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Food Insecurity in Guatemala
September 1, 2020, brought joy to citizens of Guatemala City as nearby schools finally received a long-awaited donation from the company, Amazon. Through coordinated efforts with Guatemala Minister of Education Claudia Ruíz Casasola, Amazon donated cooking supplies which will be dispersed among 500 schools surrounding Guatemala City. These schools are located in the Dry Corridor, an area that has suffered from food insecurity due to dramatic flooding followed by months of drought. Amazon’s donation to these 500 schools will perhaps assist 100,000 students currently battling food insecurity in Guatemala.

Amazon’s Partnership with the World Food Program (WFP) USA

Amazon is a partner of the World Food Program USA (WFP), an organization dedicated to fighting global hunger and famine. The organization has had quite a year, providing meals for 138 million people. They even raised $1 million in 10 days for those suffering the results of the explosion in Beirut. This partnership has allowed WFP to continue its efforts in supporting the Guatemalan government’s school feeding program while combating global hunger as a whole.

Amazon’s Partnership with the United Parcel Service (UPS)

This donation was long-awaited, as Amazon delivered the initial shipment back in February of 2020. Concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and international shipping delayed the distribution of the donation until now. Therefore, making this a moment of excitement and gratitude. However, the shipment of this donation was made possible through the generosity of the United Parcel Service (UPS). UPS covered the cost of the shipment of Amazon’s donation to the schools in Guatemala, contributing to the support of the WFP as it navigates the global challenges of the pandemic. The donations expect utilization in January when many public schools plan on welcoming back students.

The outcomes of this donation are plentiful, as food insecurity is a major threat to the children in Guatemala. This year’s cropping season produced Guatemala’s worst crop yield in 35 years due to excessive drought. Moreover, Guatemala faces the highest level of malnutrition in Latin America. As a result, many school-aged children face stunted growth and the pandemic contributed to a total of 1.2 million citizens, already in need of food assistance.

Through the generosity of Amazon and UPS, items such as bowls, blenders and pans will arrive in schools to prepare breakfasts and lunches for students facing food insecurity. By battling food insecurity  in Guatemala and malnutrition in schools, the government can work to make sure students are receiving their necessary nutrient intakes. In parallel, this does not place financial stress on families to provide daily meals for their children.

Mission Guatemala

The Guatemalan government’s school feeding program, in addition to other initiatives, such as Mission Guatemala, has the goal of ending any deaths relating to hunger across the country. Large organizations like the WFP, along with major businesses like Amazon and UPS have the potential to assist in the fight against global hunger in countries like Guatemala. Amazon and UPS have set a positive example with this donation. In this way, they bring awareness to the food crisis that exists in countries outside of the U.S. Due to the companies’ global influence, other major brands may follow suit. Potentially, making donations and partnering with organizations that work to assist others.

The WFP USA also accepts donations and the opportunity to begin fundraising through their website. Advocacy is essential, and any individual contribution can assist those battling hunger, as seen by the generosity of both Amazon and UPS.

Evan Coleman
Photo: Flickr

delivery appsWhen China was at the peak of its COVID-19 outbreak, unexpected lockdowns affected well over 700 million people. Hundreds of thousands of these people grew anxious and engaged in panic buying, leaving essential stores depleted. Many people suffered from a lack of necessary supplies as a result. However, within days, supplies from all around the world began flowing into China. In order to comply with lockdown measures, many people turned to digital delivery apps to continue receiving their basic necessities.

Efficient Delivery

Despite its new uses during the pandemic, delivery technology is not a new concept in China. In fact, China has one of the most efficient delivery systems in the world. While other globally renowned companies, such as the U.S.-based e-commerce platform Amazon, pride themselves on rapid, two-day delivery, China’s home delivery apps can be at your door within minutes.

