african-women-entrepreneur-program
Last week, Washington welcomed 30 small and medium-sized female business owners from 27 countries in Africa, who are participants in the African Women’s Entrepreneur Program (AWEP). Every year, 30 female entrepreneurs are invited to the U.S. to attend professional development meetings and network with U.S. policy makers, companies, industry associations, nonprofit groups, and multilateral development organizations. For the past two weeks, the women have traveled throughout the U.S. to meet with scores of professionals in cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle.

The visit marks three years of success for AWEP, which was launched by the U.S. Department of State in July 2010. The program is an outreach, education, and engagement initiative that works with African women entrepreneurs in several main focus areas. AWEP supports the Presidential Policy Directive on U.S. strategy toward Sub-Saharan Africa by operating on two parallels: it spurs economic growth and trade by involving female entrepreneurs in the sector, and promotes opportunity and development throughout the continent for women and youth.

The Department of State acknowledges that supporting growth in Africa is economically and politically vital; doing so opens up trade to U.S. markets and creates positive business environments both at home and abroad. In addition, AWEP helps to empower women in their respective countries; in Africa, women are the backbone of communities, and by enabling them to utilize their economic power, the program is helping to reduce the gender gap in education and improve health, political participation and economic inclusion.

The women in the program include Mame Diene from Senegal, whose organic cosmetics and nutraceuticals company, Bioessence Laboratories, employs almost 4,000 people. The visit to Washington enabled Ms. Diene and her peers to discuss business growth and female empowerment in Africa. When the women return to their countries, they join AWEP chapters where they can connect with other successful businesswomen; by building networks, the initiative is enabling these women to become voices for social advocacy in their communities.

AWEP is a prime example of U.S. commitment to foreign investment in developing regions. Globally, women constitute 50% of the global population and 40% of the global workforce, yet they own just 1% of the world’s wealth. By providing a platform from which women can effectively run their own businesses, AWEP is resulting in positive economic, social and political changes that are beneficial for the U.S. both abroad and at home.

– Chloe Isacke
Sources: DipNote, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State

United States Global Leadership Coalition
On the heels of President Obama’s trip to Africa, the United States Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC) gathered to unveil their 2013 campaign, “Innovations in Smart Power.” Composed of authorities from both the public and private sectors, the conference rested on one key theme: the idea that through mutual cooperation, smart policymaking, and dedication, we have the power to reduce global poverty to below 3% of the global population.

In doing so, the coalition argues, we can create a framework to yield an unprecedented return on investments. In turn, national security and peace will become more attainable than ever before. In essence, everyone wins.

The USGLC is a Washington D.C. based organization representing over 400 American businesses, NGOs, diplomats, government and military advisors, and policymakers. Through mutual cooperation, the USGLC hopes to foster an environment of American global leadership through “strategic investment in development and diplomacy.”

Over the course of the two-day conference, a vibrant spectrum of global leaders heralded the efficacy of government/public sector cooperation. Microsoft’s/USAID’s partnership, 4Afrika, aims to equip underprivileged Africans with mobile phones and provides a crucial communications service while simultaneously creating a foundation for an emerging market. Similarly, Merck’s partnership with Mectizan Donation Program is working to effectively rid the world of onchocerciasis, more commonly referred to as “river-blindness.”

Cooperation on such a level has been described by World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim, as a shift in the global business ethos to “do good” while “doing well.” And with developing countries expected to grow at a rate of up to three times faster than developed nations, there is a clear indication that investment in the developing world could greatly benefit the private sector.

To this point, Unites States Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew argued the unique position we, as the United States, occupy in battling global poverty in a practical sense. Through engagement and utilization of “Smart power,” we can spearhead a culture of mutual cooperation between public, private, and NGO entities in the pursuit of global development and poverty reduction.

When Lew speaks of “Smart Power,” he is referencing what is commonly referred to by International Relations academics as “Soft Power.” Coined by Joseph Nye, Dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, Soft Power is “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion.” Rather than defeating the enemy through military might, he argues, we win their hearts and minds through building schools and hospitals.

As a nation with unparalleled economic and military power, Lew argues Smart Power is a vital yet underutilized arrow in our national quiver. “It can’t just be about doing good. It is about doing good to help end poverty and improve the quality of life, but it is also very practical.” Lew continues, “from the government perspective, it is about security because we are safer in a world where we have stability and they aren’t starving.”

