female tech entrepreneurs
African women have historically been some of the most disadvantaged people because of social and political norms, but recent developments in the corporate and startup worlds in Africa have allowed women to conceive of unique ideas to combat gender inequality and promote employment for all in the technology industry. Here are six female tech entrepreneurs who are making a difference with their business ideas.

Judith Owigar

Owigar is the co-founder of JuaKali, an online platform similar to LinkedIn that connects blue collar workers in the informal sector to employment opportunities. JuaKali allows users to create online profiles to showcase their expertise and recommendations to find formal employment in Kenya through web and mobile platforms.

Owigar is also the founder of Akirachix, an association that provides professional development services to women interested in technology. The association offers networking, training and mentoring to women with the goal of reducing the gender gap in technology for women in Africa and the world.

Coudy Binta De

This 24-year-old Senegalese entrepreneur is one the rising stars of the Information Technology sector in West Africa. Coudy Binta De and three other women established the first technology hub run by and for women in Sacre Coeur. The hub, named Jijiguene Tech Hub (Jijiguene means women in Woluf), offers elementary training for computer literacy to advanced training like coding in HTML and CSS.

Jijiguene Tech Hub also offers professional development services, and both men and women are welcome to come in with entrepreneurial ideas. Men overwhelmingly dominate the IT sector in Africa, and women like De are working to increase employment opportunities and create favorable social norms for female entrepreneurs.

Jamila Abass, Linda Kwamboka and Susan Oguya

These three Kenyan women created MFarm, a mobile platform that connects farmers with consumers in urban and rural areas. MFarm uses software that provides producers and buyers with the latest retail information, and consumers can purchase produce directly from the farmers and vice versa.

Farmers can find local consumers while buyers can find the lowest price for food amongst farmers; every user connects via SMS. The company began in 2010 after winning the IPO48 competition and is now supported by partners Samsung and Tech for Trade, a U.K.-based charity.

Akaliza Keza Gara

A Kigali native of Rwanda, Akaliza Keza Gara is a 27-year-old entrepreneur in the Information Communication Technology (ICT) industry of Rwanda’s technology sector. She is the founder of Shaking Sun, a multimedia company that offers website development, graphic design and computer animation services.

Gara believes women should be producers of technology, not just consumers. As such, she actively works to advance the position of women in the Rwandan ICT industry. In 2012, Gara was one of four female Rwandan entrepreneurs honored by the International Telecommunication Union for contributions to the ICT sector.

– Joseph McAdams

Sources: All Africa, BBC, Forbes, M Farm, Juakali
Photo: Africa Style Daily

Fair Trade Model
Stopping into any Ten Thousand Villages store, there are multicolored products as diverse as the countries they are produced in. The Akron-based company runs on a Fair Trade business plan with craftsmen in over 38 countries. With over 65 years of business, Ten Thousand Villages has become one of the most prominent Fair Trade businesses in the world.

Many of the artisans employed by Ten Thousand Villages are underprivileged and the long-term contracts with the business create opportunities to alleviate their poverty. Many of the people who receive contracts are women who generally have fewer opportunities in their countries.

As a founding member of the World Free Trade Organization, Ten Thousand Villages has formed a business plan that is being used as a template for other companies with business dealings in poorer nations. Fair Trade models enable the craftsmen to be paid reasonable salaries, generally much higher than those they would be paid by businesses in their home country.

The payment is given in two parts: half when the order is placed and the rest after the product is completed. Together, the artists negotiate a deal with the company to cover their costs of production, as well as an adequate fee.

Through the contracts with Ten Thousand Villages, the artists are able to provide health care, education and nourishment to their families which they might have otherwise not had access to. The trickle-down effect of Fair Trade lasts for generations. More children are able to continue their education and then have more opportunities than the previous generation.

The contracts typically last several years, which provides a stable source of income for the artisans, as well as reliable products for the stores. The products are a homage to the unique cultures and materials accessible.

Though Ten Thousand Villages was one of the pioneers of the Fair Trade model, said model has proliferated to over 350 organizations in more than 70 countries united in the WFTO. One of the cornerstones of the Fair Trade model is to eliminate global poverty through raising wages to livable standards; so far, Ten Thousand Villages is helping achieve this goal.

Kristin Ronzi

Sources: Ten Thousand Villages, WFTO
Photo: Blogto

business in Zambia
Zambia is tackling poverty by improving the business system in their country. With the help of donors, the government has been able to implement extensive business reforms to help entrepreneurs and businesses thrive.