These digital delivery platforms, better known as wai mai xiao ge (which directly translates to “takeaway lad”), have flourished throughout the country. Whether users need to order takeout, groceries or even a portable phone charger, these delivery apps can do it within minutes. Though these platforms were originally seen as a convenient method to receive goods, they soon turned into a vital lifeline after China enacted stay-at-home measures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Creating Jobs

Besides aiding those at home in need of essential goods, wai mai platforms have also greatly benefitted the deliverers themselves. Meituan Waimai, one of the most prominent on-demand delivery companies in China, created over 336,000 jobs for wai mai drivers as the coronavirus surged. These new jobs were vital opportunities for those who lost their primary source of income during the crisis.

Zhang Shuai, a 24-year-old delivery driver from Zhengzhou in Henan province, works in Shanghai, one of the largest and wealthiest cities in China. Shuai signed up to work with Meituan Waimai when COVID-19 cases began to grow because it was too difficult to find any other job. However, his delivery job with Meituan Waimai now provides him with $1,400 per month, a wage that is higher than the average urban salary in Shanghai.

Many workers from remote, rural villages also use these jobs with delivery apps as an opportunity to move to more urbanized cities and establish a less regimented life for themselves. While living in the village, many people from rural China worked in factories that often required a specialized skill set and a peer who could provide a recommendation for them. However, the same workers can get hired as a deliverer in a metropolitan city soon after verifying their identity and credentials. Once hired, they can receive better pay than what factory work would provide.

The Future of Meituan Waimai

As the pandemic continues, home delivery systems also continue to grow with it. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Meituan Waimai was a $46 billion business. However, within the last few months, it has reached a record high at $100 billion amid the virus and is projected to continue growing from there, providing more job opportunities as it does so.

– Heather Law
Photo: Pexels

In 2016, the African Development Bank launched the New Deal on Energy for Africa to accelerate the supply of electricity across the continent. After the African Development Bank launched its bold initiative, the president of the organization, Akinwumi Adesina, made a statement that resonated with countless communities: “Africa is tired of being in the dark.”

Fast forward to today and the vision of the New Deal has faded. All across Africa, communities suffer from frequent blackouts and grid congestion plagues slowly growing businesses. As the world becomes more tech-centered, it is critical that Africa is supported by modern technology rather than, as Adesina feared, being left in the dark.

High Population, High Demand

As the population in Africa steadily rises, so does the demand for reliable electricity to power growing communities. In sub-Saharan Africa, growing populations are overtaking electricity access, and the percentage of people in the region with access to electricity is declining. Additionally, mere access to power does not guarantee a high value in energy service. For instance, in Nigeria, it is estimated that homes and businesses spend $14 billion each year on fuel to power supplemental generators. This is because the current power grid is unable to keep up with the needs of the people.

If energy storage in Africa can be optimized, millions of people and small businesses will experience fewer blackouts. This will, in turn, provide energy, electricity and economic boosts for many struggling, impoverished communities. If executed properly, energy access could be the break in the poverty cycle that Africa has been waiting for.

Renewable Energy in Africa

With a consistently sunny climate, Africa has an incredible potential for solar energy. The cost of solar energy generation in Africa may even be relatively inexpensive compared to the current average prices for electricity. In Liberia, for example, one would have to pay a high average of $490 per megawatt-hour for electricity. However, if investors utilize the expansive supply of sunlight across the continent, the price will drop in the long run and provide more African consumers with stable energy. This could also provide more work opportunities in industry, technology and small businesses that would otherwise be unable to pay an electricity bill.

Overall, the impact of investing in new energy storage technology will be substantial. Impoverished communities will have access to reliable power, the poor can find work and countries’ economies will grow. However, the path to renewable energy integration is not as simple as one may hope.

In recent years, older and more traditional power plants have been attempting to provide stable power to communities with moderate success. It is estimated that 42% of Africans lack access to electricity in their homes because they are not in zones served by an electric grid. Additionally, frequent blackouts and massive regions without power are not uncommon in the continent.

Energy Storage

As Africa aims to integrate affordable solar energy on a large scale, the current grid capacity will not be able to respond to the high levels of demand. Without massive design changes, this issue will continue to worsen in the near future.

