Middle EastIt seems like every year, another company or app comes out that changes our lives and disrupts traditional businesses. Netflix changed movies and TV shows, Uber changed individual transportation and Airbnb changed the hotel industry. These new and innovative companies have allowed more people to access services that may have been out of reach in the past.

Now, this trend has taken hold in an unlikely place: the Middle East.

Currently, the two most prominent Middle Eastern startups in the region are Souq, an online e-commerce retailer and Careem, a ride-hailing service. While these firms are not based around wholly original ideas, the mere fact of their creation shows a desire for citizens in these countries to utilize smart technology to improve their daily lives.

Amazon’s acquisition of Souq in 2017 showed the effectiveness of the firm in the region, considering that Amazon’s modus operandi when entering new regions involves launching its own platform paired with a substantial investment component. The efficiency of Souq, however, allowed Amazon to make a direct buyout instead.

Startups like those seen in other parts of the world are sprouting up in the region regardless of the challenging economic and political circumstances they face. In 2016, the top 100 startups in the region raised over $1.42 billion, with each firm raising at least $500,000. But this does not come easily.

Many Middle Eastern countries do not have a conducive climate for startups compared to western Europe and North America. Bankruptcy laws and overregulation have stifled innovation for decades. However, the increase in startup firms in a variety of sectors shows a young, tech-savvy population that seeks to innovate and reinvigorate the economies of the Arab world.

Jamalon, an online book-selling firm, was started by a Jordanian who grew up in Palestinian refugee camps. Ala’ Alsallal saw a need for greater access to Arabic-language books for people in the region, especially works that are banned by various governments in the region.

“You know what the censors told me? ‘We don’t want any books that can change the way people think,'” Alsallal told Forbes Magazine. “That doesn’t matter,” he says. “We just keep sending them.”

Entrepreneurship with a social mission is common among startups, and it is no different in the Middle East, as shown by Jamalon. Average citizens are destined to benefit immensely from these companies. If this trend continues, the advent of Middle Eastern startups will increase access to services and will improve the quality of life for the people of the region.

Daniel Cavins
Photo: Flickr

AfricaRural Africa is one of the most poverty-stricken regions of the world. Half of the global poor live in Sub-Saharan Africa and 389 million in this region live on less than $1.90. While other regions in the world have seen drastic reductions in poverty, progress in Sub-Saharan Africa has been slow. Even though the persistence of rural poverty in Africa is a multi-faceted problem, certain primary factors can be addressed. The extreme poor lack access to resources to achieve economic empowerment. Thankfully, organizations like Village Enterprise have stepped up to the plate to introduce new opportunities.

Village Enterprise provides a graduation program on entrepreneurship and innovation for those living in extreme poverty in Uganda and Kenya. The organization hopes that its simple and cost-effective model can help bring an end to extreme rural poverty in Africa. Village Enterprise stands out from other organizations by using a group-based approach. Each business is started by a group of three people and usually provides support for 20 people in the community. When individuals join the program, they can’t pay for their family’s needs and have no business experience. The program includes training, a $150 grant and mentorship for the aspiring entrepreneurs.

81 percent of the businesses started through Village Enterprise were founded by female entrepreneurs. This is especially important, since women reinvest 90 percent of their income on average to their families and communities, while men only reinvest 30 to 40 percent.

Lucy Wurtz, Development and Communications Director for Village Enterprise, told The Borgen Project that the employees on the ground have tools, including Grameen’s Progress Out of Poverty Index, to determine the level of poverty in a community and who could use their services. Then, every household in the community is invited to join the program. While only 30 entrepreneurs can be working and training in a group at a time, Village Enterprise can reach 90 to 100 households in a community a year.

“The idea is everyone who wants to has a chance to participate,” says Wurtz, “so you are lifting up the whole area.”

When the program is finished, Village Enterprise is able to move on. Once the entrepreneurs learn the skills, they are empowered and able to continue improving their economic standing. The business owners are also able to work together as a group, as each member can pick up different skills. Some become especially adept at finance and can help their fellow entrepreneurs with book-keeping. Others may specialize in marketing or leadership.

“Once you give a number of skills to a group of people,” says Wurtz, “that group starts acting as a support body to disperse the skills within the group members and take on the attributes of what you’re teaching.”

Village Enterprise measures the impact of the program by the increase in the standard of living. The organization recently conducted a randomized trial involving 6,000 households and 138 villages in Uganda. Researchers returned to the communities a year after the program was finished to see if there were still significant improvements. The study will soon be available to view on the Village Enterprise website.

