Benin is - next to Uganda, Rwanda and Senegal - the fourth target country for OVO. Why Benin?
Freddy: "It meets the applied conditions at OVO: a relatively good governance of the country, the presence of partners (in this case the NGOs Louvain Cooperation, Join for Water and Via Don Bosco) and organizations like Enabel (the Belgian Development Agency). What also helps are good connections with local partners who support budding entrepreneurs."
"It makes not much sense to think of Africa as a single region: each country requires a different approach."
How valuable is OVO's experience in other countries to the initiatives in Benin?
Freddy: "Experience in other African countries is an advantage, but also no more than that. It makes little sense to look at Africa as a fairly similar area. Each country has a specific framework - especially in Africa - and thus requires its own approach."
Recycling mixed with eagerness to learn
Twelve companies attended the boost camp. What stands out?
Freddy: "It's striking that in Benin there is a lot of attention for recycling and sustainability. Especially in the agricultural sector. Many of the projects presented were based on this. At the same time, it is no surprise: while African countries are not responsible for the he world-wide problem of global warming, they are the biggest victims of it."
"In addition, all participants were incredibly motivated, transparent, entrepreneurial and eager to learn. The NGOs and Enabel are doing an excellent job there, although we notice the need for high levels of support in terms of entrepreneurship, coaching and funding."
"Each team is assigned a Belgian and a local coach who will complement and mutually reinforce each other."
Each team was assigned two coaches, one from Belgium and a local coach from Benin. Why this choice?
Freddy: "The local coaches know the local market and are fully aware of the local procedures and approach. The Belgian coaches are experienced in the field of business and financial planning. In addition, they coached African entrepreneurs before and know the OVO criteria inside out. Both coaches complement each other."
"But the projects are also supported by other people during the boost camp. Two professors from the Brussels ICHEC gave an intro in Master of Business Administration, the people from the NGOs and Enabel are on site, representatives of local banks and possible local financiers come to meet them. So the framework is quite impressive."
Financing is not a must
Online one-on-one coaching will follow for the next six months. How does that work?
Freddy: "In the coming months we will coach and screen the projects. We try to finalize the evaluation and possible funding of the projects after six months, but it is not a hard deadline."
A project does not necessarily have to end in financing. Maybe a business doesn't need a loan at all."
How is a company's investment readiness assessed? What are the criteria?
Freddy: "The assessment is made objectively, based on the case file. The business and financial plan must prove that the entrepreneur can repay the loan. We also test the social impact against the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. And the coaches draw up a report, which they discuss with the OVO country coordinator. Only if that assessment is positive the project will be presented to OVO's investment committee."
"But a project doesn't necessarily end in funding. Perhaps the coaching shows that - provided a different approach - there is no need for a loan. Or that a project is too premature. Even in those cases, the whole process of pre-selection, boost camp and several months of coaching is of incredible value."
Will this be followed up in Benin?
Freddy: " Yes absolutely. The OVO country coordinator and our local representative will remain in contact with the various approved projects in the coming months and years. In addition, they remain on the lookout for new projects. Finally, a Benin OVO Business Club is being established. So in the future, local OVO events will definitely take place in Benin."
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