One of the aims of this blog is to promote and inspire the work of the African diaspora in the UK. For my first insight, thankfully I didn’t have to go too far and got the chance to catch up with my cousins – The Dapaah Group (DG) – to discuss their plans and motivations for the continent. In brief the siblings, Raphael, Kwaku & Afia Dapaah are on a mission as social entrepreneurs to promote and empower Africa & the diaspora.
How it all began…
As a Politics & History graduate, Raphael naturally pursued a career in governance, eventually leading to some sort of ambassador/ diplomat role in Africa. However after learning more about Africa’s industries and economic landscape, he discovered the gap of opportunity for change and development and the role he could play: “I started looking into Africa’s staple industries such as cocoa and coffee and discovered how little we actually earn from our own resources – it annoyed me – all these years we have taken in exporting our goods and we are not getting the true value for them”. Determined to make a change, he initially set up the business on his own. Further research led him to the idea of group economics and family dynasties which motivated him to approach his brother Kwaku with the idea who, at the time was working in Kenya for social enterprise, Balloon Ventures. Kwaku was project managing local startups there after graduating from Cambridge with an Economics degree. Given both brothers backgrounds and interests, the next steps came naturally. The Dapaah Group was created as a business response to Africa’s developmental needs.
“We find that Africa is blessed with an abundance of natural resources and opportunity; however these resources are often undervalued and exploited by foreign powers and systemic corruption. Our aim is to invest in Africa’s raw materials, and add value to them by processing them into finished goods for exports, and to ultimately eliminate our dependency on imported goods.”
Currently, Africa is a net importer of staple food products despite as we know, providing much of the world’s natural resources. Many commentators have emphasised the need to give more attention to the processing of raw agricultural produce rather than exporting unprocessed agricultural commodities. This is something we see in our everyday goods. For instance think The Body Shop, Starbucks or Lush. All brands that use taglines such as “Made from the foothills of Mount Kenya” and “Handcrafted Shea Butter from Tamale, Ghana”. Unfortunately, the origins of these ingredients are as far as Africa gets down the supply chain as these products are processed and manufactured into finished products abroad and quite often sold right back to the continent. According to Tanzanian businessman & entrepreneur Mohammed Dewji, over 80% of the value in the global food industry is in value-added components such as sorting, cleaning and packaging.
The opportunities, therefore, are clear and one that The Dapaah Group have identified and are looking to tap in to. Taking on first the cocoa sector, their first investment, they have established a chocolate company: Dapaah Chocolates. At the moment the company source their cocoa from across Africa (including Tanzania, Uganda and Madagascar). However, once they have received the relevant authorisation from Ghana’s Cocoa board the aim is to source the majority of beans from a family owned farm in our hometown of Sefwi Wiawso in the Western region of Ghana and eventually build a factory with surrounding farms there. The chocolate industry turns over $100million in sales annually, and countries like Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire who produce up to 90% of the global supply of cocoa, only receive 2% of this booming industry. “Our hope is that we will be able to bring jobs, opportunities and tourism to the area, thus creating a micro-economy and a climate of prosperity in too often neglected rural Ghana.” Thus the social enterprise model was a purposely selected business model, as the group places emphasis on social impact through job creation and development via the private sector (the group is registered as a business in the UK).
As the group has control of their product direct from the cocoa bean all the way down to processing and packaging, they have been able to fully engage with their product and discover their niche. “After doing research into the cocoa industry we discovered that a lot of the chocolate we eat isn’t really even chocolate as a lot of the nutrients of the cocoa bean are left out. The cocao – the dried seeds used for making chocolate – in its raw form is rich in antioxidants and boasts tremendous health benefits. As a result, we have been able to create a high quality, single origin chocolate direct from the bean”.
Naturally, setting up any kind of business is demanding much less one that demands the skill of a chocolatier (Kwaku currently acts as Head Cook, whipping up chocolate recipes in the family kitchen). How do the siblings balance The Dapaah Group with their day jobs? Raphael currently works full time and devotes his lunch breaks, evenings and weekends to his MD responsibilities at DG as well as taking on the marketing and engagement role from his sister, Afia whilst she completes her final year of university. As for Kwaku, he decided to go part time which has provided him with a good balance to take on the role of CFO and Head Cook. He says “luckily my team have been quite supportive in my decision to go part time and my colleagues were actually one of the first groups to sample our chocolates – the feedback was great.”
So what’s next for The Dapaah Group? In the long term the aim is clear – move their entire production back to Ghana in a position of strength with an established brand within 5 years. The Group plans to set up a factory and buy land purposely for farming, giving them a firm grip on the entire Dapaah Chocolates supply chain. This will ensure job creation for local farmers as well as young graduates (the first group of people they plan to employ who have been left idle due to lack of jobs after graduating) in processing, packaging, logistics and transport. Raphael adds “ultimately we aim to have cocoa suppliers from several African and diaspora countries for our single origin speciality line. That way we establish our brand footprint everywhere and confirm ourselves as a pan- African brand.” This is certainly something to look forward to. There is also the potential for expanding beyond cocoa into Ghana and Africa’s other natural resources because of course, the possibilities are endless!
In the short term, however, the plan is to officially launch Dapaah Chocolates in a year’s time with a brand and operations here in the UK. In the lead up to launching, DG will be working collaboratively with other brands and entrepreneurs at events across London.
What can the Diaspora do?
Raphael puts it quite simply, “identify what other people could see as a challenge and see it as an opportunity – if the Chinese and British can see opportunities why can’t we?” Clearly, opportunities do exist on the continent for the diaspora within agribusiness and beyond.
The Dapaah Group would love to hear from you, leave your comments below!