Trickle Out Africa Project


The aim of the Trickle Out Africa Project is to undertake research on the role that social and environmental enterprises may play in sustainable development and poverty alleviation. Firstly it undertakes empirical research on these types of organisations and the contextual settings within which they are based (at the interface of the formal / informal economy and within sub-Saharan Africa), exploring these through qualitative and quantitative research techniques and a variety of conceptual framings and theories. Secondly the project provides a platform to disseminate information on these organisations, related support bodies and research findings to stakeholders, user groups, researchers and policy makers. This platform adopts a diverse approach to dissemination and engagement including a website hosting a searchable directory of almost 4000 businesses and agencies across 19 countries, working papers, open access case studies, book chapters, conference papers, workshop reports, videos, reports, editorials, and social media outlets such as Facebook.


The Trickle Out Africa Project (TOA) exploring African social and environmental enterprises began in February 2011 as part of Dr. Diane Holt's ESRC First Grant project. The initial phase of the project far exceeded initial expectations; growing into an online platform hosting a free, searchable directory of almost 4000 organisations from across 19 African countries. The TOA website has received 276,927 unique visitors over the last 12 months and 3.8 million associated page views (up to Feb 2014). Research outputs include working papers, case studies, book chapters and forthcoming publications. TOA has a thriving social media presence with a Facebook page, numerous blog posts about the project, and articles in newspapers, the Big Issue and other trade publications. The project has developed strong links with user organisations such as the African Social Entrepreneurs Network (ASEN) and its East African equivalent (EASEN), click here to find out more about our partners. In 2012 TOA hosted a workshop in Nairobi for 22 African academics from Zambia, South Africa, Kenya, Malawi and the UK, as well as presenting a master class on entrepreneurship attended by over 70 members of Kenyan business and civil society.

During 2011/12 TOA directly engaged with 20 case study organisations in Zambia, Kenya, South Africa and Mozambique during more than 24 weeks of fieldwork by its founder members (Holt / Littlewood). These open access case studies are available on the website and map the social, environmental and economic impacts of these organisations. They form a legacy resource for the planned longitudinal study of these organisations over the next decade. TOA also explores the intersection between informal and formal economies in sub-Saharan Africa, given that the informal economy is often a key component of the social purpose venturing space in Africa, where a hybrid mixture of organisational forms are emerging, with the informal economy a key supplier of materials, labour and/or customers.


The TOA Project has already received a number of honours including a nomination and selection as a finalist for the 2013 Outstanding Academic Study in Development category of the International Development Awards - All Party Group on International Development held at the Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Northern Ireland, and received an honourable mention. Also in 2013 a TOA paper won the 'Best Paper Award' in the social, environmental and ethical enterprise track at the Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship Conference. Three other conference papers were also nominated as best papers in track at conferences in 2012 and 2013. TOA has a broad audience including practitioners, academics, businesses, policy makers and the general public, as evidence by the significant website traffic and media coverage so far.

TOA has now moved into a new phase in its work and scope, building on its success and significant impact so far. Over the last twelve months since the end of the original funding TOA has continued to develop its work and has identified a programme of research and collaboration that will span at least the next decade.


The TOA project will focus on four interconnected objectives over the next five years:

  • To explore the role of social purpose ventures (social, environmental or other forms of hybrid social purpose ventures) as a mechanism to alleviate poverty and promote sustainable development;
  • To assess the impact of these organisations and how they evolve over time;
  • To examine the interface between the informal and formal economy and implications for individual subsistence level entrepreneurs/communities and business (social purpose and large corporates); and
  • To consider the influence of institutional context on the nature and impact of social business considering differences emerging in different developing world environments.

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