BFP: What do you do?
IA: I am the Africa Programme Manager at the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, a charitable foundation based in London. I am one of a small team of 4 people working on the Foundation’s grant-making activities in East Africa. The Foundation runs a small number of long-term sector development programmes in Africa, focused on promoting economic development and poverty alleviation through creating jobs and creating incomes for the poor.
The Gatsby Foundation’s general approach to economic development, similar to many others working in this field, is to focus on “making markets work” (see for example, www.m4phub.org). We see ourselves as facilitators: we identify gaps in markets and try to change the way those markets work so that the gaps no longer exist (rather than just using aid to fill the gaps). So, for example, we may work on changing incentives in a market through addressing inefficiencies in a regulatory system; or, in some cases, we may identify a lack of capacity within public institutions or the private sector, and work to address that. The Foundation does not itself implement programmes, but we are very hands-on and work very closely with delivery partners on the ground.
Much of my work is concerned with coordinating our various stakeholders in both the public and private sectors. These include government representatives and NGOs active in the area we’re interested in; while on the private sector side we engage with the whole range from bigger local businesses through to smallholder farmers. Most of the Gatsby Foundation’s programmes have a rural agricultural focus and so that part of the private sector is of particular interest to us.
My job also involves research: to identify market gaps and appropriate sectors for the Foundation to become involved in; to identify potential delivery partners and other stakeholders; and to facilitate good programme decisions and resource allocation.
BFP: What is the best part about your job?
IA: The single best point for me is the sheer variety of issues that I get to deal with, and the level of interest this holds. This is definitely one of the advantages of working for a smaller foundation, where you deal with the whole range of issues, whereas with bigger organisations you can end up over-specialising in one particular area.
I also really value the ambition of our organisation to have the greatest possible impact with a relatively small budget – the Africa programme has between £5-6 million available to allocate each year, and finding the best ways to make that money work as hard as possible for as many people as possible is highly motivating and rewarding.
BFP: What has been your greatest challenge (around business and development)?
IA: As I mentioned earlier, we work across a very broad range of stakeholders, of which the private sector would be only one, and it is often challenging to communicate effectively with the private sector stakeholders in that context. I know many other Business Fights Poverty members have experience with working closely with the private sector, particularly some of the bigger multinational companies, and have managed to launch projects in partnership with these big companies that achieve great impact. However, we tend to work in countries and markets that are not clearly dominated by one large private sector player, but rather many smaller players; and which usually also include both large numbers of smallholder farmers and a significant legitimate role for the public sector. We find that there is a lot of mistrust and mutual suspicion between these groups, and getting them to work together can require enormous effort.
(Incidentally, the mistrust of the private sector applies not only to international companies but also local, African businesses.) We sometimes find that we work so hard to change attitudes to business among government and farmers that we neglect engaging adequately with the businesses themselves.
BFP: How have you overcome these challenges? What lessons have you learnt?
IA: In my experience the most important factor is to have a strong local presence. For someone like me who only spends a proportion of my time on the ground at projects (I spend around 25% of my time in Africa, but this gets divided between the various countries and programmes we work on) it is essential to work through local people, to help us establish a real indigenous footprint in the local community.
BFP: If someone wants to do what you do, where should they start?
IA: What originally drew me to my job was a desire to do something that has social impact. I started off with a classic “gap year”, travelling to Africa before I started at university in Africa and spending a year on an AIDS education programme in a remote Tanzanian village. I completed my degree and got some private sector experience working for a consultancy for 3 years, where I tried to spend as much time as possible in places like India, trying to understand the drivers of poverty and development in that environment. On leaving the consultancy firm I did a 3-month volunteering stint with Technoserve in Ghana and then applied for a job at Gatsby. I deliberately targeted a smaller organisation because of the prospect of working closely on a wide range of issues.
BFP: Finally: what do you hope to get out of being part of this community?
IA: I find it very useful as a way of keeping up with the work of others in the field – many people seem to use Business Fights Poverty to announce new projects, reports or results. It is also a good networking platform – several people have used the BFP route to get in touch with me. In the past I also attended and enjoyed several BFP events (though lately I have had less time for that).
Thank you to Ian Anderson for taking the time to do this interview.
Read previous Member of the Week interviews here.