Throughout the developing world, infrastructure insufficiencies often create barriers for aspiring entrepreneurs. However, these shortcomings can also provide the platform for innovative and sustainable business opportunities.

Such is the case for entrepreneurs like Edouard Carrie, who started his company Environmental Cleaning Solutions S.A. (ECSSA) as a way to clean up Haiti’s streets and generate income. Founded in 2010, the company’s mission is simple yet profound: “to change a nation through recycling.” Via its material recovery facility in Port-au-Prince, ECSSA aims to collect over 80 tons of recyclable products per day.

Not only does it positively impact the environment, increased waste management also helps Haiti’s lowest income citizens.

For example, individuals can increase their income by collecting recyclable materials and thus afford schooling for their children, healthcare or other necessities. In addition, the various collection centers create jobs around the region.

The start-up has had great success in the three years since its conception. According to USAID, “ECSSA has grown to provide extra cash to over 6,000 Haitians who deposit bags of discarded bottles at 65 collection points throughout the Port-au-Prince region.” Furthermore, the company has shipped nearly 300 million plastic bottles to other countries for additional processing to create other products.

ECSSA’s growth would not have been possible without the support of both USAID and the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF).

PADF sponsors the Leveraging Effective Application of Direct Investments (LEAD) Business Plan Competition, a grant program that assists small and medium enterprises in finances, business development and access to capital. LEAD operates in Cap-Haitien, Saint-Marc and Port-au-Prince with a targeted focus on “industries and businesses with the greatest potential to create jobs, including construction, tourism, agribusiness and alternative energy.”

Outside assistance – such as that from LEAD and USAID – has allowed ECSSA to thrive and transform the landscape in Port-au-Prince.

“My company now has the capacity to increase its individual collectors from 6,000 people to up to 20,000,” Carrie said. “Additionally, the increase in collection points and processing capacity provide entrepreneurs the opportunity to grow their own businesses by serving as intermediary plastic collectors and suppliers for ECSSA.”

Not only cleaning the streets, ECSSA is clearing the way for sustainable environmental and business development throughout Haiti’s capital city.

Mallory Thayer

Sources: USAID, Leveraging Effective Application of Direct Investments, Environmental Cleaning Solutions S.A.
Photo: United Nations Photo

Tech Hub for Rwanda Startups
To make positive change in the world, we don’t just need tons of money, popularity or political influence, we need the right tools.

By getting the right people together in one place, specifically one that fosters intellectual development and creativity, we can make great things happen.

This is the belief of kLab, a tech hub in Rwanda where young people can bring their startup ideas and receive free Wi-Fi, workspace and mentorship from professors, business owners, and community leaders.

kLab – which stands for “knowledge lab” – has been operating for over a year and was officially launched in October 2013. The center is funded by the Rwanda private Sector Federation, the Rwanda Development Board and the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

“The knowledge lab is an innovation center where fresh and young graduates come to work on their projects, especially in the tech industry,” said Jovani Ntabgoba, kLab’s general manager, at the launch.

kLab currently offers the services of 21 different mentors to its over 80 tenants. The startups at the center range from online shopping websites to improved medical technology. The mentors offer these young people the ability to truly flesh out their ideas and turn them into much more.

“The culture is collaboration, but it’s not just collaboration; it’s positioning oneself at an age where you receive the best mentorship that you cannot find anywhere else in Rwanda,” Ntabgoba said. “At kLab we have all of the knowledge that is required for a tenant to develop their business.”

The power of this collaboration has led to the beginning of many bright futures for startups that focus on the vision of the country of Rwanda: to turn the nation into a knowledge-based economy. However, young Rwandans are challenged daily by a lack of skills due to the fact that the educational curriculum is not yet “innovation-oriented.”

One of the more recent kLab successes is GIRA ICT – a startup that combats a large roadblock to widespread internet usage in Africa: hardware prices. By partnering with big name manufacturers like Apple, Samsung, HP and Lenovo, GIRA ICT allows consumers to pay for their devices in monthly installments in order to increase hardware ownership across the country.

“We started as a group of five entrepreneurs, so we came into kLab and they gave us a free space to work in. We could enjoy internet… they provided us with mentors,” said project supervisor Alphonse Ruhigira.

