The Irish benefit from KfW’s expertise, a German start-up founder uses European funds for a learning portal, and the EU Commission is a strong partner in the fight for better conditions at the gateway to Europe – three field reports.
Development aid for the Irish
The effects of the financial crisis in Ireland were severe, particularly the property market crisis and the related difficulties of the inflated Irish banking sector. This also led to serious repercussions for SMEs, as banks only rarely approved loans. It was truly a difficult time for the Irish economy. It took several years until our previous prime minister, Enda Kenny, was able to agree on a cooperation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2013. The aim was for KfW to offer its decades of experience in the area of SME promotion to help us to develop a funding institution – the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI). A short time later, the connection to KfW came.
During the process of founding the institution, KfW shared its expertise regarding all aspects of SME promotion in several workshops, helping to improve the efficiency of SBCI’s development. Furthermore, KfW provided financial support in the form of a global loan with a federal guarantee to finance investment loans for small and medium-sized businesses in Ireland.
From the start, we focused on small and medium-sized businesses, constantly refining our credit programme and promotional approaches to meet the needs of the SME sector. We were able to successfully implement programmes based on the successful promotional systems used by KfW and the European Investment Bank (EIB).
In 2017, we set up our first agricultural support programme – the agricultural sector ultimately plays a significant role in Ireland. In just a few months, we were able to grant loans worth 150 million euros to Irish farmers. Since 2015, we have supported our customers with a total promotional volume of 1.95 billion euros.
Our biggest challenge currently, of course, is Brexit. With this in mind, we set up a 300-million-euro special promotional programme back in 2018. The repercussions of the UK’s EU withdrawal are serious for Irish companies, which are often closely intertwined with the British economy, especially small businesses on the border with Northern Ireland. But in this case, too, we will provide help, support and financing.
I had a difficult time with maths as a pupil. But later, I learned why that was: the main reason is the way that pupils are taught, and how difficult it can be to work without immediate feedback about whether a problem was solved correctly. I shared this experience with many people and they helped us to develop the Bettermarks learning tool.
We have been on the market since 2008 and now have 30 employees – mathematicians, designers, education experts – who develop and market our product, an interactive textbook with 100,000 maths problems. It explains calculations in detail and gives pupils immediate feedback – directly on the computer or via an app. The software demonstrably improves both pupils’ and teachers’ work.
Of course, the company needed investors in order to grow. We found them. And during our search, it was very helpful to have KfW by our side with the ERP Start-up Loan – StartGeld. The key programme prerequisite is the need to have a private investor investing under the same conditions. At the same time, potential private investors are encouraged when they see that KfW has confidence in a company. Thanks to help from our other shareholders, we have been able to invest 30 million euros in our expansion to date.
The successes have been significant, with more and more pupils and teachers in Germany now using our tool. For example, following a pilot project, the school authority in Hamburg recently decided to introduce Bettermarks in all secondary schools.
And we are already a step further ahead at the other end of the world. In Uruguay, our app has been used nationwide since 2013 to help pupils learn maths.
Combating root causes of emigration together
Cooperation with KfW had begun back in 2008 but, at least from the German perspective, it later gained significance within the context of the refugee crisis – the projects that we promote, particularly in North Africa and the Middle East, are intended to help remedy the reasons for emigration from these regions. In addition to the normal budget funds, the EU is providing funding from the Madad trust fund that we set up in the course of the crisis in Syria. The idea behind this fund is to help countries neighbouring Syria as they help care for the refugees. Madad is an appropriate name, as the Arabic word translates to “support”.
However, the focus areas will remain lines of credit for small and medium-sized businesses, and the expansion of infrastructure like railways, roads, irrigation and, increasingly, renewables. One of the better-known projects is the world’s largest solar power plant in Ouarzazate, Morocco. Together with other international donors, KfW supported its construction on behalf of the German Federal Government with 829 million euros. Multiple solar power plants on 3,000 hectares of land supply power to 1.3 million Moroccans, whose energy needs were previously met through fossil fuel use.
This article was published in the spring/summer 2019 issue of CHANCEN magazine “Wir sind Europa”.To German edition
Together with the EU projects, KfW also supports a wind farm in Egypt and the promotion of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in the North African country, in each case providing funds in the seven-figure range.
The projects in the regions we support are promoted using loans with favourable terms that can be issued with the help of grants from the EU budget. The European Union also provides grants to support the technical side of KfW’s loan projects. This has proven to be more effective than purely co-financing projects.
Published on KfW Stories: Thursday, 16 May 2019