Startups and SMEs in East and West Africa need a more secure and just environment to grow

Start-up companies and small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are vital engines of economic growth and employment throughout the world. They can give new generations much needed opportunities and enable a more equitable and sustainable development but their potential is all too often obstructed.

In the most challenging environments, SMEs face a stifling range of interconnected injustices and challenges such as harsh regulations, insecurity, high levels of taxation and corruption, a lack of transparency, demanding registration procedures and a lack of information. In some places it is practically impossible for local businesses to flourish because of lengthy and costly procedures to set up a business, obtain the necessary licenses or meet international standards. All too often, the growth opportunities are hampered by regulatory barriers or the lack of access to basic necessities or credit. Last but not least, for female entrepreneurs the challenges can seem truly unsurmountable due to discrimination.

Obstacles for setting up, and scaling up SMEs can be found around the developing world but in some regions, the potential for progress is particularly striking. The potential in East and West Africa definitely warrants closer attention. Nigeria is a case in point. Whereas the Nigerian population is growing at a fast pace compared to most other regions in the world, one would be hard pressed to make the argument that there are fair, equal opportunities for Nigerian entrepreneurs. They not only struggle to compete with vested business interests within Nigeria, but also with their counterparts in other (more competitive) countries.

This need not remain that way. If we can manage to unlock the potential of East and West African SMEs by finding and empowering the governance and justice innovations they truly need, the opportunities for investment and growth in that region are immense.

 HiiL Innovating Justice has accelerated innovative ways to create better access to justice for more than four years now. Together with the Global Agenda Council on Justice and supported by the Ford Foundation, HiiL Innovating Justice plans to launch a SME Empowerment Innovation Challenge specifically targeting the needs of East and West African start-ups and SMEs.

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The execution of the challenge will connect incubator partners throughout East and West Africa with the HiiL Innovating Justice Accelerator team in The Hague. This will build local justice innovation capacity and connect local partners to the international justice innovation community. Justice innovation will be interpreted in a broad sense to include public, private (for profit and not-for-profit) and informal initiatives. The goal of this initiative is to find and strengthen new initiatives that can protect or empower start-ups and SMEs.


HiiL Innovating Justice will assess the most promising innovations and provide support to scale their impact. Besides providing financial support, The Ford Foundation will connect its regional and local networks to this Challenge to ensure its success.

In Ghana, not only is the environment challenging, but there is also a widespread culture that does not recognize or reward entrepreneurial endeavours. This is largely due to gaps in the entrepreneurial ecosystem that often prevent SME’s from accessing the needed support system to grow.

Entrepreneurs particularly have difficulties raising finance in the early stages of their businesses and have become frustrated at their inability or failure to secure funding to operate and grow their business.

Demanding registration procedures and a lack of information for SME development remain major obstacles and have alluded to the shallow and limited understanding of entrepreneurship activities in Ghana.

WASEN Ghana is enthusiastic about this partnership as both parties will work together to find and strengthen new initiatives that can protect or empower start-ups and SME’s across West Africa.




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