Cherchez la femme! The old French saying also applies when it comes to Johnni Kjelsgaard, founder and director of GrowthAfrica. Because it was a woman, Patricia Jumi, who got him to Africa and made him stay. Today they run a very successful business, GrowthAfrica in Nairobi.
GrowthAfrica is no longer in a partnership with MYC4 but they have been for a few years. – We felt that microfinance was not a sustainable business model for us, especially in the light of us not making a big enough positive impact on the borrowers, says Kjelsgaard. Today we basically deal with connecting people from outside Africa, mainly Denmark and Scandinavia, with African entrepreneurs. We see ourselves as facilitators in order to create growth.
-And look at Kenya now. Kenya could soon become a middle income country, the economy is good in spite of the foolish politicians. Just look at the traffic here! Imagine how good everything could be! But I’m an optimist, you have to be that in Kenya. But we have things in common – the Danes and the Kenyans – the humor and the temper, says Kjelsgaard.
He established Growth Africa in 2000 and was joined a couple of years later by Patricia. Before that he was a banker, in the military, studied economics at the University of Copenhagen and was the director of the world’s largest student driven organization, AIESEC with 70.000 members. The world of IT is also a part of Kjelsgaards CV.
In Kenya he started with nothing after having been there for three and a half years.
-I saw a lot of opportunities even though it was a tough market. I looked up Danish companies who might be interested in Africa. Some of them were, and after a lot of meetings we got on our feet, because I had first mover advantage. To begin with we used a program sponsored by the Danish government (Danida), business to business, where you must have a local partner. GrowthAfrica is a sort of go-between and a guarantee that the local partner doesn’t disappear with the money. Foreign investors tend to be suspicious towards Kenya, but with our assistance and our way of constant communicating things go smoother, says Johnni Kjelsgaard.
To spot new opportunities he travels to Denmark about three times a year with his “sales speech”. And he must be doing something right, because GrowthAfrica is – in his own words – making really good progress. 13 people now work with GrowthAfrica. No doubt in his mind that East Africa is the place to invest today.
– Of course I have heard all the praise about China, Vietnam and the other tiger economies. But things are changing. Look at the lion economies here now, and why settle for a third row seat in South East Asia, when you can sit in the front row here in Kenya?