Solar and wind energy projects have been praised as potential ways to reduce global poverty. But German start-up organization B-Energy is promoting efficient use of another form of renewable energy to improve life in the developing world.

B-Energy has supplied households in Africa with biogas balloon backpacks, digester systems and stoves to help them convert organic waste into harnessed biogas. The energy that the bags and digesters produce can serve as cooking fuel and provide people with a source of income.

Developing countries have struggled to supply stable forms of energy to many of their inhabitants. According to the World Energy Outlook, approximately 80 percent of people without electricity live in rural areas in Sub-Saharan Africa and developing Asia. With no other alternative for energy, many people rely on biogas and struggle to efficiently transport and store it.

Founded by German entrepreneur Katrin Puetz, B-Energy serves as an innovative and affordable system that offers a reliable source of energy from human and animal waste and agricultural residue. B-Energy’s method revolves around its ‘B-pack’, which is an inflatable balloon backpack that holds methane gas produced from waste in a biogas plant or digester. People without their own plant can refill their B-packs at a nearby digester.

According to the BBC, each bag comes with a metal pipe, which users can attach to a gas-cooking stove. The bags hold 1.2 cubic meters of gas—enough for about five hours of cooking—and spare households from relying on wooden fires to prepare food.

Another key aspect of B-Energy’s system is that it creates entrepreneurial opportunities. As a “social business venture,” Puetz’s start-up encourages individuals with biogas digesters to sell their biogas to households. People with B-packs can also profit from supplying their leftover gas to others. B-Energy even provides aspiring entrepreneurs with a beginner’s kit—which includes a biogas digester, B-backpacks and stoves—and professional training to help them launch their biogas business.

Since its inception in 2014, B-Energy has steadily grown, establishing franchises in Sudan and Ethiopia. Puetz refused to accept grants from global charities in order to prove that her enterprise can be self-sufficient.

Moving forward, a significant obstacle for B-Energy is to determine how to lower the cost of its system. The Inter Press Service has reported that Ethiopians have to pay approximately 12,000 birr—equivalent to $600—for a biogas plant, two backpacks and a cooking stove.

Puetz hopes to make the B-Energy systems more affordable by allowing franchises and households to pay in installments. This change would expand access to his innovative energy solution and assist countless more in need.

Sam Turken

Photo: Geographical

Financial Services in Developing Countries
When talking about fighting global poverty, most people discuss solutions to problems of malnutrition, poor shelter, or dirty water. But how about greater access to financial services?

Most individuals in the developed world could never imagine living on wages of less than $10 a day. There are thousands of ways to secure an adequate daily income because of the countless economic opportunities that are supplied by developed markets.

Access to these financial services, a sparse resource in areas suffering from poverty, provides individuals with the chance to actively participate in securing a means of subsistence.

In March, the World Bank released a video interview with Douglas Pearce, the Global Lead for Financial Inclusion at the international organization. The conversation shed light on the lack of access to financial services in developing countries.

“My favorite number is two billion,” said Pearce, “Two billion is the number of adults who don’t have access to formal financial services.” This latest statistic has fueled the World Bank’s new Universal Financial Access Goal which targets 25 countries that account for 73 percent of the world’s “unbanked.”

Access to financial services in developing countries would offer more of the world’s poor the opportunity to feed themselves and increase their potential income. “Being able to tap into savings provides that level of protection, cushion, of falling back into poverty,” Pearce continued. This method of poverty relief plays an important role in sustaining an individual’s rise out of hardship.

The World Bank plans to meet the goal of more financial inclusion by ensuring that each individual helped has a bank account regardless of gender. Pearce hopes that these accounts will be “gateways to a range of credit, insurance, payment, and savings services.” These services then allow people living in poverty to afford education, a home or vehicle and equipment to start a business.

Pearce hopes that these accounts will be “gateways to a range of credit, insurance, payment, and savings services.” These services then allow people living in poverty to afford education, a home or vehicle and equipment to start a business.