Energy storage in Africa allows for the integration of renewable energy on a broad scale and can address the electrical challenges found across the continent. It will also create a buffer between the limited supply and increasingly high demand. Thus, a new grid system concentrated on energy storage and more resilient power systems will be absolutely critical in guaranteeing renewable energy. Such a system will also lower the cost of electricity for Africans. With this progress, millions of families and businesses will have access to stable electricity.

Making Progress

Though there is still a great deal of work to be done, it is impossible to ignore the remarkable advancements in African energy in recent history.

When looking for companies that are investing in the people of Africa, one need look no further than the massive retailer Amazon, one of the largest and most successful businesses today. Amazon recently announced that it is hiring around 3,000 South Africans for customer service positions that are designed to be fully remote. It is a rare case in which Africans prove to have a stable-enough internet connection for the work from home lifestyle to be possible.

The potential impact this will have on the poverty rate in South Africa is outstanding. The ability to work from home opens doors for a number of people who previously did not have the opportunity to work. For example, mothers who were generally expected to be the familial homemaker can now work from home while taking care of their children. Additionally, people all across the region will be able to avoid expensive travel costs altogether.

With more investments in energy storage in Africa, more families and businesses will be able to thrive. Should these massive economic leaps continue in the future, the unemployment rate in the region will gradually decrease. Providing access to electricity also benefits families, businesses and consumers by improving education, healthcare and quality of life. At the same time, it helps to improve the bottom line for utility costs and rates of return for investors, drawing in more business.

It is evident that investing in one region can slowly bleed into the next, giving hope for a more stable future to the whole of the African continent. Through these continued efforts, Africa will no longer be left in the dark but rather will be brought light.

– Daniela Canales
Photo: Flickr

Labor Exploitation at Foxconn ChinaFoxconn China is a major factory town in Shenzhen, China. It is a factory town that a Taiwanese company called Foxconn created. Foxconn is one of the largest contract electronics manufacturers in the world. People commonly refer to the town as Foxconn City and it employs over 350,000 workers. Foxconn bans the outside world from entering its large factory town. Major tech companies, such as Apple, Amazon, Dell, Google and Hewlett-Packard, contracts Foxconn to produce electronics. Here is some information about the labor exploitation at Foxconn China.

Labor Exploitation at Foxconn China

In 2010, labor exploitation at Foxconn China came into the spotlight when numerous workers committed suicide by throwing themselves off their dorm buildings. Reports determined that there were 18 suicide attempts and 14 confirmed accounts of death in 2010. One might question if the working conditions changed in 2019.

Labor exploitation at Foxconn China takes on multiple forms. On a surface level, all of the line workers at Foxconn China seem to be full-time employees. What many do not know, however, is that many line workers at Foxconn China are part-time student workers. These part-time workers are usually students from Chinese trade schools who are “interning” at Foxconn’s factories. These so-called internships are usually underpaid line jobs.

These part-time student workers are in danger of labor exploitation at Foxconn China. Oftentimes, these “interns” only receive $3.15 per hour. In 2019, Amazon.com came under scrutiny for violating Chinese labor law concerning these student laborers. In China Labor Watch’s 2019 report, the organization accused Amazon’s Foxconn factory of violating the Chinese student worker laws. Because each intern worker receives a production quota, they must do overtime and night shifts, which Chinese labor law does not allow.

The Reality of Labor Exploitation

The Guardian’s 2017 report gives a glimpse into labor exploitation at Foxconn China. Suicide notes and interviews with suicide survivors reported that workers at Foxconn China experience long workdays, harsh management and minimal pay. The Guardian interviewed a young man named Xu. Xu told the Guardian that the management of Foxconn China is often harsh to its workers. According to Xu, managers of Foxconn factories often publicly humiliate workers for being slow or make promises that they will not keep. In one case, Xu stated that a manager promised to pay double for overtime hours but only gave regular pay. This kind of degradation and inhumane work hours seems to be the root cause of suicides in Foxconn.

