March 11

Kyle Poplin / James Militzer / Scott Anderson

Weekly Roundup: Obama Chases Bush’s Africa Legacy, Kenya’s Diaspora Leadership and Gray Ghost’s $60M Fund


Who did more during their time as U.S president to improve the plight of poor people in Africa, Barack Obama or George W. Bush?

It’s a question that’s being asked frequently these days, as Obama’s time in office nears an end and his legacy begs defining. And the answer, time and again, is Bush.

It’s incongruous to many that the son of a Kenyan is widely perceived to have done less to help Africa than a predecessor best known for putting the U.S. in a bad war and a bad light in so many other places around the globe.

The reasons are summed up nicely by K.Y. Amoako in “The Wilson Quarterly”:

“Under Bush, U.S. aid for development to sub-Saharan Africa increased by more than 640 percent. At the same time, Bush helped secure an international agreement to provide 100 percent debt relief to the world’s poorest countries, most of which are in Africa. The Bush White House launched a series of landmark African achievements, including massive initiatives to combat HIV/AIDS (PEPFAR) and malaria. And Bush’s signature Millennium Challenge Corporation, a compact between the U.S. and developing countries that reach minimum governance thresholds, has been a boon for Africa, contributing approximately $6.5 billion for 25 development programs across 19 countries.”

By comparison, writes Hassen Hussein of “Al Jazeera,”:

“Obama’s two main pet projects, Power Africa, a partnership with African governments that aims to double access to power in sub-Saharan Africa, and the Young African Leaders Initiative, which aims to strengthen U.S.-Africa partnerships by investing in ‘the next generation of entrepreneurs, educators, activists and innovators’, don’t measure up to his predecessors’ bold initiatives.”

Some have tried to explain why Obama hasn’t been more focused on Africa. As Edward-Isaac Dovere writes in “Politico,” the first black U.S. president “needed to avoid looking like he was putting his thumb on the scale for Africa.” Guy Scott, a former vice president of Zambia, told Dovere, “The minute he does anything for an African country that he wouldn’t do for a Pacific or Caribbean country, people are going to start shouting.”

But it’s been about more than politics and perceptions. Bush’s African policies tended to focus on emergency solutions – at a time when emergency solutions were badly needed – and the results have been largely obvious, measurable and, therefore, recognized. Obama’s policies are more aspirational and have generated relatively few headlines. But, at the very least, he has shown great faith in Africa, particularly with regard to its entrepreneurial and commercial future.

Doubling access to power in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, will require collaborations and partnerships across numerous public and private African organizations, involving a variety of technology and infrastructure upgrades. While there’s still debate about whether the power goal can be reached, there’s little doubt Obama has confidence that African institutions can ultimately make it happen. The world impatiently waits to see if that faith pays off.

Meanwhile, there are signs that Obama himself is growing impatient about his legacy in Africa, specifically as it pertains to health care. In his most recent – and final – State of the Union address, he said he’d ask Congress for money to help end malaria. And now he’s done just that, seeking an extra $200 million to bring the President’s Malaria Initiative to $874 million for the 2017 fiscal year.

According to Devex, that’s enough to “open programs in three new countries in West Africa – Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Cameroon – and expand its Burkina Faso program to the entire country; ‘accelerate elimination efforts’ in Cambodia and Zambia; procure 13.7 million insecticide treated bed nets; and ‘accelerate research, development and evaluation of new malaria tools focused on better diagnostics, vector control and medicines.’”

Of course, Obama’s motivation in doubling down on malaria can be viewed through a political prism. He and his backers say he stepped up the fight against the world’s oldest and deadliest disease, which is both preventable and curable, because he’s a leader. (He even used his Twitter feed – where he’s posted less than 250 times – to state the case.) Cynics, on the other hand, might say his push reflects sensitivity to criticism of the long game he’s been playing in Africa, and he’s trying to pad his legacy in the shorter term.

At the end of the day, it wouldn’t matter even if the cynics are correct: Imagine the impact it would have if all global leaders decided improving health care among the world’s poor was the best way to cement a positive permanent legacy.