“The two [smart and hard power] together,” Lew says, “give us an enormously enhanced ability to make the world a safer and better place.” Bearing this in mind, it is important to emphasize that the percentage of our national budget allocated to International and Foreign Affairs, is roughly 1%. At the same time, however, defense spending eats up roughly 15% of the budget.

What the USGLC hopes to convey, in the end, is there rests far more opportunity in a world where there are peace and prosperity. Through encouraging peace through peaceful means, we are not only expressing goodwill, but we are also renovating the foundation on which society sits.

– Thomas van der List

Sources: Mectizan, USGLC, YouTube, UCLA, USGLC
Photo: US General Services Administration

6 Qualities of Social Entrepreneurs

The term “social entrepreneur” is used widely in both the business context and that of social volunteering, and for this reason it can be difficult to pin down a distinct definition of “social entrepreneurship.” Some entities like The Skoll Foundation aim to invest in social entrepreneurs, which they define as “society’s change agents: creators of innovations that disrupt the status quo and transform our world for the better.”

So what makes a social entrepreneur? Can it be taught? The Said Business School – an entrepreneurial business school launched in 2003 – clearly believes so. Even so, there are a few qualities that social entrepreneurs share, according to International Journal of Public Sector Management contributor John L. Thompson.

  1. Social entrepreneurs find gaps where needs are not being met. Where business entrepreneurs see an untapped market, social entrepreneurs see an unmet social need. Many social entrepreneurs have a personal stake or experience with this need; Oprah Winfrey, for example, has often cited her childhood years in rural poverty as a key motivation for her many charitable projects.
  2. Social entrepreneurs address this need with creativity and imagination. The way things have always been done is not enough anymore for social entrepreneurs: why else would there be the need in the first place? Social entrepreneur Jane Chen was pursuing an M.B.A. at Stanford when she teamed up with a graduate student class at Stanford to develop an infant warmer that helps stabilize a newborn’s body temperature; the infant warmer only needs 30 minutes of charge to maintain warmth for over 4 hours.
  3. Social entrepreneurs build networks by recruiting other people to the cause. These networks are often irresistibly contagious and use a combination of brilliant marketing and engaging every consumer. People who buy TOMS don’t just buy a pair of shoes, TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie says, “They’re kind of joining a movement. And they want to participate in that…. That’s the best type of marketing you can have.”
  4. Social entrepreneurs are able to successfully secure the resources they need. The Borgen Project founder Clint Borgen worked on a fishing vessel to secure start-up capital; TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie sold his online drivers’ education software company. Social entrepreneurs have enough savvy to locate what they need to begin their ventures, whether this comes in the form of “cashing in” what assets they do have, receiving generous seed money, or working extra jobs and long hours.
  5. Social entrepreneurs overcome obstacles that their specific need presents. Leticia Casanueva, founder and executive director of Crea — a nonprofit social enterprise offering business development services to women seeking to start their own business ventures in Mexico — writes that Crea itself had a number of challenges in starting, the chief of which being “the inflexibility of laws that inhibit innovation and investment in social enterprises.” The way Crea was able to overcome this was, in short, to “have a board full of lawyers” to work out every legal nuance. Every enterprise has a context, and the successful social entrepreneur learns to navigate it.
  6. Social entrepreneurs introduce systems to make the venture sustainable and accountable. While many social enterprises shy away from the reputation of being “for-profit,” most agree that the best answer to global poverty is the development of the target market’s economy. Jordan Kassalow, for example, partnered an eyeglasses-donation drive with the development of a network of in-country distributors operating similarly to the Mary-Kay consultant model. VisionSpring utilizes a “high volume, low margin” approach that also offers higher margin products (custom frames, etc.) for higher-spending customers in-country all while providing vision-related services.

On the whole, social entrepreneurs operate very similarly to business entrepreneurs; they must be connected to a specific need, savvy with securing capital, be able to address challenges, and design a system that is able to sustain itself. What Thompson says is the difference, however, “is a strong commitment to help others in some way.”

– Naomi Doraisamy

Sources: The Skoll Foundation, International Journal of Public Sector Management, CNN, Buffalo.edu Forbes VisionSpring The HUB.net
Photo: Tree Hugger

lion
The second Grand Challenges Explorations initiative brings together organizations and non-profits in a competition to find creative development solutions. The initiative was founded as a joint effort between the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  This year’s challenge topic was “Aid is Working. Tell the World.” Participants were to come up with creative development solutions using communication to inform the world of the impact of investment in foreign aid. The goal is to change the conversation around foreign aid and foreign investment.

