Ukraine's IT and software
After the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, many believed Ukraine would climb quickly up the economic ladder. Until recently, government corruption and political instability kept the country in a state of economic stagnation. Over the last two decades, however, the nation’s information technology and software development sectors grew rapidly, helping immensely to boost Ukraine’s economy.

Ukraine Becomes a Major Player

People did not fully recognize the potential of Ukraine’s IT and software industries until 2011 after service exports nationwide exceeded $1 billion. This large revenue also helped the country gain its rank as the 26th most attractive country for outsourced tech services. The following year, the Ukrainian Hi-Tech Initiative conducted a report which ranked Ukraine among the top 10 countries with the most certified IT specialists. Out of the 250,000 Ukrainian IT specialists employed in 2014, over 40,000 of them were certified. Ukraine continues to gain global attention and its rapidly growing IT sector made it one of the most attractive nations for investors and venture capitalists.

The Ukrainian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association recorded that between 2013 and 2018, venture capitalist companies invested $630 million into Ukrainian tech start-ups. Lviv, another major IT city in Ukraine’s Innovation District IT park recently received a $160 million grant. The generous grant provided 14,000 new workplaces in the park. Among the workplaces were tech-labs, hotels and restaurants. This expansion created an array of employment opportunities, which helped to boost Ukraine’s economy even more.

The successful growth of these industries had so much impact that Ukrainian universities had to create specialized degree programs to cater to them exclusively. As of 2018, there were 13,836 students studying at universities with tech programs. Out of the 13,836 students, 5,000 will graduate with the skill-set needed to become IT professionals in Ukraine’s cluster of tech-centered cities. The IT Future Survey from 2018 indicated that 82 percent of all Ukrainian students wanted to pursue a career in IT or software development. To be specific, in 2017, the Lviv IT cluster launched four new tech programs including robotics, cybersecurity, business analysis and life safety. In addition, the cluster also opened four new innovation labs for IT students. The labs should help students master their skill sets in AI tech, machine learning, data science and an array of other cutting-edge technologies.

Outsourcing Services and Real Estate Demand Boosts Ukraine’s Economy

In recent years, the demand for Ukraine’s IT and software services increased exponentially. Consequently, this creates a demand for firms to buy real estate to house their growing businesses. A Cushman & Wakefield property market analysis indicated that in the first half of 2017, IT companies accounted for 50 percent of all office transactions in the city of Kyiv. Tech companies also account for 60 percent of all office rentals in Kyiv’s Gulliver Business Center, a major hub for the city’s tech industry. Other Ukrainian tech-hub cities like Lviv, Odesa and Kharkiv helped boost Ukraine’s economy through these same areas.

Ukrainian tech companies do a majority of their business through outsourcing services. A report conducted by the investment firm AVentures Capital indicated that at least 500 firms provided tech services to the global market. As of 2018, software development became the second largest export service in the world with Ukraine being responsible for 20 percent of those exports globally. With a current market growth of 26 percent, and between 160,000 and 172,000 Ukrainians being software and IT professionals, Ukraine boasts the largest and fastest growth of these industries in all of Europe. Experts speculate that services of this nature are well on their way to becoming the number one export in the country.

Ukraine’s IT and Software Sectors Create Jobs

This growth helped boost Ukraine’s economy and has also provided Ukrainian people with employment opportunities from clients abroad without the direct involvement of their corrupt government systems. The exports of Ukraine’s IT and software services were worth $3.6 billion. In addition, outsourcing companies provided more than 100,000 software development jobs in the country’s IT sector in 2018.

SoftServe, an American outsourcing company, provided 6,000 employment opportunities for Ukrainian IT specialists. The firm also accepts 800 new recruits annually for a six-month training program. A recorded 70 percent of the program’s participants graduate to gainful employment in IT and software development. Moreover, for every software and IT professional that a company hires in Ukraine, four more jobs in various industries open from that one employment opportunity. The growth of these industries had such a large impact on Ukraine that tech companies can almost guarantee a steady inflow into the country’s economy within a few years.

Although Ukraine has a long road to becoming a fully developed country, its people have made impactful improvements over the last couple of decades. Despite the tireless oppression it faced, Ukraine proved that it has the potential to be a world superpower in innovation, creativity and technology.

Ashlyn Jensen 
Photo: Flickr

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

App for the Illiterate and DeafApproximately 5.3 percent of the world’s population lives with hearing loss. That amounts to 360 million people across the globe. The disability is more prevalent in developing countries, where most of the deaf population is also illiterate. MindRocket, a startup company in Jordan, seeks to improve the deaf community’s engagement in society by developing an app for the illiterate and deaf.

In developing nations, most deaf and hearing-impaired children rarely receive formal schooling. Those who do usually don’t advance past third or fourth grade level and struggle with reading. This lack of schooling paired with communication struggles creates a gap between the deaf and hearing communities. This resulted in a high unemployment rate among the deaf. A higher percent of those with hearing loss work low-grade jobs compared to those in the hearing workforce.

There are some resources that translate spoken word into written word instantly, yet these apps do not help the deaf that cannot read. MindRocket’s founder, Mahmood Darawsheh, noticed this unfair disadvantage and felt compelled to help. He started his company aiming to create technologies to assist the deaf. Their first product, Mimix 3D, is a mobile app that translates written or spoken English into American Sign Language acted out by an avatar. The app is available for both iOS and Android.

