By Salimata Dia, Communications Specialist

The USAID West Africa Trade & Investment Hub (Trade Hub) orchestrated a Learning Event on May 23, 2024, hosted at the Azalaï Hotel in Dakar. The Learning Event marked a significant milestone in advancing inclusive and sustainable economic growth in Senegal through strategic co-investments; as such, the gathering united a diverse array of stakeholders, including co-investment partners, Senegalese government officials, international representatives, and private sector actors.

For the past five years, the Trade Hub has demonstrated unwavering dedication to enhancing the competitiveness of the private sector across West Africa through a market-driven approach. By fostering strategic collaborations with private enterprises, the initiative has effectively mobilized substantial funds, catalyzed the creation of sustainable and equitable employment opportunities, and facilitated regional and international trade. Across the region, the Trade Hub’s partnership with 91 private sector companies has led to the establishment of local initiatives in 16 countries and bolstered transformative economic growth.

A Trade Hub presentation by Lotfi Kourdali, Public-Private Partnerships Director. Photo Credit: The Trade Hub

The Learning Event highlighted the tangible outcomes of USAID’s Trade Hub Activity in Senegal specifically. Through grants totaling $9.1 million (5.5 billion CFA francs), awarded to 12 private Senegalese companies as co-investments, the Trade Hub has made significant strides in fostering inclusive and sustainable economic growth, including through the creation of 4,343 jobs and participation of 24,946 smallholder farmers. Impacting a broad range of diverse sectors, such as agriculture, health, clean energy, and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), the Activity has catalyzed $39.7 million in private investments through these projects that were meticulously designed to bolster competitiveness and propel inclusive economic growth, transforming businesses and communities.

In celebration of these achievements, the USAID Trade Hub hosted the Learning Event to foster knowledge-sharing, reflective learning, and showcase the innovative products and services developed through co-investment partnerships with Senegalese businesses. The event attracted over 80 physical and virtual participants, representing co-investment partners, Senegalese government officials, implementation partners, and other key development stakeholders.

There were three interactive panel sessions where grantees shared insights on and lessons learned from their partnerships and activities.Remarks were also delivered by Ms. Alyssa Leggoe, USAID/Senegal Mission Director, and Ms. Jouldée Soumare, Private Sector Director at the Ministry of the Economy, Planning, and Cooperation. A highlight of the event was the product exhibition, where co-investment partners showcased their products and services supported through USAID.

A key focus of the Learning Event was the exploration and promotion of innovative financial solutions, including blended finance, as critical tools for sustainable development. Blended finance, which combines public and private investment, aims to de-risk investments and attract substantial private capital towards developmental goals. This approach was highlighted as a means to bridge the financing gap for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and large-scale projects that drive economic growth.

Ms. Jouldée Soumare (Director of Private Sector Development at the Senegalese Ministry of Economy, Planning, and Cooperation) underscored the indispensable role of initiatives like the Trade Hub in advancing the government’s agenda for private-sector-led development. “The private sector, which is mainly composed of SMEs, plays a vital role in our economy, as these businesses represent 97 percent of the economic units in the country, generate nearly 40 percent of the jobs, and account for 33 percent of the gross domestic product.” Soumare went on to outline the government’s unwavering commitment to promoting the growth of local enterprises and addressing challenges, such as access to financing.

Mission Director Leggoe delivered an inspiring speech, highlighting the pivotal role of USAID’s co-financing mechanisms for Senegalese businesses. “The co-financing mechanism of USAID has contributed to the financial inclusion of SMEs, especially those led by women and youth,” assured Ms. Leggoe, adding that “inclusion is at the heart of USAID’s programs and strategies.”

Alyssia Leggoe, Mission Director, USAID/Senegal interacting with the West Africa Water a Grantee during the Product showcase. Photo Caption: The Trade Hub

Ms. Leggoe reaffirmed USAID’s unwavering commitment to supporting inclusive and sustainable economic growth, emphasizing the emergence of a new cadre of women leaders across various sectors. She expressed a heightened satisfaction because the Trade Hub project has contributed to this new class of women leaders, some of whom are operating in sectors previously dominated by men, such as water and sanitation.

One such female leader, Ms. Khadidiatou Nakoulima, Chief Executive Officer of Nest for All (a company dedicated to women’s and children’s health), provided valuable insights into the transformative impact of USAID’s support. She described how the co-investment enabled her company to reach underserved regions, invest in human capital, and ultimately enhance competitiveness and service delivery. “We received a co-investment grant from USAID through the Trade Hub. This allowed us to reach areas where the private sector has struggled to venture, specifically regions outside of Dakar, and to invest in human capital,” explained Nakoulima. “This assistance will make us more competitive and significantly strengthen the private sector. For example, we have been able to offer more services to our clients, including digitization, which facilitates the patient care journey.”

Salamba Diene, Biosene CEO, presenting her products to USAID/Senegal Mission Director, Alyssa Leggoe. Photo Credit: The Trade Hub

Ms. Aminata Mbaye, the Trade Hub’s Deputy Chief of Party who is based in Senegal, concluded the event by celebrating the successes of Senegalese businesses thriving through co-investments. She emphasized the ethos of collaboration and innovation at the heart of their shared missions, reiterating the Trade Hub’s commitment to ongoing support and development.

Paving the Way Forward

As the Senegalese Government continues to prioritize private sector-led development, championing initiatives like the Trade Hub exemplifies the government’s staunch commitment to supporting the growth and competitiveness of local enterprises. While challenges, such as access to financing, and the prevalence of the informal sector persist, USAID’s innovative solutions aim to address these barriers and propel sustainable economic progress.

“As an impact SME, we believe the West Africa Trade & Investment Hub has been an example of efficiency of what blended finance should be,” shared Thomas Gajan, CEO West Africa Water. “We are proud we contributed to 400 out of the 4,000 jobs created in Senegal through a sustainable and impactful commercial activity.”

The success of the Trade Hub Learning Event in Dakar—which is one in the ongoing series of  Trade Hub Learning Events across the region—underscores a sustained commitment to fostering inclusive and sustainable economic growth throughout West Africa. Similar events have taken place in Ghana, Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, and Nigeria. Through shared experiences, lessons learned, and fortified partnerships, the Trade Hub remains resolute in its mission to empower the private sector and foster economic prosperity across the region.