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An Innovation Conference for East Africa

East Africa in 2012 is a truly exciting place to be. The social sector is expanding at an incredibly rapid rate, and more and more individuals are finding gaps in the system – and filling them. The 19 Acumen Fund East Africa Fellows are a testament to the passion, focus and commitment characterizing the work happening throughout the region across various sectors: agriculture, renewable energy, education, entrepreneurship training, microfinance, housing, media and activism.

The East Africa Fellows have put together an innovation conference dubbed “The Future of East Africa: Social Entrepreneurship”. Through this day-long event, we intend to explore both the needs and potential of the region, and how we can forge the way forward in practically imagining the future of East Africa. We will hear from industry leaders in various sectors, as well as from the Fellows themselves, in an exciting, intense and interactive conversation with a small, select group of people who are already doing the hard work involved in building the region. Invited guests include leading social entrepreneurs, fund managers, development partners and media.

The innovation conference will focus on three key areas:

1. The East Africa We Want – This introductory session will highlight the state of the social sector in the region. We will look at the needs and the players, the gains and the losses, and discuss the key areas of impact.

The speakers in this session will be: Manu Chandaria, Chairman of Comcraft Group; Aleke Dondo, Juhudi Kilimo; Mugo Kibati, Kenya’s Vision 2030; Erik Hersman, Ihub, Savannah Fund and Ushahidi; and Liza Kimbo, CEO and Co-founder of Carego Livewell.

The moderator will be Nick Wachira, Managing Editor of The East African.

2. The Types & Stages of Capital aims to explore in depth the role of grants in developing inclusive businesses. Impact capital alone will not unlock the potential of impact investing. Because of the extreme challenges facing those who are pioneering new models for inclusive business, truly realizing the impact in impact investing will require more, not less, philanthropy, and will need that philanthropic support to be delivered in new ways. Some of the areas that will be covered in this discussion include:

* How impact investing is constrained by the tough realities of inclusive business, and introduces the phenomenon of the “pioneer gap”

* The emerging practice of enterprise philanthropy

* Analysis of a number of company case studies from the Acumen Fund portfolio to understand both successes and setbacks

* Key recommendations for philanthropic funders and for impact investors

The Speakers in this session will be: Soha Ehsani, Grassroot Business Fund; Arif Nexy, Aga Khan Foundation; Chad Larson, M-Kopa; and Eme Essioen, Rockefeller Foundation. The session will be moderated by Biju Mohandas, Director of Acumen Fund East Africa.

2. The Leaders We Need – At the heart of Acumen Fund’s ethos is the concept of moral imagination. Can you really be an effective change agent without understanding what this means? This third session will explore what it means to be an ethical, empathetic leader, and what the implications of that are on your work.

This session will be led by Inuka Kenya’s governance specialist Tom Mboya. Other speakers include Rasna Warah, writer; and Martin Ojara, Chairman of the local council of Gulu District in Northern Uganda.

We believe that there is a real need to understand what’s happening regionally in the social sector. The panoply of conference invitations that the EA Fellows receive regularly indicate that there is no shortage of forums in which to showcase our work. This inaugural Innovation Conference, however, does not seek to let us pat ourselves or each other on the back. Rather, it is to help us dig deep into not only how much more there is to do, but to look at what we need and who we need to be in order to get it done.

For the evening the fellows have a story-styled presentation named “The story of the birth of a child called Africa” – a journey the guests will take with all 19 Fellows with a presentation in which each project the Fellows are involved with will touch the life of this baby until she grows up. The event will end with the graduation of the Acumen Fund East Africa Fellows Class of 2012 and launch of the next class by Jacqueline Novogratz, CEO of Acumen Fund.

The invitation-only day long event will take place at the Tribe hotel in Nairobi on June 21.

To keep up with the Innovation Conference live, follow @Afrinnovator & @AcumenFund on Twitter.

Pauline Wanja is an Acumen Fund East Africa Fellow in the Class of 2011-12. Pauline is the Co- Founder & Executive Director of the LIST (Living In Shanty Towns) Initiative, which aims to unify young people living in informal settlements and prepare them for a productive and dignified adulthood and together work toward personal, social, economic and political justice.

The Acumen Fund East Africa Fellows Program is made possible through the sponsorship of KCB Foundation and the Edmond de Rothschild Foundations.

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