The organization is expanding in several ways. It continues to grow in the countries in which it already works, Kenya and Uganda, and is also looking into expanding into other African countries, with the Democratic Republic of Congo being one potential target. One of the factors driving expansion is a new opportunity for donors. Village Enterprise is now participating in an innovative way to finance development: development impact bonds. These bonds get investors to pay up front for the costs of an intervention that can be measured by predetermined metrics. If the goals are met, then an outcome payor, usually a donor agency or foundation, will pay back the investor based on this performance.

Village Enterprise has started over 39,000 businesses and trained over 156,000 entrepreneurs. With hope, this approach can go on to empower and lift up the over 40 percent of Sub-Saharan Africans living in extreme poverty.

Brock Hall

Photo: Flickr

Argentina's Growing Tech Hub in Latin AmericaArgentina is one of three Latin American countries in the G20 and now has a booming tech industry. Though the industry has been on the rise since the 1980s after a major Argentinian recession, growth in recent years can be attributed to a few key factors.

One reason for Argentina’s growing tech hub is President Mauricio Macri’s new market-friendly policies. President Macri has sought to use the tech sector as a source for both new growth and reduced economic reliance on commodities. Though criticized, the policies Macri has introduced have helped the country reopen access to international debt markets and incentivized entrepreneurship. The Macri administration expects that 1.5 percent of GDP will come from the tech sector because of new policies.

The new law, called Ley de Emprendedores, or the Entrepreneur’s Law, replaces a previous law where approval and financing procedures took nearly a year to complete before entrepreneurs could legally launch their companies. The policy also allocates public funding to co-invest with private funding into businesses, by the means of the Fiduciary Fund for the Development of Venture Capital. This legislation is backed by both the Association of Entrepreneurs in Argentina and the Argentina Association of Private Equity, Venture and Seed Capital.

As such, the startup technological field continues to grow with a new generation of companies. These companies include the Y-Combinater backed Bluesmart, satellite startup Satellogic which raised $20 million last year to build imaging satellites and Affluenta, a peer to peer lending platform, which raised $8 million last year.

The stars of Argentina’s growing tech hub are three internet companies located in Buenos Aires that are worth over a billion dollars: MercadoLibre, OLX and Despegar. MercadoLibre is the only internet company from Latin America that is listed on NASDAQ. As the Huffington Post states, “a startup ecosystem is flourishing” in Argentina.

Gabriella Paez

Photo: Flickr

Pitch & FlowMC Lyte and DJ D-Nice hosted Pitch & Flow, a competition where rappers and social entrepreneurs join together to win money for their causes.

Pitch & Flow was held on Wednesday, September 13, 2017 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. According to XXL, celebrity guests included Stretch Armstrong, Melissa Bradley, Young Paris and Doug E. Fresh.

The Africa Creative Agency, Unreasonable Group and Lowe’s Innovation Labs paired the rappers and the social entrepreneurs together for the competition. The eight rappers weave the goals of their entrepreneurs into stories that encouraged the audience to vote for them. After three rounds, the winning duo won $7500 for their cause.

The causes championed at Pitch & Flow represented many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Some of the goals illustrated within the causes include uses for solar energy, educating the incarcerated and recyclable material production.

According to CityLab, all of the rappers involved in Pitch & Flow are passionate about social issues themselves. Many of them “double as activists and educators, and are in line with the grassroots vibe of the whole event. One of them even served as a Hip-Hop Cultural Envoy for the U.S. State Department.” The event gives rappers the opportunity to use their skills to promote a good cause.

Pitch & Flow also provides a unique opportunity for the organizations in regards to informing others about what the organization is about. Rap presents the organizations’ values in a creative and concise way that sticks with an audience.

At the end of Pitch & Flow, rapper and Northeastern University math professor Professor Lyrical and Sun Culture entrepreneur Samir Ibrahim won the $7500 prize. Sun Culture is an organization that “provides solar-powered irrigation systems to farmers in East Africa,” according to Essence.

Pitch & Flow illustrates how the creative arts can be used to promote worthwhile global causes.

Cortney Rowe

Photo: Flickr

Social EntrepreneurshipAcross the developing world, a great number of social challenges are evident. Poverty, economic inequality and underdeveloped health services present a real threat to those who call these nations home. Previously, much of the relief provided to alleviate these issues has come through aid from more prosperous countries, however growing levels of alternatives, such as social entrepreneurship, are now being actively pursued.

