it would be good history to highlight the impact the first Kenyan-American and African-American for that matter, had on his father’s homeland and on the continent.
What happens going forward, whether or not the dream of a prosperous economy will be achieved, depends largely on the ability to capitalise on the doors, both for ideas and resources, that were unlocked. The country is better seized of its interests, and the responsibility to protect those interests is within its mandate. It is up-to us as a country to decide what path we take, an issue that was emphasised by President Obama throughout his visit.
The target of $1 billion in new private investment over the next three years that was set last year during the GES 2014 in Morocco for entrepreneurship worldwide is already exceeded. In addition to the US government, major commitments have been received from banks, foundations, philanthropists, half of which are reserved for youth and women.
The momentum set by both the US government and the private sector participants is transformative if not revolutionary. To highlight a few:
The Overseas Private Investment Corporation committed $350 million in direct funding in partnership with Equity Bank Group, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women, the International Finance Corporation’s Women Entrepreneurs Opportunity Portfolio and Portfolio Impact.
Portfolio Impact will target budding companies, with priority for those that are focused on expanding to sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, USAD committed $25 million towards Deutsch Bank’s newly launched $50 million Essential Capital Consortium Fund.
Even more innovative is the launch of Africa-focused Global Innovation through Science and Technology Initiative by the Department of State. This is an initiative that will train, mentor and connect more than 10,000 young African science and technology entrepreneurs in the next one year.
Private sector companies around the world committed to train, mentor and partner with over 1 million entrepreneurs to be supported with $700 million capital funding. Key drivers of the private sector initiatives include Chase Bank, Village Capital, Coca-cola African Foundation and Mara Foundation. The Global Entrepreneurship Network is launching GEN Kenya to support entrepreneurs and the development of a local ecosystem.
The potential is enormous but the success of these initiatives will depend on many factors. The ease of doing business will determine whether aspiring entrepreneurs will be able to take that first step or not. It will also determine whether start-ups will survive beyond the two-year mortality rate and also whether small enterprises will grow into medium enterprises that can create formal and stable employment.
Regulations need to be business friendly. Research has shown that business friendly regulation is integral to economic growth and development. Where regulation is streamlined and judicious, it unleashes innovation, promotes the creation of jobs in addition to attracting foreign direct investment.
The ease of starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, getting credit, protecting minority investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency particularly for domestic small and medium enterprises will need continuous evaluation and improvement.
As a matter of fact, in the digital age, many of these areas can be automated to avoid the costly and labourious task of visits to government offices and queuing for long periods. Besides, bureaucratic processes promote corruption, which many private sector players consider as facilitation fees or as cost of efficiency.
The Doing Business 2015 report ranks Kenya at position 136 out of 189 economies. To give a perspective, South Africa ranks 43, Ghana 70 and Egypt 111. While progress has been made with e-government and iTax leading the way, more can be done.
The ease of doing business may be the Achilles heel that will determine the extent to which the gains of GES 2015 can be translated into jobs, economic growth and shared prosperity.
As one member of President Obama’s Cabinet, Maria Contreras-Sweet-Administrator, US Small Business Administration put it, “This high-tech oasis in the desert is no mirage. In Kenya, the time is now."