GIRA ICT has also been collaborating with the government to supplement the One Laptop per Child program. Founded by Nadia Uwamahoro, this effort provides teachers with laptops that they can pay off over a span of four years. So far, this has helped about 100 teachers to attain laptops and the number is steadily increasing.

“It’s a brilliant innovation and she is doing brilliant business,” says Jean Philbert Nsengimana, Rwandan Minister for Youth and ICT of Uwamahoro. “She’s taken computers to places where they were seeing and touching them for the first time by lowering the affordability challenge.”

Through efforts such as GIRA ICT, kLab is pushing Rwanda towards its goal of becoming a middle-income country by the year 2020.

“I want you to understand the uniqueness of this kLab compared to many other iHubs in the region. The uniqueness of this one is that you are in this building and you are not alone in this building,” said Michael Bezy, associate director of Carnegie Mellon University in Rwanda, who works with kLab in order to provide mentorship to its tenants.

“You look at that and you say ‘I have entrepreneurs here, I have a world-class university, I have IT businesses and I have IT infrastructure.’ That looks to me like a mini Silicon Valley,” said Bezy.

– Samantha Davis

Sources: Wired, kLab, Wired
Photo: Wired

How to start a foundation
Starting a business is arguably one of the great American dreams conjured in the minds of many. Combining the freedom to be your own boss and the ability to pursue a passion to the fullest lures many to become entrepreneurs. The same can be said for those who want to start a foundation, social enterprise or a nonprofit organization. There are many parallels between a for-profit venture and a nonprofit one, such as possessing working knowledge of laws and creating an organizational structure. Perhaps the largest difference comes in the core mission; nonprofits work with their communities in mind rather than their pocketbooks.

So how do you start a foundation? NOLO.com explains that incorporating, similar to starting a for-profit business, is an initial and crucial step. Next comes filing for nonprofit status with the federal government, specifically the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). A piece from Entrepreneur makes it clear that while filing for this special tax-exempt, 501(c) 3  status is made easier with help from an attorney, individuals can complete the process themselves.  Hurwit & Associates, a Newton, Mass. law firm that specializes in nonprofit law, provides the filing requirements for each state. Additionally, there are professional services like legalzoom.com that specialize in helping potential entrepreneurs start their firms and offer an easy three step process wherein they complete and send the nonprofit paperwork to you. The cost is highly agreeable versus hiring an attorney and starts at $99.

Obtaining 501(c) 3 status is contingent upon completing IRS Form 1023 and can be a difficult process. NOLO contends that the best time to file that form is “…within 27 months of the date you file your nonprofit articles of incorporation.  If you file within this time period, your nonprofit’s tax exemption takes effect on the date you filed your articles of incorporation…”  The 1023 Form itself is made up of 11 parts in which you disclose the full structure of your venture.

Entrepreneur, advises from Jeff Hurwit of Hurwit & Associates for the next step, “The foundation must be governed by a set of bylaws…provisions for the organization’s governance and board selection process, general decision-making, required meetings and conflict-of-interest policies.  GrantSpace.org provides a good collection of bylaws information and samples.” The following steps involve being very selective and discerning in who to award foundation money to and building a strong board of directors. The board might ideally be composed of individuals who are considered experts in their field and therefore would lend credibility to decision making and the overall donation and award process. Last, the organization must practice good money management to remain viable and sustainable.  This includes strong fundraising efforts.

Chris Guillebeau, entrepreneur and New York Times bestselling author of The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future, contends that following one’s passion can be done today with very little money. Speaking to Forbes, Guillebeau explains his experiences meeting fellow entrepreneurs who began with little planning and startup cash, advising young people to take a chance and follow their passion. Specifically, he advises specifying ideas, acting now, networking heavily and committing to growth.

Going into business for oneself or starting a foundation are nearly synonymous at their inception. Both involve paperwork, commitment and proper management in all phases. With a plan, a little cash and unwavering passion for a cause, getting a venture off the ground is definitely something doable for anyone.

– Dave Smith

Sources: NOLO, Entrepreneur, LegalZoom, Forbes
Photo: Giphy.com

InSight: Generating Micro-Business Financial Identity
A common obstacle for any business owner, regardless of which country they live and work in, is access to credit.

