Ashoka Africa
Ashoka Africa

Red Social Innovation team interviewed Ifeyinwa Egwaoje about the recent report published by Ashoka Africa How INGOs and Social Entrepreneurs collaborate to transform global development. Ifeyinwa Egwaoje joined Ashoka as the Venture and Fellowship manager of Anglophone West Africa. Born in Nigeria where women are denied equal opportunities to men she decided to commit her life to creating an environment where women and men have equal opportunities to live quality lives. She started off as an adolescent reproductive health and gender development trainer, positioning young women with information and skills to help them question gender roles and become visible and empowered members of their communities.

What was the motivation behind this research? Do you have particular examples that made you rethink INGOs actions towards global development ?

The research was informed by 3 powerful systemic drivers of social innovation and collaboration between INGOs and social entrepreneurs. 

. The Innovation for development agenda: As the disparity in funding needed to accomplish the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) increases there is the demand for new strategies to address the world’s most urgent issues.

. The Localization agenda: which suggests that international development organizations must acknowledge the significance of local leadership and ownership in promoting sustainable development. 

. Decolonization of foreign assistance: INGOs have been called to reflect on their “power footprint,” i.e., “…the centralization of power, resources and assets within the INGO at the expense of local organizations”, and plans need to be put in place for the transfer of power and resources to local organizations.​ 

Also as an organization we wanted to understand the dynamics of the collaborations between INGOs and social entrepreneurs and enhance an enabling environment for social entrepreneurs and INGOs to collaborate.

What were some of the challenges or barriers identified when sourcing effective collaboration between INGOs and social entrepreneurs?

Some of the challenges identified are:

. INGOs are large organizations that have been in operation for many years and have developed tightly regulated operating systems and procedures over time. 

. They lack a clear approach on how to pursue social innovation and this can hinder actions in INGOs. 

. They lack Organizational capacity as their project-based funding prevents INGO staff from integrating social innovation into their everyday business practices and perpetuates the mindset that innovation is ancillary to core strategy. ​ 

. They are disconnected from key stakeholders, and they lack clarity about their role within the ecosystem.

. Social entrepreneurs do not take time to understand the INGOs and this translates to a lack of understanding of how these organizations operate.​ They face rather strict regulations and operating systems and procedure of INGOS which translates to inflexibility. And the role of the social entrepreneur is often predetermined in these collaborations, time is not taken to understand their unique strengths, challenges, and background.  

What are the most innovative solutions you have found in the field that solve a social problem?

One of the most innovative solutions is the work of Ashoka Fellow Regina Honu, the founder of Soronko Academy. Regina Honu is an Ashoka fellow who was selected in 2014 as part of the Mastercard cohort for her work in Ghana focused on shifting the paradigm for women and girls in Ghana and changing their trajectory by moving them from consumers to creators of technology. Her work in Ghana tackles three core issues: Bridging the gender digital divide, breaking gender stereotypes and tackling unemployability.

Regina recognized that women and girls have been historically underrepresented in the tech sector. To address this disparity, she started off with bridging the gender digital divide by positioning women and girls in Ghana with digital skills for them to become creators of technology rather than consumers. she offers comprehensive training programs and workshops specifically tailored to women and girls. These programs cover a wide range of tech-related topics, including coding, web development, data analysis, and entrepreneurship:

1. Breaking Gender stereotypes Regina has actively challenged the traditional gender stereotypes that discouraged girls and women from pursuing careers in STEM fields. Through showcasing successful female role models in tech, hosting mentorship programs, and fostering a supportive community, she has changed the narrative around gender and technology, and created an environment where women and girls are venturing and excelling in tech-related disciplines.
2. Addressing Unemployment: Regina has played a key role in addressing the issue of unemployability. Beyond equipping women and girls with valuable tech skills, she also closely supports these women to ensure they get employed with the skills they developed.  She partnered with tech companies both locally and internationally and ensured that they can get talent from the pool of women in her organization as employees. Graduates of Soronko Academy’s programs have been able to employ themselves and get jobs in the technology sector, both locally and internationally. This not only reduces unemployment rates but also contributes to economic development by creating a skilled workforce. Regina has also ensured that the lack of computers does not become a barrier to the women accessing opportunities, each Soronko academy graduate is given a laptop that they can pay for instalments so that they can continue to practice what they have learnt. Regina has worked with the Ministry of communication to address the gender digital divide and include more women in ICT ecosystem. Also, she is part of the committee by the central bank to provide best practices on how women interact with digital tools enabling the government to shape policies and processes that include women
3. Redesigning Remote Work Opportunities: Africa’s population is 1.4 billion people. It’s not only huge, but it’s the youngest and fastest-growing continent and this population will double by 2050. The local economy is not creating enough jobs or income-generating opportunities for such a rapidly growing African population. But at the same time, for countries in the global north whose working-age population is shrinking, where’s the labour going to come from? The solution to both problems lie in remote work.  Regina has capitalized on this opportunity to preparing her students to take up these opportunities and also excel in remote work settings. By providing training in remote collaboration, digital communication, and project management, she is positioning Ghana as a competitive player in the global remote work landscape.

Contributing to Economic Growth: Regina’s efforts have far-reaching implications for Ghana’s economic development. The fact that she is producing a diverse and skilled tech workforce helps to  strengthen the country’s position in the global tech market. She is attracting foreign investment and also fostering the growth of local tech startups and innovation ecosystems. As Ghana becomes a more attractive destination for tech companies and entrepreneurs, it experiences economic growth and diversification.

Were there any unexpected findings of the research? Did they challenge existing assumptions or narratives about humanitarian action?

Yes, the fact that INGOs are seen as the enemy by a lot of local initiatives who are working on the ground. Simply because they have access to a lot of funding but are a bit disconnected from the work that is actually done by social entrepreneurs on the ground. But INGOs do have a very vital role that if carefully harnessed will lead to systems change.

What additional research or initiatives do you believe are needed to further enhance collaboration between INGOs and social entrepreneurs in transforming global development? 

Deeper research into how social entrepreneurs create change and this has been done by Ashoka in our research titled Roots of Change Report | Ashoka | Everyone a Changemaker.

Another research that has been carried out by Ashoka in collaboration with Illuminate, Cocreative, Garfield and Mastercard is the Signal Survey.

How would you evaluate the context in which to implement this? Would it be as well in an emergency context? 

Yes this will work well in any setting where there is the need for collaborations between INGOs and social entrepreneurs.