This is a guest blog from Beth Marquette. Beth and her husband Joel are members of the Impact Angel Network (IAN) Advisory Board and proud investors in several of the IAN’s portfolio companies.
As some of you may know in 2013, Joel and I left our jobs and the hustle and bustle of life in the United States and took our four kids to live in Ethiopia for five months. We had a wonderful trip and fell in love with the people, the culture, and the cuisine. Even then, Addis Ababa was growing at a fast pace, buildings and roads were being built, and people were positive about the future. Upon leaving Ethiopia to head back to the United States, our family could not wait to return. And that opportunity occurred in February 2016, when I participated on a RENEW hosted Econ-tourism trip to Addis, a benefit that is provided to members of the IAN.
RENEW encourages all IAN members to travel to Ethiopia and participate on an Econ-Tourism trip, during which they meet with entrepreneurs, tour their facilities, see the current state of the businesses first-hand, and help choose the next set of investment opportunities for the IAN. RENEW believes these trips allow IAN members to come away with a deeper appreciation for the diverse culture and investment opportunities Ethiopia has to offer.
And while traveling to a developing country might feel daunting for some, the RENEW team prepares members for the trip by suggesting flight and hotel options, planning side trips to interesting destinations around Ethiopia, advising on cultural and business customs, and creating an agenda filled with meeting entrepreneurs, seeing business opportunities and getting to know the country.
During my econ-tourism trip in February 2016, my group of fellow IAN members was introduced to a total of twelve companies, spanning across multiple sectors – from chemical and food manufacturing to coffee and pulses (dried beans) - eight of which were being considered for upcoming investments. The remaining four companies are current portfolio investments of the IAN, including Mama Fresh Injera PLC. Our group visited Mama Fresh’s new injera manufacturing plant, met the bakers and had the opportunity to meet the owner - Hailu - his wife and the “mama” of Mama Fresh - Konjit - and their son - Miraf.
One of the highlights of that meeting was visiting the Mama Fresh Visitors Center and a friendly little competition (the Mama Fresh Injera Bake-Off) to see who in our group of novices could bake the best piece of injera. I knew I really liked Miraf when he served as one of the celebrity judges who clearly had an eye for baking talent when he selected my injera piece as a top winner despite the many flaws of my efforts.
After a full few days of portfolio and pipeline meetings, trip participants can relax by taking side trips to beautiful and historic spots around Ethiopia, such as the ancient Gondar castles of Ethiopian royalty, the island monasteries on Lake Tana, or the resort town of Debre Zeit, which is known for its crater lakes. During my trip, our group visited Lalibela, a UNESCO world heritage site famous for its 12th century monolithic rock-hewn churches. The in-country team took care of all of the logistics and planning so the group was able to sit back and truly enjoy the sites.
One of my favorite aspects of these trips is the relationships that grow within the IAN as members from various backgrounds travel together. The multiple days spent learning about, conversing with and challenging one another as we toured businesses, ate meals together and met with management teams was enriching. The member feedback and observations for the RENEW team regarding the pipeline opportunities are valuable as well. And there is nothing quite as gratifying as this experience of traveling with a diverse group of people who have a shared interest in impact investing.
The econ-tourism trip really helped to connect things for me. It allowed me to visit a place that I hold dear to my heart, and experience it in a way that I never had before - meeting with the passionate entrepreneurs that make up Ethiopian small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs), who in turn will be the drivers of economic growth for the country. All in all, it was a truly exciting and inspiring trip!
The RENEW team will be hosting an Econ-Tourism trip from February 18 to 24, 2017. If you are interested in participating or have any questions regarding Econ-Tourism trips or the IAN in general, then please feel free to reach out.
To find out more about RENEW or the Impact Angel Network, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on Twitter @RENEWLLC or find us on Instagram @impactangelnetwork.