There are multiple kinds of financial services that are being integrated into poverty-ridden areas:

  1. Microfinancing is a smaller, more intimate version of a traditional loan from a large financial institution. This type of lending is more beneficial for the poor because smaller institutions can work closely with the borrower to design a plan that works for both parties. Also, a relationship of trust between the borrower and the lender can often take the place of a good credit history which allows more people to qualify for loans.
  2. Access to a micro savings account allows people to safely store any additional resources as well as earn interest on money not being spent. Digital services provided by mobile technology can enhance the interaction between those in poverty and financial institutions as electronics get cheaper and internet access increases.
  3. Owning a micro insurance policy may not seem like a useful service for those with few assets, but its importance emerges as individuals start to rise out of poverty. People who are rising out of poverty cannot afford the sudden costs and extreme losses that come with an accident. Without an insurance policy, unexpected events endanger the pathway to a better life.

These financial services are being integrated into many developing countries across the goal. The emergence of these economic opportunities has the power to inspire entrepreneurship and income security in areas with the most poverty. As Pearce says, “financial inclusion has the potential to unlock opportunity for people.”

Jacob Hess

Photo: Flickr

HelloFood, an online portal that allows customers to order food and have it delivered, recently celebrated its third anniversary.

HelloFood began as a 1970s-style website in November 2012. It was the first online food portal in Africa and took around one minute to load. The company only received two orders on their first day, but it was the start of an incredible journey to revolutionize how people eat in Africa, according to It News Africa.

HelloFood provides food from a listing of more than 270 restaurants. More than 125,000 customers order food every six seconds during the lunchtime hours on the site. The company then delivers food to homes and offices where customers can pay upon delivery.

Joe Falter, CEO and Founder of HelloFood, said, “It was just a basic website [when it started]. Far from what it looks like now.”

HelloFood has grown 20 percent each month over the last 36 months. It has tripled in size in the last 12 months and now has 500 employees, 50 percent of whom are women. It News Africa reports the delivery riders have traveled the equivalent of 100 times around the Earth.

HelloFood has also created mobile shopping apps, allowing customers to keep up with changing trends and technologies.

“I’m incredibly proud of what our team has achieved — building this business from nothing to dominate 11 African markets, and change the way that hundreds of thousands of people order food on a daily basis,” Falter said. “However, we’ve only scratched the surface, the potential for this business model is stratospheric and right now more than ever we are buzzing about the opportunity to reach more customers and ensure a stress-free ordering experience.”

According to Biztech Africa, the company plans to expand to other major towns and provide job opportunities to people across Kenya.

As part of its third-anniversary celebrations, the company discounted food up to 40 percent on Black Friday. HelloFood said they hoped to reach the highest ever sale of food ordering in Africa on Black Friday.

Jordan Connell

Sources: Biztech Africa, It News Africa
Photo: Google Images


EARTH University focuses on public health and environmental sustainability. The school is based in Costa Rica and began supporting underdeveloped communities in 1990.

The founders of EARTH University’s goals were to teach young people from the Caribbean and Latin America how to use sustainable methods to help their communities thrive.

Now, 25 years later, EARTH University’s impact has spread from Latin and South America to regions in Asia and Africa. EARTH University offers rigorous undergraduate programs that elicit graduates in just four years.

Graduates from EARTH University learn how to utilize sustainable agricultural methods to create prosperous and just communities. Programs offered include agricultural sciences and natural resources management.

The curriculum at EARTH University is based on four guiding principles.

  1. The first principle guides the college to educate its students in technical and scientific knowledge to ensure they practice accurate and sustainable agricultural practices in the future. This helps alumni manage their natural resources and have a prosperous agricultural career.
  2. EARTH University works hard to help its students develop personally by exposing them to positive attitudes and values. The EARTH community fosters self-awareness, empathy, respect and tolerance, while using teamwork, effective communication and lifelong learning to promote peace and understanding.
  3. The University teaches ethical entrepreneurship. During a student’s first three years of schooling, he or she engages in an intensive entrepreneurial project. The project prepares students to leave EARTH University with the knowledge and experience needed to run their own business to help their community develop positively.
  4. EARTH University is dedicated to applying their resources to train their students in sustainability. EARTH’s curriculum promotes maintaining a healthy environment, and graduates are equipped with the knowledge to grow sustainable crops and prevent issues like soil erosion. And with this knowledge, graduates are able to help their communities rise out of poverty.

