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Edson Niwamanya: Reflections on the SOIF strategic foresight retreat

Guest post by Edson Niwamanya.

My name is Edson Niwamanya from Uganda; I am passionate about justice and social transformation. My passion inspired me to start two social businesses, one skilling students and another offering mentorship to early-stage social entrepreneurs. After a few years of running social ventures and consulting with startup incubators and accelerators, I noticed that one of the most significant barriers to social business in emerging markets like Uganda is the lack of access to capital. This epiphany inspired my journey into the impact investing space.

A unique opportunity through the Social Innovation Academy (SINA) enabled me to enter the impact finance industry. SINA is tackling poverty through entrepreneurial education, incubation of social ventures, and offering access to financing. My mission is to close the financing gap for underserved social entrepreneurs in market blind spots by building their capacity to attract capital; building financing systems for funders to invest; and directly investing in their businesses to scale their impact.

I joined the Next Generation Foresight Practitioners (NGFP) Network in 2022 with the SINA purpose pool project, an impact fund closing the financing gap for social entrepreneurs. We were selected to join the network for our idea to create impact in the finance sector by leveraging futures thinking. Foresight is critical in sustainable social transformation, and the NGFP network provides an opportunity to learn about strategic foresight and connect with individuals at different levels of futures implementation, i.e., policy, academia, and organisational level.

Attending the School of International Futures (SOIF) summer retreat on strategic foresight was a significant highlight in my personal and foresight journey. I came to the retreat with several expectations from a learning, networking, and personal experience perspective. As a professional seeking to enhance my foresight skills and gain insights into how to make lasting impact in my field, I was excited to connect with a diverse group of foresight practitioners.

From a learning standpoint, I expected to better understand transformational foresight and its practical application for SINA. I sought to learn new methodologies and techniques to set our organisation up for success and create positive change in society. The retreat met these expectations brilliantly by offering an enriching curriculum that blended theory and real-world practice. The sessions explored various themes, fostering a deeper appreciation for foresight as both an art and a science. Some of the most profound topics were the three horizons models; open space discussions; which enabled us to discuss intergenerational fairness and trade-offs; and integrating foresight by developing a learning plan.

On the networking front, the retreat provided a unique opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals from diverse backgrounds and cultures using foresight across multiple sectors at policy, organisational, and grassroots levels. These new connections offer a support network and a source of inspiration, and have already resulted in discussions for collaboration.

From a personal experience perspective, the retreat exceeded my expectations. I was grateful for the opportunity to participate in the ‘Futures with Impact’ panel discussion; it allowed me to share our work and sparked conversation around collaboration with other participants. The serene environment allowed me to step away from daily pressures, fostering a conducive space for introspection and meaningful conversation. The ‘Moments of Delight’ activities in the form of music and art enhanced the overall experience. While at the airport waiting to depart, I coincidentally met and had a deep conversation with another attendee; it was exciting to share my futures story and hear theirs too.

The insights and connections gained during the retreat will profoundly impact my professional journey. The knowledge and skills acquired will enable me to become a more effective foresight practitioner, leading to more informed decision-making in my field of impact finance. The thematic topics of transformational foresight and intergenerational fairness expanded my knowledge around practicing responsible foresight.

For those attending next year’s retreat, I advise approaching the experience with an open mind, heart, and hand. Do a prior deep dive into the content to familiarise yourself with the themes and terms. Embrace the opportunity to learn from the diverse perspectives and expertise around you. Engage actively in discussions and activities, and take time for daily self-reflection to identify ways to bridge knowledge and action. And allow yourself to form authentic connections with fellow participants, as they will be an invaluable resource in your journey beyond the retreat.

Edson Niwamanya is a Futurist, Life Coach, Impact Investor, Innovation Consultant and Investment and Portfolio Lead at SINA Purpose Pool in Uganda. Edson is one of two NGFP Africa members Small Foundation supported to attend the 2023 SOIF foresight retreat.

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