Social entrepreneurs are those whose goal is the achievement of systemic and sustainable social change. Often this is through innovation, perhaps through the invention of a new product or technology, or through adaptation of existing methods, such as making aspects of healthcare more affordable to those who require it.

For social entrepreneurs, the end goal is poverty alleviation or societal development, whether in a non-profit or business setting.

The notion that social entrepreneurship could provide aspects of aid not covered through traditional means has become more popular in recent years. In 2011, the Global Entrepreneurs Council, a U.N initiative focused on the promotion of entrepreneurship around the world, was formed.

In 2013, USAID and DfID created the Global Development Innovation Ventures fund, targeting the alleviation of poverty by means of innovation. Resources such as these have enabled entrepreneurial minds across the developing world to begin affecting change in their towns and cities. Not only this, but it appears to endorse the belief that social entrepreneurship can benefit the developing world.

Geographical challenges to people in Southern Africa is a cause targeted by the Buffalo Bicycle Company, who build their bicycles specifically for the terrain and its difficulties. In Myanmar, the work of the Phandeeyar tech hub civil society groups connects those seeking to develop products in line with the country’s economic growth with technology professionals.

Education, not just in the traditional sense, but also in terms of leadership, social abilities and entrepreneurship, is the focus of Afroes, who provide their services to young people in South Africa through games and tools. The list of social enterprises successfully overcoming social issues in the developing world grows by the day.

The progress made by these types of enterprises has increased acceptance that social entrepreneurship can benefit the developing world. As social enterprises continue to multiply throughout developing nations, it has become increasingly apparent that, in order to create systemic change, focus should be placed on public services being used in tandem with social entrepreneurs.

As such, acknowledgment and understanding of the benefits provided through such partnerships should be prioritized by public leaders across the developing world so as to continue affecting the change that is so often drastically required.

Gavin Callander

Traditional Production in EgyptFor centuries, Egypt has been rich in culture and tradition. These factors seemed to hold Egypt back developmentally until 2009, when the United Nations saw an opportunity for heritage to lift people out of poverty. Since then, the MDG-F Culture and Development Joint Programmes have been implemented in four participating Arab states, including Egypt. This plan allowed one small village in Egypt to complete four of the eight Millennium Development Goals. Below is the outlined success of this traditional production in Egypt.

MDG 1-Eradicate Extreme Poverty
The first goal completed through this project was the elimination of extreme poverty. Individuals in Dahshur, Egypt were lifted out of poverty through the creation of hand-crafted items. The project generated employment and income through seven innovative industries and participants were trained in hand-crafted production. Manufacturing of goods included embroidery, handmade carpets and crafts.

MDG 3-Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women
70 percent of the 200 people participating in the Egypt development plan were women. This empowered women – who were predominantly from traditional families – to learn new skills and use original resources. The project also encouraged women to make decisions and generate an income for the first time. Results led to a significant reduction in gender disparity.

MDG 7-Ensure Environmental Sustainability
After rigorous training, participants were told to collect their own raw materials. They then had to prepare them for production and create the final product. Cultural goods included embroidery, tailoring, flooring and beads. Over time, it is predicted that womens’ skills will improve which will make it possible to produce the goods at a higher rate. Once this happens, goods will be sold to the travel division which promotes eco-friendly tourism.

MDG 8-Develop Global Partnership for Development
The MDG-F Culture and Development Joint Programme in Egypt fostered community involvement in cultural development. This created reliable networks, partnerships and interactions. The project also raised awareness about the MDGs and promoted the culture’s influence to their success.

Many positive results have been achieved and continue to grow through traditional production in Egypt. The plan ended in 2013 but a Local Economic Development Forum has successfully been registered as a non-governmental organization (NGO) and will continue to function. Additionally, local NGOs are ready to duplicate their training for other groups, promoting increased success.

Emilee Wessel

Photo: Google

Virtual MicrofinanceFounded in 2009 by Julia Kurnia, Zidisha is a virtual microfinance platform that seeks to combat poverty in developing countries by directly connecting lenders to entrepreneurs. To date, Zidisha has raised more than $10 million in microloans.

Zidisha, which means “grow” or “expand” in Swahili, is the first virtual microfinance service to eliminate the use of local intermediaries to disburse loans to companies in need. The Virginia-based nonprofit follows a platform similar to that of eBay, in which entrepreneurs post public loan requests for lenders across the world to access. This streamlined process is both cost-effective and convenient for emerging entrepreneurs who seek capital to accelerate their businesses.

