B Global Network Spotlight: B Lab Africa
In April of 2022, representatives of B Lab Global’s key functional teams — including Standards, Technology, Communications, and Impact Management — gathered in Nairobi for a strategy and planning session hosted by the Kenya-based team of B Lab Africa. This was the first official in-person gathering of Global team members with a Global Partner organization since B Lab Global formed as a separate organization from B Lab U.S. & Canada in 2020 — a major milestone for the B Global Network, which consists of 13 regional partner organizations around the world.
As a setting for collaboration between B Lab Global and the Global Network, Nairobi and the African context broadly provided an outlook for the future of the B Corp movement, both locally and globally. The session was an opportunity for Global staff to “hear directly from the B Lab Africa team and the local B Corp community about the different opportunities and challenges facing the region and, more broadly, the continent,” said Irving Chan-Gomez, Global Partnerships and Growth Manager at B Lab Global. As the B Corp movement continues to scale to new regions around the world, this provided a critical space for key B Lab functional teams to “push our thinking beyond a traditionally Western approach, recognizing the potential that exists and how our locally-led movement can play a catalyst role in the continent.”
Since its founding in 2017, B Lab Africa has been that catalyst, providing the framework for 50 Certified B Corps across 14 African nations — Benin, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mauritius, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania, and Zambia. An additional 3,000 companies throughout Africa are using the B Impact Assessment and SDG Action Manager to understand their social and environmental impact and plan for improvements.
B Corps in the African context face challenges, including different business norms across countries and diversity in the maturity of the conversation on stakeholder governance and social and environmental business impact. Moreover, business success in the region “is still largely considered as economic impact — making profits,” said Grace Wachori, Business Development and Programs Manager at B Lab Africa.
“Especially smaller companies are in survival mode, looking to stay afloat no matter what — and therefore extracting their resources and from stakeholders to the last drop, without a consideration for regeneration and wellbeing.”
A looming global recession adds to existing concerns about finding and sustaining financing. Particularly for the smaller companies that comprise much of the B Corp community throughout the world, a lack of affordable and accessible support services for entrepreneurs is also a concern — leading in part to struggles marketing to consumers and expanding to new markets both locally and internationally.
As Wachori said, with companies struggling to survive in a challenging business environment, it might seem difficult to start a conversation on stakeholder governance — pursuing business goals beyond profit alone. Yet this is where the B Lab Africa team has found opportunity: providing financial literacy capacity-building for women owners of small-medium enterprises; diversity and inclusion training encouraging the hiring of youth and people with disabilities; and holding gatherings for the African B Corp movement to engage in dialogue and collaboration, including the upcoming B Lab AfriCAN 2022 Summit. Providing this critical support to B Corps current and future, as well as African businesses engaging with B Lab’s standards through the B Impact Assessment or SDG Action Manager, is complemented by a growing conversation in the region on driving policy change for business governance — including the recent passage of legislation on conscious business practices in Rwanda.
Fostering this ecosystem for impact-oriented companies is making a difference in the region, as African B Corps spread the word about how the certification aligns with creating and sustaining purpose-driven business models.
“In terms of being a social enterprise, that means in everything we do we’re focused on having the most social beneficial impact possible,” said Navalayo Osembo, Co-Founder of Kenyan B Corp Enda Athletic. “It’s why we make shoes in Kenya, give back to communities in Kenya, work to minimize our environmental impact, and are trying to change the way the world sees Kenya.”
Conversely, when companies continue to prioritize their profits over their stakeholders — including their workers, customers, and communities, as well as the environmental resources they draw on — it shows “a lack of awareness,” said Wachori. In this way, the positive impact B Corps are driving makes them influencers in the African business community: “In the long run, extra-mile ideologies of good for people and planet are viewed as good to have.”
“This decade, the 2020s, is the decade of action — to address not only the climate crises but the societal ills that plague us,” said B Lab Africa Executive Director Ngwing Kimani, in our recent Global Network blog celebrating 5,000 B Corps. "There is now a greater recognition among business owners, leaders, and even consumers that wealth-hoarding by a few and token corporate social responsibility projects is out of fashion.”
In the complex and evolving African business context, the B Corp movement is stepping in to meet this growing community looking for economic systems change. On their roadmap for the next five years, B Lab Africa is envisioning a B Lab Accelerator program; further justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion trainings, as well as programs for women entrepreneurs; and a B Lawyers program to help companies navigate the legal requirement for certification, among other offerings.
They’re also continuing to create opportunities for the African B Corp community to connect — and for businesses around the world to learn from their journeys.
On Thurs 28 July, 2022, the B Lab AfriCAN 2022 Summit: Sustainable Business as a Catalyst for Change, will bring together organizations that support sustainability, Certified B Corps in Africa, research and academic institutions, and stakeholders looking for new partnership opportunities and financing. Participants will engage in conversations around change and innovation to power the shift to sustainability in the African business community.
This event will be held in conjunction with Best For The World celebrations and awards ceremony, recognizing B Corps in Africa that have achieved the highest verified scores in the five impact areas evaluated on the B Impact Assessment (BIA) — community, customers, environment, governance, and workers. Learn more and register at b-labafrica.net.
On Thursday, July 28, 2022, join B Lab Africa for a hybrid event in Nairobi and online with opportunities for learning and collaboration powering a shift to sustainable business in Africa.