The twenty-first century has brought with it increasing dependence on loans and financial institutions for basic individual purchasing power – let alone entrepreneurial success.

An emergent non-profit organization has taken advantage of cell phones – a technology available to a growing percentage of the global population- to create wide spread access to these vital financial services.

For micro-business owners in the less developed world, there is an abundance of informal transactions and very little access to financial identity. Providing financial identity is something Shivani Siroya, a 2013 TED fellow, CEO and founder of InVenture, describes as the most important objective of her latest venture.

According to InVenture, 400 million people lack access to financial services due to insufficient credit scores, which means that they do not have a clear idea of how much they earn, spend or need to save. In other words? They lack financial identity.

Without financial identity it is not only challenging to manage a business, it is almost impossible to secure loans and credit lines needed to grow a business.

Siroya invented InSight, an accounting tool that enables individuals and small-business owners in the less developed world to keep track of their finances and build a financial identity for themselves. InSight is operated through SMS and compatible with any cell phone, it allows individuals to input their daily earnings and expenses, and utilize financial tracking tools. This process provides proof of growing businesses and the data collected is made available to financial institutions; making connections between those in need and those able to provide large-scale loans.

Siroya was inspired to connect micro-business owners to the credit market by creating a cell phone operated credit scoring service due to the misconception that divided the two worlds.

According to Siroya’s research, financial institutions largely disregard micro-business owners as potential credit recipients due to their “untrustworthiness,” a judgment passed based on the amount of their transactions comprised of cash, which is inevitable without access to financial institutions.

Siroya wants to change this perception and decrease the percentage of micro-businesses that currently operate under considerable credit constraints, which is currently an estimated 85 percent.

This is a dream that is being realized. As micro-business owners in the less developed world start to utilize InSight, their “buckets of receipts” are replaced with income statements on their cell phones.

Perhaps the biggest impact of all, has been for some InSight users who have reported doubling their savings for the first time.

Zoë Dean

Sources: TED Blog, InVenture
Photo: Vintage 3D

Made in Africa
“Think global, act local” has become a popular mantra in the developed world, but it is the work of a Congolese entrepreneur that seems to truly embody the sentiment.

Inspired by what Apple is to the U.S. and Samsung is to Asia, Verone Mankou, 26, spent years fundraising to design affordable smartphone and tablet options – made in Africa, for Africa.

Mankou founded VMK in 2009 under financial constraints. The company was launched as an “establishment” that provided internet communication services, such as corporate web design.

VMK has since grown into a corporation (PLC) with reported earnings of $500,000, according to its website. Services have now expanded to include the design and retail of feature-phones, tablets, and smartphones.

The growth can be attributed to Mankou’s vision for Africa’s future and goals. The company derives its name from the Kikongo word “vambuka,” which means “wake up.”

In 2007, Mankou saw the potential for VMK when he noted that the cost of a laptop in Congo was more than $1000, a price unattainable for most Congolese.

His attempts at designing a more affordable, locally produced laptop were unfruitful, but when he turned his attention to the possibilities of tablets, his perseverance paid off.

A Congolese minister happened to read a Time article that featured Mankou’s pursuits and helped him to secure funding that launched VMK.

Criticism has followed Mankou’s success, due to the fact that VMK products have been designed in Africa, sold in Africa, but are manufactured in China. Mankou hopes to change this with the 2014 construction of a factory in the Congolese capital, Brazzaville.

The objective to create affordable products has been met. The Way-C, or “the light of the stars” in Lingala, another local language, is a small tablet that costs $300. It measures 7.4″ x 6.7″ x 0.5″ and weighs 13.4 ounces. Both Wi-Fi connectivity and 4GB of internal memory are standard features.

The Elikia (“Hope”) is VMK’s smartphone that has a price tag of $170 without a contract. It includes rear and front cameras, 512MB of RAM, a 650MHz processor, and a 3.5-inch display.

While VMK currently only sells products and services to France via the Internet and locally in Congo, 2014 will bring expansion in DRC and Cameroon. The company will also enter Niger as part of a pilot education program financed by Orange, a mobile networking company that purchased stocks in VMK.

