“We highlight African entrepreneurs who can show the way for others”
I joined Orange as the head of social projects at the heart of the Group’s CSR department. I started with a blank sheet on how to integrate Orange’s contribution to a country’s social and economic development into our CSR approach and harmonise our activities on a Group level. In particular, I helped set up the Orange development approach, which is based on the idea that beyond contributing digital services and funding to the socio-economic development of our operating countries, we can also innovate around the margins of our activity to increase our impact.
“The common goal of all our initiatives in Africa is to create a virtuous circle of trust and socio-economic value creation.”
Ludovic Centonze, Orange Fab International Business Development and Orange CSR Manager for Development
“African start-ups have the same needs and expectations as any start-up in the world but, broadly speaking, operate in a more difficult environment than elsewhere. We help African entrepreneurs take a fresh look at their achievements by highlighting key figures who can show the way for others, even if their family and loved ones try to dissuade them! In concrete terms, their issues are very traditional – financing, recruitment, access to the market – but these are multiplied tenfold by an inefficient banking network for supporting entrepreneurship, unclear administration and a limited market where it is difficult to build a sizeable customer base.
We were keen to create support mechanisms with very open governance, bringing together a broad range of partners (companies, international organisations, local stakeholders, government…) to assert their legitimacy while guaranteeing their independence and long-term success. In 2011, we were one of the 21 founding members of the first West African start-up incubator in Senegal, CTIC Dakar (opens in a new window). Now a reference incubator, its model has been reproduced, in Niger, Guinea and Mali while inspiring many other countries in the region. These incubators are grouped into an Afric’Innov (opens in a new window) network and have started working together on projects such as like Sahel’Innov (opens in a new window). Our four incubators have already accelerated more than 30 start-ups and coached over 1,000 innovative young companies. Their success is an example to other young entrepreneurs while showing local governments and major donors that there are other ways to fight unemployment and stimulate the local economy.
Financing is also essential – African banks do not fund innovation. An example? The Orange Social Venture Prize (opens in a new window) is now organised across 17 countries, each nominating 3 recipients. As a result, 51 start-ups receive financial assistance each year. What’s more, we’re in the process of setting up a loan mechanism through the Afric’Innov network and the Africa Financial Partnership (AFP). This offers a corner stone for financing and will help create a new generation of entrepreneurs. For more established entrepreneurs, we’re introducing a national series of investment funds dedicated to seed financing (less than € 300k) along with our partner Investisseurs et Partenaires pour le Développement. Finally, Orange has announced the opening of the Orange Digital Venture Africa corporate fund, based in Dakar, for capital financing in excess of EUR 1 million to help digital start-ups across Africa.
On the ground, the quality of projects is continuing to improve in all sectors. We’re living in at a pivotal time: we need to help countries develop their activities, young people to believe in their chances of success, generate employment and create a virtuous circle of trust – the common goal of all our initiatives!”
Omar Cissé is the founder of InTouch, a Senegalese fintech company created in 2014, which has developed a terminal that’s compatible with all digital payment methods. It enables you to pay for purchases and access different services (bill payment, insurance etc.).
“In Africa there aren’t enough support mechanisms: entrepreneurship means doing everything alone. It’s very complex!”
Where are you today?
The InTouch solution is currently being launched across seven new African countries. Or ambition is to have 10,000 points of presence in Senegal within 18 months – versus the 1,200 we have today – and 5,000 points in each of the other countries. We also want to expand the service to 36 countries within 36 months!
You were the director of the first incubator in Senegal: what was the main issue expressed by young entrepreneurs?
Despite the desire and dynamism of young innovators, the entrepreneurial ecosystem is still under construction. Support systems are still weak so entrepreneurs face many challenges. Moving from the initial idea to the proof-of-concept phase is one example. And the few companies that are succeeding are still finding it hard in terms of development.
How should we be helping start-ups develop?
An entire ecosystem is necessary, one that combines all the essential elements: training, support, financing, state policy… without this ecosystem and a coherent framework, the start-up is doomed to fail. Luckily today things are progressing, albeit in a “bottom up” more than a “top down” way.
Three years after its inception, InTouch has raised the largest investment by a start-up in West Africa. What’s the key to its success?
Our strength has been providing a solution to a real need. We carry out 40 to 50,000 transactions per day, representing a total of EUR 600,000 per day. But the success has also been thanks to the project team: talented employees who believed in the project and dared to join the adventure!