Nine projects were chosen from those submitted and the creators of those projects will be awarded up to $100,000 USD to work on their communications idea. The project creators will also receive guidance from a Cannes Chimera panel made up of  of representatives of each of the 2012 Cannes Lions Grand Prix winners. The nine projects came from various organizations around the world. They are detailed below.

1. BeHere-BeThere Project by Serviceplan, Hamburg, Germany. This project works with local retail establishments to connect consumers with charitable causes and hopefully solicit a donation. The app will help to raise awareness surrounding development issues in the developing world.

2. Cause Generation: a Platform to Define a Generation’s Cause by OgilvyEarth, San Francisco, USA. University students will have the opportuity to use OgilvEarth’s online platform to create a campaign around a single global cause. The goal will be to convince peers to support the cause and raise awareness around the specific cause.

3. Hactivating Development Aid by Coxswain Social Investment Plus, Tunis, Tunisia. Crowdsourcing has become a popular online tool and this idea uses just that to engage young people in development causes. The site will use first person narrative to get students interested in development issues and allow them to offer real-life solutions to problems.

4. HMKD by Leo Burnett, Chicago, USA. One of the most innovative ideas, Leo Burnett will work to create a working ticker symbol for the New York Stock Exchange. This symbol will report the daily return on investment from development aid to raise awareness that investment in foreign aid really does work.

5. House Parties: Experiential Marketing for Global Aid by Plan International, Washington, USA. 
Various organizations have proven the value of house parties. Mary Kay is perhaps one of the most well known examples and Plan International plans to build off of the success of the house party. The goal is to use it as an engagement tool to raise awareness and support for public development programs.

6. Global 360 by Media Trust, London, UK. Global 360 will be a television, online, and mobile channel produced by young people and containing stories about global development.

7. Mobile-izing the United Voices of Aid Recipients by Environics Trust, Ghaziabad, India.  Interactive Voice Response will be used to collect 10,000 stories about the impact of aid in rural India. The stories will be spread online through social media and responses to them will be tracked to see if a change in behavior results.

8. RADIO8 by Digital Kitchen, Seattle, USA. Radio8 will be a radio station containing the views of 8 year-olds. They will record their ideas, insights, and perspectives on the impact of global aid.

9. Smart Cities: An Interactive Multi-Media and Mapping Platform by Spatial Collective, Nairobi, Kenya. Smart Cities will be an interactive community platform allowing individuals to  report local development challenges and present possible solutions. The goal will be to improve communcation between governments, citizens, and aid organzations.

– Amanda Kloeppel
Source: B&T

microfinance

The values and benefits of microfinance lending to the world’s poor are mixed; but they have overall proven to be a mechanism for lifting individuals out of poverty.  The system of proving microloans is a well-oiled machine providing finance to individuals in low resource areas. One micro lender wants to go a step beyond microfinance and provide the poor with much needed savings and insurance products.To continue to help the poor life themselves up, Microlending pioneer Accion has called for more financial products typically common in the developed world.

These financial products such as insurance, saving accounts, and ways to move money are sophisticated tools many in the developed world don’t think twice about, but for the world’s poor these products are rarely available.  Accion, based in Boston, announced they would begin investing in start-ups that are working to provide more variety of financial tools to people around the world.  Unfortunately, business models and technology to deliver financial tools like savings accounts is much less tested in rural and poor areas. The lack of longevity in testing and practice causes many venture firms to be wary of investing in start-ups.

Accion’s Venture Lab will invest $10 million in ventures seeking to expand financial tools beyond microfinance.  This is not to diminish the effects and needs of microfinance, but to continue to take the poor a step beyond microfinance.   Accion’s first investments include Salud Facil, which helps low-income individuals in Mexico pay for health care, and Varthana, an Indian company financing low-cost private schools.  In addition, the fund is investing in payment companies in Asia and Mexico as well as a start-up in Hong Kong attempting to use data to improve credit scores.

Other investors are also offering money for financial products in the developing world. LeapFrog Investments has dedicated $135 million to bring insurance to underserved markets. Those in poorer income brackets need financial services beyond credit. Constant innovation and testing must be continued to find self-sustaining and profitable financial products to developing markets. Accion Venture Lab will continue to invest in start-ups to help them do the testing they need and continue to innovate in providing insurance and savings products to low-income individuals. Accion’s model is to help the start-ups and if they fail, to take the lessons learned and start over. Ultimately, the goal is improving the credit and lives of the world’s poor.