In 2019, Apple and Foxconn came under scrutiny for breaking the Chinese labor law. China Labor Watch’s investigation revealed that, as of August 2019, 50 percent of the workers in Foxconn City were temporary workers. According to Chinese labor law, only a maximum of 10 percent of a company’s employees can be part-time workers. In addition, the Chinese Labor Watch accused Foxconn China of making its student interns and workers do overtime. Chinese labor law on student internships does not allow student interns to work overtime or night shifts. While Apple denied many of the accusations, Apple did admit that the number of part-time workers in its Foxconn facilities exceeded the Chinese labor law’s regulation.

The Future for Foxconn Workers

Li Qiang, the director of China Labor Watch, gave a piece of hopeful news in her interview with a software company called Moz. Li pointed to a couple of improvements that Apple made in regards to fostering better working conditions for its line workers. Apple started to issue reports on the state of working conditions for its factories overseas. In addition, some experts suggested that a decrease in iPhone sales might also help the Chinese line workers. Due to the falling sales numbers, Foxconn had to cut back on both employee counts and overtime hours. As a result, many manufacturing employees are quitting their jobs, which may force the factories and management to treat their next round of employees better.

It is true that Foxconn China has not made any major improvements since the 2010 suicides. However, it is clear that major companies such as Apple are making an effort to improve the lives of the Chinese line workers at Foxconn China. While these minor improvements on labor exploitation at Foxconn China might not look like enough, it is the collection of these small changes that can bring about a major change and improvement. As long as there are people who closely monitor the labor exploitation in Foxconn China, there will be future improvements for the workers in China.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

Plastic Waste Action and Poverty in IndiaWithin the last year, more information has come out about the consumption of plastics and their mismanagement. The information has spread awareness of the dangers of single-use plastics and encouraged using paper or reusable straws along with a number of other initiatives. Few, however, have been as transformative as one undertaken in India by the NGO Sarthak Samudayik Vikas Avan Jan Kalyan Sanstha (SSVAJKS). SSVAJKS has spearheaded a streamlined process of plastic waste collection and sell to recyclers. Though SSVAJKS may be the only organization connecting plastic waste action and poverty in India, others are joining the efforts to mitigate the problem.

Large Scale Support

At least 16.5 million tons of plastics are consumed annually, 43 percent of which are single-use, packaging material. Around 80 percent of these plastics are discarded. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Clean India Drive promises to address pollution in India. In March 2019, India banned imports of plastic waste. By September, it banned single-use and disposable plastic products. Headlined by Modi’s speech on August 15 calling for the elimination of such items by October 2, the Indian government aims to reduce disposable plastics to zero by 2022.

In alignment with this initiative, Amazon India and Walmart’s Flipkart announced actions to remove single-use plastics from their packaging. They will instead opt for entirely paper cushions and recycled plastic consumption by March 2021. In June 2018, PepsiCo India vowed to replace its plastic Lays and Kurkure bag with “100 percent compostable, plant-based” ones. This was countered by Coca-Cola’s goal to recycle one can or bottle for every one sold by 2030.

Sarthak Samudayik Vikas Avan Jan Kalyan Sanstha

While governments and corporations have addressed the future of plastic consumption, they neglect the areas where SSVAJKS helps the most. SSVAKLS is dealing with the existing plastic that has already been produced. SSVAKLS has the support of the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Program under the advisement and jurisdiction of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). These efforts have connected the campaigns against plastic overconsumption and mismanagement with SSVAJKS’ recycling initiative.

The NGO began linking plastic waste action and poverty in India in the city of Bhopal in 2008. It developed a sustainable integrated waste management system for the city’s five wards, a model that expanded to the state level in 2011. Replicated across India in all of its states, this model relies on ‘ragpickers’ to sift through the waste and pick out plastics returned to municipal collection centers. These collectors come from highly vulnerable, socially marginalized castes and are predominantly poor, illiterate women.

