Before You Begin a Social Venture in Africa...

An open letter to entrepreneurs and startups that want to do social good in Africa

On May 22nd, the esteemed Kenyan writer and activist Binyavanga Wainaina, passed away. In reflecting on some of his work, I've written this short letter for my peers who may have never heard of him.

Dear Young Entrepreneur,

I believe in the unlimited potential that African Nations and Peoples like myself possess. I think it is a good thing that people are interested in and passionate about investing in a better future for Africa. If you are convinced that God has placed a burden on your heart for a people group on the continent you cannot and ought not bludgeon your way into doing your own definition of good in Africa.

There is a well documented and analyzed history of destructive external influence (from the West, East, religious, and everything in-between) that is the context for your economic engagement. Before you being a social venture in Africa and build on whatever dream you have to do good overseas, there are a few things you need to know.

  • Africans have our own voices and opinions (plural, as in we are not a monolith) on aid, charity, and economic growth models.
  • African opinions on these topics have been historically shunned and portrayed as uneducated. Don't believe that lie. Make your self aware of African writers and thinkers in the topics you care about.
  • The places you're going are in need of redemption but not saving. It's important that you do the hard work of establishing a well-read understanding of this difference.
  • Free stuff cripples local businesses that have the capability to produce them. –This isn't a unique phenomenon to Africa. Read what happened to Quidsy.– A free-stuff model is unsustainable in the long run.

Most importantly, I'd like to encourage you to read "How to Write about Africa" by Binyavanga Wainaina which is available here. This satirical essay will hopefully make you more aware of tired tropes and harmful patterns of behavior to avoid. If nothing else, it will definitely acquaint you with some of our dry African humor.

Finally, I encourage you to wrestle with the tension between doing good and doing what is good enough. It may be presently impossible to create impact without any negative externalities in your space. Know that as a maker and an entrepreneur you are responsible for the model you build and the impact it makes. The well-intended consequences can never silence the social, environmental, and political impacts that were not intended.

I pray that as our generation continues our multi-faceted approach to increase human flourishing in the many countries in Africa that we are led with empathy and convicted to right the wrongs that so many who have gone before us have failed to acknowledge.

With Love,

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