Mankou is intent on embracing expansion at a slow pace, keeping customer experience and widespread access as the focus. With entrance to each new African country, he is intent on providing not only a sales team, but marketing and customer service teams as well.

– Zoë Dean

Sources: Wired, Smart Planet, VMK Tech
Photo: The Sierra Leone Telegraph

Although Africa has long been seen as the forgotten continent, it is more important now to the United States and the rest of the world than ever before. Home to 6 of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world, the continent is increasingly in the eye of foreign investors from London, New York, Shanghai and Dubai. Here are some of the innovations that are changing the face of Africa in this rapid transformation from an allegedly “lost” continent to a new growth engine.

1. Start-ups and incubators

Innovation hubs like iHub in Nairobi, Co-Creation Hub in Lagos and the Silicon Cape Initiative in South Africa are now competing with the already well-established initiatives in the start-up capitals of San Francisco, London and Berlin. These communities are giving African start-ups access to capital and the advice they need to take new products to the market.

2. Afro-entrepreneurs

Omidyar Network has highlighted the growing number of “afro-entrepreneurs” that are emerging all across the continent with innovations that are uniquely African. One such example is Bridge International Academies, with over 46,000 students enrolled in their schools across Kenya. This is an initiative that commoditizes schools; pupils pay just $5 dollars a month to study at one of their “Academies-in-a-Box.”

3. Local technology producers

Several African technology firms have begun to design and produce mobile and computing hardware tailored to local needs. In the Republic of Congo, for example, there is VMK’s Way-C, an affordable Android tablet, and in Kenya, the Nairobi-based company Ushahidi developed BRCK, a black box designed to address unreliable power and data connections that has been dubbed the “backup generator for the Internet.”

4. Smartphones built for Africa

Major firms are starting to produce smartphones made specifically for African consumers. The Chinese company Huawei, for example, recently introduced its new product, 4Afrika, an affordable smartphone which will let users benefit from the growing data connectivity across the continent.

5. The maker movement

This trend from the developed world, which has seen millions of people creating and selling self-made products, has officially made it to Africa. The movement’s trademark event, the Maker Faire, took place last year in Lagos. The most notable locally produced product that resulted from this event was a generator designed and built by four teenage girls that uses 1 liter of urine to produce 6 hours of electricity.

6. Greater connectivity

Africa is leading the way when it comes to developing innovative solutions for limited connectivity. By taking advantage of unused radio and TV frequencies, providers are able to widen data coverage to include countless rural areas through white space technology. Microsoft has already partnered with Kenyan regulators and Google with South Africa’s ICASA to show that broadband can be offered over white spaces.

7. Mobile money

Africa is frequently seen as leading the world in mobile money solutions. In December 2012, Visa launched mVisa in Rwanda to serve the unbanked, improve ATM services across Rwanda and promote electronic payments which will contribute to formalizing the economy.

8.  mHealth

Health organizations have started to use mobile technology to address critical medical needs. SMS, in particular, is being used for countless needs, such as sharing vital information with expectant mothers or sending reminders to HIV/AIDS patients about taking their anitretrovirals. In Malawi, Baobab Health is developing solutions to replace traditional paper-based systems.

9. eLearning

Initiatives like One Laptop Per Child, Samsung’s e-learning technology platform, and solar-powered schools are innovative ways to ensure that students across the continent have access to up-to-date information and online resources, and are able to interact with teachers even when geographical obstacles stand in the way. Other organizations such as Wikipedia have teamed up with Orange to provide free access to the online encyclopedia to anyone with a mobile phone in Africa.

10. Social media

The use of social media is rising at astronomical rates in Africa. Besides Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, Africans are also creating and using local social media platforms, such as MXit, which has over 50 million users who can use the platform to chat and play games at low data costs.

– Nayomi Chibana
Feature Writer 

Sources: Portland, Center for Global Development
Photo: Education Innovations

While still a high school kid, Kohl Crecelius never thought about that a small hobby could eventually make a big difference on many others’ lives.

Crecelius is the CEO and co-founder of the Krochet Kids International (KKI), a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering people to rise above poverty. When he was in high school, he loved sports on the mountain, like surfing, and was passionate about crocheting unique headwear for himself. Later on, to fund high school dances, he started his crochet business, a small crocheted hat company.