The company also developed an Arabic version for Android called Turjuman, which has reached 10,000 users. This app was more challenging to develop due many different dialects spoken in the Middle East and North Africa. It currently understands the Gulf countries and the Levant dialects.

The app allows for a hearing-enabled person to speak or write a message that the avatar will immediately act out. The deaf participant can reply through a sign language keyboard that will translate the symbols into written text. MindRocket plans to develop a web plug-in where website content can be translated through avatar hand symbols appearing on screen. They are looking doing the same for movies as well.

Darawsheh believes that his app for the illiterate and deaf should be free for those who require its assistance as well as those who wish to learn sign language. He hopes that products will help integrate deaf communities into the public and private sector,as well as improve their engagement and independence in society.

Hannah Kaiser
Photo: Flickr

Innovative and Ecofriendly StartupsThis year’s UN High Level Political Forum came with more than just talks. Some of the most innovative and ecofriendly startups of the year gained recognition and further development opportunities. The theme for 2017 theme was “Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world.” The SWITCH Africa Green-SEED partnership granted the awards.

SEED itself is a byproduct of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. It works to promote social and environmental entrepreneurship at the local level for sustainable development and poverty reduction.

SWITCH Africa Green is a multi-country project, working in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, South Africa and Uganda. They push for sustainable development through a greener economy in the private sector. SEED’s national project partners alongside the United Nations put these plans to action, and the EU funds them.

A jury of independent international experts select the SWITCH Africa Green-SEED award winners. Additionally, they must operate within agriculture, manufacturing, tourism or waste management as innovative and ecofriendly startups. 2017’s winners are as follows:

Burkina Faso

Coopérative Sahel Vert, of the Sahel region, is the first enterprise to construct efficient biodigesters that release biogas and organic fertilizer from human and animal excrement. This allows households to gain additional income.

Lagazel produces and markets two types of sustainable solar lamps of robust and high-quality nature for urban and rural regions with no electricity. Its production strategy allows local employment. In addition, the lamps address climate change mitigation and encourage ecofriendly lifestyles.

TECO2 develops resistant school benches made from plastic waste and other locally sourced inputs. They also mitigate deforestation and environmental pollution in substituting the use of wood as a raw material.

Ghana

Recfam creates biodegradable and affordable self-titled PRIDE pads out of banana and plantain fibers for schoolgirls and women without access to proper menstrual hygiene products. Women are included in the manufacture process and personal health education for young girls is provided.

WASHKing supplies and installs biodigester toilets, built locally using available materials, for low-income urban households. It incorporates a biodegradable powder developed in India, and the system is able to separate effluent and turn it into nontoxic water for agriculture or landscaping.

Kenya

Horizons Business Ventures Limited processes essential oils from local seeds and leaves. They employ women in collection groups and creating biodiverse commercial products from existing natural resources. By-products are redeveloped into animal feed and organic pesticides.

ICOSEED Enterprises found an alternative for costly sisal in leftover banana stem fibers from harvests and integrates them into fabrics for marketable items. Farmers gain additional income for the fibers and stitching, and slurry returns from fiber extraction go to manure or biogas usage.

Kencoco Limited produces long-lasting and high heat reaching charcoal briquettes made of coconut shells and husks. Targeting rural Kenya, it saves households money long-term compared to alternative fuels that damage the environment, and makes use of coconut waste and charcoal dust.

Mauritius

Walali Company Limited, located on Rodrigues Island, fashions an agro-processing chain that utilizes retort pouch technology to package native octopus and red beans. The goods are perishable and add value to these culturally significant and organic products. Contracts granted to individual suppliers ensure warranted prices and a secure market.

South Africa

Ekasi Energy manufactures natural biomass pellets from compressed wood waste, alongside clean cooking appliances, for homes with little or no grid power. The product further reduces health threats caused by burning wood or other energy sources and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

iThemba Phakama allows voluntary waste pickers no-cost lease agreements to use specialty manufactured tricycles equipped for waste transport. Salvaged waste can then be recycled and sold by members, and the enterprise is financed through advertisements put on the tricycles’ sides.

Umgibe Farming Organics and Training Institute supports more than 41 local farmer cooperatives with a sustainable and organic food growing system. Umgibe allows small-scale or urban farmers to build up capacity and earn more income to become commercial businesses.

Uganda

Brent Technologies transforms sourced motor oil waste into diesel fuel or fresh motor oil. Wastes from the process create roofing asphalt shingles, forming an eco-friendly supply chain.

Gorilla Conservation Coffee prevents small-holder farmers bordering Bwindi National Park from damaging the forest with poaching or wood chopping. It buys premium coffee and processes it to sell as a branded roasted coffee. This benefits the farmers, and the organization donates funds upon purchase to the protection mountain gorillas in the region.

Masupa Enterprises is the last of these innovative and ecofriendly startups. It offers affordable briquettes made from dry leaves, peels, paper and other wastes, sold in conjunction with cooking stoves. Women are employed in production and marketing. Otherwise necessary negative health and environmental effects are avoided.

These 15 innovative and ecofriendly startups have come to accomplish much in terms of sustainable development, reducing poverty and improving livelihoods in their locales, and stand as global examples for all other entrepreneurs and those in the fight against poverty.

Zar-Tashiya Khan

Photo: Flickr