Business with Impact programme closes with review of results

Ministry for Foreign Affairs 20.12.2019 11.09
News item

Business with Impact (BEAM), a programme launched by Business Finland and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in 2015, will expire at the end of 2019. It is time to take a look at the results and at new ways to develop innovation support.

The BEAM programme supports projects in which innovations produced by companies, research institutes and organisations are applied to finding solutions to global development challenges, at the same time creating international business opportunities for Finnish companies.

The programme will expire at the end of this year. The participating project promoters will convene for a closing seminar to discuss challenges encountered and factors that contributed to the success of projects funded from the programme. A number of evaluations have been made in the course of the programme, and the evaluation team managed to finalise its report in time for the closing seminar.

A varied list of projects

Altogether 151 projects have received funding from the BEAM programme. The geographical coverage of the programme has been extensive. India, Tanzania, Vietnam and Namibia stand out as major beneficiaries.

The total volume of the projects was EUR 58.8 million. Of this sum, EUR 19.3 million consisted of Business Finland’s innovation funding and loans and EUR 11.9 million came from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs’ development cooperation appropriations. The rest of the funding was provided by the project promoters themselves.

The projects were not limited to any particular field of activity, and examples of successful projects in very different fields were presented in the closing seminar. To cite an example, a company called Shadeshare, which manufactures wood-framed sunglasses in Kenya, donates part of its profits to World Vision and seeks to compensate for its carbon footprint by planting trees. Block Solutions is a Finnish company that manufactures modular blocks made of wood fibre (a by-product of the timber industry) and sells them by franchise . The idea is to enable easy and safe construction of affordable houses, as an alternative to shack dwellings.

The majority of the beneficiaries are small enterprises, although a few larger companies have also received funding. Among the latter, Fortum carried out a pilot project together with an Indian solar energy company with the aim of providing solar energy systems to households.

The majority (87%) of project leaders considered that the projects had progressed as planned or better than planned. According to the evaluation group, BEAM was a well-timed and appropriately targeted programme, for which there is still demand.

However, evidence of the direct development impacts of the entire programme is limited so far, although some successes have already been recorded. This is partly due to the fact that a large proportion of the projects have only just been launched. The evaluators stated that it was too early to assess the projects’ development impacts, although the prospects are promising.

Listening to stakeholders

Regardless of business sector and company size, a distinctive feature of successful projects was that they had established good contacts with local actors and based their activities on local needs. “There is no point in just pushing your own product, even if it’s good,” says Kristina Lähde, a member of the evaluation team. Any problems with the projects tended to arise when partners in the target country felt they were being treated as subcontractors rather than equal parties.

At the closing seminar, many speakers from Finnish companies emphasised the importance of NGOs in building ownership at the country level. Such organisations have often worked in the country for a long time and established relationships based on mutual trust with local actors.

Seeking clearer impacts

Although the Business with Impact programme is coming to an end, Business Finland and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs are currently planning to launch a similar joint programme for innovation funding. The form of this future financial instrument is yet to be determined, but it is important to make sure that funding is more explicitly based on the partner countries’ needs. The programme will build on the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Antti Piispanen, Director of the Foreign Ministry's private sector team, stressed the need to adopt a more strategic approach to using development cooperation appropriations to finance innovations. “We need to offer incentives for companies and encourage them to go to the more challenging countries, which is where the greatest development impacts can be achieved.”