In 2010, the World Bank focused on these countries in our World Development Report on Conflict, Development, and Security. One of the conclusions of that report was that private sector development is a key factor in infrastructure and logistics, local banking, service delivery, and job creation – to show early results as well as longer-term growth.
Access to capital and finance is vital for putting these countries on the path to economic stability. But, of course, most fund managers aren’t ready to provide the risk capital and strategic advice that private equity provides.
That’s why IFC conceived of SME Ventures, an initiative to support local private equity fund managers and raise equity and advisory services funds in low income – and particularly post-conflict – countries. Today, we’re putting private equity to work is some of the most underdeveloped areas of the world.
Take Central Africa – a region rich in minerals, but with a history of fragility and instability. Private equity groups have traditionally focused on larger investments in the extractive industries. Yet it’s small- and medium-sized businesses that create the most jobs in any economy.
So two years ago, IFC committed up to $12.5 million to the Central Africa SME Fund. Managed by XSML, a Dutch SME fund manager, and Cenainvest, its partner based in Cameroon, the fund aims to mobilize a total of$25 million from other development finance institutions and the private sector. With offices and a team on the ground in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic, the fund’s focus is on making investments and providing advisory services to the local business community, to help African entrepreneurs build sustainable businesses that create jobs and income.
The funds’ first investments in the DRC have been in a healthcare clinic, including new medical training for staff; a call center; and a food processing company for baby cereal, where the fund is also helping improve the company’s financial management and developing audited financial statements. In the Central African Republic, the fund is preparing to invest in an internet service provider.
The Central Africa SME Fund is also looking ahead. So, for example, it’s conducting a market study on fresh fruits for a fruit producer in Kinshasa, and helping prepare a business plan and financial projections for a cassava mill run by smallholders.”