As of 2014, EARTH University had 422 students from 43 countries in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe. According to the EARTH University website, graduates like Claudia Jeronimo, who graduated in 2005, return home to use their newfound knowledge of sustainability and social justice to revitalize their communities.

Jeronimo has worked hard since graduating to promote gender equality and food security in her community. Since its inauguration, almost 2,000 students have graduated from EARTH University, with 97 percent of them dedicating their knowledge and experience to assist their home communities.

Julia Hettiger

Sources: Explore, Earth, Consortium Earth
Photo: Flickr

The first  contest was held in 2012 as a small competition to inspire innovation centered in Africa. Today, the worldwide participation in these awards has thrust Appsafrica to the forefront of innovation.

As entries from 21 countries have spread across the globe in three different continents, only the most effective apps continue on to become finalists in the awards, which are to be held this year in Cape Town Nov. 16.

The awards celebrate technology and entrepreneurship in Africa. Applications were accepted from July 20 to Sept. 7, and no one except the most innovative developers produced apps valuable enough to proceed onward. Below are just a few of the front-runners of this year’s Appsafrica Innovation Awards in each category:

  • Women In Tech – Most notably, Emefa Kpegba has invented the OMobileFunding app, which is a mobile and web service that attempts to improve the lives of Togolese people through microfinance participation.
  • Social Impact – Charlie Wandjii is the founder of 1task1job; its effect on society is an ingenious way of providing stable jobs in an unstable continent. By posting a project that needs completing on the mobile/web service, a job is given to a freelancer who is regularly utilized by the app.
  • Best Educational Innovation – Bookly is an app aiming to increase literacy rates in Africa. This innovation solution is a mobile web service that allows anyone to share a story of his or her choosing so long as it’s appropriate. After being published, those who use the app may then read a “bookly” anywhere, serving as reading practice.
  • Best Health Innovation – The Medical Concierge Group has developed an app that suggests a management plan allowing easier access and affordability to quality health care using an archive of data. This group is a Ugandan-based organization that began in 2012.
  • Best African App – mPaper is an easy-to-use innovation that allows quick access to news sources and magazines to those who use the app.
  • Best Mobile Innovation – M-vender is an entrepreneurial app that lets people sell airtime, electricity and offers other financial services to its users.
  • Best Non-Data Mobile Innovation – Safermom is an app that keeps in touch with new and expecting mothers, sending SMS messages that give helpful information on low-cost mobile phones.
  • Best Fintech Innovation – Mergims is an app that allows financial aid to be sent to individuals in Rwanda, which is the birthplace of the app itself. This is important because it allows migrants workers a way to send funds to their loved ones at home.
  • Best Disruptive Innovation – Picup is a mobile app that picks up whatever you need and brings it to you. Its application for exchanging resources between rural communities could help to solidify a stable means of quick transportation if development continues.
  • Best Entertainment Innovation – myMusic is a Nigerian-based app that lets its users stream music for free, connecting rural regions with urban culture.

As mentioned above, these are just a few of the finalists revealed for the 2015 Appsafrica Innovation Awards. A full list is available on the website.

Emilio Rivera

Sources: Appsafrica, Picup, MyMusic, Mergims, Changemakers, Mvendr, Mpaper, TMCG, Bookly, 1Task1Job, OMobileFunding
Photo: Aps Africa

z1 miniature people
Since independence, the long civil war and recurring natural disasters have led to widespread poverty in Tajikistan. About half of the country’s population is poor and depends on agriculture to survive. The majority of the poor are unemployed, underemployed or self-employed.

On Oct. 12, 2015, a Youth Entrepreneurship Forum took place in Dushanbe with support from the World Bank Group. The goal of the event is to increase awareness of the importance of entrepreneurship for job creation and economic growth and to share ideas about entrepreneurship for youth in Tajikistan.

The World Bank has an active portfolio of 24 projects, including regional projects and Trust Funds. It intends to make a net commitment of U.S. $383 million to support economic growth through private sector development and investments in better public services, such as education, health, municipal services and social protection.

As part of the World Bank Group-financed Central Asia Youth Empowerment and Jobs Project, this event aims to improve the business climate and foster youth entrepreneurship in Tajikistan through improving the capacity of state entities and offering skills training for youth.