Changes to business in Zambia include decreasing the time it takes to create a new business and simplifying licensing requirements. Because of these improvements, Zambia has been ranked the number seven country in sub-Saharan Africa for its ease in doing business. In 2012, Zambia was reclassified as a lower-middle-income country.

However, these changes have not been able to overturn much of the poverty in the country. According to the latest human development index, Zambia is still ranked 141 out of 187 countries in wealth. Though some people are better off as a result of these business changes, many people are still living with extreme poverty and inequality.

A large reason for this contradiction of ideas is that many of the implemented business reforms only benefit large businesses. Small businesses are left with their own abilities. Investment in the private sector is necessary to see overall development in Zambia.

The small businesses can offer large amounts of employment. They are also able to contribute largely to the national GDP. By investing in these small businesses, the country as a whole can prosper significantly.

Emmanuel Chenda, minister of local government and housing in Zambia, revealed a new strategy to increase employment and decrease poverty: “Cabinet recently approved the National Strategy for Industrialization and Job Creation, a comprehensive outline of the steps we are taking as the government to create jobs. My interest is to ensure that we work hard to implement that strategy and create at least one million jobs over the medium term.”

By creating these jobs and investing in the small businesses across the country, poverty and inequality can be minimized, and the country can prosper as a whole.

– Hannah Cleveland

Sources: The Guardian, Zambia Daily Mail
Photo: The Guardian

Years ago, prospective homeowners would go to local real estate agencies to look for housing. It used to be that real estate agents held exclusive knowledge of the local and national housing market and that any buyer had to go through their local agency to find and purchase a new house.

Today, companies like Zillow Inc. and Trulia Inc. streamline the process with their online platforms. They offer searchable databases of real estate data for free to any online user, and make profits on advertising and agent listings. Together, both companies dominate the online marketplace and have 68.4 million unique users as of June.

On July 28, Zillow Inc. announced it had agreed to acquire Trulia Inc. for $3.5 billion in stock transactions. The purchase comes at a time when both sites are booming with user interaction, but profit from the online platforms is not yet optimal. Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff believes the acquisition of Trulia Inc. will help both companies cut costs and increase efficiency overall. As the Chicago Tribune reported, Rascoff told financial analysts that both companies “independently [have] very large rental audiences and…both [are] in the early stages of monetizing those rental audiences.”

The deal has the potential to help consumers engage with real estate data more efficiently and at a cheaper price, but the money spent on Zillow’s acquisition is substantial. If spent on advancing the interests and development of the poor, that money would have a tangibly greater social impact.

The World Food Programme (WFP,) for example, recently announced that it was unable to provide food to nearly 800,000 due to budget shortfalls. United Nations WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin and U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres urged donors to provide an additional $186 million in funding to provide food rations to nearly 800 thousand. If not, food aid would have to be cut, threatening already high levels of malnutrition and anemia among refugee populations.

If the same money that was spent acquiring Trulia Inc. went to providing food to refugees, approximately 15.1 million more refugees would benefit from food rations from the WFP. Put another way, 2.4 million refugees depend on food aid from the WFP each year. If $3.5 billion was invested, every African refugee would have his or her nutritional needs met for over six years, based on U.N. and WFP figures.

The money spent on advancing the online potential of the real estate industry is an important development to consumer interests; however, even small monetary developments can have significant impacts when invested in the poor.

– Joseph McAdams

Sources: Chicago Tribune, LA Times, World Food Programme
Photo: LA Times

digital banking
Cash-based systems for holding money are inefficient and hold a lot of risk, with especially high consequences for the world’s poor. With ‘digital cash’ and saving methods, more people are able to experience financial inclusion in modern banking, suffer less risky consequences and begin investing in their future.

Much of this banking is done through mobile phones, which have become increasingly available to developing countries. About 89 mobile phones exist per 100 people in these areas. Even non-financial institutions, such as small businesses, use mobile payments in order to perform faster business and expand their customer base.

Studies in Mexico have shown that in areas where more banking institutions were introduced, there was a rise in informal small businesses, as well as a seven percent rise in incomes. This demonstrates that greater access to banking systems can lead to economic stimulation.

Having financial transactions performed on mobile phones makes banking services cheaper and more feasible for the poor. Digital banking also comes with better financial records, making it easier for banks and other lending programs to develop credit scores, and lending methods that are tailored to their clients.