Zidisha is not the pioneer of virtual microfinance. However, its distinctive feature is its commitment to lower fees and rates for entrepreneurs. Similar organizations such as Kiva make use of “field partners” who often distribute loans at interest rates of more than 35 percent to pay for administrative costs. Zidisha’s flat interest rate of five percent means that borrowers can retain more money to reinvest in their ventures.

The nonprofit has been a highly successful means of growing businesses in 11 developing nations. According to its website, lenders on Zidisha have fully funded more than 70,000 unique projects.

Developing countries are quickly adopting recent technological advances and joining an increasingly interdependent world. According to a Pew Research study, 54 percent of adults in emerging and developing nations described themselves as “Internet users” in 2015, a rise from 45 percent in 2013. However, in the same countries, formal job markets are inadequate and local banks are seldom financially helpful.

Thus, the use of cheap and effective microfinance is critical to spurring economic growth in emerging countries. Developing economies inevitably benefit from microfinance because entrepreneurs can use loans to pay for expansions, renovations, inventory and, most importantly, new employees.

Other virtual microfinance platforms could follow Zidisha’s cost-effective system of lending. If these platforms truly value charity and philanthropy through the form of financial support, they should recognize that the use of third parties to disburse loans poses a financial burden on emerging companies that cannot afford to accumulate thousands of dollars in unpaid interest.

People in developed nations should embrace the unique power of virtual microfinance. It is a viable, even profitable, form of philanthropy that has tangible effects on the crisis of world poverty. Using microfinance as a means of alleviating global economic distress will directly result in more jobs, profit and prosperity for those in need.

Henry Emanuel

Photo: Flickr

Female Entrepreneurship
In emerging markets, women reinvest 90% of their income back into their local economies. The money they earn pays for their children’s education and their family’s food and medical needs. When women are working, not only is their family lifted up but their community and their country also feel the economic impact. That is why supporting female entrepreneurship helps alleviate poverty.

Female entrepreneurs employ one or more people, and in a survey of 112 million entrepreneurs by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), 12 million entrepreneurs expect to employ up to six people over the next five years. This translates to 72 million jobs. In 2012, 126 million women were starting or running new businesses in 67 economies globally. In sub-Saharan Africa, female entrepreneurship engaged 27% of women. In Zambia, 40% of women are entrepreneurs.

The World Bank announced The Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative in July 2017. It is a program that will support loans, mentoring programs and gender equality advocacy for women in emerging countries. Individuals, companies and foreign governments supply the funding for the program. The United States, Saudi Arabia and Germany among other countries pledged an initial $325 million. The goal is to raise $1 billion.

The World Bank has a long history of supporting the success of female entrepreneur programs. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private arm of the World Bank, partnered with Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women Program in 2014 and set up a $600 million fund that provided training and access to capital to women starting small and medium-sized companies.

The World Bank also partnered with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in 2011 to create the Women’s Leadership in Small and Medium Enterprises (WLSME) trust fund. WLSME supports fostering new enterprises and the growth of businesses in developing countries. The grants offered by WLSME test and rigorously evaluate the programs to understand what works best in the 12 countries involved.

There are approximately 9.34 million small and medium-sized businesses globally. The programs developed by the World Bank and other institutions will help women receive money to start and grow their businesses. It will also provide financial education and the mentoring necessary for female entrepreneurs to be successful.

Women entrepreneurs are instrumental in powering economic growth in developing nations. And as the emerging nations grow, world poverty will become closer to eradication.

Jene Cates

Photo: Google

Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative
Ivanka Trump recently spearheaded the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative to enable and support women entrepreneurs around the globe. The Initiative’s goal is to train women, give them access to capital, advocate for anti-discriminatory laws and provide women with connections in the business world. The World Bank oversees the program, but it retains funding from many organizations, individuals and countries.

The initiative raised over $325 million in pledges from numerous sources. The United States was a major investor, pledging $50 million. However, the first countries to make commitments were Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, giving a combined $100 million after President Trump and Ivanka visited the nations.

Numerous other campaigns and projects have attempted to do what the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative is doing, but none of them has achieved on such a large scale. The Initiative will facilitate loans to women entrepreneurs ranging between several hundred and thousands of dollars. It will pay for business training for women, which will result in relationships with their mentors and more connections. Finally, the Initiative will work with local communities, government officials and lawmakers to change law and policy involving women. Through this, Ivanka Trump and the World Bank hope to achieve gender equality in the business world.

Women in business face many challenges globally. Women own roughly 30% of businesses worldwide. Meanwhile, 70% of small businesses with female owners are shut down due to government laws and regulations. According to the International Property Rights Index, about 25 million women worldwide do not have equal rights.

