The launch of Ascent---an elite program focused on taking small and medium businesses to the next level—is already having an impact in East Africa. Ascent aims to grow businesses in their investment readiness and provide a community for the owners and leadership teams. The first group of six businesses is over halfway through the nine-month process, with one of six workshops remaining before the development of capital raise-related material and preparation for the investor pitch event in the first week of February. While the workshops provide space, facilitated time and structure for the leadership teams to work on their businesses, the Round Tables are times for the founders to come together and address the opportunities and challenges uniquely associated with their role.
The founders' round tables are designed to be “safe spaces,” as Ascent leader Martin Kibisu describes them. Founders of businesses often walk a lonely road, as few others know the unique challenges that an entrepreneur faces on a daily basis. Kibisu explains the importance of these round tables, as they are “a place to breathe after a tough season” and to “be vulnerable with other founders.” He highlights that the events are highly confidential, a place where owners can share without judgment. Kibisu further describes it as a space where “iron sharpens iron,” with the CEOs sharing their personal struggles and receiving support from others walking a similar road. The founders within the cohort can enter the event knowing they will be heard, encouraged, and prayed for.
These full-day events are structured differently than a workshop. In a founders round table focusing on both spiritual formation and innovation, for example, the time begins with checking in with the individual founders. Each person is able to discuss how he or she is doing, knowing the group will listen to, encourage, and pray for them. The Ascent leaders encourage the entrepreneurs to look at their businesses as their mission field, reaching their entire value stream for Christ. Then the group looks at a case study to see what it can look like to practically live out one’s faith through business ownership, while also building a profitable, growing enterprise that is marked by excellence. All of this set the stage for the group to dive into the tough questions: How am I doing on this journey of Kingdom impact? How have I implemented my faith into my business? Where am I struggling?
As the owners explore these questions together, a bond of trust and understanding is formed. The founders round tables build a community that would not have existed without Ascent. A new network of support is established, and the founders feel safe to share their burdens and struggles. In return for their vulnerability, they are offered wisdom, encouragement, and prayer.
This particular event concludes with a fireside chat with an industry expert in innovation. The smaller group means more focused content and discussion as the founders dive into the topic.
The value of the founders round tables cannot be overstated. In this particular workshop, the business owners had some monumental breakthrough moments. One business owner realized she needed to allow herself a season of rest. Another realized that he needed to reevaluate his point of focus in investment, perhaps changing direction altogether. Yet another founder had just come through a tough season, and the session was heavy but essential in getting him the support he needed. Kibisu recaps the time together by saying, “For each of the different founders, the different themes that were coming up were really encouraging and really causing them to see that they’re not working alone, somebody’s here working with you.”