With digital banking, immediate transactions can be made from the comfort of one’s home, saving people time and money by avoiding a possibly long commute and day away from work in order to get to a bank. Digital banking also makes money less susceptible to common risks such as thievery, natural disasters, or manipulative friends and relatives.

Some people in these situations even pay others to keep their money safe, adding another unnecessary payment to their expenses.

Long distance transfers also become easier to accomplish. Many households in developing countries receive their income from a family member working in other parts of the country who sends money periodically.

A poll was conducted in 11 sub-Saharan African countries that discovered that 83 percent of those polled had made a payment to someone far away using cash. This involved giving money to bus drivers, asking friends to carry money, or taking time off work to deliver the money themselves.

These processes are not only unsafe, but they can be unreliable and slow.

After a bank was set up in a region in Malawi in 2002, farmers used it to hold their money after the harvest, so that they would be able to continue buying fertilizer throughout the year. Their crop yields grew, therefore increasing overall income, while allowing these farming families to send children to school for even more future investment.

Recently in Kenya, clients of M-Pesa, a mobile money program, were observed and compared to Kenyans without the program. When natural disasters or unexpected events came, M-Pesa clients were able to receive financial assistance from friends and relatives at a much faster rate, making any negative impact much smaller, and allowing their regular lives to be interrupted as little as possible.

The success of M-Pesa has sparked motivation for other countries to create similar programs. Tanzania has over 47 percent of their population using mobile banking, and Uganda has begun the process, and already has 26 percent of their population as a member of a mobile banking system.

Even governments benefit from mobile banking. Since Mexico’s adoption of digital banking in 1997, their government lowered their spending on wages, pensions and social welfare by $1.3 billion, or 3.3 percent annually.

A study was done in India that concluded the government could save $22 billion annually just by digitizing all payments and transfers.

Although digital banking is expanding throughout the developing world, there are still 2.5 billion people without any banking system. Governments, non profits and private groups are now working on making banking more digital, and therefore more accessible to these bank less people.

-Courtney Prentice

Sources: Skoll World Forum, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Forbes, Global Envision, TIME, Foreign Affairs
Photo: Gulf Business

cloud computing
As a whole, the African continent has one of the most rapidly growing economies in the world. The area averages a remarkable rate of 5 percent growth per year. And yet a host of problems that hover in the near future threaten to impede such progress. The African continent, as a result, must increasingly rely on the private sector to ensure growth does not stagnate.

One such problem is the worldwide urbanization boom that will experience a 3.5 billion urban population increase to 6.3 billion people. It is expected that Africa will mirror this growth, percentage wise. Additionally, for Africa to stay relevant as a hub for business, it will need to play an integral role in creating jobs for the 500 million who will enter the workforce by 2020.

Technology will always be a key to the future, and experts suggest that by harnessing the power of cloud-based computing, the African continent can grow steadily. Here are some of the reasons and ways in which cloud-based computing is a model for the future.

Easy for Startups

To put it simply, cloud computing systems offer a much cheaper way to get businesses off the ground. Old, stack-oriented servers required entrepreneurs to hire workers, rent an office space and market the company. Cloud-based systems require just a few dollars and mediocre broadband access.

Mobile Access

“Africa is a Disneyland for entrepreneurs!” said Derek Kudsee. The 600 million mobile users in Africa are great consumers. And what these consumers need is new apps, content and mobile services. Cloud technology provides this speed that old stack-based technology simply cannot.

Business Agility

Consider the influx of individuals coming into the cities. Studies have shown that cloud computing is excellent for business agility (which is the ability of the business to adapt rapidly and efficiently in response to changes in the business environment).

Helping Big Data

Managers across Africa are beginning to notice some of the fallout of the urban population influx—clogged roads, for example. Big data that is powered by cloud computing provides quick and cost-efficient analysis of this problem. By pairing these two together, individuals will be able to quickly improve African infrastructure.

While technology should not be the only solution we look to, it can certainly be helpful in guiding the way to the future.

– Andrew Rywak

Sources: IT News Africa 1, IT News Africa 2, ITWeb Africa
Photo: Humanipo

world's poor
Over half of the world’s population lives on $2.50 a day or less. Yet the world’s poor constitute the world’s largest untapped market.

CK Prahalad’s 2004 book, “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid,”  brought companies’ attention to the huge profits to be made by tapping into the bottom of the pyramid, as well as the benefits this move could yield for the poor. Yet, many companies still wonder, what’s in it for us? As it turns out, that is the right question to ask. Too many altruistic endeavors have failed because companies were not business-oriented or profit-minded enough.

