Phil Siarri talks to Aïnina Aïdara, project manager at Finance Alliance for Sustainable Trade (Fast).
Aïnina Aïdara is project manager at Finance Alliance for Sustainable Trade (Fast), an international nonprofit organisation based in Montreal, Canada. Fast’s mission is to facilitate efficiency, transparency and stability in financial markets for small and medium enterprises (SMEs). During his tenure with Fast, Aïnina actively participated in the development of AXiiS (Access and eXchange for Impact Investment and Sustainability), a digital platform with the aim of matching credit-ready SMEs from various geographical areas, with lenders.
Phil Siarri: Hi Aïnina, nice to connect with you. Can you tell us a little about your professional background?
Aïnina Aïdara: Hello Phil. I started my professional career within the international cooperation sphere with the World Food Programme, during which I assessed their school feeding programme in Zambia. Later on, I had opportunities to work within the United Nations, local and Canadian NGOs, and the private sector, particularly in Africa and Latin America. It allowed me to touch upon various topics at management level, such as food security, micro-finance, information technologies, women empowerment and local capacity building.
PS: Tell us about AxiiS. How did the platform come to be, and what is its purpose?
AA: Fast also strives to provide the best strategies in connecting SMEs with impact investors with the agriculture and forestry value chains. In this regard, Fast started by organising financial fairs, during which SMEs would have business meetings with financial service providers (FSPs). In addition, an online financial marketplace was developed to showcase financial products from lenders members of Fast. However, we realised that it took a lot of time, money and human resources in order to not only set up the Fast Financial Fairs within target countries, but also to identify credit-ready SMEs. Therefore, AXiiS was born in order to create an online dynamic platform that really enables concrete investment opportunities by reducing cost and time at the demand and supply sides.
PS: What do you think has been the most successful ‘match’?
AA: As AXiiS was officially launched in December 2016, I consider the most successful match as the first investment match provided by the platform. An agriculture SME in Haiti was matched with a social lender, and they are currently in the final stage of the business negotiation. I’m very pleased with this match, as we want AXiiS to be an alternative financial solution for smallholder farmers, cooperatives and SMEs with challenges accessing fund through mainstream finance.
PS: What are the main roadblocks to adoption thus far? Would you say the nonprofit environment is a challenge for such initiatives?
AA: The main roadblock I notice is providing enough visibility to AXiiS, and getting potential SMEs and FSPs who register online to be matched. It’s always a challenge to launch a new service or product and get people fully interested and participative. However, we have a fully dedicated team and we already have registered FSPs with total assets under management of USD 6.6bn.
I believe the nonprofit environment constitutes both a challenge and an opportunity for this type of initiative. As a nonprofit organisation, it took us some time before securing funding to develop AXiiS, and there is a need for more funds to maintain, improve and expand its features. Alternatively, as a nonprofit entity, we understand the realities of farmers, cooperatives and SMEs in developing countries that allow us to develop a platform responding to their financial needs and the investment criteria of impact investors.
PS: What are your hopes for AXiiS?
AA: As stated through our communication strategies, I want for now AXiiS to revolutionise impact investing within the agriculture/forestry sectors. I was thrilled to work on its conceptualisation and development. My hope is for AXiiS to be the reference of accessing financial solutions by providing a user-friendly, multi-stakeholder, multi-language, useful and secure digital matchmaking platform.