"I grew up raised by two parents who were farmers, but as I grew up, I hated farming." That's one of the first things I heard as I met with Ntuba Masena, the owner of a fruit and vegetable drying business in Lesotho. Ntuba remembered spending long days plowing the fields with her parents, and as a result, agriculture was the last thing on her mind. It's safe to say that it has been an unusual journey for the 61-year-old retired nurse who had reinvented herself as an entrepreneur and small business owner.
Start-ups in emerging markets are disadvantaged when it comes to accessing mentors and mentorship programs. The infoDev Climate Technology Program has been working to fix this challenge and recently launched two mentorship pilots in partnership with Climate Innovation Centers in Ghana and the Caribbean.
Successful entrepreneurs from developed technology hubs often engage mentors so that they can learn from experienced industry veterans, solve unfamiliar problems, and navigate blind spots. In emerging economies, great mentors are harder to come by, founders are less familiar with what to expect from a mentor, and support programs and networks are less established.
Also available in: Français
The Malian diaspora counts between four and six million people, many of whom have benefited from a good education and rich experiences, that could help develop high-potential businesses in their home countries.
However, starting and running a business in Mali isn’t easy. That’s why Pape Wane, a Malian reality TV producer, decided to partner with local business incubators to launch the Diaspora Entrepreneurship competition in order to identify, promote, and support members of the diaspora community who can seize business opportunities in Mali, while also understanding the unique challenges of the local ecosystem.
Using the codes of reality TV, the competition has strived to resonate with Mali’s youth by increasing their awareness of entrepreneurship’s potential to address the country’s socio-economic challenges.
In the decade since mobile money first sparked international interest in African innovation, hundreds of tech hubs have sprung up across the continent; global giants like GE have rushed in to build innovation centers; and the venture capital industry has steadily grown. Nevertheless, the continent’s tech scene continues to face challenges.
The rise of African innovation has inspired thousands of new start-ups, and this trend will continue into the foreseeable future. Existing acceleration programs, however, still leave growth-stage companies in need of additional support to secure investment and scale their businesses across borders. With many of the continent’s acceleration programs lacking in quality, we hoped to introduce an innovative post-acceleration program, XL Africa.
After infoDev launched its mLabs in Kenya, Senegal, and South Africa in 2011, they introduced incubation programs that successfully supported the creation of over 100 start-ups that raised close to $15 million in investments and grant funding, and developed over 500 digital products or services. As these ecosystems and start-ups have matured, more needs to be done to improve the marketability of these companies to global and local investors.
While chocolate is a sweet treat for consumers around the world, its producers face many challenges. Every year, more than five million family farmers in countries like Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Indonesia and Brazil produce about four and a half million tons of cocoa beans, according to the World Cocoa Foundation. Farm-level input providers, financial institutions, chocolate manufacturers, development organizations and more are coming together to create digital solutions to improve access to finance and boost agricultural productivity for a sustainable and climate smart cocoa supply chain.
Last week, the World Cocoa Foundation’s partnership meeting brought together key stakeholders from small scale farmers to large multinationals including Cargill, Nestle, and Mars, under the theme “Accelerating Sustainability Through Technology and Innovation.”
To spark the industry into further innovation and collaboration, infoDev partnered with the WCF to sponsor the second annual Chocothon, a two-day hackathon where three teams came together to “hack” the cocoa supply chain and generate new creative solutions to the common challenges cocoa farmers and suppliers face. The Future Food Institute, the International Trade Center, and Valrhona, a premium chocolate manufacturer, were all heavily involved in the Chocothon as mentors and a number of us from infoDev joined in the excitement. Given their experience with cocoa supply chain partners, Valrhona’s co-sponsorship and engagement provided valuable insights to guide the ‘choco-hackers.’
Also available in: Français
What is it like to set up and run an incubator as a woman? The answer, much like anywhere else in the world for working women, is that it’s complicated.
In many countries, it’s still unusual to see women working in certain sectors. Regina Mbodj, CTIC Dakar CEO, knows very few women in Senegal who studied ICT. “When I came home and told people about my studies, a lot of people responded, 'I thought only men did that!'"
Mariem Kane, an engineer by training and now president of Mauritania’s incubator Hadina RIMTIC, said that career development can be difficult for women who have been trained in hard skills. “It’s tough for women to find opportunities in these sectors and, because we’re considered more suited to softer skills, we aren’t given the opportunity to prove ourselves.”
Developing countries like Tanzania are experiencing an unforeseen youth bulge—a high proportion of young people aged 15 to 24. Sadly, this growth is not matched by an equivalent rise in economic opportunities for the youth. Thus, most youth are either unemployed or engaged in activities with low productivity. There are solutions to this problem.
Also available in: Français
As we saw in our second blog, . Yet, in many West-African countries, long-standing stigmas against the private sector are still big obstacles for women and young people who aspire to become entrepreneurs.
Family support, in particular, remains critical for women’s career choices, and the private sector doesn’t always enjoy a good reputation among parents. “It’s very hard for them [parents] to understand why we want to do this instead of getting a steady government job,” says Binta Ndiaye, MakeSense Africa CEO. “My mother is an entrepreneur, but she did that on top of her regular job and raising a family in France, so it’s not seen as a career in-and-of-itself.”
“Entrepreneurship is inherently risky, so if you don’t have that support and encouragement, or even your family’s blessing to go for it, I can understand that it could be extremely challenging for some women,” says Mariem Kane, founder and president of Mauritania’s incubator Hadina RIMTIC.
Ndiaye for one, though, is not deterred: “It’s up to us to educate them on this potential and to have the resolve to follow-through. If you can convince skeptical parents, you can convince any investor.”
Considering that these incubators are run by women, do they make special efforts to recruit women entrepreneurs?
Lisa Barutel founder and CEO of La Fabrique, acknowledges that even though La Fabrique received a huge response to a recent call for proposals targeting women, far fewer apply to general calls that do not have a specific focus on women entrepreneurship. “Normally we don’t go out looking for candidates, as we can be inundated with applications, but when we noticed this discrepancy, we did launch a program to identify women with potential,” she says.
“What can we do today to prepare students for the labor force in 20 years?” the director general of Israel’s Ministry of Finance, Shai Babad, asked. At an Annual Meetings event last Friday, Babad was asked for his thoughts about successful government policies to enable start-up ecosystems. However, he answered the question with one of the many questions that policymakers continue to wrestle with in the new digital economy.
In recent years, many of the World Bank Group’s country partners have posed similar questions. As Trade & Competitiveness Director Klaus Tilmes commented, “Many clients are now less interested in our money, and more in our knowledge around best practices and effective incubator models. They’re asking ‘How can we create our own start-up ecosystems?’ So we are trying to become more systematic and leverage tools to expand our programs and build them into our lending projects.”
No state is more renowned for its success in building such ecosystems than Israel. The small country contains the highest number of start-ups outside of Silicon Valley and receives the most VC investment per capita. With a population of only 8 million, Israel has over 6,000 start-ups, and 1,000 new start-ups are launched every year. In 2016 alone, Israeli start-ups raised over $4.8 billion.