By Ajong Mbapndah L
“Our hope is that in 10 years, we will have identified, spotlighted and supported 100 entrepreneur heroes from Africa whose stories will inspire the continent and beyond,” says Zahra Baitie, Partnerships & Program Manager of Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI) at Jack Ma Foundation.
Discussing the ABH Awards with PAV, Zahra says in two years the sum of $2.5 million has been disbursed in grant funds to 20 inspiring African entrepreneur heroes from 11 countries.
With plans underway for additional funds on training, to developing a platform to connect the circa 30000 entrepreneurs who have applied to the program with each other as well as with investors, service providers and mentors, the ABH awards are on course to make a profoundly consequential impact on the development and economic landscape in Africa.
“We hope to spark a movement around entrepreneurship in Africa so that an entire ecosystem of stakeholders work hand in hand to create new opportunities together,” says Zahra Baitie
Thanks for accepting to grant this interview, could you start by introducing Jack Ma Foundation and the Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) Awards for us?
It’s a pleasure – thank you for providing us the opportunity to introduce the Africa’s Business Heroes prize competition. The prize is the Jack Ma Foundation’s flagship program in Africa and was launched in 2018 with the mission to spotlight entrepreneurs from across Africa to showcase their talent and businesses.
Every year, the competition identifies and awards grant funding to 10 entrepreneur heroes. Their stories and pitches are given a global platform in the finale, which is televised as the “Africa’s Business Heroes” Show and distributed across Africa via local and pan-African broadcasters such as StarTimes and DSTV and across the globe via YouTube & Youku. We hope this Show can serve as a learning opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs as they watch our top 10 pitch to legendary business leaders like Strive Masiyiwa and Ibukun Awosika first-hand.
Over the course of 10 years, we will recognize 100 outstanding African entrepreneurs and allocate US$100 million in grant funding, training programs, and support for the broad African entrepreneurial ecosystem. We are committed to give entrepreneurs across Africa a platform to develop their business ideas and inspire others to pursue entrepreneurship.
The ABH is in its second year now, may we know how much has gone out in prize money since its inception?
To date, we have disbursed $2.5 million in grant funds to 20 inspiring African entrepreneur heroes from 11 countries.
In our inaugural year, we awarded $1 million to our Top 10 Heroes. Following the success of our 2019 Grand Finale and ABH Show, we pledged additional funds to the ABH program bringing the total size of our fund to $100 million and increased the yearly prize pool for the Top 10 from $1 million to $1.5 million. Now, the 1st Place Hero wins a $300,000 grant; the 2nd place Hero wins $250,000, the third place Hero wins a $150,000 all other 7 Heroes gain a $100,000 in grant funds.
In addition, we will be investing additional funds on training for entrepreneurs and developing a platform to connect the ~30,000 entrepreneurs who have applied to our program to each other as well as to investors, service providers and mentors. We hope to spark a movement around entrepreneurship in Africa so that an entire ecosystem of stakeholders work hand in hand to create new opportunities together.
Can you walk us through what a typical selection process looks like, Africa has 54 countries, and how is the process carried out in a way that it reaches the length and breadth of the continent in a manner that is equitable?
Our judging process is comprised of 4 stages and is deliberately rigorous to ensure both fairness and quality in our assessment process. Round 1 is an online assessment of the written applications, from which we select our Top 50 finalists. In Round 2, our Top 50 finalists undergo in-depth online video call interviews with our judges who then determine our Top 20 finalists. Our Top 20 finalists subsequently undergo a due diligence process by Pricewaterhouse Coopers before proceeding to our Semi-Finale pitches where they pitch a 7-person panel comprised of industry leaders, investors and renowned entrepreneurs. This panel then identifies our Top 10 Heroes who go on to the Grand Finale.
Importantly, at every stage we work with our network of over 150 judges from across the globe and a range of industries to assess applicants with a scoring rubric, which allows for a standardized assessment process. We also ensure that in the earlier stages of the judging process, we match candidates to judges based on industry alignment and geographical relevance to ensure that local contexts are factored into the assessment process.
May we know the judges who made the final selection for this and are they the same each year or the Foundation appoints different members of the panel?
