Securing Water for Food GEC

Dave Ferguson Reflects on SWFF Delegation’s South Africa Visit

Recently in Johannesburg, South Africa, the SWFF delegation took part in the Global Entrepreneurship Congress, Global Agripreneurs Summit (full event report), and SWFF annual meeting of innovators, hosted by the South Africa Department of Science and Technology. During the gathering, the SWFF team coordinated the announcement of their Round 4 award nominees.

The Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) was quite a draw, with over 8,000 participants from 173 nations. This was the first time the event was held in Africa. It ran Monday – Wednesday, and I was able to attend a handful of the panel discussions that are relevant to USAID’s innovation for development objectives.

SWFF Innovators Place First and Second in the Agripreneur Competition

The three-year-old Global Agripreneurs Summit, a subevent of the GEC, holds a competition for Agripreneur of the Year. I presented remarks on USAID and SWFF in the Summit’s opening ceremonies.

SWFF innovators won four of the eight finalist positions from a field of 50 innovators.

For this event, SWFF collaborated with host Industry Disruptors to co-fund several sessions and offer innovator coaching, investor match making, and the Agripreneur of the Year pitch competition. SWFF innovators were well prepared for the competition and won four of the eight finalist positions from a field of 50 innovators. One of the SWFF rock stars, Claire Reid, Reel Gardening, won the Agripreneur of the Year pitch competition. SWFF innovator Gabrielle Okello took second place.

USAID Officials Launch Investor Matchmatching Event and Announce Rd. 4 Nominees

The South Africa Mission Director, Alonzo Wind kicked off the investor matchmaking event. The South Africa Deputy Mission Director, Rebecca Krzywda, announced the Round 4 SWFF award nominees during the Agripreneur of the Year pitch competition. She noted “it was heartening to see so many innovations that could make huge impacts in the water and ag sectors.”

On Tuesday, March 14, the Swedish Ambassador to South Africa hosted a reception for the SWFF innovators at her residence. High-level government representatives of South Africa, Greece, and The Netherlands and the US Charge d’Affaires, Jessye Lapenn also attended. Their remarks were very supportive of the innovators and the development agencies that sponsor Securing Water for Food: Grand Challenge for Development. The head of the SA Department of Science and Technology, Daan Du Toit, remains interested and encourages more interaction and collaboration with USAID.

Sessions Offer Lessons and Practical Recommendations

The GEC sessions I attended featured lessons and practical recommendations for our innovation work and confirmation that much of what we are doing in innovation at USAID reflects best and next practices. For example:

  • Partnering with the private sector
  • Providing external communication support
  • Driving an innovator first approach
  • Offering tailored capacity building
  • Implementing standardized metrics for results reporting
  • Supporting experimentation
  • Reducing risk for entrepreneurs

The “it’s all about the people” theme resonated throughout the events and was stressed by many speakers. This emphasis validates USAID’s approach and encourages us to remain vigilant in building the capacity of our innovators and supporting them as people, as well as ensuring compliance in our grant management.

USAID Brings Added Value to Innovators

In my interactions with the innovators, it was clear that USAID brought added value in helping them to set and meet objectives, contributed to the growth of their business and success of their innovation, and gave them the opportunity to network and collaborate with like-minded entrepreneurs. Innovators were also appreciative of the level of ongoing engagement by USAID officials, the SWFF team lead, and the well-developed methodology for innovator onboarding, milestones setting and reporting, and acceleration services provided by The Kaizen Company-run SWFF TA Facility.

Innovators Network at DST-sponsored South African BBQ

Claire Reid, SWFF innovator, opened her home to the innovators and partners for a Brai (South African BBQ) the last night of the conference. The comradery that was displayed at this event was impressive and enjoyable.  One funding partner commented that they had not realized how valuable the SWFF team lead and the TA facility has been to the innovators until they saw the love and respect that was bestowed on both of them.  I certainly felt a good deal of pride as I stepped back and watched the group have a great time.


Dave Ferguson, Director of the Center for Development Innovation, U.S. Global Development Lab, USAID