The event involved around 200 young entrepreneurs, private companies, civil society organizations, development partners, World Bank Group experts, representatives from the Government of Tajikistan and participants from the Slovak Republic.

At the forum, international and local experts introduced key concepts of entrepreneurship, including how to set up and manage a business, how to make entrepreneurial decisions and identify new business opportunities. Representatives from Tajikistan private companies and the Slovak Republic shared their experience of starting a business and discussed with young entrepreneurs about how entrepreneurship works at the individual and company level.

embassy_dushanbe_0Moreover, officials from the Secretariat of Consultative Council on Improvement Investment Climate under the President of Tajikistan and the Ministry of Finance of the Slovak Republic focused on policies that foster youth entrepreneurship and how to better link the private sector with education institutions.

The forum also includes the discussion on business and entrepreneurship opportunities offered by local and international civil society organizations, development partners and local associations and companies.

In order to put words into action, following the forum, a master class started on October 13 for start-up businesses intending to collect individual business advice from successful entrepreneurs from Tajikistan and the Slovak Republic.

“Young people are eager to work and need good job opportunities. A society that can deliver these opportunities is promoting growth and investing in its welfare,” said Patricia Veevers-Carter, World Bank Country Manager for Tajikistan. “The World Bank Group’s efforts in this area in Tajikistan are going to focus on helping youth develop skills and increase employment opportunities, as well as on assisting the Government in designing policies that help youth thrive.”

This project will benefit the society of Tajikistan with more jobs created by entrepreneurship and improved economy.

Shengyu Wang

Sources: World Bank, Rural Poverty                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Photo: DIPNOTE

Big business ideas and economic enterprises are no longer limited to the corporate boardroom. The digitally connected world has provided entrepreneurs from all corners of the globe ways in which to make their concepts known; social media and increased mobile access have given tomorrow’s innovators a voice they lacked in the past. The main issue, however, is that those in developing countries still lack access to funding and capital, no matter how strong their idea.

That’s where Zidisha comes in. Zidisha is a nonprofit micro-lending service that allows potential borrowers to receive direct loans from an online community. The organization’s main goal is to promote economic development by cutting out lending middlemen and local banks that often charge supremely high-interest rates on loans.

The process is quite simple. Potential borrowers need only reliable online access, something that is only becoming more and more available. The borrowers then submit a profile describing themselves and their intended use of the loan. A one-time processing fee of around $12 is charged.

Zidisha is a very small company and merely provides a platform for users to interact directly. “We’ve built a decentralized marketplace that has no offices, no employees or loan officers in borrower countries,” says company founder Julia Kurnia. Zidisha lets borrowers receive funds via SMS straight from lenders at a zero percent interest rate.

Loans are typically small. Zidisha states that the average loan is $200 to $300. Loans have enabled entrepreneurs to buy computers for an Internet café and sewing machines for a village shop. Both have relatively low costs, but a significant impact. According to Wired Magazine, the computers that were funded by Zidisha loans have empowered many, as they have been used to teach office programs like Microsoft Word and Excel.

Zidisha’s purpose is clear in its name. The word means “grow” in Swahili. By charging no interest and only asking for the principal returned, Zidisha enables borrowers’ ideas, which would normally be denied by the typical financial institutions, to flourish.

Joe Kitaj

Sources: Wired, Zidisha, Venture Beat
Photo: Zidisha

The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) is the combined efforts of the U.S. government, Non-Governmental Organizations, universities and companies to support African youth and future leaders in hopes of creating a better future for Africa as a whole. It was established by President Obama in 2010.

Not only does YALI aim to create and shape African leaders, but it also wants to create a network between them. What is striking about this measure is that it lays down a framework for these future leaders who are full of potential, but then leaves the more substantial and meaningful portion of the work to the young leaders themselves, leaving it up to them to shape their world.

YALI goes about this goal in several ways. For example, it offers online courses for individuals who want to learn more about areas such as entrepreneurship, leadership and public management. Completion of a YALI course not only means that a person has learned about honing valuable life skills, but also that they receive a certificate to prove it.