During summer breaks, Crecelius volunteered in various developing nations and saw people tired of living solely on the operating bodies for their every need. “They wanted to work and provide for their own families,” he said.

Not until that moment did he have an idea of helping these people break the cycle of poverty by teaching them crocheting. Crecelius believes high-quality, handmade products can serve as a vehicle for social change.

“The simplicity of crocheting is its most profound quality,” Crecelius said. “With hook and yarn people could make amazing products.Being paid a fair wage to do so would allow for them, for the first time, to provide for their families and begin planning for the future. By teaching these people to crochet, we would be empowering them to rise above poverty.”

Along with some close friends, Crecelius established the KKI in 2008 and began working with women in impoverished communities in Northern Uganda and Peru. By teaching those women, most are mothers and heads of households, how to crochet products, this organization has created an innovative approach to help the poor through job creation and education.

“Our goal is to poverty alleviation,” Crecelius said. “We are trying to empower women and families living in poverty to be in charge of the responsibilities to break that circle of poverty for them and forever.”

Currently, over150 people in Uganda and Peru are working and receiving education. The collaboration of KKI staff and beneficiaries around the world has created a sustainable cycle of employment and empowerment.

Crecelius noted the biggest difference between the KKI and other businesses with missions to provide aid to developing countries.Instead of providing one thing such as water, clothing or education and trying to help a broad range of people, KKI focuses on individuals, helps them with the skills they will need to address their circumstances and assists them to make a difference.

“We try to leverage the tools of business to launch the entrepreneurship and to make the best impact on people,” Crecelius said.

Liying Qian 

Sources: KTLA, Kochet Kids International
Photo: Onboard Mag

“Buy a Belt–Feed a Family.”  That is the motto of Mission Belt, a company whose co-founder appeared on the critically acclaimed show Shark Tank and scored a deal with fashion mogul Daymond John.

With the simple idea of designing a belt with no holes, emerged a company designed to fight global hunger and poverty. The strategy? Micro-lending.

The company was named Mission Belt because it had one mission–to help people break out of the cycle of poverty.  The company policy is to donate 100 percent of one dollar from every Mission Belt sold. According to company statistics, the dollar they donate often represents 20 percent or more of their profit. They work with a “non-profit, peer-to-peer ‘micro-lending’ organization” called Kiva, which distributes money in the form of $25 micro loans to people in the developing world.

One dollar goes a long way in this case, because when the borrowers repay their loans, those funds can be lent out over and over.

So far, Mission Belt Co. has made 1,492 individual loans, with the majority going to the agricultural sector.  According to the Creative Director of the company, they chose the agricultural sector (primarily targeted towards helping women) so that they can directly help people feed themselves and their families.

“We like to think of it as corporate responsibility to give something back. We feel strongly about the work we do, and the contributions to this micro-loans have meant the world to so many people around the world.”

Nate Holzapfel, co-founder of Mission Belt Co., is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post online and recently wrote an article about his thoughts on the secret to life. He says that helping others is what has been the secret to his success personally, financially and emotionally. “Realization of ourselves and our humanity is the key to empathy, which is essential if you want to truly be happy.”

It is not uncommon to see U.S. companies engaging in corporate giving on a large scale. In a 2011 survey carried out by The Chronicle of Philanthropy magazine, data revealed that in 2010, total cash donations by 180 of the nation’s largest companies were $4.9 billion.

Among the top companies listed was the supermarket Kroger, which created a loyalty program where 2-5 percent of a shopper’s bill would be donated to a community group of the shopper’s choice. Wal-Mart Stores also topped the list, with an announcement of a $2 billion five-year strategy to fight hunger.

Goldman Sachs was also recognized, despite criticism remaining surrounding its generosity in light of the liquidity crisis. It was among the companies who donated the most cash in 2010, and is also known for a project called “10,000 Women,” a five-year investment which provides female entrepreneurs in the developing world with a business and management education.

– Rifk Ebeid

Sources: Sharktanksuccess, Mission Belt, Huffington Post, Forbes, Goldmansachs
Photo: Twisted Sifter

Inspired by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of meeting the needs of the world’s poorest through international collaboration, Conscious Step sells fashionable dress socks to create a positive impact on the world. Each sock the organization sells is connected to a different cause, allowing customers the freedom to choose the cause most important to them.