Since partaking in this initiative, the incomes of the ‘ragpickers’ have vastly improved, doubling in many cases. The plastic they collect and submit to the collection centers is recycled into roads and co-processing in cement kilns, benefitting upwards of two million people. The overwhelming success of the NGO led to another SGP grant that enlisted “2,000 unorganized waste pickers” across the Bhopal Municipal Corporation’s 70 wards.

The Endgame

SGP hopes to build a sustainable plastic waste management system and ensure the co-processing of plastic waste. It will also increase the standards of living for 2,000 ragpicker families. New initiatives are introducing vermicomposting along with paper bag and cotton making units. The results are phenomenal. Ragpickers have collected 4,200 megatons of plastic, saving plastic from burning and emitting 12,000 megatons of carbon. Additionally, the ragpickers themselves are able to open bank accounts to accumulate their savings, lifting them slowly but surely out of abject poverty. The success of the SSVAJKS in combining efforts to address plastic waste action and poverty in India demonstrates the NGO’s capacity to tackle multiple issues at once and incentivize the solving of one through the other.

Alex Myers
Photo: Flickr

Hurricane Dorian
On September 1, 2019, hurricane conditions emerged within some of the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas. A mere few hours later, the conditions developed into a Category 5 storm named Hurricane Dorian with winds from 185 up to 220 mph, leaving massive amounts of chaos and destruction in its wake. The storm tore houses and buildings from their foundations as if they were cardboard and glue, leaving most of the citizens in the northwestern region of the island displaced and looking for shelter. The disaster also killed at least 50 people and many expect that number to rise as more bodies turn up. Reports state there are 2,500 people missing.

People classify hurricane Dorian as the joint strongest Atlantic storm to ever hit land. Many companies in the United States have made contributions to help the relief efforts, in addition to repairing some of the devastations in the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahamas.

Six Companies Donating to Hurricane Dorian Relief in the Bahamas

  1. Disney: The Walt Disney Company announced on September 3, 2019, two days after the hurricane struck, that it would give $1 million dollars in efforts to help alleviate some of the devastations. The Disney Cruise Line led the donation with its president, Jeff Vahle, releasing a statement saying, “The Bahamas is such a special place to us and our guests, and we have watched the devastation created by Hurricane Dorian with concern and heartache.”

  2. Lowe’s: The Lowe’s Emergency Command Center took action in the midst of the disaster on August 29, 2019. It set up a core team of people working tirelessly to send medical supplies to areas that the hurricane impacted. The company has also committed to sending a $1 million donation to the Bahamian Red Cross. 

  3. Verizon: The Verizon company waived all unlimited talk, text and data usage for its customers in the areas that suffered destruction from the storm in the Bahamas. People in this area received waived service from September 2, 2019, through September 9, 2019.                               

  4. Coca-Cola: The Coca-Cola Foundation announced a $400,000 grant to the Salvation Army in order to send immediate help to those the devastation of Hurricane Dorian affected in the Bahamas. Furthermore, Coca-Cola Puerto Rico Bottling and other CC1 Companies are lending a helping hand to the Coca-Cola Bottler in the Bahamas by organizing donations and supply drives with the help of the Puerto Rican business communities.

  5. Walmart: Walmart, Walmart.org and Sam’s Club pledged up to $500,000 in cash and in kind donations for the country’s recovery. The money that they committed will go to the organizations working directly with those impacted by the disaster. Walmart is also working very closely with government entities and local officials to alleviate the needs of the citizens.

  6. Amazon: In partnership with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Mercy Corps and the Grand Bahama Disaster Relief Foundation, the Disaster Relief by Amazon team is sending two Amazon Air flights full of supplies to the areas Hurricane Dorian impacted. The planes will contain tarps, buckets and water containers. Amazon has also launched a wish list campaign, specifically created for nonprofit partners, for customers to donate materials to aboard the plane by September 13, 2019.

