Innovating to overcome poverty
in Africa through enterprise
by Toyin Adeniji and Uzoma Nwagba
A new approach to unlock productivity and stem poverty has impacted over four million micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in Nigeria—in just five years. It is powered by smart technology, entrepreneurial flair, and local talent, and could reach 25 million enterprises in Africa by 2025. This is the story of the Growth Platform.
This report presents the Growth Platform’s bold thinking, and brings to life its seven programs—including its flagship, the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP). It shows how the Growth Platform has rapidly built scale: today, it has a program portfolio of $472 million, housed at Nigeria’s Bank of Industry.
The report also explains the technology-enabled operation—incorporating biometrics, an equipped field-agent network, financial services, and a youthful team—that has made these achievements possible. And it spotlights the Growth Platform’s revolutionary future potential as it looks ahead to expand its model of aid for productivity across Africa.
NEW THINKING TO
The Growth Platform is a fundamental shift from aid for survival to aid for productivity.
The goal of the Growth Platform is to provide small tranches of capital and capacity to millions of enterprises (traders, service providers, artisans, farmers), enabling them to raise their productivity, boost their incomes, strengthen the sustainability of their businesses, and contribute to job creation and economic development. From the start, the focus of the Growth Platform was a fundamental shift from aid for survival to aid for productivity.
Aid for productivity is in striking contrast to traditional models of aid for survival: instead of small, frequent handouts quickly consumed by daily subsistence needs, aid for productivity invests relatively large amounts in productive individuals and their small-scale enterprises, bolstering employment.
This produces a greatly enhanced multiplier effect, with beneficial impact on business returns, household incomes, and household consumption.
AID FOR SURVIVAL
AID FOR PRODUCTIVITY
AID FOR SURVIVAL
AID FOR PRODUCTIVITY
Subsistent individuals and households Productive individuals and communities, even if vulnerable
Consumption Enterprise (usually starting off as a microenterprise)
No direct employment of labor Requires direct employment or retention of labor
Small amounts with frequent instalments to fund daily needs Relatively larger amounts (in short term) with little or no need for replenishment
(the extra 20% from impact of household consumption on local businesses)
(the extra 150% coming from returns on enterprise, impact
on household incomes from direct labor employment, and impact on household consumption)
PROVING THE CONCEPT across
TWO MILLION MSMES
The Growth Platform developed a powerful, technology-enabled operation incorporating biometrics, web access, a field network of 22,000 agents for mobile data capture, and integration with financial services.
The flagship program of the Growth Platform, the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP), was launched in 2016 empowering Nigerian enterprises through microfinance. To properly profile, document, digitize, and serve its beneficiaries, the Growth Platform developed a powerful, technology-enabled infrastructure incorporating biometrics, a field-agent network for mobile data capture, and integration with financial services.
With an impact on over 2.4 million beneficiaries over five years, GEEP was a first case study of what can happen when the focus of aid shifts away from survival and towards productivity. The program today has drawn on the talent of 22,000 agents— “human banks”— who are able to reach informal enterprises in the remotest corners of the country. GEEP is now Africa’s largest fully digitized micro-credit scheme, providing the access to capital that many artisans, farmers, and petty traders in Nigeria need. Of the programme’s beneficiaries, 56 percent are women, and 57 percent below 35 years old.
Tomiwa is a rice and vegetable farmer in Ogun State, Nigeria. Tomiwa’s cooperative took out a loan from GEEP, which helped them to install an irrigation system for farming during the dry season.
GEEP’s IMPACT THUS FAR
total amount distributed to beneficiaries
of loans disbursed to women
Agents (human banks) employed nationwide
new bank accounts
active mobile wallets provided
have active distributions
The Growth Platform has become an engine driving and supporting multiple programs and elevating enterprises.
The infrastructure of the Growth Platform has evolved into an innovative and homegrown system that supports Africa’s transition to digitisation of enterprises, and data- and technology-driven approaches to large-scale social interventions. Its robust operation would play a vital role in transforming other organizations, driving an array of new programs with beneficiaries including much larger enterprises, and multiplying its positive impacts. The Growth Platform infrastructure has also been leveraged to enable government and social-sector agencies to respond nimbly to disasters that affect businesses: the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a vivid demonstration of this. These insights have prompted several fruitful partnerships. The Growth Platform’s portfolio now includes seven beneficiary-directed programs.
THE GROWTH PLATFORM’S PROGRAMS SO FAR
Hover over each program to learn more
Jimoh is a business-center owner in Osun State. He provides his community with access to computers, graphic design, photocopying, lamination and spiral binding. With the help of a loan he received from GEEP, he was able to grow his business by buying more equipment.
DRIVING YOUTH EMPLOYMENT AND
“People aged 18 – 35 make up 57% of beneficiaries — and 75% of agents (human banks).”