For example, Hewlett Packard’s project, dubbed “e-inclusion,” was founded under the noble goal of providing access to all the available modern digital, social and economic opportunities to everyone in the world. The project was quickly abandoned because it did not fall in line with HP’s overall mission. Proctor & Gamble introduced a product called PUR, which was a water purification powder, aimed at bottom of the pyramid markets. The product failed commercially and Proctor & Gamble stopped distributing it. DuPont attempted to reduce the suffering of millions of people from malnutrition by selling soy-fortified food. After a test run in India, the company gave in because it seemed impossible to make a profit.

Mark Martin is the vice president of international marketing at SC Johnson. He points out what he believes is the biggest challenge of harnessing bottom of the pyramid markets: “each consumer makes a very small purchase. You need lots and lots of consumers.” Because of the small purchasing power of each consumer, it is vital that costs of production are kept low.

Despite these challenges, advocates of Prahalad’s book, as well as the general public, feel corporations have a role to play in alleviating poverty. In a poll conducted by The Guardian, 83 percent responded that they believe corporations have an important role to play in the poorest markets. Seventy-three percent believe there is money to be made by serving the poor, and 89 percent see the importance of financial inclusion to enable poor people to participate in the economy.

In a live chat with a panel consisting of Mark Martin and other professionals in similar positions at different companies, all agreed that the primary focus of a company tapping into the Bottom of the Pyramid should be making a profit. Getting carried away by altruistic theories is neither practical nor efficient.

“Our customers design our products,” explains Donn Tice, CEO of d.light, a company that provides solar energy to poor rural areas. By entering a new market with a focus on making profits and the willingness to adapt the product to fit the needs and wants of target consumers, success can be achieved.

As many companies have become disillusioned with Prahalad’s premise, the professionals participating in the live chat concluded that the bottom of the pyramid still represents a vast market of untapped potential. The key to success is in adaptability, patience and attention to details.

Martin describes one of SC Johnson’s strategies, in which adaptability, patience and attention to detail are utilized. Farmers in Rwanda are trained in agricultural practices, sustainability and financial management. SC Johnson sources pyrethrum, a product used in Raid, from these farmers. This is accomplished through partnerships with nonprofits in Rwanda.

SAB Miller has a similar technique of adapting to local needs. The company adapts the beer it sells in a particular region to the local crops of the region. For example, in Mozambique, the beer is made with cassava, and in Uganda it is made with sorghum. By using local crops it not only tastes better to the consumers, but also supports local farmers and keeps costs low.

“The reason for focusing on profits for us is so we can demonstrate sustainability and stay in the markets to truly make a difference in the area we are focused,” Martin explains. Businesses, after all, survive off profits, and financial needs cannot be sacrificed for social gains. It may seem counter intuitive to noble-minded companies, but focusing less on charity and more on making a profit will benefit both the company and the consumers in the target area.

— Julianne O’Connor

Sources: The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, The Guardian 3, Marketwatch, Reuters
Photo: Architonic

world bank
The World Bank Group has lauded Nepal for the nation’s incredible feat of nearly halving the number of people living below the poverty line in only seven years.

In 2003-2004, nearly 53 percent of Nepal’s population was living in poverty. By 2010-2011, that number had been lowered to a mere 25 percent. This advantageous situation allows the country to attain potential stability, giving Nepal the opportunity to create domestic and foreign investments.

Taking advantage of the economic status, the country now must aim for more sustained growth. With the help of the World Bank, which recently launched a two-pillar Country Partnership Strategy for Nepal, the country will focus on growth in hydroelectricity generation, improving connectivity in transportation, enhancing the business environment, increasing productivity of the agriculture segment and giving equal access to health care. Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat says that this excellent strategy should primarily focus on increasing economic growth, “To boost economic growth, we must increase investment as well as efficiency of investment,” Mahat stated.

The World Bank also acknowledges economic growth as an essential requirement for Nepal, so to further reduce poverty and increase shared wealth, Mahat stated that it is a necessary requirement to focus on economic growth as well as an improved political status.

The hope is to graduate Nepal from the current least-developed country status into a developing country by 2022. According to the National Planning Commission, Nepal’s economy has the potential to grow 8 percent annually to achieve this goal by 2012.

The World Bank will also provide long- and short-term support to reduce barriers in the business sector of the country, specifically in industries such as tourism and agriculture. The World Bank will attempt to address all economic risks that arise from the rapid expansion the country plans to see among the coming years.

