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The COVID-19 Adaptation Fund: Innovating to support entrepreneurs during COVID-19

Douglas Emeott May 26, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for support for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to aid at-risk populations against the extreme social and economic impact of the pandemic. In response to this situation, Instiglio, a donor, and the Global Development Incubator (GDI) launched the COVID-19 Adaptation Fund in Rwanda and Kenya. From October 2020 to April 2021, this initiative supported nine high-performing NGOs in Rwanda and Kenya to innovate and adapt their programs and operations, evolving from “business as usual” to effectively support poor and rural beneficiaries. The nine NGOs rolled out and tested their proposed innovations and built capacity to learn how to effectively adapt and continue service provision to vulnerable populations during a public health shock.

A key focus of many of the awarded NGOs was to find ways to support local entrepreneurs to create and grow businesses, generate an income, improve their livelihoods, create jobs, and contribute to their communities during the COVID-19 shock. For our SOCAP 21 session, we will highlight three of the NGO grantees and their respective innovations piloted to support entrepreneurs: African Entrepreneur Collective (AEC), Green Agri Ventures (GAV), and Village Enterprise (VE).


African Entrepreneur Collective (AEC) Kenya aims to improve livelihoods and create jobs by supporting refugee and local entrepreneurs. It provides practical and relevant business development services, such as strategic consulting, trainings, technology tools, and access to networks, as well as direct access to affordable financing.. The integration of refugee and host communities is also key to inclusive economic growth, which AEC fosters through its services.

AEC has adapted swiftly to the COVID-19 pandemic to support entrepreneur-driven recovery that adds jobs, goods, and services to communities. First, it developed resiliency-focused toolkits for refugee businesses, previously not available in Kenya. Second, it implemented Interactive Voice Response to deliver trainings and information to refugee entrepreneurs remotely and easily, as well as gather key data to inform how best to provide the right level of support. Third, it implemented a digital financial inclusion platform to implement its loan and grant activities. Last, AEC strengthened its monitoring & evaluation processes to obtain real-time impact data, minimize in-person interaction, and improve its services on the run. These innovations allowed AEC to support more than 1,000 refugee entrepreneurs and secure funding for scale operations to more than 40,000 refugee entrepreneurs in East Africa in the near future.


Green Agri Ventures (GAV) is a social enterprise that works with informal rural entrepreneurs who are considered by most financial institutions as high-risk clients despite their economic potential. GAV works in Busia County, one of the regions with the highest levels of poverty in Kenya. Busia also experiences unique socio-economic problems due to cross-border challenges. GAV offers entrepreneurs affordable credit and financial literacy training to help them make their businesses more profitable and sustainable. Its model combines financing to tailored financial growth mentorship and coaching. GAV also actively engages entrepreneurs with disabilities to curb the marginalization and barriers they face in accessing credit.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, GAV developed a mobile group lending application to enable entrepreneurs to continue benefiting from credit, group synergy, and financial literacy skills virtually while adhering to COVID-19 restrictions and social distance requirements. GAV also made provisions for other organizations using the group financing model to use this application. By doing so, it supported organizations unable to afford the high cost of developing their own digital tools. GAV supported over 2,000 entrepreneurs in undertaking a rapid analysis of how to improve their businesses and thrive during and beyond the pandemic. GAV achieved this through working with partners despite the drastic operational effects of the pandemic, especially considering GAV works in one of the regions with the most recorded COVID-19 cases in Kenya.

Village Enterprise

Village Enterprise has extensive experience working in the poverty alleviation and livelihoods sectors over the past thirty years. They work in rural East Africa, primarily Kenya and Uganda, serving the extremely poor. Village Enterprise uses a highly effective targeting method to identify the extreme poor. They provide access to business savings groups, business and financial literacy education, mentorship, and cash grants (“seed capital”) to program participants. Village Enterprise is also implementing a Development Impact Bond, an innovative financing instrument where Village Enterprise receives payments from donors for its success in achieving the pre-defined result of increased household income; this Development Impact Bond is the first of its kind for poverty alleviation in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In response to the COVID-19 shock, Village Enterprise implemented an internal design challenge to reduce face time between business mentors and clients in its poverty graduation model without compromising program quality. To do so, it tested digitization solutions, including video programming, financial education apps, and phone-based training and mentoring. This lean impact design approach allowed it to quickly and efficiently test key assumptions and iterate its program design process. This led to the creation of effective remote mentorship methodologies. The most recent iterations allowed business mentors to reach 1,500 entrepreneurs in remote communities and increase training delivery capacity without sacrificing quality. By doing so, Village Enterprise has been able to continue delivering the same high-impact support to local entrepreneurs as it did before COVID, and to identify promising and scalable tools to take this impact to the next level.



Meta Themes

  • Social Entrepreneurship


Purpose and Desired Outcome

The purpose of this panel is to showcase the innovations designed and tested by these three NGOs. Their innovations have shown strong promise to serve as key tools to support local entrepreneurs. Learning from this Adaptation Fund experience (not just these three NGOs, but all nine), the Instiglio team will provide relevant lessons learned and insights to the wider ecosystem of actors: governments, donors, service providers, and other stakeholders in the poverty alleviation sector. Specifically, sharing learning regarding which innovations can scale and/or replicate to improve and adapt existing poverty alleviation programs and services, as well as what service providers can do to tackle challenges of shocks (e.g., public health pandemic). The desired outcome is for attendants to identify innovations that can help them support entrepreneurs and inform their work to adopt, replicate, and/or scale such innovations.


  • Service Providers

  • Government

  • Entrepreneurs

  • Accelerators & Incubators

  • Allocators (Family Offices, HNW Individuals, Foundations)


  • NameDouglas Emeott
  • TitleManager
  • OrganizationInstiglio
  • StatusConfirmed
  • NameMeshack Mbinda
  • TitleDirector of Technology
  • OrganizationVillage Enterprise
  • StatusConfirmed
  • NameJulienne Oyler
  • TitleCEO
  • OrganizationAfrican Entrepreneur Collective
  • StatusConfirmed
  • NameBernadette Muyomi
  • TitleFounder
  • OrganizationGreen Agri Ventures
  • StatusConfirmed
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