– Amanda Kloeppel

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek

africaglobalbusinessforum

May 1, 2013 was the kick-off of the two-day Africa Global Business Forum in Dubai.  Africa, a continent on the move, has been showing promising signs of economic growth and development.  The Africa Global Business Forum is just one more step in the right direction for a continent on the move.

The Africa Global Business Forum, as announced by the UAE Prime Minister, is set to become an annual event.  The forum brings together leaders from Africa and the UAE to promote business investment, development, and collaboration between the nations of Africa and Dubai.  More than 3,500 delegates are in attendance.  The Prime Minister of Uganda gave the keynote address and stressed the importance of the forum as a signal of the interest in African business and investment opportunities.  He also discussed the importance of the private and public sectors working together as has been done in Dubai.

Dubai serves as a center of 150 different shipping lines and could be a very key logistics hub for Africa to export goods.  The young population and growing middle class in Africa are indicators of the potential for increased growth within Africa. Consumer spending is set to hit US $1.4 trillion by 2020. The forum will seek to strengthen alliances between Africa and outside investors with the goal of reducing poverty in Africa and increasing economic growth and self-sufficiency.

Other topics of note at the forum are looking at boosting Africa’s trade through the role of free trade areas and private equity.  Already major telecom companies are looking to invest in Africa and the prospects for future growth and development are exciting.

– Amanda Kloeppel
Source: CPI Financial

The Search for Sustainable Materials

What do NIKE, NASA, and USAID have in common? The search for sustainable materials to be used in the production of goods.  As members of LAUNCH, an initiative to raise awareness around the sustainable production of goods, NIKE, NASA, USAID, and the State Department recently gathered with 150 materials specialists, designers, manufacturers, entrepreneurs, and NGOs to ignite action around the issue.

The two-day LAUNCH 2020 Summit was opened by NIKE, INC. CEO Mark Parker. He stressed the importance of innovation and collaboration in the area of producing sustainable goods. The Summit also served to reveal the LAUNCH 2013 Challenge Statement. This is an open call for innovation in sustainable materials and good production. The challenge is to create innovation in the system of producing fabrics and is open to both individuals and teams. In August, the 10 strongest ideas will be selected and granted access to creativity, capital, and capacity.

The materials used to produce goods play a significant role in the environment. LAUNCH was created to address this growing issue and to seek innovations solutions to global issues.  Three years ago, LAUNCH was able to provide the needed capital to get Astronaut Ron Garan’s clean water innovation into production.  His project-Carbon for Water-used carbon credits and a filter system to clean dirty water. His filter has provided clean water for over 4.5 million Kenyans.  LAUNCH was also a key player in Gram Power, a program providing thousands of people in India affordable, renewable energy.

You can learn more about Launch at their website or sign up for the 2013 challenge here.

– Amanda Kloeppel

Source: NIKE, INC.
Video: Vimeo

rsz_food_truck-1
Ask anyone who lives within a major metropolitan area to pick their favorite food truck cuisine and you’ll get answers that vary from Kobe beef sliders to Korean BBQ tacos. The recent surge in food truck popularity – thanks in part to Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race as well as a greater interest in reasonably priced culinary creations – has led to scores of artistically painted trucks patrolling city centers in search of hungry office workers and curious pedestrians. But what effect has the food truck phenomenon had on in promoting eco-friendly business models and renewable energy usage? Surprisingly quite a bit, as the following list describes 3 ways food trucks encourage sustainable business models.

1. Less energy consumption – When looking at the amount of energy required to run a traditional sit-down restaurant, the overall net energy expenditure is staggering. From the power used to light the business, the air conditioning and/or heating, hot lamps, stovetops, and dishwashers; the underlying business model of restaurants promotes wasteful energy usage. Unlike restaurants, food trucks encourage sustainable business models by their almost negligible use of fossil fuels required to move them from one location to another, which can be further reduced by their ability to convert to biodiesel, making them even more environmentally responsible.

2. Locally sourced produce – Another way that food trucks encourage sustainable business models is through their efforts in using locally grown fruits and vegetables in their recipes. The amount of energy needed for both the air and ground transport of fruits and vegetable grown out of season is huge, and serves as an enabler of continued energy dependence and fossil fuel waste. By using local growers, co-ops, and farmers, food trucks are able to promote the farm to fork business model of delicious seasonal produce.

3. Low start-up costs – The extremely high costs associated with operating, staffing, and running a restaurant is often prohibitive to local entrepreneurship and economic opportunity. Not surprisingly, food trucks encourage sustainable business models by enabling a wider cross section of the community the opportunity to own and operate their own food truck, which can serve as a form of poverty reduction for many families. And by opening up the market for increased local investment and small business owners, many communities can benefit greatly from the eco-friendly food truck business model.

