African Guarantee Fund: Lifting SMEs one loan at a time

AGF business development officer Daniel Nnomo. [AGF]

Many people may not be familiar with the African Guarantee Fund (AGF). Daniel Nnomo is the fund’s business development officer overseeing the Central and Northern Africa regions based in Nairobi.

He spoke to Financial Standard about the fund and its achievements in helping small businesses on the continent-scale up.

Give us a brief history of the African Guarantee Fund 

An initiative of the Spanish and Denmark governments in partnership with the African Development Fund (AfDB), AGF was created in 2011. Later on, other countries and some development finance institutions joined, including KFW Development Bank (KfW), the Nordic Development Fund and French Development Agency. We have operations in 40 countries on the continent, partnering with not about 200 financial institutions. The company is incorporated in Mauritius with Nairobi as its operational headquarters with a subsidiary in Lome, Togo. 

What is guarantee financing, and how does it work in simple terms?

The concept is simply about sharing the risk with financial institutions in order to finance a small and medium enterprise (SME). In other words, what we are doing is basically sharing the risk a financial institution would be taking in the activity of lending to a small business.

What interest do the G7 countries have in AGF? 

Other than being shareholders in AGF, countries like France and Germany through their respective development finance institutions, members of the G7 also work with AGF on many high-impact initiatives on the continent. 

Why the choice of guarantee financing for institutions and businesses in Africa?

Why we do what we do is informed by existing gaps in the financial sector that tend to affect how financial institutions lend to SMEs, including limited access to information by both lenders and borrowers across the continent, leading to most lenders to consider most SMEs as too risky, but mostly on perceived and not real risk. AGF comes in to bridge the gap by providing financial and technical assistance to both SMEs and financial institutions to unlock the needed financing. 

What do SMES stand to gain by engaging the fund when sourcing for funds from financial institutions? 

Guarantee is the key issue that SMEs deal with in their relationship with financial institutions, and since we are established primarily to deal directly with such institutions, there is little likelihood an SME will be denied a loan by any financial institution if we have already covered the small business partially from the risk of default. AGF is the implementing partner of the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA) initiative.

Who are the other key partners and what are their roles?

G7 countries have come in to work with AfDB on achieving AFAWA objectives by offering women-owned small businesses both financial and technical assistance. G7 are also the financial donors, while AfDB is in charge of implementing the AFAWA goals.

And why does the initiative primarily target women and small businesses?

 Small and medium businesses (SMEs) represent more than 90 per cent of the private sector in Africa and their contribution to GDP is also very high. SMEs also play a big part in job creation and poverty reduction. Why women in particular?

There is an estimated $42 billion (Sh5.1 trillion) ­financing gap for African women across business value chains. This is because lending to women is seen as riskier, and financial institutions lack the capacity to understand and respond appropriately to women entrepreneurs. In many African countries, legal and regulatory frameworks hinder women’s full participation in private sector growth coupled with cultural barriers to women trying to get access to ­financing or even ownership of land and other collateral.

The fund is also a champion of “blended finance” in Africa. What does this entail?

The model basically capitalises on blended resources such as equity, grants and loans to provide blended products such as loan and equity guarantees to achieve blended results in economic, social and environmental aspects.

What advantages does blending offer the African financial ecosystem?

Three objectives are achieved: AGF generates an acceptable return for its shareholders, SMEs have better access to fi­nancing, more jobs are created, and the best environmental practices are implemented.