YALI is also working to construct Regional Leadership Centers throughout Africa with the intent of increasing accessibility and relevance of training programs to leaders and future leaders across Africa. Two have opened so far this year, in Accra and Nairobi, and two more are planned for Dakar and Pretoria by the end of 2015.

The YALI Network face2face is a Facebook group that helps young African leaders share events encouraging leadership and fellowship, or even create new skills. Members are encouraged not only to attend events but to create their own on topics that interest them or that would be beneficial to their particular community. It’s a tool to help create and maintain connections.

Another huge event put on by the group is the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, which brought 500 African leaders ages 25 to 35 to the United States in 2014 and 2015. Fellows take academic courses in business, civic engagement and public administration and receive leadership training. Some also participate in internships. What they take home is access to new opportunities, seed funding and useful skill sets to help build their own communities.

Participants in the fellowship are selected from almost 50,000 applicants. Next year, there are plans to double the number of participants to 1,000, as well as to develop an exchange program where 80 Americans are sent to Africa to work with alumni of the fellowship program.

Each applicant has his or her own story and set of experiences that make them valuable contributors to the fellowship. For example, Grace Alache Jerry, Miss Wheelchair Nigeria, is a spokesperson for people with disabilities, founder of her own nonprofit organization and organizer of a series of benefit concerts.

Eldine Chilembo is an advocate for women’s empowerment in the maritime industry in Angola. Noluthando Duma helps orphans in her South African Province of KwaZulu Natal and hopes to develop a home to provide resources to such children.

Kenyan Kezy Mukiri said of her experience in the fellowship, “What I’m taking back with me is humanity. We need to connect; the world is becoming a global village.”

The bringing together of such inspired, dedicated minds is an undoubtedly noble cause. President Obama summed up the goal of the movement nicely at his speech at this year’s Washington Summit.

“Our hope is. . . when you have all gone on to be ministers in government or leaders in business or pioneers of social change, that you will still be connecting with each other, that you will still be learning from each other.”

Emily Dieckman

Sources: Insidevoa, Miami Herald, NPR, State, Voanews, Young African Leaders
Photo: The White House Blog

Countries are growing younger than ever. One quarter of the world’s population is made up of adolescents, and more than half of the world is under the age of 30.

Paired with technology and a global trend for social responsibility, the young majority is making headway in addressing youth crises and global issues.

While this demographic change poses potentially destabilizing risks, USAID is working to enable the youth bulge to make positive change in their communities through social innovation.

In Honduras, young people are mapping crime violence along its urban public bus systems. According to USAID, the United Nations and the Honduras National Police tracked 86 homicides per 100,000 people in 2011, the highest in the world. Due to gang violence and armed robbery, busses are ripe for extortion and murder. In June 2012, young Hondurans traveled through Tegucigalpa’s dangerous buses with a global positioning system (GPS) in order to develop blueprints for a public bus map for citizens to follow so they could avoid problematic hotspots. The GPS data was then entered into Google Earth.

This was a part of a USAID-led volunteer program. Members of the national anti-violence youth movement, Movimiento Jovenes contra la Violencia, took part in mapping fifteen of the busiest and most risky bus routes in their area, according to USAID.

The Kyrgyz Republic found USAID support when they experienced significant political and social conflict in 2010. Protests and violence, subsequently, gave way to a cynical youth population.

USAID partnered with Youth of Osh, a nongovernmental, secular organization from Osh, Kyrgyzstan. Youth of Osh leads community development projects in the city. In the October 2011 presidential election, USAID and Youth of Osh applied SMS technology to monitor the elections in more than 70 voting stations. They located approximately 1,300 violations via text. This was a groundbreaking accomplishment in political transparency in the Kyrgyz Republic’s election processes.

USAID continued to support the youth bulge in Haiti. Similarly to Honduras, USAID helped construct a mapping device for the urban St. Marc region. The maps pinpointed post-earthquake refugee spots. Thirty local Haitian youth roamed their streets to draw the blueprints.

USAID’s Frontlines also followed Sri Lanka’s diverse social communities. USAID funded a project that taught Sri Lankan youth how to create and broadcast documentaries about Sri Lanka’s people. Eighteen young reporters practiced in journalism, camera and audio equipment, and production and editing, according to USAID’s Frontlines: Youth & Mobile Technology–September/October 2012 issue. The team developed 45 stories that they called “Development Diaries.” USAID continued to support a second season covering minority voices and post-war issues.

