Florian Kemmerich l Palladium - Oct 23 2023
Investing in the Missing Middle is a Fine Line

Florian Kemmerich, Palladium Managing Director of Fund Placement

For several years now, global development organisations, actors, investors, and more gather at Development2030 to discuss and collaborate on achieving the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs). Established in 2015, the 17 interconnected goals were adopted by all UN member states and were created to address a wide range of global challenges and build a more sustainable and prosperous world by 2030.

2030 is quickly approaching and we now know that achieving them will require a herculean task – one that transcends governments, sectors, international borders, and beyond. Events like Development2030 are an opportunity to collaborate and problem solve for these global challenges by bringing together some of the brightest minds across a range of sectors.

This year though, the theme of “Re-energising the SDG’s - Time to break the cycle and reinvent international development to super charge progress towards the SDG’s” suggests that what we’ve been doing isn’t working anymore. And where I see a clear opportunity to push progress forward is investing in and supporting the missing middle, especially in emerging markets. This isn’t a new or groundbreaking concept, but it’s a challenge, nonetheless.

The missing middle refers to the growing gap in funding and support available for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the challenge that many of these small businesses face when accessing the services they need to grow and scale their businesses. They are too large to be served by microfinance institutions and too small and high risk for the more formal banking sector to support. This leaves them without access to critical financial services despite the significant role they play in emerging economies.

The wealth of a nation is defined by its SMEs. Engaging private capital and aligning different players to fund those SMEs is where we’ll see progress toward the SDGs, nationally and internationally, . The fact that Development2030 invited me and other investment experts to speak on a panel around which partnerships deliver the most impact – blended finance, co-investing, and risk sharing – is an acknowledgement that development organisations alone cannot address this growing challenge.

For years, we’ve been working to align different players around the common goal of funding the missing middle. And the sweet spot is when you bring the private and public sectors, and the aid world together with their distinct expertise and capital through blended finance structures and public-private partnerships. The goal is that each partner has a specific skill set either on the ground in terms of getting small businesses ready for seed funding or the catalytic capital that reduces the risks for private investors.

This conversation will be happening at Development2030 and that’s an enormous step forward. Aid and development organisations will be coming together to partner, to engage private capital, and to embrace different theories of change.

The reality is that aid money can’t solve these problems, and at the risk of being controversial, I believe that aid money has distorted markets.
By financially supporting small businesses and companies without providing the technical support to help them to scale up, these SMEs are set up to fail.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t make use of aid funding – rather, we need to take more of a development minded approach in conjunction with technical support. It’s about engaging with these businesses to help them scale, making it less about poverty uplift and more about economic empowerment.

While both are similar, one is simply more sustainable. When you have economic empowerment, then you have profitability and scalability, and aid funds can be used to de-risk businesses for private investors, which is ultimately the only way that those investors will fund the missing middle.
Events like COP28 focus on how to deal with climate change and how to get more capital and bigger pledges from more parties, and the same is true at

Developmen2030. What excites me is the fact that the development world doesn’t just discuss aid in a silo, but actually understands, collaborates with, and builds bridges to the private and financial world through these partnerships and blended finance structures. That’s why I’m hopeful that we’ll achieve the SDGs.

I truly believe that by impacting lives and sharing profit, we can build a better world. As they say: give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime. But if you invest in his fishing business, he and his community can experience sustainable prosperity for decades to come.

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