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Image credit: ThinkAfrik

Dennis Kofi Borti: Empowerment by design

Dennis Kofi Borti: Empowerment by design

“A market-solutions approach”

In 2015, Queen’s Young Leader, Dennis Kofi Borti co-founded ThinkAfrik – a Ghanaian company set up to address poverty and underdevelopment across Africa. He tells Leading Change about a project to revolutionise the food supply chain.

“In my world, I was doing what I was passionate about,” says Dennis reflecting on his thoughts the day he discovered he’d won the Queen’s Young Leaders Award. “I was doing something small to help out in the community.”

That “something small” was ThinkAfrik, which at the time had been running for six months but was already affecting the lives of thousands of people through projects on water sanitation, farming, education and student outreach.

Dennis with students from Aboabo Junior High School, ThinkAfrik School Outreach and Mentorship Programme

Dennis with students from Aboabo Junior High School, ThinkAfrik School Outreach and Mentorship Programme. Image credit: ThinkAfrik

“To be noticed by a body like the Queen’s Young Leaders and connected with all the amazing talents around the world – that I admire and get a lot of inspiration from – was humbling.”

Queen’s Young Leaders award

When Dennis is not working a 28-day shift on an offshore platform as a production technician, he is managing projects for ThinkAfrik.

As a Queen’s Young Leader, he struggled to make time for the Leading Change course but still benefited from it. “The course has helped me clearly outline the vision of ThinkAfrik well, and it’s also helped connect me with people,” he says.

One of the things he found most useful, was drawing up short-term, mid-term and long-term plans. “It gave me that aha moment – okay, this is what I want to do!” he says, adding, “The route to entrepreneurship begins with finding yourself and your purpose.”

For Dennis, his passion for Africa was a key ingredient to founding ThinkAfrik. But the Leading Change course helped him and his team to come up with a clearer mission for ThinkAfrik. “Our vision is to be that social impact investment company that looks for challenging African problems and develops projects or ventures around those problems.”

Ekua Pa

One example of how ThinkAfrik is doing this is through its agriculture project, Ekua Pa, which means “good farm”.

A quarter of the world’s arable land is in Africa and Dennis believes agriculture can play a big part in the future of the continent. “There’s a lot of potential there that is untapped.”

Dennis talks to Farmer Team Lead, Auntie Gladys on a field visit to member farms of the Ekua Pa network, Jamase, Kwahu West Municipality, Ghana

Dennis talks to Farmer Team Lead, Auntie Gladys on a field visit to member farms of the Ekua Pa network, Jamase, Kwahu West Municipality, Ghana. Image credit: ThinkAfrik

ThinkAfrik noticed that farmers were growing plenty of food but didn’t always have the market for it. Or they would bring it to market at the wrong time, or find that their produce didn’t meet certain specifications. “So we thought about a market-solutions approach for smallholder farmers.”

Dennis uses the example of cassava to illustrate the point. One bag at farm gate is 60 cedis (£10 sterling), but then the farmer has to add transport costs for taking the cassava to market in the nearest small town, which is another 10 cedis. “With every layer you’re adding, you’re increasing costs.”

Ekua Pa registers farmers and puts them into groups of five to ten. “They have a trusted group leader and they grow something we know a particular market will need at a particular time.”

Ekua Pa also collects data on the farmers and the markets. “We know what the market needs. We know what the farmer can produce and because of that economy of scale,” Dennis explains, referring to the groups, “you have that leverage to manage your supply chains better.”

ThinkAfrik started registering farmers with Ekua Pa in March 2016, during Dennis’s year as a Queen’s Young Leader. He doubles as Chief Executive Officer for Ekua Pa, which by March 2017 – only a year later – had 256 farmers on its register.

“If you do it right you have the potential of improving markets, yield and finances. And you’re improving more lives than if you were investing in a commercial farm.”

Partnership working

The other beauty of this scheme is that the data on farmers and markets that Ekua Pa holds, enables them to work with others who are helping to improve the lives of farmers and make farming more efficient.

When Dennis first started thinking about how to improve farming, he looked around the Queen’s Young Leaders network. He spoke to PJ Cole of Nehemiah Lifeline Projects in Sierra Leone and to Peris Bosire, the Co-founder of FarmDrive in Kenya. Both PJ and Peris work with farmers and were able to advise Dennis on starting up.

FarmDrive enables smallholder farmers to keep financial data on their mobile phones so that they can use it to manage finance and apply for loans.

Dennis and Peris decided to work together on how they could make the most of the data from both their projects. “So our farmers will have the advantage of benefitting from say FarmDrive, with access to credit.”

Dennis is keen that those tackling farming issues in Africa should pool ideas and work together. “FarmDrive is tackling credit worthiness for farmers in Kenya and you have Farmerline tackling technology for smallholder farmers in Ghana. Imagine if we all could come together and solve the issue as an ecosystem!  You make more impact.”

Dennis says he is always looking for others who are passionate about Africa.

“I feel like if we believe in a common cause there’s nothing stopping us from working together. I want to see young people working together to make this happen, because we need a collective effort to solve African problems.”