In a time of economic turmoil, we pivoted, adapted, and pushed beyond what we thought possible.

Beyond Expectations

As COVID-19 swept through East Africa, the health impacts, economic repercussions, broken supply chains and customer attrition threatened our entrepreneurs’ livelihoods. Entrepreneurs stabilize and strengthen the communities they serve and have become even more vital to their communities during the pandemic.  

Economic downturn meant that entrepreneurs and communities needed AEC resources more than ever. It wasn’t the time for us to become less ambitious in our mission. 

Like our clients, AEC pivoted.  As you’ll see in the numbers and stories below, we provided training and consulting to more than 27,000 small businesses across Rwanda and Kenya – in capital cities and remote refugee camps.  We provided more investment than we had planned, leveraged technology, and kept all AEC staff on-track to deliver results. 

In 2021, we have continued our commitment to meeting entrepreneurs’ needs and expanding our services with new offices in Kenya and Ethiopia.

As you read through this 18-month impact report, know that we are grateful for your support. In these past months, we’ve pushed beyond what we originally thought was possible, and we continue to grow in 2021 and beyond.

Beyond Impact Targets

Jobs Created by Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs Served

Revenue Growth in 2020


Jobs Created by Entrepreneurs


Entrepreneurs Served


Revenue Growth in 2020

Beyond Traditional Advisory

With business operations turned upside down around the globe, AEC revised our service offerings.  In both format and content, AEC entrepreneurs needed – and received – new services to push beyond the new economic challenges of COVID-19.

Here are some of the ways we pushed beyond, pivoted and adapted to meet the needs of entrepreneurs:

Beyond Technology

No longer able to meet in person, AEC developed digital tools and expanded access to technology, making it possible for clients everywhere to continue receiving services with digital trainings, a new loan app, and smart phone distribution. AEC’s team assembled on Zoom, reached clients on WhatsApp, and set up more new eCommerce sites than we could have imagined.

Through our partnership with Viamo, AEC converted in-person trainings into pre-recorded digital modules accessible on any mobile phone. With these modules, AEC was able to deliver high-quality instruction to more than 9,500 entrepreneurs on business formalization & compliance, marketing & sales, and finance & accounting.

AEC increased remote access to loans with our newly launched loan app. Available in five languages, it will assist AEC in tripling our total number of borrowers (from 1,000 to 3,000) as we continue to lend nearly $250,000 a month.

AEC joined MTN Rwanda and Rwanda Ministry of ICT and Innovation’s Connect Rwanda campaign and distributed 500 smartphones to entrepreneur clients.


    Clients Improved Their Knowledge

    Entrepreneurs Trained with AEC Tech

    Using her phone to attend AEC training, Beathe gained the business skills necessary to increase her boutique’s working capital.

    David at Siloe Cafe

    beyond Traditional Capital

    In the past 18 months, AEC and our partners worked together to create new financial products – AEC COVID Relief Grants, Islamic banking products, and refinanced loan terms – to ensure capital flowed where needed. Prioritizing financial inclusion in a year of constrained resources led to positive impact for AEC entrepreneurs and their communities.

    COVID Relief Grants

    In partnership with the Mastercard Foundation and Ikea Foundation, AEC provided one-time COVID Relief Grants to entrepreneurs in East Africa. In the span of 60 days, AEC colleagues mobilized and disbursed grants to more than 5,300 entrepreneurs in Rwanda and Kenya. 

    Most entrepreneurs used the grant to overcome revenue dips, move business online, or withstand short-term price increases brought on by broken supply chains.  

    As a result of AEC COVID Relief Grants, 55% of businesses returned to pre-COVID-19 revenues and 5,404 jobs were saved.

    Grants Disbursed

    Abdulkadir’s COVID Relief Grant saved his grocery store, allowing him to offer food security in Kakuma camp to fellow Sudanese refugees.

    Affordable Loans

    Throughout 2020-21, AEC’s lending has continued undisrupted. In a time of critical need, AEC has been able to keep its core commitment of providing affordable loans to entrepreneurs to help them grow their businesses and serve their communities.

