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Entrepreneurial education in Africa: the E4Impact case

In the territory, for the territory: E4Impact and the importance of on-the-ground support for African entrepreneurship development
Written by Mario Molteni

The development of the African continent has been called the "challenge of the century": a huge continent, with steady growth that is almost unparalleled in the world (+6.9% GDP in 2021), full of entrepreneurial opportunities. From the Asian "tigers" that have had an incredible leap in the last twenty years, until today, where the eyes of the world economy are on the African "lions," the main growing economies on the continent, strong from the latest political and social transformations. And neighboring Mediterranean Europe is involved in this development process: Italy, in particular, is in the forefront of creating a bridge of dialogue and collaboration with emerging African realities.

Who is E4Impact: Origins, growth and identity

Fighting the brain drain and training talent locally, to promote local development: this is the heart of the action we take with E4Impact, the Foundation for the development of impact entrepreneurship in Africa. Our goal is to be a generative reality capable of making a concrete contribution to the growth of the African economy by acting directly at the root: investing in the training of talent and bringing our capital of know-how directly to the territories to help African entrepreneurs promote their businesses in the best way possible. Indeed, through its entrepreneurial training activities, the Foundation enables entrepreneurs to improve their business performance, create new job opportunities and, as a result, generate positive social and environmental impact within their communities. The work of E4Impact, together with its partners, is thus an example of concrete commitment by individual institutions to be able to come together to develop entrepreneurship in a specific region.

A Foundation with over a decade of history. Its birth is closely linked to ALTIS, the Graduate School Business and Society of the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan. ALTIS was asked to create a master's program aimed at future managers from Africa, but after a few editions, a critical issue emerged: qualified talent preferred to stay in Europe and not to return to their countries of origin. This had unintentionally created a brain drain for Africa, which ended up losing the value of its entrepreneurial talents. Here was the intuition that marked the identity of our Foundation: to transfer all activities to Africa, to offer quality training directly in developing territories. Thus in 2010 in Nairobi the first MBA began sponsored by ALTIS. Providing only support for education was therefore not the solution; a holistic approach was needed to make a real impact and advance the Foundation's goals in the local area in which it operates.

Instead, the real birth of the E4Impact Foundation took place in 2015, thanks to the joint efforts of the Genesi Association, Università Cattolica, Mapei, Webuild and the Always Africa Association. From here, E4Impact's identity comes into focus, defining the cornerstones of its activities and further articulating its educational offerings: in 2018, thanks to the support of AICS and Eni, the first startup accelerator is launched in Nairobi, Kenya. In the meantime, E4Impact's network of companies, universities and training centers becomes more and more widespread, and in 2019 another important milestone is the birth of the E4Impact Alliance, a pan-African community created to bring together 24 universities scattered across Africa in a collaborative network. Together with our partners, stakeholders and community, we have been able to put into practice a holistic approach included efforts towards development institutional commitment, shared goals, service alignment and more.

How value is created: E4Impact's main activities

Our support for training and opportunity creation for African entrepreneurs is carried out through 5 main types of activities reflecting ACEEU standards, especially Dimension 4: Education, Research and Third Mission Activities and Dimension 5: Innovation and Impact :

Global MBA in Impact Entrepreneurship. Master's degrees in entrepreneurship developed in collaboration between Università Cattolica, and a local university, carried out in 15 African countries to help participants develop their own business idea in order to create a business or enrich an already active one.
Cooperation and development projects. Designed for the development of value chains as a whole and implemented with the support of several partners of international relevance. The projects mainly target certain strategic sectors that have social relevance, such as waste management, healthcare, climate start agribusiness, ICT, fashion and migration.
Entrepreneurship centers. Places that support the growth of startups through acceleration and incubation services, but also through networking with investors, communication support, access to physical co-working spaces, satellite technology services, financing, coaching and mentoring, and among with other professional services.
Business Development Africa. Established in 2020 and dedicated primarily to the Alumni network, it is designed to create connections and partnerships between African and European businesses. It also supports the expansion of European SMEs in Africa by connecting with its network of local entrepreneurs to promote mutual economic and socio-environmental benefits.
Research. Study center that consists of six researchers committed to analyzing the state of the art of entrepreneurship and sustainability on the African continent. Academic research is supported with scientific articles based on empirical evidence. In the area of research, the first School for Research Methodologies was inaugurated in 2021 for faculty members of the Alliance universities and the first PhD program was launched in collaboration with Università Cattolica and Uganda Martyrs University. This PhD is able to offer access to an Italian academic degree, without requiring any travel for the candidates, who can attend the courses while remaining in their country of origin. The participants come from 14 different African countries and are enrolled in two distinct tracks, "Management and Innovation" and "Agrisystem". This offer the professors the opportunity to increase teaching and research capacity.

