Rodney Schwartz: How our work with an African firm bore fruit

Rodney Schwartz
Rodney Schwartz

Of all the companies we have worked with, few are as colourful as Aduna, a firm that takes the west African superfruits baobab and moringa and turns them into healthy beauty and snack products. The baobab fruit is high in vitamin C, fibre, calcium and potassium; the moringa is rich in vitamins and minerals, including iron, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus.

Aduna's website is a glorious rainbow of hues that reinforces its valuable brand. Brand is extremely important. Unless you are able to create an attractive brand, the company will struggle to be sustainable and the poor communities Aduna helps will be deprived of the revenues these products can generate.

A good friend of mine called Tony Piggott, who had spent 30 years in advertising, was well aware of this and started the Brandaid Project. He appreciated the value of brands and how impoverished communities in developing countries would remain so unless they could seize the power of brands for their own benefit. Brandaid helps artisans in emerging countries gain western branding expertise.

I first came across the baobab fruit myself when my son returned from six months in Senegal, having seen them growing on ancient community-owned trees. But because of the lack of meaningful markets, these fruits just tumble to the earth and rot. I was staggered when, just two years later, I came across Andrew Hunt, co-founder of Aduna, at the Global Social Venture Competition, and his vision and drive impressed me massively. Since then, ClearlySo has worked with Aduna on two angel investment rounds totalling £750k, and one of our angel investors has joined his board. This happens in about a third of all the businesses we support, and more like 60 per cent of those that have pitched to our Clearly Social Angels network.

We do many of the things one might imagine a firm like ours does in relation to investor and investee preparation. In the case of Aduna, we were able to help in a very particular way. At the time of writing, Aduna is one of the nine finalists involved in the Pitch to Rich competition sponsored by Virgin. Rich, as you might have guessed, is Richard Branson. If Aduna were to win, it would be showered with money, advice and some fame. It became a finalist as the result of a public vote - it was in a fight with a few other enterprises and trailing by a bit. Under the whip of two of my colleagues, we took to the social media airwaves to try to increase the vote for Aduna. It came from behind to win by fewer than 20 votes - we were delighted to be part of that story.

Although this is not a core aspect of our normal business offering, Aduna is not a normal business. We are sometimes able to assist our clients in this way, but Aduna was uniquely suited for a social media assault. Again, it does not work with all companies - there is something special about the mixture of west Africa, an appealing brand and superfruits when you want to attract social media attention.

We look forward to working with more Aduna-like entrepreneurs in the future. I can see a few in the pipeline already.

Rodney Schwartz is chief executive of ClearlySo, which helps social entrepreneurs raise capital

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