    Loans Disbursed

    In Financing


    Refugee Borrowers

    Islamic Banking Products

    AEC created new Sharia-compliant banking products in 2020, ensuring that Muslim clients in AEC’s programs have culturally relevant options to invest in their business.  Working with local imams and Islamic banking advisors across the globe, AEC developed these products with revenue-sharing agreements and asset collateral, instead of interest payments.  

    Early uptake of these new products in AEC’s Kenya offices demonstrates how culturally specific financing is critical for economic inclusion of refugees.

    Sharia-Compliant Investments

    “The Islamic banking product from AEC was in line with my faith as a Muslim and has significantly improved my business,” said Hawo.

    Beyond Partnerships

    With so many changes due to COVID-19, AEC and our partners supported each other to find new ways of reaching our shared goals. 

    With partners, AEC:

    • Introduced debt relief for borrowers with World Bank and Development Bank of Rwanda
    • Supported women entrepreneurs to access financing through the Bank of Kigali, UN Women, and Kate Spade, On Purpose Fund
    • Supported agriculture businesses to export products to the EU in partnership with the International Trade Centre
    • Helped youth develop digital skills for entrepreneurship in partnership with the Rwanda Ministry of ICT and Innovation and launched a new eCommerce platform with GIZ Rwanda
    AEC and Bank of Kigali have been in a five-year partnership to ensure that clients can have well-rounded support to grow their companies. Learn how Roselyne’s food business – using red hibiscus as the main ingredient – benefitted from a unique partnership approach.

    Beyond Borders

    In 2021, AEC has expanded across East Africa, adding new locations in:

    Mombasa, Kenya

    Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) along Kenya’s coastal region can now access business development support with AEC’s new office in Mombasa. Start-up support from Argidius Foundation and Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) provided a new opportunity for AEC to offer a full slate of services to growing businesses.

    Garissa & Dadaab, Kenya

    In May 2021, AEC opened an office in the refugee-hosting community of Garissa Town, serving a growing secondary city in Eastern Kenya. Several months later, in September 2021, AEC opened a second office in the area, inside the Dadaab Refugee Camp, with a focus on refugee self-reliance.

    Assosa & Jigjiga, Ethiopia

    AEC’s Addis Ababa office opened in August 2021, with two new program sites, serving refugee and host community entrepreneurs in the Assosa and Jigjiga regions of Ethiopia. Six hundred new clients will be reached in our first year of operations.

    AEC Financials

    In 2020, AEC raised $5.7M USD to serve thousands of entrepreneur clients, iterate our operations, maintain 100% of company personnel, and secure funds to launch new programs in 2021.

    Audited financials are available upon request.

    Beyond Grateful

    Thank You to AEC’s 2020-2021 Partners


    • 1to4 Foundation
    • American Online Giving Foundation, Inc.
    • Allan & Gill Gray Philanthropies
    • Anonymous
    • Argidius Foundation
    • Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs
    • Bank of Kigali
    • David Weekley Family Foundation
    • Development Bank of Rwanda
    • GIZ Rwanda
    • Global Development Initiative
    • Ikea Foundation
    • Instiglio
    • International Trade Centre
    • Journey of Hope Fund
    • Kate Spade, On Purpose Fund
    • Kenny Family Fund
    • Kiva
    • Mastercard Foundation
    • Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart
    • Peery Foundation
    • Rwanda Ministry of ICT and Innovation
    • Segal Family Foundation
    • SNV Netherlands Development Organisation
    • Southern New Hampshire University
    • L & R Uechtritz Foundation
    • UN Capital Development Fund
    • UN Women
    • Upwork Foundation
    • US State Department – Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
    • Vitol Foundation
    • World Bank


    • Amahoro Coalition
    • Bridgespan Group
    • Catchafire
    • Central Bank of Rwanda
    • County Government of Mombasa
    • Equity Bank
    • Ethiopia Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs
    • Intellecap East Africa
    • Jesuit Refugee Affairs
    • Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI)
    • Kenya Refugee Affairs Secretariat
    • Land O’Lakes
    • The Management Center
    • Mombasa Chamber of Commerce
    • MTN Rwanda
    • NIRAS
    • Private Sector Federation
    • Rwanda Convention Bureau
    • Rwanda Development Board
    • Rwanda Ministry of Emergency Management
    • Rwanda Ministry of Trade and Industry
    • UNHCR
    • University of Global Health Equity
    • University of Nebraska – Lincoln

