There are two ways to solve the biggest problems of the world (like hunger and poverty): top-down and bottom-up.
Governments, foundations, and most investors take the top-down approach. They look at a region like Africa, declare is “undeveloped” and bring to it solutions they’ve seen elsewhere, which may or may not actually solve the problems.
Africa Eats uses a very different approach. A deeply bottom up approach.
All the founders of all the companies in our portfolio are homegrown African entrepreneurs. All but one are working in the country where they grew up. All were selected because they had interesting methods for solving hunger and poverty. Novel business models or other innovations that looked like they could scale up to make a real difference in at least one country, if not a whole region, if not replicated across the whole continent.
No one at Africa Eats said the solution to quality seeds was an investment-centric lay-a-way solution like Agro Supply. The founder figured that out after years of trying to lend money to farmers to pay for their inputs, which is the far more common top-down approached used by the huge foundations.
No one at Africa Eats knew that bees kept elephants off of farms. One amazing Botswanan woman learned about that, learned about hundreds of unused beehives given away by her government, and from those listening created Kalahari Honey.
This same bottom-up approach is how Africa Eats decides which services to create to help its portfolio companies. Solar leasing wasn’t in our business plan when we launched. It instead came from conversations with the entrepreneurs, after many were complaining about unreliable power and a need for backup generators. We did a little digging and discovered solar leases were less expensive while also be much better for the environment.
All of this hopefully sounds obvious. It seems like the only reasonable way to find good, scalable solutions. We certainly think its by far the best way, but as obvious as this all sounds, it’s not the typical path others choose.
As a quick analogy, search for “hippopotamus”. How many of the pictures you see show hippos walking around on land or standing in shallow water? Nearly all when I look. Meanwhile, if your problem is feeding and growing hippos, the solution is under the water. That is where Africa Eats is. Under the water with the hippos, observing the ecosystem and finding ways to get them more food so they can grow more quickly and make more cute baby hippos.