So far, Conscious Step has created three socks that are associated with three different causes. The first sock is inspired by the first MDG of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. In partnership with the global humanitarian organization Action Against Hunger, Conscious Step supports nutrition programs in Kenya, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Purchasing this sock provides three therapeutic food packets to malnourished children in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The second MDG of achieving universal primary education inspires Conscious Step’s second sock. This sock partners with Engineers Without Borders to provide clean water sources and increase the number of children in primary schools in Nepal.

Conscious Step’s final sock addresses the seventh MDG of ensuring environmental sustainability. Purchasing this sock allows Trees for the Future to plant 30 trees in rural Ghana and teach agroforestry techniques to women and children, which then generates income, provides material for food and fuel and protects the environment.

Buying Conscious Step socks not only helps solve poverty, but also provides a big bang for the buyer’s buck. These socks are made from 200-needle count, organic, fair trade cotton and are sweat resistant. Each of the three styles of socks is embroidered with a distinguishable symbol, allowing supporters to wear their cause with pride and stimulate discussion about poverty alleviation.

Conscious Step helps “give an ordinary purchase an extraordinary purpose.” Supporters can purchase ethically made, high-quality socks that give them the power to consume for a cause. You can help launch the organization into gear and get your pair from Conscious Step’s Indiegogo campaign here.

– Tara Young

Sources: Indiegogo, Good Magazine
Photo: Indiegogo

phil harvey_opt
Phil Harvey is the founder and president of DKT International, a D.C.-based charity organization that supports family planning and HIV/AIDS prevention programs in 19 different countries. Phil Harvey is also president of Adam & Eve, one of the world’s largest purveyors of “adult entertainment.” His company, Adam & Eve, provides major revenue for DKT International’s benevolent works. In this regard, Harvey is using what seems taboo and untouchable for a charitable cause.

Harvey worked for CARE International for five years during the 1960s. There he became convinced that the best way to improve the lives of the poor was to provide family planning, contraception and fertility control. Eventually Harvey would go on to study family planning at the University of North Carolina where he met Tim Black. Black and Harvey were both extremely passionate about the topic of family planning. Realizing that rural areas often lacked the right medical infrastructure to provide the proper tools for family planning, Black and Harvey focused on social marketing techniques. They sought to place low-cost contraceptives in market places so that anybody could afford them. To do so they would have to advertise heavily to subsidize the cost and brand them carefully. Black and Harvey decided to test their ideas by selling condoms by mail order. At the time, mailing of condoms was considered illegal, as “obscene” materials could not be mailed.

Along the way, Harvey and Black’s mail order condom business would grow into the organization DKT International. Additionally, the company Adam & Eve would rise from mail order as well. DKT International branched out into developing nations while Adam & Eve grew to sell over $70 million worth of films and goods a year. However the two companies were linked together because Harvey’s Adam & Eve now provides 10% of DKT’s funding. Furthermore, Adam & Eve donates about 25% of its revenue from adult entertainment to charity.

Few customers of Adam & Eve know that much of their purchases are going toward charities. The company once attempted to inform customers of its philanthropic activities, but there was little difference in sales. Today, Adam & Eve is facing challenges to its business. One challenge is the rise of new competitors. Phil Harvey has been known for being very libertarian and has fiercely defended freedom of speech. He has also defended Adam & Eve against a variety of accusations about its obscenity. However, unwittingly, by defending his adult entertainment company, Harvey has opened doors for other sexual entertainment groups claiming the same right to free speech and expression.

Furthermore, there is also the entire issue of whether or not adult entertainment should be used to promote anything related to public health. Even though it is paying for millions of contraceptives for those in poverty, is pornography an appropriate means to do so? The adult entertainment industry, while seemingly innocuous, is also filled with a variety of its own flaws. Thus pornography and charity seem highly at odds with one another. Yet the truth is that sex sells and that money can be used for charitable purposes. For some, the idea may seem preposterous even disgusting, but Phil Harvey is certainly donating a lot more funds than many others.

– Grace Zhao

Sources: The Economist, How To Make a Difference
Photo: How to Make a Difference