Andy Agaba is the founder and CEO of Hiinga, a faith-driven Impact Investing organisation that funds values-driven entrepreneurs in East Africa. In addition to capital, Hiinga provides business training, coaching, and discipleship to entrepreneurs. He holds an MPA in Business and Government from Harvard, where he held two fellowships. He also holds advisory roles at the MIT Martin Trust Centre for Entrepreneurship.
At face value Andy Agaba is a highly successful and enthusiastic entrepreneur who is passionate about building into the lives of young entrepreneurs in East Africa by providing capital and business coaching. But this wasn’t always the case… His father passed away two weeks before Andy was born, and this set the stage for a life of struggle for Andy and his mother. Eventually tired of sending her child from pillar to post while she tried to find work, Andy’s mother started a small teashop with her savings of US$30. “We sold tea and some baked goods, like chapatti and mandazi,” he explains.
Everything they saved went towards his education, and eventually a small pig farm. “At the beginning of every school term, we would sell one or two pigs to get a deposit for the tuition. That’s how I went to the best schools possible – way beyond our means! And then I was able to get a scholarship and go to university, all because my mom had set the foundation of good schools.”
It was at university that Andy started to notice the disparity between his life and that of his friends. “I realised that the friends that I used to kick a ball around with had all remained in the village because they didn’t have similar opportunities to me. It was my mother’s little business that opened doors for me.”
God began to stir up in Andy’s heart a passion for creating more opportunities for others through business. “I told God that I really wanted to be at this intersection of job creation, of supporting entrepreneurs, and providing access to capital. And to my surprise, it’s now almost 20 years later and this dream has not left me. That’s the journey I went on before starting Hiinga.”
Hiinga is a Christ-Centered Impact Investing Fund that invests in the ‘missing middle’ entrepreneurs. Besides capital, Hiinga provides business training and mentoring, Christian discipleship and leadership development. The hope is that these entrepreneurs will then go on to create jobs, mentor others and essentially create long-term value for their communities, families and churches.
How does Hiinga take a long-term view? They invest in businesses over years, with lending rates below market value. “We aren’t profit-driven. We designed Hiinga in such a way that we are not extractive. So essentially, we charge just enough to help us to remain in business. We decided to rather leave some of the profit that we could take from business, for them. It is based on the biblical concept of gleaning. The Jews (when harvesting fields) would not clear the whole field – they would leave some of the grain in the field so the poor could come in after them and collect enough to eat.”
This approach means that Hiinga cannot serve as many entrepreneurs as they would like – but they are seeing the fruits of their long-term investments, especially in the health sector.
Andy believes that short-term investing does not serve people well. “It does not really grow people, it does not grow companies, and it cannot grow communities and societies. I’m so glad that God made me African. I know when I’m investing here, I’m not just investing in me, I’m investing in our future, in the future of our children, the future of our grandchildren, the future of my friends and church and family.”
Andy points out that poverty in Africa is generational, so any strategies to combat poverty also have to be multi-generational. “When you think about the potential entrepreneurs to invest in, it’s not just about the young man or the young woman standing in front of you – you have to think about how this will impact their children and their children’s children.”
He goes on to explain, “Scripture talks about visiting sins upon the third and fourth generations. So if a problem is that deeply rooted, the solution needs to be equally long-term focused. And I definitely think things are better than they were 20 years or 40 years ago. So it takes time, as injustices are corrected and we put in the hard work to change how things are done.”
Andy’s greatest motivation comes from knowing that we’re all part of God’s beautiful redemptive story. “We are just participants in His story! He lets us be part of His plan and purpose. We just have to show up really, and God does the work. Colossians 1:16 tells us that all things have been created through Him and for Him.”
Every believer has a unique role to play in this redemption story and Andy encourages, “No one plays a smaller or larger role. Paul writes about this in 1 Corinthians 12, that we are one body with many members. So there’s no-one playing a more important role. If a foot should say, ‘because I’m not a hand, I do not belong to the body’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. But as it is, God arranged the members of the body as he chose. Isn’t that such a beautiful description to show what kind of value we bring to the kingdom?” Finally, he adds, “The world looks at success in many ways but in God’s kingdom, we all make up this body and we have equally essential roles to play in His long-term redemption story.”