Social businesses across Scotland are being invited to take part in an “exciting and forward-looking” export programme that enables impact enterprises to expand into African markets.

The Access Africa Programme (AAP) has already undergone a successful pilot of 16 Scottish enterprises, with several social businesses now on the verge of significant export breakthroughs.  Delivered by the Edinburgh-based development agency Challenges, the scheme is funded by the Scottish Government and aims to support social businesses overcome many of the barriers to export.

Alex Baker, Challenges Director, said: “AAP is a ground-breaking initiative that is literally opening doors for Scottish businesses, and is now being rolled out thanks to funding from the Scottish Government. This programme aims to help social enterprises address various barriers to export, from the sheer costs of launching export operations to accessing accurate market data and prototyping, as well as negotiating local legislation and trading laws. We’ve even supported an organisation to incorporate its own trading company, open its own offices and recruit staff.”

Ms. Baker said the original pilot of six Scottish enterprises in January 2018 had been expanded to include a further 10 organisations across 2018 and 2019. Thanks to the pilot’s ongoing success, the new tranche of government funding means more social businesses will be able to explore commercial opportunities in Africa. The AAP is Europe’s first example of a government supporting social enterprises to find an application in Africa, added Ms Baker.

Development experts say that between now and 2030, the majority of global economic growth will come from the global south, including those in sub-Saharan Africa, although some of these countries continue to face considerable barriers to growth, such as skill shortages and poor access to electricity and other infrastructures.

 

Clean Water Wave and their low-cost water filtration system

 

The AAP seeks to address some of these complex issues, said Ms Baker, adding: “The AAP is a programme to support social enterprises in Scotland that have the scope and ambition to make a positive impact overseas as well as in Scotland. “The level of support we offer becomes quite bespoke as the relationship and business needs develop.

For example, with Clean Water Wave, an Edinburgh-based engineering firm that has a low-cost, low-power water filtration system, we’re in negotiations with various water boards to try to get their system installed in sites across East Africa. This has potentially massive implications. “At the more consumer-facing side of things, we’re sourcing manufacturing and distribution partners for Lilypads to take its sustainable and reusable sanitary products to African countries, where none such product exists.

 

Lilypads’ sustainable and reusable sanitary products

 

“Another example is the tech start-up, Giraffe Healthcare, which has designed a digital platform where their medical practitioners can provide physiotherapy care to patients in remote or isolated communities. We’re performing market research for Giraffe Healthcare to gauge demand for their software solution, and how best to then drive the product.”

 

Giraffe Healthcare offers digital physiotherapy to remote communities

 

The AAP, said Ms Baker, is a two-month package of support that includes the appointment of a dedicated Challenges’ associate in the organisation’s chosen market who will conduct market research and/or business development support on the applicant’s behalf. Co-ordinated from Challenges’ Edinburgh office, the bulk of the work is undertaken by Challenges’ on-the-ground teams in their offices in Ghana, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia.

“Because we have an extended network of Challenges associates we can also access key people within multiple business networks. It’s these face-to face meetings and relationship building that give unrivalled value to the organisations in the AAP.”

“It’s not about going in to direct competition with locals, as often happens with some of the larger aid programmes; this is about forming local partnerships, creating skilled jobs, and addressing a social need, whether that’s period poverty, access to healthcare professionals or simply clean water.”

Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell said: “The Scottish Government is committed to internationalisation and growing Scotland’s exports across all sectors. Our social enterprises have the potential to create inclusive growth and tackle social and environmental issues both here in Scotland and around the world.

“I’m delighted that we are the first European government to directly support social enterprises to export to this part of the world. This is an exciting and forward-looking initiative that will encourage Scottish social entrepreneurs to work collaboratively to expand their businesses internationally, while also addressing a range of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”


The Challenges Group is an organization that has 20 years’ experience in offering onsite organisational development and management improvement support to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) across developing markets. Challenges has its headquarters in Edinburgh and offices in Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia.

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