All Across Africa

 A the Basket Center conducting a product quality check

A the Basket Center conducting a product quality check

My job as a funder in the for-profit social impact space is to seek out enterprises that have a combination of a great product or service, a flexible, yet logical business methodology that can function under strenuous conditions often in unforgiving places and the ability to measure results, financial and impact.  All of this is key.  It must be focused on enabling those in greatest need, offering a sustainable pathway to a better quality of life. Not surprisingly, when this occurs it is likely that the talent behind the business is very strong, focused, driven, empathetic, yet ruthlessly self-critical, willing to constantly re-examine what doesn’t work and continuously improve what does.  The confluence of these factors is a joy to discover and this is just the case with the latest addition to the Greater Impact Foundation portfolio, All Across Africa.

All Across Africa is led by Greg Stone and Alicia Wallace, two individuals with different skills but a common vision that combined offers any funder a team that engenders confidence.  Friendly, no nonsense, experienced, open-minded, yet with strong opinions with a grounded business background coupled with an appealing social consciousness.  They do not know, but obviously will now, that when first I met them I could sense a drive after about a ten-minute conversation that compelled me to want to travel and conduct due diligence in Rwanda.  I was not disappointed. 

All Across Africa has all of the ingredients for long term success.  Solid talent, a simple economical business plan that is market connected, metrics that can be trusted and a vision that has the potential to truly expand all across Africa, or at least a good part of it.  It is a rather big continent.  More so, they have some of the highest quality African artisan products I have seen to date.  Originating in Rwanda, they have expanded to Uganda and Ghana and given the uniqueness of the tribal cultures across the continent and the array of indigenous products available the new product pipeline appears limitless.

I only had one full day to assess the business on the ground.  This included meeting a women’s artisan co-op, observing how the raw material, sisal, (agave sisalana) that feeds their current line is sourced and talking with the women about the impact working with All Across Africa has had on their lives.  

This is a rough roadside video and an introduction to a co-op of weavers working for All Across Africa, a social enterprise connecting weavers and their beautiful baskets to western markets

I then visited the “Basket Center,” a central hub where the sundry co-ops gather twice each week to bring the sisal for dyeing, drop off completed product to be shipped and pick up the patterns and quantities for the next products to be woven. Then, finally before departing for my return flight to Nairobi, I visited an artisan in her home to learn and see the impact All Across Africa has had on her life.

In between, travelling from one location to the next, the most important, least obvious, due diligence occurs.  In close quarters when the conversation is more intimate, when one question or comment leads to another subject, when personal character, sublime, curious, thoughtful, open and unvarnished emerges does the true nature of the leadership unfolds before you.  It is not uncommon to be on a long ride, sometimes on difficult roads in heavy traffic with little creature comforts that someone turns to me and says, “We’re here.”  I have no idea how long it has been.  Sometimes I have forgotten that when I set out it was hot and uncomfortable.  Often, I regret not paying more attention to the scenery (though I am getting better), only to realize that I have been deep in conversation that informs me in a way that no other part of the due diligence can.

Check out All Across Africa online www.allacrossafrica.org The story is great.  So is the product