Liberian students enrolled at the Kwame Nkruman University of Science and Technology in Ghana pursued master’s degrees thanks to a USAID program. The program follows a development plan sponsored by the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation Threshold Program, and looks to establish better management of land rights and access.

USAID’s LAUNCH energy forum on November 10-13, 2011, starred Gram Power, an energy tech company based in the United States but servicing India’s poor electricity market. The self-described “micro solution to India’s major energy woes” was co-founded by Yashraj Khaitan and Jacob Dickinson. The men both graduated from UC Berkeley in 2011 with Bachelors in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

The highly selective LAUNCH event led to Gram Power building its first micro-grid installation and electrification in the Khareda Lakshmipura village. They soon brought electricity to 200,000 homes in five years. Gram Power hopes to bring power to 1.4 million people by the end of 2016.

USAID also works in the Philippines, teaching young people at the University of Cebu the prospect of “technopreneurship.” USAID’s Innovative Development through Entrepreneurship Acceleration (IDEA) works with higher education engineering and science programs to engage students on the possibility of bringing their ideas to life.

IDEA offers the Global Entrepreneurship Symposium and Workshop, which teaches young students how to create products, research, understand the global market and work with venture capital, according to Frontlines.

By 2016, IDEA will have garnered more than $2 million, which more than matches the U.S. Government’s $1.5 million investment.

In addition to IDEA, USAID invested $34 million to help higher education in the Philippines. The programs offer study abroad opportunities in the United States and funds for many students to obtain master’s degrees in science and technology.

– Lin Sabones

Sources: USAID 1, USAID 2, USAID 3, USAID 4, USAID 5, United Nations Population Fund
Photo: Creative

technopreneursIt’s no secret that technology has been the key to success for decades now. A truly original program or interface may as well be a golden ticket to superstardom, if Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates are any lesson. So it comes as no surprise that many development agencies are encouraging countries to invest in ‘technopreneurs’ – young people with a penchant for invention and a business plan to match.

Bill Gates has an annual income higher than that of many countries. If he were a country, he would be the sixty-fifth richest in the world. He has an estimated net worth of $77.8 billion and is widely considered to be the wealthiest individual in the world. All that from selling computers and software.

In 2011, President Barack Obama called for an “all hands on deck” approach to innovation, encouraging government officials, academics and philanthropists to “spark … creativity and imagination.”

This is an important priority of America’s domestically and abroad. Partnership for Growth, a bilateral effort to promote inclusive economic growth, has enabled USAID to place a new emphasis on innovation and education, most notably in the Philippines, which recently played host to the Global Entrepreneurship Symposium and Workshop, a summit designed to help young Filipino inventors hone their ideas, connect with possible investors and launch their businesses.

Aid professionals are hopeful that an emphasis on launching small tech startups will drive long-lasting growth in countries like the Philippines, which have an undersized middle class.

“Entrepreneurship is the fastest way to move wealth in society. Education gives people the tools to innovate and build businesses,” says Dado Banatao, a Filipino-American engineer and entrepreneur who now runs the Philippine Development Foundation and works with young inventors. “Entrepreneurship leads to the creation of jobs and redistribution of wealth, and puts the Philippines on the global economic map.”

In the United States, two-thirds of jobs are generated by small and medium-scale businesses. These small businesses are at the heart of a middle class, the sweet spot between struggling to survive and living to excess. Most developing countries lack a robust middle class. Instead of small and medium-scale businesses, developing countries like the Philippines have offices for mega-corporations like McDonalds, and nameless micro-enterprises like street food vendors or family-run convenience shops.

Even if a technopreneur does not strike it rich, she or he could still run her or his venture like a small or medium business. More businesses mean more jobs, which is an improvement for everyone. With this growing push for innovation and empowerment, it would not be a stretch to predict that the next generation of billionaires will be making their first millions as the founders of tech companies in developing countries.

– Marina Middleton

Sources: USAID, Brookings Institution, Universiti Kuala Lumpur
Photo: Flickr