— Elizabeth Malfaro

Sources: República, Ekantipur, The Himalayan Times
Photo: Wikipedia

Economists, public officials and humanitarian leaders across the globe are all echoing a new stance on foreign aid: treat it like an investment.

Sure, many areas of the world still require immediate relief in the form of solid goods, but what these communities absolutely require is the stability and means to sustain themselves long-term. In order to break the cycle of poverty, impoverished people need a new cycle altogether characterized by improved economic infrastructure and stability.

The best aspect of the investment approach is that it promises profit. Business executives are now realizing the untapped workforce potential of the world’s destitute. By developing interest in these areas from an economic standpoint, companies are not only opening up access to the world market, but they are seeing positive returns as well.

Companies like Samasource, a Silicon Valley-based startup, have illustrated success in the private sector. Samasource’s model involves big data projects that they break down into manageable tasks for their overseas workers. American tech giants such as Google and LinkedIn benefit from the work and finance of the paychecks of their outsourced employees. As a result, Samasource is profitable and growing while people in rural areas have new access to the technological world market.

Now, imagine taking the approach a step further and funding industries that directly address the critical issues impoverished people face, such as global health investments. Could financing ventures that treat HIV, malaria and infant mortality help those in need and actually boost the economy? More and more people are answering this question with a solid “yes.”

The solution won’t be so simple, however. Devex editor Rolf Rozenkranz recently sat down with Annie Baston who is the chief strategy officer at PATH, an international nonprofit that specializes in long-term solutions to break cycles of poverty. Baston explained the common challenges faced when determining a “best buy” for global health investment. Multiple factors come into play involving technological solutions and systemic reform. These elements need to be carefully orchestrated and illustrated to investors to generate interest and maintain longevity.

In fact, organizations such as The Lancet and their team of researchers have laid out a complex global health investment plan, titled “Global Investment Framework for Women and Children’s Health,” that will secure high health, social and economic returns. Through simulation modeling, The Lancet has found that “increasing health expenditure by just $5 per person per year up to 2035 in 74 high-burden countries could yield up to nine times that value in economic and social benefits.” Their models, published late last year, approach maternal and newborn health, children’s health, malaria, HIV/AIDS, family planning and immunization.

– Edward Heinrich

Sources: DEVEX(1), DEVEX(2), The Lancet, Samasource
Photo: University of Delaware

Grameen Bank Loans
Ever heard of Whole Foods, Ben & Jerry’s or Starbucks? These fortune 500 companies all started out of generous individals’ belief in the store founders. This belief manifested in the form of financial investment and loans given to the companies that Americans know and love today.

The American dream promotes the idea that anyone, no matter the circumstance, can achieve success. Although there are many rags to riches stories built on hard work alone, Kiva International founder Jessica Jackley shared, “85% or more of funding for small businesses comes from friends and family.” One of the best gifts in life is to be recognized, valued and believed in by someone. Jackley holds this belief as her approach to eradicating global poverty and creating lasting change. Change, according to Jackley, happens not when we give to relieve our own suffering but when we give out of a “genuine hope in change.”

By providing small loans to farmers, seamstresses and goat herders abroad, among others, Kiva creates relationships between lenders and borrowers that promote respect and maintain dignity.

On the Kiva website there are stories featuring young entrepreneurs like Virginia in the Philippines who needs money to help buy fertilizer and insecticide for her rice production. Lenders can give one time loans in the amount of $25 to help borrowers like Virginia reach their goals.

Think of success stories like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. If no one had ever believed in or invested in those men we would have a very different world today.

Africa is host to millions of men and women that, if believed in and invested in have potential to better the world as well. Now, their requests are simple, such as buying another goat to make money to pay for their child’s education. That child, however, is another story to be believed in.

2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr. Muhammad Yunus is known for his pioneering of microfinance, or “financial services to low-income individuals or those who do not have access to typical banking services.” Yunus started what is known today as microfinance by lending money to poor women in Bangladesh in the 1970s.

Eventually, Yunus opened his first bank for the poor, Grameen Bank, meaning “rural,” or “village” in the Bangla language in 1983. The Grameen Bank is built on a structure that drastically opposes conventional bank norms. Yunus’ bank is majority owned by low-income women with no collateral or legal instrument. Rural borrowers own 90 percent of the banks shares whereas government owns only 10 percent.

With organizations and efforts like Kiva International and Grameen Bank, about 160 million people in developing countries are served through microfinance. (

– Heather Klosterman

Sources: Business Pundit, Kiva
Photo: WordPress