Food truck business could become a sustainable model in developing countries whose local cuisines can be utilized to create income without incurring the high establishment costs required for restaurants.

Brian Turner

Source: Mother Nature Network
Photo: Daily Northwestern

Soma Water for You, Soma Water for Them
By now, the one-for-one models used by companies has become a common method to successfully sell products, raise awareness of global issues, and actually improve human lives. A major element for companies using this model such as TOMS and Warby Parker is emphasizing the storytelling aspect. This means connecting customers to the individuals and communities that benefit on the other end from the purchase of the product. Mike Del Ponte, CEO and founder of Soma water filters is adapting storytelling to the next level with the official launch of his product by activating all senses through video production and live events.

Soma water filters are simply designed for the modern lifestyle and home. It has only 2 components: a glass carafe (think Erlenmeyer flask) with a cone-shaped compostable water filter. Once you buy your first filter, Soma will automatically send a new one every 2 months as part of the subscription plan. However, the importance of Soma isn’t just its evolutionary design but its mission to eliminate water-vector diseases and provide clean water to over 800 million people around the world.

Through a partnership with charity:water, Soma will donate money to help fund water projects in countries such as Uganda, Ehtiopia, India, Honduras, and many others. However, to better tell the story of their partnership, founder Mike Del Pointe along with a team of 4 others, including The Glitch Mob producer Justin Boreta, are traveling to Ethiopia to check out the areas where their work will be effecting. The entire trip will be captured on many different levels: visually with a videographer, audiologically with recorded sounds that will be produced into a song, interactively with live feeds through social media sites, and most importantly, through food.

The culmination of the trip to Ethiopia will be a series of 10 dinner events that Soma will co-host with the magazine Dwell. These dinners will allow attendees to not only experience Ethiopian cuisine but to have a chance to see the work and stories from the trip as put together in multiple presentations and visualizations.

Soma was able to sell about 2,300 filters in its first round of preorders thanks to the $147,444 it raised with Kickstarter. Sales are expected to start again in August so be sure to keep an eye out to finally replace those bulky Brita filters.

It seems that these sorts of ventures should be the go-to business plan for product and service companies. For many in the humanitarian world, while paying a bit more for your basic product, knowing that its purchase directly benefits and changes the lives of others who are less fortunate makes opening up our wallets easier. For the people at charity:water, Dwell, and Soma, transparency with their work is extremely important. Their websites provide detailed information and illustrations on their finished and ongoing projects. Going back to Bill Gates’ word of advice in his 2013 letter, being upfront and proving your successes and even failures are going to propel charities to exceed their goals and give donors the comfort and reassurance they deserve.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source: Co.EXIST

Mobile Banking With M-Pesa
Here in the U.S., cell phone apps such as ‘Venmo’ that allow simple and quick money transfers have revolutionized the way we exchange money. However, with mobile banking as well as Venmo-like apps, they require all users to actually have a bank account. While speed and efficiency are a huge pro about these apps, they, as they are, wouldn’t necessarily be as successful a venture in the developing world.

M-Pesa (meaning mobile ‘money’ in Swahili) has grown to be the most successful mobile financial service in the developing world. Started in 2007, the company’s main goal wasn’t necessarily convenience but had the more objective of creating an app that people without bank accounts can use. Bank accounts usually must maintain a minimum balance or have other requirements many people living in developing areas just cannot meet.

M-Pesa users only need two out of three things: a mobile phone and an ID card or passport. With these in hand, they can do numerous things just from their phone: deposit and withdraw money, transfer between different accounts (even to those without an M-Pesa account), manage their transactions, pay their bills, and even purchase mobile minutes. With about 1 in 5 sub-Saharan Africans actually having a bank account, M-Pesa opens up an entire world for people to exchange money freely without being tied down to a bank.

The company manages an individual’s account through their phone number. As part of Safaricom’s and vodacom’s networks (service operators in Kenya and Tanzania: think Verizon or AT&T), only those who receive their service through these companies can take advantage of the system. Once money is transferred, users can cash out at various retail outlets or stores that normally sell cellphone minutes.

M-Pesa was initially created to help the transfer of funds for people receiving microfinanced loans because it helped keep rates down, as it cut out the direct contact with money. Now, it operates in 5 countries including Afghanistan, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, and India. It reaches 15 million users in Kenya alone. 

– Deena Dulgerian

Sources: Co.Exist, Wikipedia
Photo: Hapa Kenya