An interview with entrepreneur Frieda Nwokolo, co-founder and manager of…
Amma Gyampo is an entrepreneur and advisor to organisations, investors and SMEs in the areas of African entrepreneurship, tech, sustainable development, tourism and diaspora business engagement.
Based in Accra, she is founder of AmDeCo and Investor Relations Director at Lady Angel Network (LAN), a group of professional women in Africa seeking to invest and support other women in business.
She currently advises tech firms including Complete Farmer, a company focused on diaspora crowd-funding investment in agriculture and II-Gh – a National taskforce which promotes the achievement of the UN’s Global Goals and mobilises impact investment for Ghana’s socio-economic and environmental development.
She also serves as Entrepreneurship & Diaspora Ecosystem Director at The DANN Residence, which has become one of Accra’s popular spaces for topical conversations surrounding women, investment and doing business in Africa.
In March 2017, Amma spoke to AB2020 about how high-yielding investment in Africa needs a technical skill focus. Since this conversation, the tech ecosystem in Ghana and West Africa has exploded with an innovation hubs in every major region in Ghana. All or most of them conduct digital skills training programs that are ably supported by the government, NGOs and the private sector.
Here, she shares her thoughts on Accra ecosystem’s as an investor, and what she believes is important for youth in entrepreneurship right now.
Since your last interview with AB2020, what do you think of the explosion of availability of tech skills in Ghana?
Young Africans are creative and vibrant; they don’t necessarily want jobs, they want ‘gigs’ and the flexibility to enjoy their lives while making a living. The explosion of Tech Skills programmes, especially for women, like iSpace’s Unlocking Women and Technology (UWAT) and Ghana Innovation Hub’s fLab is encouraging, however, the digital divide remains a reality we need to address with a sense of urgency in order to reach more people.
We’ve seen big tech firms like CSquared and Ghana’s Ministry of Communications making significant long-term investment in digital infrastructure and connectivity, but we still need more district-level resource allocation and a re-assessment of how we optimise existing infrastructure. For example, it would be great to see local digital skills centres outside of the urban cities to give more young people access to supplementary soft education in problem-solving, critical thinking skills etc, sign-posting the broader mass of youth towards digital training resources and equipping them to carve out socio-economic prospects for themselves. Sanitation, recycling, education, healthcare, and agriculture are all ripe for the creative input of Africa’s youth to create their own sustainable economies.
As an early stage investor, what is your view on the tech and Agritech sectors’ performance?
These guys have consistently demonstrated a deep understanding of their customers and taken a value chain approach towards the development of their solutions. Naturally, there are overlaps in certain aspects of their service provision so there is room for closer collaboration to take advantage of their respective competitive advantages.
In terms of the potential of mechanization and innovation in agriculture, it’s not surprising that local agritech firms remain limited by policy and market bottlenecks; taxation policy to expedite the acquisition of capital items such as irrigation systems, lack of inventive local credit structures and taxation models. Government has so far failed to broadly deploy technology that could provide value for money and further growth opportunities for home-grown agritech. E.g. drone sprayers could have tackled the fall army worm invasion in a more effective manner than some of the ways actually implemented. These are all areas to be revised to enable the local agritech segment to really take off and scale.
In terms of Ghana and Africa broadly, what’s happening in the SME/entrepreneurship ecosystem to ensure SDGs are achieved and increased levels of impact investments are attracted?
Ghana, Kenya and South Africa have been identified by the Global Steering Group (GSG) on Impact Investing as key gateways on the continent for this emerging field to solve socio-economic and environmental issues at scale. We’re working on several things to achieve the SDGs including the National Impact Investment Taskforce in Ghana which is set to launch with its independent National Advisory Board (NAB) on Impact Investing this summer. The Taskforce is made up of investors, philanthropists, private sector business and social enterprise development professionals, policy makers, and Ghana’s entrepreneurship and investment ecosystem. Its role is to engage key stakeholder groups at home and abroad to create a representative impact investing community for the sustainable socio-economic development of the country and sub-region.
Anything worthwhile takes time, and against a backdrop of frustration is a sense that this is the right time. It’s humbling and very exciting to be part of a practitioner-driven working group that cares deeply about the long-term success of Impact Investing and achievement of the UN’s SDG agenda in Ghana. We just want to get the job done.
According to VC4Africa, Africa’s 50 most funded tech startups raised a total combined $618million in 2018. Is this Africa’s time for expansive growth?
Africa is on the map, no doubt about it. The controversy around Jumia has only boosted Africa’s visibility on the global start-up scene. We see more activity in the Impact, Angel and Gender Lens investing space, all of which are gaining more traction. There are still challenges, however, with capacity building on the ground for entrepreneurs, ecosystem support practitioners, fund managers and would-be local investors; coupled with the ever-present lack of policy to boost innovation in areas like taxation and investment law, all of these factors leaves the brightest and best African tech start-up with little option but to rely on international investment and incorporation in places like Delaware.
Fact remains that we’ve still got a lot to do to bring more local African investors to the tech and entrepreneurial ecosystem table to invest in African tech, explore and understand the potential of tech, the fact that the future is an immense opportunity to make money, make an impact and leave a legacy.
What are your thoughts and plans on engaging the diaspora in the SME and investment scene in Ghana?
There is so much buzz around the Year of Return, and the Full Circle Festival where so many African-American celebs came to Ghana back in December. You can’t buy the level of publicity Ghana enjoyed from Boris Kudjoe, Bozoma Saint-John etc visiting and telling the world about their experiences on the Motherland.
On the business and investment promotion side, networks like AmDeCo, Impact Investing Gh, Lady Angel Network, reThinkDiaspora Africa Business Network help facilitate and promote conveniently packaged business concepts for the diaspora.
Having worked over the years to promote entrepreneurship opportunities to Africans in the diaspora, what they lack most is some form of investment formula and transparency, so we evangelize about start-ups that provide an answer to this challenge such as Complete Farmer, an ideal platform for those with the interest and desire to invest in and make an impact in African agriculture; it’s transparent and provides the formula that Africans in the diaspora as an investor-class want to see. Part of my job is to expose more of such opportunities to the diaspora through events, workshops, business matching, philanthropy and professional business networks.
There is a significant segment of diaspora professionals that wish to invest in Africa, but need more structure. We’re pleased to be able to engage with them in a way that provides tangible resources; a safe space to explore, visit, invest and do business in a manner that minimises their exposure to risk and unnecessary costs. We speak their language and understand how best to structure and serve that community.