Rukayatu Sanusi saw an opportunity to address economic development through support to the small and medium enterprises (SME) sector. That is how she came to be the Executive Director of the Ghana Climate Innovation Center(GCIC), a pioneering business incubator with a unique focus on developing SME ventures and entrepreneurs in Ghana’s green economy.
The GCIC is funded by a grant from the governments of Denmark and the Netherlands through the World Bank and managed by a consortium comprised of Ashesi University, Ernst and Young, SNV Ghana and the United Nations University.
Prior to leading GCIC, Sanusi worked for two decades in international consulting in both the UK and Africa. She then founded her own advisory firm, Alldens Lane, that focused on supporting small and growing businesses, especially those owned and run by women.
“I realized five years ago that even in African countries with strong growth, only large firms were being supported by the ‘big four’ consulting firms while the professional SME sector wasn’t being served at all,” she said. “Who was going to support the transition of these companies to becoming the giants of tomorrow?”
With this responsibility, it is perhaps not surprising that Sanusi is reticent of inviting just anyone to be part of the GCIC.
“We are raising a class of transformational entrepreneurs who need to demonstrate deliberate professionalism and thought leadership,” she said. “They need to know how to build a brand – are you working in your business or on your business? We need business entrepreneurs who have the right mindset, personality and resolve.”
She also makes sure to emphasize how challenging entrepreneurship can be —
“When you’re an entrepreneur, you’re stretched on all sides. There are no creature comforts, you’re depending on a smaller team and therefore have greater responsibilities. It can really frustrate your ambitions.”
“It’s about mindset. Yes, you need to coach incubates from many angles, but the key is optimizing their mindset. At Alldens Lane and PWC, I assessed my clients very well and my women clients were so determined and wanted structure and support, rather than having a defeatist attitude that they could do nothing without money. Today, many of them run internationally-recognized businesses.”
The importance Sanusi attaches to grit extends from young companies all the way up to her own institution, the GCIC. GCIC is also a part of a global network of Climate Innovation Centers in six other countries around the world: the Caribbean, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco, South Africa and Vietnam. All centres are locally-owned institutions that provide clean technology ventures with the knowledge, capital, and access to markets required to launch and scale their businesses.
She underlines the importance of her organization’s mission. “An incubator serves a national need. Climate change is undeniable – it affects food security and energy supply. We need people who are up to the task and if you aren’t serving tomorrow’s business leaders, you’re doing the country a disservice.”