Aspuna Group

Aspuna Group: Aspuna Gambia - cassava processing plant

London, United KingdomDuwasu, Gambia
Year Founded:
2015
Organization type: 
for profit
Project Stage:
Idea
Budget: 
$50,000 - $100,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Aspuna Group is a new generation international commodities trader. Unlike established businesses in this industry, Aspuna’s strategy is based on generating social returns alongside profits. Initially focusing on African Agriculture, Aspuna’s operations are designed to add socio-economic value.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if an expansion of the Aspuna Group’s social impact business model helps for ever transform rural living in Africa and Asia.
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Africa’s agricultural wealth is abundant. However, the region’s farming communities often make up the poorest segment in society. Africa's economies are also youthful ones - a demographic fabric that European economies struggle to maintain. Yet, high youth unemployment means this potential remains firmly locked. Aspuna intends to help change that. Our operations tackle both problems.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Aspuna Group uses its capabilities to unlock this agricultural potential. We create markets where farmers often struggle to find offtakers and families go hungry as a result. In The Gambia, where we are currently setting up our first processing operations, we are working closely with the government and the UN’s FAO to organise the country’s cassava producers into a number of farming cooperatives. Yet, we not only buy directly from farmers, but create jobs by processing locally. This will help eradicate youth unemployment and increase women employment in the manufacturing sector. In addition, our operations are being set up with the utmost respect for the environment and so we are working towards green energy solutions for our plant.

Awards

Aspuna Group is a new business and this is the first award scheme we are entering.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Binta graduated in Agroeconomy from Gambia University with top marks. Yet, like many well-educated Gambians Binta is considering to leave the country as she can't find a job. There is little opportunity outside the tourism industry in The Gambia. Although highly-skilled, Binta is aware that finding suitable employment in Europe is very difficult due to strict immigration regimes. In her desperation to make something of her life, Binta considers to join thousands of young Gambians on the ‘Back Way’ – the local description of the dangerous journey to Europe through the Sahara and across the Mediterranean Sea. However, on the day that she intends to start her journey, Binta spots an Aspuna Gambia ad. She applies and misses her coach to Bamako.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Aspuna Group, through its first local subsidiary in The Gambia, has created a lot excitement. Our presence has triggered the organisation of the hitherto scattered and rather small-scale cassava farms into cooperatives in preparation for the next harvest season. For the first time Gambian cassava will be able to substantially add to the income of the country’s farming communities. The diversification of their production portfolio will help Gambia’s small holder farmers manage the effects of climate change, thus boost and stabilise their income, while our operations will create skilled and unskilled employment. Due to the severity of Aspuna Gambia’s social and economic impact, Aspuna Gambia has been embraced by the government, international intergovernmental organisations, such as the UN, and ordinary Gambians.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

Aspuna Group plans to replicate its Gambian cassava-related success with firstly other agricultural products within Gambia, then in other countries within but also beyond Africa. While our initial focus lies on agricultural products we intend to eventually also expand into other commodity classes and markets.
Sustainability

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

The Aspuna Group founders are using their private funds to get Aspuna Gambia off the ground. Aspuna Gambia’s social and economic impact means we are potentially qualifying for a number of international grants, which would help us strengthen our first operations. In addition, we have identified a local and an international bank who are keen to be our financial partners to help us grow.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Aspuna Group is a pioneer in The Gambia. There is no other organisation in the country that has created and is now managing an agricultural value chain. There are a number of international trading businesses that run similar portfolios to that of Aspuna Group. However, it is not the products that distinguish Aspuna Group from its competitors – it is its business model. Aspuna Group combines commercial capabilities with a strong social cause. This is a new and so far completely unique business model in the commodities trading industry.
Team

Founding Story

I am a German-Gambian with many farmers in the family. The very large wealth gap between European and African farmers struck me early on in life. My Gambian farming family would work 16 hour days to be able to provide one warm meal a day, while my German farming family would work 12 hour days to buy a second family car - a BMW. I learnt that one crucial element that determined these different fortunes was the existence of a value chain. My Gambian family would sell small quantities to the local market, while my German family would sell to a large starch manufacturer. So when I met my like-minded founding partners at Cambridge Uni it was the right opportunity to start tackling this problem.

Team

MARIA-YASSIN JAH, Managing Director, Co-founder of the Aspuna Group, Prior to founding Aspuna Group Mrs. Jah was a Senior Market Strategist, with E.ON Global Commodities (EGC), Europe’s largest asset-backed commodity trader. Mrs. Jah joined EGC from McGraw Hill Financial's Platts, the world's largest commodities information provider, where she worked as an Analyst. She holds an Executive MBA from the University of Cambridge (UK) as well as an MSc from th London School of Economics (UK) and a BA from the School of Oriental and African Studies (UK). Mrs. Jah has dual citizenship of The Gambia and Germany. DR LUIS PRAZERES, Managing Director, Prior to founding Aspuna Group in the summer of 2015, Mr. Prazeres was a Senior Manager within EY’s Financial Services Risk practice and prior to that he worked for over 6 years at JPMorgan Market Risk Equities and Quant Commodities in London. Mr. Prazeres holds an Executive MBA from the University of Cambridge (UK) and a Ph.D. in Engineering. VLADIMIR MALY, Non-Executive Director, Vladimir Maly is a partner at one of the world’s top ten law firms, focusing on regulatory and transactional advice relating to the use of derivative instruments. He specialises in the mining, metals and energy industries. Mr. Maly holds an Executive MBA from the University of Cambridge (UK) and a LLM from Tulane University Law School (United States).
Background
Please confirm how you heard about the Unilever Awards:

University of Cambridge

Please confirm your role in the initiative (eg Founder/co-Founder) and your organisational title:

Co-Founder, Managing Director

Which of the 8 UN Global Goals (Sustainable Development Goals) pre-selected for this competition does your solution relate most closely to? [select all that apply]

No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Gender Equality, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action.

Leadership and the Unilever Awards
Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered.

This is my first venture. I was waiting for the right moment and the right partners.

Beyond your existing team, who else are you working with to achieve your objectives, eg partners, advisors, mentors?

Aspuna Group can draw on the experience of a pool of senior professionals from industry (former colleagues and managers) and academia from the University of Cambridge who, convinced of the Aspuna business model and cause, we have been able to recruit as mentors and advisors.