– Kyle Poplin


Photo courtesy of @POTUS



Kenya’s Diaspora Community Takes the Lead on Financial Inclusion

Diaspora-focused banking is a growing trend, particularly in Africa, with major banks in a number of countries offering services geared toward customers working or studying abroad. The concept makes sense: International migrants are predicted to send $601 billion to their families in their home countries in 2016, with $441 billion of that going to the developing world. That’s an attractive market for banks that serve migrants’ unique needs, starting with remittances but including everything from local bill payment to savings and investment opportunities. These products are enabled by the growing ubiquity of mobile finance – especially in Africa, where online and mobile platforms make it easy for people to send money to their relatives, pay bills on their local property, and even apply for a mortgage from abroad.

This week, a Kenyan bank took that formula to a new level, as Choice Microfinance Bank, a bank started by Kenyans living in America, opened its first local branch in Ongata Rongai. Licensed by Kenya’s Central Bank just under a year ago, the bank plans to spend Sh60 million (USD $591,615) to open new branches in Kitengela and Ngong, and to grow its loan book to over Sh160 million (USD $1,577,640) annually. While most diaspora-oriented services are offered by traditional local banks, Choice bills itself as one of the first exclusively diaspora-driven initiatives in Kenya’s financial services sector – a distinction it says will make it more responsive to these customers’ unique needs. “As the diaspora community, we have been experiencing a myriad of challenges doing our own investments in Kenya due to lack of support from the banking industry,” said its chairman Ben Kamiri in a recent Daily Nation article. “We want to boost financial inclusion among informal groups alongside enabling Kenyans in the diaspora to invest their money prudently.”

According to Kamiri, diaspora shareholders have provided Choice with up to Sh200 million (about USD $1,972,000) in deposits for lending. The bank reportedly aims to expand access to capital to micro and small businesses, and to focus on the unbanked population. If it’s able to tap into the average Sh13.2 billion (USD $13,015,530) that Kenyans working abroad send home each month, its prospects could be bright. If so, it will be interesting to see if other diaspora communities follow its example, taking efforts to improve financial services in their home countries into their own hands.

– James Militzer

Gray Ghost Raising $60M Fund for Mobile Ventures

Gray Ghost Ventures is fundraising for its third fund, which is valued at $60 million – easily its largest – with a focus on education and health-related social enterprises, in addition to its bread and butter financial technology sector investments.

Mobile platforms to deliver services to low-income people will be the thread that ties all the would-be investments together. President and CEO Arun Gore told Hindu BusinessLine that the impact venture capital firm will seek out larger enterprises to place larger investments than in the past, up to $6 million per company. From the article:

The first fund, as Gore puts it, was more of investing from the heart. It was purely social in nature and the fund invested in “whatever felt good.” There was enough proof that these companies were growing and Gray Ghost decided to scale up its investment. “Our ownership interest went up. We started investing in larger enterprises. Our focus changed. We call ourselves a performance-driven impact investment firm,” says Gore.

The Atlanta-based fund mainly invests in companies in India and sub-Saharan Africa. Companies in its portfolio have been sold to Experian, Telenor Group and Blackberry, which purchased mobile financial services firm Movirtu.

– Scott Anderson


NextBillion Past, Present, Future on Tony Loyd’s Podcast

NextBillion Managing Editor Scott Anderson appeared on the Social Entrepreneur Podcast, hosted by Tony Loyd, this week. In a wide-ranging interview, the two discussed NB’s origin story, our mission as we celebrate 10 years online and what we see as the dominating trends that will guide social enterprise in the next decade. Listen to the podcast and check out Loyd’s many other interviews while you’re there.


In Case You missed it … this week on nextbillion


NexThought Monday: Why Digital Wallets Stay Empty – and Six Ways Providers Can Help

Turning Global Targets into Action

Powering Up International Women’s Day – The Skilled Girl Effect

Evaluation that Creates Value for Participants: A Client-Centric Approach

Big Data isn’t Enough: We Need an ‘All of the Above’ Strategy to Drive Innovation in Financial Inclusion

From Planning to Execution: Using Value Chain Approach to Lending to Smallholder Farmers and Agribusiness

Mapping the Path to Full Financial Inclusion


Health Care
financial inclusion, microfinance, remittances