Enterprise Funds’ Mooted Makeover Formula
As the US gears up, after a similar move in Canada, to form a one-stop development finance operation to challenge other bilateral providers with deeper pockets and more powers, think tanks have urged expanded tools and modernization of decades-old concepts like enterprise funds. They were launched originally in the 1990s to inject venture capital and business and management knowhow into former Communist countries, and adapted more recently for the post-Arab Spring with efforts in Egypt and Tunisia. A new Center for Strategic and International Studies paper hails their “unique” contribution as an aid and foreign policy instrument, offering economic development and private sector expertise and returning budget appropriations in full without additional bureaucracy. They allocated $1.5 billion to generate multiple investment sums, original appropriations return in full, new companies and industries, and broader private equity activity. The CSIS calls for a “third wave” with expanded geographic, co-investor, technology and thematic scope. The Middle East would remain a focus in Jordan and Lebanon, and the mass migration “Northern Triangle” in Central America as well. Outside impact investors seeking non-financial returns could join, and mobile banking and on-line platforms would be targets. The Ex-Im Bank, AID and OPIC can build on the 1990s track record which leveraged $7 billion in additional investment and created 300,000 jobs, with the first Polish one spun off as Enterprise Investors, now the country’s largest player. Among global challenges for revised structures is the forced displacement crisis, with 65 million fleeing conflict and despair, and the demographic youth bulge in Africa, where 100 million between the ages of 15 and 25 will add employment and population pressures. Donors give $170 billion now in aid against the trillions of dollars needed to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. The World Economic Forum estimates “blended” facilities as a public-private hybrid with environmental, social and commercial criteria at $35 billion, an amount equal to specialist impact funds with energy, health and agriculture portfolios.
Another imperative is “countering Chinese soft power” through an array of schemes and lenders, including Belt and Road and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, with $100 billion in capital and a planned $10-15 billion annual credit pipeline. Equity and skill-intensive enterprise funds offer a distinct alternative, and provisions of the proposed legislation for creating a new development finance agency authorize them. They must “crowd in” private capital where access and liquidity gaps exist, and boards comprised of proven professionals should be independent and flexible. Operations should be decentralized with qualified local staff a recruitment priority, and business and policy metrics for success defined in advance, such as sector-specific indicators or governance and regulatory progress. A regional approach may be better for small countries to achieve economies of scale and cross-border demonstration effects, and the US innovation can openly compete with Beijing in places its influence is outsize such as in Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, the Center advises. In the former American investment is less than one-tenth the Chinese $7 billion. In Haiti bilateral aid is $375 billion with no venture capital, and longer term North Korea could be a pilot provided nuclear missiles are dismantled or no longer on the radar under inspections Washington and Seoul seek.