Another problem is the lack of networks and business connections for women. Studies show that men have more social and business connections, giving them better access to jobs and capital. Moreover, women are very poorly represented in the construction, manufacturing and technology sectors. Instead, they primarily own businesses in the retail and service sectors, both of which experience much slower growth than other fields.

At the G-20 Summit in Hamburg, world leaders praised Ivanka and the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative. Ivanka served a lead role in getting the Initiative started, even advocating for the Initiative to her father, President Donald Trump, several months prior.

If the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative is successful, it will be a major step for global women’s equality. With the ownership of successful businesses, women can hold more influential positions in society and better advocate for women’s rights. Discriminatory laws will be eliminated, improving women’s lives everywhere.

Bruce Edwin Ayres Truax

Photo: Flickr

Governments around the world have made it challenging for various countries to start businesses. However, there are many entrepreneurs who have overcome the obstacles of doing business in their countries in order to achieve their goals. Expert Market, an entrepreneurial consulting firm based in Texas, performed a study on the most determined entrepreneurs in developing countries by comparing the number of businesses created in a region to the challenges faced in that region to start businesses.

  1. Botswana
    Botswana is a middle-income country in sub-Saharan Africa. It takes both men and women over twice the amount of time to register a firm in Botswana than it does in other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Two of the other major challenges to doing business in Botswana are a lack of money and training.
  2. Malta
    Malta is a high-income country in the World Bank’s Middle East and North Africa region. It takes people almost a week longer to register firms in Malta than in other countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
  3. Timor-Leste
    Timor-Leste is a lower-middle-income country in the World Bank’s East Asia and Pacific region. Timor-Leste is a country that gained its independence in 2002 and has been working on developing stability and security in the region since 2008.
  4. Gabon
    Gabon is an upper-middle-income country in the World Bank’s sub-Saharan Africa region. It takes almost double the amount of time for people to register firms in Gabon than it takes to register firms in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.
  5. Brazil
    It takes over three times as long to start a business in Sao Paolo, Brazil than in other average city cities in the World Bank’s Latin America and the Caribbean region. Two of the greatest challenges in starting a business in Brazil are corruption and bureaucracy. Brazilians have to go through many government agencies to start businesses. Corruption is a common problem for entrepreneurs in developing countries to deal with.
  6. Belize
    Belize is an upper-middle-income country in the World Bank’s Latin America and Caribbean region. It takes almost two more weeks to register firms in Belize than in other countries in the Latin America and Caribbean Region.
  7. Antigua and Barbuda
    Antigua and Barbuda is a high-income country in the World Bank’s Latin America and Caribbean region. The nation’s biggest industry is tourism.
  8. Bulgaria
    Bulgaria is an upper-middle-income country in the World Bank’s Europe and Central Asia region. It takes people over twice as long to register firms in Bulgaria as it does in other countries in Europe and Central Asia. Corruption is a major issue in Bulgaria.
  9. Croatia
    Croatia is a high-income country in Europe. It takes people in Croatia twice the number of procedures to register firms than it does in other countries in Europe and Central Asia. Another major challenge in Croatia is that the economy in Croatia is still transitioning from a socialist economy with many paychecks coming from public monopolies or the government.
  10. Suriname
    Suriname is an upper-middle-income country in the World Bank’s Latin America and Caribbean region. It is almost three times the cost to start a business in Suriname than in any other country in South America.
  11. Vanuatu
    Vanuatu is a lower-middle-income country in the World Bank’s East Asia and Pacific region. It takes over twice the cost it takes to start businesses in other parts of the East Asia and Pacific region.
  12. United States
    While many would not consider entrepreneurs in the United States to be as determined as entrepreneurs in developing countries, entrepreneurs in the United States face their own set of challenges. Entrepreneurs in the United States face many regulations and costs in order to start businesses.
  13. South Africa
    South Africa is an upper-middle-income country. It takes 43 days for men and women to start a business in South Africa, and about 27 days in other parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
  14. Uganda
    Uganda is a low-income country in the World Bank’s sub-Saharan African region. It takes Ugandan citizens almost twice the number of procedures than it takes the rest of the people in sub-Saharan Africa to register a firm.
  15. Cyprus
    Cyprus is a high-income country in the World Bank’s Europe and Central Asia region. It takes almost three times the amount of income per capita for people to start businesses in Cyprus than it does in other countries in the Europe and Central Asia region.

It may be difficult to start businesses in developing countries, but determined entrepreneurs in developing countries can make it happen.

Jennifer Taggart

Photo: Flickr