Our Grand Finale judging panel consists of global business legends who provide our finalists insightful feedback and ask them provoking questions. While the line-up may alternate throughout the years, the panel will always be comprised of renowned business leaders. In our 2020 edition, our Grand Finale judging panel consisted of:
- Strive Masiyiwa – Founder & Chairman of Econet Group
- Madam Ibukun Awosika – Chairwoman of the First Bank of Nigeria Limited & CEO of the Chair Centre group.
- Joe Tsai – Executive Vice Chairman, Alibaba Group
- Lucy Peng – Co-Founder & Partner of Alibaba Group and Executive Chairwoman of Lazada Group
What other follow up is done by the Foundation to support winners of the ABH awards in their entrepreneurial growth?
The ABH journey does not end at the Grand Finale or the moment we hand over the cheques. We work closely with the winners as they continue to grow and find success, and the program continues to run training, education and networking opportunities beyond the finale.
Part of this means hosting regular community check-ins with our finalists to facilitate greater collaboration. As a result of the prize, we’ve already seen our heroes build partnerships and cooperation with each other across different markets. For example, two heroes from 2019, Kevine Kagrimpindu of Uzuri K&Y and Moulaye Taboure of Afrikrea worked together to launch an online store for Uzuri K&Y on Afrikrea, expanding her reach across the globe.
The program also provides learning opportunities via the Alibaba e-founders fellowship course, which several of our Heroes have indicated has been pivotal to their business development. Beyond this, we also look to provide our finalists with a spotlight to ensure their stories are spotlighted and shared with global audiences. Lastly, we also aim to connect our finalists with investors where possible and have already made promising introductions between our finalists and Venture Capital firms. We look to do more of this in the years to come especially as we develop an online platform to bring different stakeholders together.
The second year of the awards coincided as well with the shock of COVID 19, how did this affect the smooth functioning of the ABH?
The COVID-19 pandemic threw us some challenges but also presented novel opportunities to us. It forced us to go fully digital. For example, we had to pivot from a physical roadshow across a few African countries to a completely online launch.
With this online launch we were able to engage with over 4,000 entrepreneurs from across Africa. We also had to transition from an in-person Semi-Finale and Grand Finale to create online experiences that were rich and dynamic. Our Grand Finale connected 13 locations from around the world. We also created in-country studios and leveraged a custom-built platform on DingTalk to ensure that the experience went beyond your regular online event.
What kind of change does the Jack Ma Foundation hope to see in Africa after ten years that the Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI) is designed for?
Our hope is that in 10 years, we will have identified, spotlighted and supported 100 entrepreneur heroes from Africa – heroes whose stories will inspire the continent and beyond. We hope to create a network of changemakers who can inspire the next generation of African entrepreneurs to make a difference in their local communities and are working to solve the most pressing problems, as well as building a more sustainable and inclusive economy for the future. Ultimately, we hope to see these Heroes working together to create pan-African solutions and digital ecosystems that help Africa to chart a new path and circumvent some of the development challenges it faces.
May we know the kind of feedback the Foundation has received and cooperation it is getting from African countries?
We are encouraged to have received widespread support from across Africa. Firstly, we received applications from all 54 African countries. Secondly, we are very grateful to have received support from various heads of state and governments from across Africa from our inception to now including Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Senegal, and the Ivory Coast.
For those who read this interview and hear about the ABH for the first time, how can they try their luck, any information available on the third edition?
We welcome African entrepreneurs from all sectors that have businesses that are at least 3 years old and legally registered to try their luck! As one our Semi-Finale judges said at our 2020 Launch, “fortune favors the bold.”
We want to make sure the prize is as inclusive as possible, and applications will be open in English as well as French to African entrepreneurs regardless of sector, age or gender. Aspiring applicants can visit our website: africabusinessheroes.org and our social media accounts: @africa_heroes (Twitter) & @africabusinessheroes (Instagram, Facebook & LinkedIn) for information and to sign up to receive updates.
We will launch our 2021 applications in March, and we’ll notify all subscribers to our newsletter and our social media accounts once it opens. In the meantime, I encourage all interested applicants to learn about our past Heroes on our website and social media accounts to gain inspiration.