    • Viamo


    • Brooke Battles
    • Lara Bjork
    • Courtney Blodgett
    • Mark Clatworthy
    • Alexy Dwerryhouse Gamboa
    • Saran Ellis
    • Barbara England
    • Adam Erskine-Jones
    • Kit Evans
    • Nadia Gomes
    • Jack Henning
    • Molly Honig
    • David Hughes
    • Stephanie Johns-Clark
    • David Jollie
    • Leah Karlins
    • Shipra Kayan
    • Diane Kelso
    • Patricia Kobusingye
    • Camilla Leikvoll
    • Amy Letourneau
    • Chieh Lin
    • Amanda Maltos
    • Maureen McCarthy
    • Loz Mills
    • Zara K Morgan
    • Jeffrey Mounzer
    • Anna Nikonov
    • Toni Norman
    • Marion Ntiru
    • Osman Nur
    • Emmanuel Nyirinkindi
    • Joyce Ohgi
    • Stacy Ozier
    • Michael Arthur Payne & Jessica Uhl
    • Roland Pearson
    • Alexander Pearson
    • Harry Prytherch
    • Lauren Rawlings
    • Lyngrid S Rawlings
    • Stefan Roggenhofer
    • Thomas Ryan
    • Cherryl Smith
    • Justice Stanton
    • Anne Szender
    • Julia Taft
    • Tiffany To
    • Marieve Uaboi-Gauthier
    • Sherrye Walker
    • Kelli P Washington
    • Kate Whestone
    • Richard Wood & Cathy Silvey
    • Ezra Wyschogrod
    • Jen Yip
    • Matthew Young
    • Dominik Zurakowski
    • Lindsay Zwiener



    AEC is guided by a volunteer Board of Directors, a diverse leadership team, and the advisory support of business and investment professionals from across the globe. AEC’s shared culture and values connect us to each other and this work.


    • Michael A Payne, Board Chair
    • Shipra Kayan, Miro
    • Sara Leedom, AEC
    • Marion Ntiru, The ELMA Philanthropies
    • Julienne Oyler, AEC
    • Maria Palma, Kindred Capital VC
    • Lauren Rawlings, Palladium
    • Tom Ryan, Century Equity Partners
    • Julia Taft, International Planned Parenthood Federation
    • Marieve Uaboi-Gauthier, Citi


    • Asha Abdi, Mombasa County Tourism Office, Kenya
    • Jeff Aludo, Intellecap East Africa
    • Florence Gatome, NIRAS, Kenya
    • Carmen Nibigira, GIZ Rwanda
    • Grace Mugabekazi, YouthConnekt Rwanda
    • Celestin Rwabukumba, Rwanda Stock Exchange
    • Denise Umunyana, Right Seat Ltd


    • Michelle Brauner, Ares Management, LLC
    • Harrison Chilton, The Carlyle Group
    • Alex Darden, EQT Partners
    • Chris Durbin, Vestar Capital Partners
    • Paul Kaboub, Old Ironsides Energy
    • Osman Nur, Revolution Growth
    • Maria Palma, Kindred Capital VC
    • Tom Ryan, Century Equity Partners


    • Julienne Oyler, CEO
    • Sara Leedom, COO
    • Neway Alemayehu, Managing Director, Ethiopia
    • Olive Ashimwe, Regional Refugee Director
    • Helle Dahl Rasmussen, SME Growth Director
    • Pacifique Kwizera Irumva, Global Development Manager
    • Elizabeth Kamau, IT Director
    • Job Matseshe, Managing Director, Kenya
    • Claude Mazimpaka, Regional Loan Portfolio Director
    • Joseph Mudenge, Monitoring, Evaluation, & Learning Director
    • Emmanuel Mugabo, Finance Director
    • Linda Mukangoga Ndungutse, Chief of Staff
    • Barbara Mutoni, HR Director
    • Teta Ndejuru, Managing Director, Rwanda