These six largely successful companies have made monumental efforts to alleviate some of the devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian and give back to communities that lost so much. Rebuilding the communities will likely take years, but these donations are a wonderful starting point.

– Joanna Buoniconti
Photo: Flickr

Cacay Oil
Amongst the incredible array of biodiversity which stems from the Amazon grows a small green fruit, the Cacay nut. A Google search for Cacay oil generates dozens of reviews by beauty blogs and skincare gurus who have tested the product. But what is Cacay and what makes it so special?

The Cacay Nut’s Uses

The Cacay nut, which is similar in size and color to lime from the outside, has three smaller nuts on the inside. The fruit grows on trees in Colombia and has a plethora of uses. People can use every part of the fruit, and this fact makes it a sustainable crop because there is no waste. It has a high nutritional value containing over 40 percent protein, all the essential amino acids and omega 3, 6 and 9. People can use the peel for compost or animal food, while the shell’s slow combustion properties make it a great source of biofuel. One can also make nut milk from the Cacay nut, which can serve as an animal milk substitute.

People mostly covet the Cacay nut for its beauty and cosmetic benefits. The oil from it contains 50 percent more vitamin E than argan oil, which is essential for skin moisturization. Additionally, it contains a high retinol and collagen content, which reduces signs of ages and smooth fine lines and wrinkles.

Kahai Lifts Families Out of Poverty

Kahai, a Colombian-based company, has made it its mission to share the benefits of Cacay with the world and lift up the people who grow it as well. It sells Cacay oil for its incredible health and skin benefits and is the first to do so on such a large scale. Thus far, the organization has exported over three tons of Cacay oil worldwide. Kahai hopes that Cacay will take the place of many illicit crops that were previously a driving cause of deforestation across the region. The potential economic opportunities that farming Cacay will bring should motivate farming communities in Colombia to preserve their forests and plant thousand of more trees.

Kahai’s location in Bogota D.C., Colombia, is home to many impoverished peasant farming families. Because Kahai is seeking to farm the fruit on a commercial scale, it will utilize plantation-style harvesting. This has created over 200 jobs with sustainable incomes for the peasant families in this conflict-torn area. There is also the potential for upward growth within the company, with individuals who began working entry-level jobs now holding management positions.

Kahai’s Recent Initiative

Kahai’s recently launched initiative with the World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes may also assist in both the sustainability efforts and the community development efforts. The initiative’s goal is to partner with the government and privately-owned corporations in the region to provide payment for communities who reduce their emissions and demonstrate environmentally-friendly farming practices. This will further encourage this positive development and further support the local economy.

As the benefits of Amazonian gold become more apparent to the rest of the world, Kahai and its employees will reap the economic benefits as the first large-scale Cacay oil farming operation. It is the organization’s hope that farming villages that operate under sustainable practices and receive consistent sustainable incomes will only grow stronger.

Gina Beviglia
Photo: Flickr

Ecommerce in India
With Walmart’s recently announced acquisition of Flipkart, India’s largest online retailer, the U.S. retail multinational has placed a substantial bet on the future of ecommerce in India and the country’s economic potential.

Confirmed in recent weeks, Walmart’s purchase of almost 80 percent ownership of Flipkart represents the largest single foreign direct investment transaction in the country’s history. Although ecommerce represents a small portion of total retail sales in India, companies like Walmart are betting that a burgeoning middle class and greater access to technology offer the potential for a sizable market.

Indeed, the more bullish analysts predict an ecommerce boom in the country. U.S. investment bank Morgan Stanley estimates that online retail sales in India could grow by more than 1,200 percent, from $15 billion in 2016 to $200 billion in 2026. These numbers would trail the world leaders in online retail sales such as China ($1.1 trillion in 2017) and the U.S. ($453 billion) but would already put India among the largest ecommerce markets in the world and unmatched in the rest of the world in terms of potential size.