The Growth Platform has become more than just a tool for interventions to enterprises; it is also a competitive employment forum for young talent. Of its 22,000 human banks, 75 percent are under the age of 35, and more than half have university degrees.
The Growth Platform has also been a powerful generator of opportunities for young entrepreneurs. To date, people aged 18–35 make up 57 percent of beneficiaries across its programmes. Young people are also prominent among those trained and assisted beyond provision of capital. Its model appeals to young, active or aspirant business owners, and speaks to their needs.
Jennifer joined as a Growth Platform call-center agent and “human bank” in 2019—work that gives her opportunities for skills development and professional growth. Having battled to make a stable income before she joined the Growth Platform, Jennifer can relate to the struggles of many Nigerian MSMEs.
Over 1 million women-led enterprises supported — and over 300,000 helped to open bank accounts or mobile wallets for the first time.
Although women lead an estimated 60 percent of enterprises in countries such as Nigeria, they are more likely than men to be unbanked. They are also less likely to receive credit from a formal institution—despite women being statistically more likely than men to make regular loan repayments, invest in the long-term success of their businesses, and create social impact from the finance they receive. The Growth Platform has approached the problem of women’s financial exclusion head on—and today the majority of its beneficiaries are female. Through GEEP alone, it has formalized and disbursed capital to over one million women-led enterprises and helped over 300,000 of them open bank accounts for the first time. Other programs have had similarly significant impact on women empowerment—not least the National Women Empowerment Fund, a credit extension program targeting women-owned micro-enterprises.
Suwaiba is the chairperson of a women’s rice-processing group. Thanks to a loan from GEEP that allowed the group to invest for growth, its members are now generating weekly profits up to ten times greater than before. They have been able to scale their enterprises while paying back their loans, and have even extended support to other entrepreneurial women in their communities.
RISING TO THE CHALLENGE
Partnering with the World Bank to deliver $158 million in capacity building and grants to 650,000 enterprises affected by COVID-19. Similar impact via Nigeria’s MSME Survival Fund.
COVID-19 has been as much an economic pandemic as it is a health crisis. Nobody has felt this system shock more than enterprises, which have faced supply chain disruptions and decreased demand as households face budgetary constraints. Drawing on its existing database and its infrastructure that enables continuous access and communication with MSMEs, the Growth Platform has been able to respond to the health crisis in creative ways. As part of Nigeria’s Economic Sustainability Plan, the country launched the MSME Survival Fund—a $187 million fund to support enterprises through payroll support, artisan and transport-worker support, and offtake schemes. The Fund makes use of the Growth Platform’s infrastructure—including its human-bank network and e-wallet systems—from enumeration to verification to disbursement and tracking.
The Growth Platform has also partnered with the World Bank to manage and deliver a key component of the Nigeria COVID-19 Recovery and Economic Stimulus (NG-CARES) program – namely, a $158 million fund dedicated to loan subsidies, operations grants, and tech-support grants for 650,000 vulnerable MSMEs. The Growth Platform has also driven polls and phone deep-dives across its enterprise database, supporting global partner decision-making on vaccine access in Nigeria.
Abraham is a tailor whose business lost many customers, and much of its income, when COVID-19 struck. With a grant from the Survival Fund on Facebook, he was able to buy material, pay his rent, and make clothing samples so that he could show them to new and potential customers.
A PRODUCTIVITY REVOLUTION TO
ROLL BACK POVERTY IN AFRICA
25 million beneficiaries across in Africa by 2025. An ambitious journey, but one that is possible through partnerships.
The innovations of the Growth Platform have set the stage for large-scale poverty solutions across Africa. Its model has proved effective, robust, and scalable. If the growth rate in beneficiary onboarding is maintained, an expanded set of partners could reach 25 million beneficiaries in African countries by 2025. This, in turn, would elevate several enterprises and create meaningful careers for tens of thousands of additional young entrepreneurs. Such an audacious goal demands a broad coalition of forward-looking governments, development institutions, innovators, financial services players, and talented individuals. With the momentum and insights gathered over the past five years, the Growth Platform is ready to scale up—and eager to use its expertise and resources to support new partners in replicating its success. From a wealth of accumulated field experience, data, and insights, the Growth Platform has distilled a set of five tried-and-tested principles to guide the future evolution of the platform. Join us.
FIVE PROVEN PRINCIPLES FOR IMPACT AT SCALE
The Growth Platform’s successes and experiences have laid the groundwork for new era of growth. All the elements are in place: from firm principles for success to established human and technological infrastructure, to robust sustainability mechanisms. We now invite parnters to join us on this journey of productivity, supporting enterprises and changing lives across Africa and beyond.
CONTACT THE GROWTH PLATFORM TEAM TO JOIN OUR MOVEMENT OF ACCESSIBLE AND EFFECTIVE SOLUTIONS FOR LARGE-SCALE BUSINESS INTERVENTIONS IN AFRICA.