Encouraged by the emergence and early impact of social innovators on the African Continent, but frustrated by the slow pace of large-scale change, Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli, founder of LEAP Africa and serial entrepreneur, share some insights from her new book, ‘Social Innovation in Africa: A practical guide for scaling impact’.
This book is focused on filling the knowledge gap among aspiring and emerging social innovators. It lays out the required building blocks for achieving scale at impact. It also explores the steps for attracting and retaining talent and financing and forming strategic partnerships with the private, public, and non-profit sectors to foster scaling.

During an event organised by AFFORD, in partnership with the Centre of African Studies (CAS) SOAS and moderated by Eunice Baguma Ball, founder of African Technology Business Network (ATBN), Ndidi shares her experience and findings regarding the issues and solutions when scaling social innovation in Africa.

Watch the insightful conversation in three parts:

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My key takeaways from this presentation.

Despite some efforts, many companies are not scaling fast enough in Africa, why?

The challenges for scaling are numerous such as the:

  • Lack of credible data
  • Heterogeneity within and across countries
  • Fragmented ecosystems: How to get the products or services to the farmers?
  • Talent and infrastructure
  • Strategic communication
  • Limited track record
  • Governance mechanisms

The pathway to scale is something every company needs to figure out but can follow some best practices:

  • Build a theory of change by starting with the end in mind. What’s your vision at scale? LEAP Africa started with a global African perspective, not just solving few local issues.
  • Choose the right business model
  • Have strong non-negotiable values
  • Integrity in business goes a long way. You attract people who can trust you
  • Be demand driven. Give to people what they want.
  • Have a board in your company to keep you accountable; when you have an idea, find a board
  • Avoid the play pump scenario, implement easy to use solutions that fit the context
  • Measure impact: real impact that make a difference and the best way is to project the results forward
  • Recruit mission-driven high achievers.
  • Leadership does matter. And you don’t need to have a title to lead
  • Recognise your strengths. Great visionaries don’t necessarily know how to scale. Recognise when the time comes to hand over to someone best placed to move the ship forward
  • Partnership is key to scale: government is a key partner to consider early in your venture and get buy-in. Know the regulatory environment.
  • Get buy-in from other stakeholders and influencers in your venture
  • Think about your opponents or competition too, have a strategy to win them over. Make them your great ambassadors
  • Work and collaborate with others to create a pan African body of knowledge and share the resources rather than dispersing efforts
  • Behavioural change is difficult but finding the right incentive to effect change is possible (listen to how fast Nigerians changed their behaviour during Ebola) but the key is how to sustain that change for the long run
  • Not every company needs to scale. Some initiatives are and should remain a state of the art to inspire other companies to replicate them.
  • A lot of passionate innovators from Europe and the United States are pouring to Africa to work on social innovation, where are the Africans?

Finally, Ndidi sends a strong message to social innovators:

‘We have to work ourselves out of our current jobs in our lifetime.’

Her thought provoking article in Stanford social innovation review, builds further the case for social innovation in Africa and provides additional resources.


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