SME Challenge Kickoff in Lagos, Nigeria

There is a great opportunity waiting to be seized in Africa. The large number of young professionals in the continent have a huge potential that is waiting to be unlocked. Unfortunately, young entrepreneurs in East and West Africa are often faced with little to no employment opportunities. You can feel the entrepreneurial energy in the air, but starting and growing a business is very difficult in many African countries. That is why, together with the Ford Foundation and the World Economic Forum, HiiL has launched the SME Challenge for East and West Africa.

The SME (Small and Medium Enterprises) Empowerment Innovation Challenge is a new initiative aimed at finding and strengthening innovations that will empower startups and SMEs throughout East and West Africa. More specifically, we are looking for the most promising innovations that address the barriers, regulatory hurdles and bureaucratic red tape faced by youth-led startups in those regions. Many of the obstacles that African ventures face, are related to justice issues. The SME Challenge will therefore not only focus on improving entrepreneurial conditions but also on increasing access to justice.

When we support innovations and ideas that make it easier for businesses to flourish, we structurally improve the business climate in East and West Africa. These initiatives can act as multipliers and make the region more attractive for investors who are waiting for a more stable business environment. Moreover, facilitating the creation of startups will increase the opportunities for meaningful employment for African youth.

In the first week of June, I visited Ghana and Nigeria to officially kick off the SME Challenge. I met with numerous entrepreneurs, incubators and investors throughout the week to build partnerships and lay the foundation of a local Innovating Justice Hub in Lagos. I was truly inspired and humbled by the enormous amount of interest and support and I look forward to working with them during the Challenge.

The winners of the SME Empowerment Innovation Challenge will gain exposure at the regional event in Lagos in October and at the global event in The Hague on 3 and 4 December. Up to $70,000 in seed funding and scale up support can be obtained.

If the results from this Challenge prove to be successful, this model will be extended in the years to come and replicated in other countries around the world. By creating similar Innovating Justice Hubs, we can structurally improve conditions in many growth regions. For more information on how to get involved or how to submit your innovation, click here.

Together we can propel fairness, growth and development!

Written by Wilfried de Wever, Head of HiiL’s Justice Accelerator.