Forecasts include burgeoning internet usage and lower data access costs in the country, which will broaden the accessibility of online retailers. Optimism also stems from size and growth of the Indian economy: its population is 1.3 billion, the second-highest behind China, with a young demographic profile and GDP growth of 7.2 percent in 2017. This represented the fastest rate among all major economies. It is also hoped that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be successful in implementing economic reforms to ease the cost of doing business, including for foreign investors, in the coming years.

Walmart is not alone in betting on the potential of ecommerce in India. Amazon entered the market in 2013 in an attempt to challenge Flipkart’s success and has steadily gained ground. Alibaba, the Chinese ecommerce giant, first made inroads into the space in 2015 by investing in Paytm, a financial technology startup, and has since continued to expand its investment into other ecommerce groups.

Some observers are more tepid about India’s potential. GDP per capita remains low compared to other major economies; at approximately $1,700 in 2016, it is roughly one-fourth that of China. Moreover, the wealth of 80 percent of the population falls below that number, reflecting the country’s problem with income inequality, with the richest segment of the population holding an outsized share of the wealth.

In fact, despite proclamations heralding the arrival of India’s massive middle class, a 2015 Pew survey found that the country’s progress in poverty alleviation has largely moved its population from poor to low-income earners. This leaves them dangerously close to re-entering poverty with such limited disposable income.

Outlooks vary, but the commitments to the country by some of the world’s major online retailers represent their belief in its likely transformation and growing earning potential. As some experts have noted, the acquisition by Walmart and its competitors represents a long-term bet that India could be on the cusp of the consumption explosion China saw earlier this century. If their bets on ecommerce in India pay off, it will likely be because it coincides with rising prosperity and economic security for Indians as a whole.

– Mark Fitzpatrick
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

Investing in Developing Countries
While some view developing countries as hopeless, others see in them the potential for investment. Despite their struggles, many developing countries are growing at faster rates than wealthy and middle-income countries as their working age populations increase and larger shares of people gain access to education. Below are five American companies that are investing in developing countries.

  1. Amazon
    In June 2016, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos pledged that Amazon would up its planned direct investment in India from $3 billion to $5 billion. Amazon has already built 21 fulfillment centers and has employed large numbers of Indians in positions ranging from courier to researcher and developer. According to Bezos, India is Amazon’s fastest growing market.
  2. Enviro Board
    Enviro Board is a New Jersey-based company that specializes in producing cheap and environmentally friendly panels, “e-boards,” that can be used to construct houses. In 2014, Enviro Board agreed to launch a joint venture with a local Zambian corporation, Africapaciti Investment Group. The agreement involved building over 6,000 houses a year and re-investing a significant portion of the profits into worthy causes.
  3. Cummins
    Cummins is an American manufacturer of power generation equipment. Since 1962, it has been present in India via a joint venture, and today it employs almost 10,000 workers there. It also has a broad footprint in Africa, with representation in 51 out of 54 African countries. It has supported technical education and gender equality in Africa as well.
  4. IBM
    In 2012, IBM set up a global research lab in Nairobi, Kenya. The lab’s researchers focus on finding solutions to the challenges Africa faces, particularly those relating to education, human capital development and sanitation. In 2015, IBM Research Africa added a South African branch through collaboration with a local university. The researchers there are making use of Watson, IBM’s signature cognitive computing system, as they address the continent’s major issues.
  5. Coca-Cola
    Reduced to being one of the poorest countries in Asia by decades of autarkic military rule, Myanmar has courted foreign aid aggressively since it began to open up to the outside world in 2011. In 2012, Coca-Cola entered Myanmar after a 60-year hiatus by opening a new bottling plant there. The plant put the cap on an ambitious plan for $200 million in direct investment in the country over five years.

Whether it be through research and development, direct investment in production facilities or support for training programs, American companies investing in developing countries can help improve people’s lives. As potential consumers, people living in developing countries may also become major assets to the American economy in the future.

Jonathan Hall-Eastman

Photo: Flickr