Interview with Vikki Brennan at Proudly Made in Africa

Can you please tell us a bit about yourself personally and professionally?                     

I started out as part of a large buying team procuring men’s fashion from a variety of international sources before moving away from procurement and towards checking social standards of the value chain.

I’ve recently returned to my hometown of Dublin to take up the role of director at Proudly Made in Africa having spent some time abroad, working for Associated British Food in London and then the Bangladesh Accord Foundation in Amsterdam.

Imagine that you met someone in an elevator and was asked to explain Proudly Made in Africa in 30 seconds or less… Can you give us a 2 sentence ‘elevator pitch’ about your business and what you do?

Proudly Made in Africa is an Ireland-based NGO that assists African producers of manufactured and processed goods to build markets for their products in EU countries.

Our mission is to generate employment opportunities for African communities through building the capacity of African producers to market their products internationally and to change the bias that stops consumers engaging with African products so that Europe relates to Africa through trade not aid.  Our vision is an international marketplace for African-made value-added goods so that it is normal for African countries to add value to their products before export and normal for European buyers to source consumer ready products from Africa, not just raw commodities.

How did you get started in this business?

I have always been interested in the crossover space between business and NGOs believing that business can and should be used as a force for good in the world.  Most of my work in the corporate world has been around that idea, from educating buyers on purchasing practices to auditing factories around the world.  To me, joining PMIA was a natural progression of this career theme – an NGO that is trying to generate business for African factories in a responsible way and to develop sustainable value chains around which people can lift themselves out of poverty.

Can you describe your customers / what type of customers does Proudly Made in Africa have?

Our clientele, or network to use a more appropriate word, is made up of suppliers of ready-to-retail product from all over the African continent and the EU retailers and wholesalers we seek to connect them with.

So, in that regard, we have two types of customers:

  • Factories: We have built up a network of over 500 African factories to whom we offer information on EU markets for ready-to-retail goods and capacity building to achieve them.
  • Buyers: EU retailers and brands that we assist in sourcing from that network of African factories.

What are some of your “keys to success” in building your customer base?

Proudly Made in Africa has built a successful network of quality producers by focussing on goods that satisfy four key criteria – goods must be of high quality, ready-to-retail, African-made and ethically produced.

These strict criteria are also what attracts buyers to our services when they are considering sourcing in Africa and have enabled us to become an authority on sourcing in Africa.

Is there anything about your business that you feel makes it special?

Proudly Made in Africa is special in that it is the only NGO working to enable communities to trade their way out of poverty by increasing trade with Africa in value-added products rather than the more common and lower value raw materials.

In addition to this core work, we are actively seeking to bring African business onto the agenda of business schools.

Through our education programme, Proudly Made in Africa raises knowledge and awareness of the role trade plays in poverty reduction in Africa.  We believe that by educating the world’s future business leaders on the potential of African enterprise, the negative bias surrounding Africa as a trading region will be removed and lasting business relationships can flourish.

What kind of technology advances do you see that will likely affect this sector over the coming few years?

I think technology can play an even bigger role in value chains than it does now.  The sector is currently abuzz with how Blockchain will reduce or remove entire tiers from lengthy international value chains, making for a more transparent way of working which sounds like good news for sustainability.

Where do you see your organisation in the next year? In the next five years? In the next ten years?

Proudly Made in Africa is undergoing a period of growth as we develop new partnerships with ever more suppliers – our network currently stands at over 550 producers and we expect that number to increase.

The long-term plan for Proudly Made in Africa is to have a self-generating income that can then be channelled back into projects to continue improving African value chains and enhancing the image of Africa as a strong market for ethical consumer goods.  The result of this is a future where African communities thrive, sustained by value-added processing of their natural resources.

Vikki Brennan

Vikki Brennan
Proudly Made in Africa

133 Capel Street
Dublin, D01 C8W9