Business approaches and human impact: how three entrepreneurs are driving change in sub-Saharan Africa

Each year, The Skoll Foundation recognizes social entrepreneurs who tackle intractable challenges and work to achieve large-scale change. Three of the five organizations to receive the 2019 Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship are shaking up marketplaces and rethinking how business can work in sub-Saharan Africa.

All three groups – mPharma, mPedigree and Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator – have developed creative approaches to shake up the status quo and improve lives through technology and market-based approaches.

One such technology, which enables forecasting product demand, helped 2019 Skoll awardee mPharma support clinics and pharmacies by getting them pharmaceuticals at more competitive prices. The challenge: people living in sub-Saharan Africa grapple with some of the world’s highest drug prices, typically paying out-of-pocket. Meanwhile, neighborhood pharmacies and clinics often lack the capital needed to consistently stock medications.

Drug prices have dropped by up to 30 percent with mPharma on the scene, and patients report fewer complications when they can get medicine quickly and affordably. With mPharma, pharmacies, hospitals, and clinics can also ensure life-saving drugs don’t gather dust on the shelves where they are not needed.

Today, mPharma manages inventory for 243 pharmacies and clinics in Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, helping over 40,000 patients each month.

“People don’t have the luxury to wait,” says mPharma cofounder and CEO Gregory Rockson.
As patients access drugs, they also need assurance they are legit. Another 2019 Skoll awardee, mPedigree, uses technology to combat pharmaceutical, cosmetics, agricultural, and other forms of counterfeiting across Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East.

Counterfeit drugs kill up to one million people annually. And fake seeds hamper productivity and food security, entrenching small farmers in poverty.

Through mPedigree’s innovative technology, consumers simply expose a scratch-off code to verify a product or scan special markers if their phones have a camera. Using the phone, they can immediately confirm the authenticity of an item and eliminate the threat of counterfeits. Complementary tools in the mPedigree platform connect distributors, retailers, and regulators, giving all actors peace of mind. Already, 100 million people have validated almost two billion product units using this technology.

In South Africa, a 2019 Skoll awardee called Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator has a decidedly different mission. South Africa has one of the highest youth unemployment rates. An estimated 40 percent of young people in the country may never find work. By combining high-tech tools and job training, Harambee catalyzes careers for young people who often lack resources to invest in job hunting and networking and may not know how to market their skills. For employers, Harambee matches them with a high potential, yet overlooked, talent pool.
“The solution that became Harambee was a solution that would solve problems on the demand and the supply side, and therefore could gather momentum both with employers and with young people,” explains Harambee’s co-founder, Nicola Galombik.

Partnering with over 500 African businesses, and recently expanding to Rwanda, Harambee’s network has generated 100,000 jobs and work experiences for unemployed youth.

These three Awardees take varied approaches, but they all achieve massive, large-scale change for sub-Saharan Africa and beyond.



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