In relation to ACEEU standards, future plans for E4Impact activities include a fundraising plan in the U.S. to further boost activities, with a focus on the African continent's grand challenges, such as regenerative and hydroponic agriculture. The Foundation's 2023-2025 plan, also includes the launch of an equity-based revolving fund to progressively increase direct support to entrepreneurs and the creation of an Alliance council in which universities, alumni, and stakeholders (such as local and international institutions, funders, etc.) are represented to identify the evolution of the foundation over time.

The impact on the territory: Achievements

To date, E4Impact operates in 20 countries, contributing to the training of more than 6.000 people and working on a total of 31 projects, partly thanks to the collaboration of a network of more than 75 project partners involved.
After participating in the E4Impact-promoted MBAs, the entrepreneurs and businesswomen have seen concrete results for their business: 57% of those who started with just a business idea have managed to open a business, 98% have had an increase in revenues, and 41% have managed to access additional financing. All this while continuing to create added value for the area: 100% of the new businesses are operational to date and have resulted in an average of 6 new jobs created per entrepreneur.

Conclusions: A look to the future

In 2021, enrollments in the MBAs offered by the Foundation increased by 12% compared to 2020, demonstrating that E4Impact's work is continually growing; this is because it is the African continent as a whole that is rapidly developing. E4Impact's goal continues to position itself within this growth as a facilitator, a strategic bridge to ease the continent's delicate phase of economic and social development: we hope to become more and more a bridge between the continents in the South and North of the Mediterranean .
In particular, in these years, E4Impact has had a great impact on the business environment in the 20 African countries in which it operates. Indeed, through its entrepreneurial education activities, the Foundation has enabled entrepreneurs to improve their business performance, create new job opportunities and, as a result, generate positive social and environmental impact within their communities. We hope that our work will inspire future universities and organizations in promoting effective cultural change toward the Third Mission. This is why we plan to intensify the activities already underway and initiate new projects, involving the Foundation's partners in a growing engagement on several fronts to continue to train a new generation of high social impact entrepreneurs in Africa.


Ridolfi, R. (Ed.). (2020). Africa: la sfida del XXI secolo. [Africa: the 21st century challenge] Donzelli Editore.

African Development Bank. (2022). African Economic Outlook 2022. Author.

Carbone, G., & Montanini, M. (2015). Leoni d'Africa: come l'Italia può intercettare la crescita subsahariana. [Lions of Africa: how Italy can intercept sub-Saharan growth] EGEA spa.


Entrepreneurship Africa Business development Startup Education Community Engagement

About the author

Mario Molteni
Professor of Corporate Strategy at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (Milan, Italy), Rector’s Delegate for Business Relations, founder of ALTIS and CEO of E4Impact Foundation, E4Impact Foundation

Mario Molteni is Full Professor of Corporate Strategy at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (Milan, Italy) and Rector’s Delegate for Business Relations. He is the founder of ALTIS (Graduate School Business & Society) at the same university, an international research and education institution for sustainability and entrepreneurship, where he has been Director from 2005 to 2015. He also started the Sustainability Makers, the Italian association of professionals who work in the field of sustainability in companies and consulting firms. He is CEO of E4Impact Foundation, a Cattolica University spin-off promoted by several leading Italian companies, for fostering impact entrepreneurship in Africa, in partnership with local Universities, that currently operates in 20 African countries. For this initiative, in 2015 was named Senior Ashoka Fellow in Africa. He is author of more the 150 publications on Sustainability, Corporate strategy, Entrepreneurship, Social Entrepreneurship and Corporate Entrepreneurship. He has lectured in Corporate Strategy and Corporate Social Responsibility on many Master’s Programs (Cattolica University, SDA Bocconi, ENI Corporate University, Publitalia, Angelicum). He has performed the role of independent director on the board of Italian listed companies.



Image References

E4Impact Foundation