North East business leaders have dug deep to support an international children’s charity’s work to help aspiring entrepreneurs in East Africa. Guests at the recent North East Entrepreneurial Awards raised £5,000 for Newcastle based COCO (Comrades of Children Overseas). The event celebrated the leading dynamic and innovative businesses that are making a difference in the region. The donations will support the COCO Small Loans programme in East Africa, which provides a small amount of capital for people to start their own enterprises, enabling them to provide for their families and to help to break the cycle of poverty brought about by a lack of access to education.
Organised by the Entrepreneurs’ Forum, and hosted by COCO chairman and co-founder Steve Cram CBE, the awards saw 360 guests descend on the Hilton, Newcastle-Gateshead to honour entrepreneurial leaders who have made remarkable contributions to the local business economy. As a regular supporter of the charity’s work, the Forum was keen to raise funds on the night that would benefit the small loans programme in East Africa, helping to facilitate the kind of innovation and enterprise that were being showcased during the awards. In exchange for their donations, guests on the evening won a selection of top prizes courtesy of local businesses including Parkdean Resorts, Hays Travel, Fenwick and The Lakes Distillery.
Donations included an individual pledge of £1,000 by Sir Peter Vardy, which is already on its way to Tanzania to be invested in COCO’s Food for Fees programme, an entrepreneurial project which grows crops to sell, with the revenue funding children’s places at a new teacher training and learning centre. The funds from the programme will also generate sufficient surplus for COCO’s Tanzanian partners to cover the salaries of the charity’s two new apprentices a vital investment to build on the entrepreneurial spirit of the charity and to create capacity and independence in East Africa.
Jonathan Lamb, Chief Executive at the Entrepreneurs’ Forum, said: “While celebrating the best of entrepreneurship in the North East, our Awards also provide an excellent platform to showcase the incredible work of charities within our region and the impact they are making across the world.
“This year was no exception; thanks to our generous guests who’ve collaboratively raised an extraordinary final total for COCO and their Small Loans programme. The programme truly demonstrates the power of entrepreneurship by enabling aspiring entrepreneurs in disadvantaged communities to become financially sustainable with a loan as small as £20.
“I’m also delighted that this year’s achievement has taken us beyond the half-a-million fundraising milestone – it is a phenomenal achievement that everyone connected to the Forum can be proud of.”
The COCO Small Loans programme sees microfinance loans of approximately £20 distributed to members of disadvantaged communities to support diverse businesses ranging from restaurants to convenience stores, which are then repaid over a period of six months. Since the first loans were distributed in 2007, over 6,000 have been distributed. Research shows that recipients see an increase in income of 50% in the first six months, a figure that continues to grow with their businesses.
Lucy Kendall, CEO of COCO, said: “We are incredibly grateful for the continued support of the Entrepreneur’s Forum and its members who recognise the importance of helping small businesses, not just here in the North East, but those in marginalised communities in East Africa.
“COCO, just like the Forum, believes that everybody should have the opportunity to release their inner entrepreneur. We recognise that many people have great ideas but lack the opportunity to make them a reality and this is where our Small Loans scheme can really make a difference, allowing people to set up a business with a loan as small as £20. Entrepreneurs are able to use the enhanced income from their businesses to enrol their children in school and improve their long-term prospects, as well as to meet the immediate needs of their family. The £5,000 raised in just one fantastic evening at the North East Entrepreneurial Awards will go a long way towards helping many more individuals to kick-start life-changing enterprises.”
Co-founded in 2000 by Steve Cram CBE and British Army Major Jim Panton, COCO has grown into one of the North East’s most dynamic and well-loved charities, working in partnership with remote communities across East Africa to provide access to the quality education that is essential for a good start in life. Since its inception, the charity has raised over £4.5 million to fund small, community led programmes. COCO and its partners have now undertaken 66 transformational projects in 16 countries, positively impacting on the lives of over 200,000 people.
To find out more about the work of COCO visit www.coco.org.uk, find the charity on Facebook or follow @COCO_Charity on Twitter.