Written for EO by Michael Neidert, a writer and consultant.
Entrepreneurship is difficult in any part of the world, but entrepreneurs in developing nations face an especially steep uphill climb.
Add poor infrastructure, difficult-to-access capital and daunting challenges to the list of typical issues of starting a business, and entrepreneurship in a developing nation becomes an especially courageous act. However, as in many scenarios, ingenuity is born of necessity.
Despite the obstacles, it’s entrepreneurs who are driving real change and progress, transforming developing nations by growing knowledge-based economies, investing in local communities and solving challenges that Silicon Valley may not yet even be aware of.
Since 2016, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Agenda has been a driving force in addressing 17 sustainable development goals, tackling challenging issues ranging from energy to climate change to hunger.
EO supports the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, tapping the genius and problem-solving abilities of its more than 13,500 entrepreneurs to help solve the world’s ongoing challenges.
But it’s not only EO members who find innovative ways of driving social change. Entrepreneurs in developing nations are transforming their communities, economies and legacies for a more sustainable future.
How local entrepreneurship addresses the UN SDGs
Being plugged into the local culture gives entrepreneurs in developing nations a unique sense of what’s needed, allowing for local solutions to local issues. Fibre, a Nigerian startup, solves a uniquely local housing problem: They offer monthly rent payments instead of requiring 24 months of rent upfront―the local norm―thus creating greater access to affordable housing. Where entrepreneurs from developed nations may have a blind spot, entrepreneurs in developing nations have unique vision for their markets.
Fighting waste and pollution
As developing nations rise, so do consumption levels, leading to more waste and environmental threats, but entrepreneurs step in again. Serbian startup, Woobox, aims to counter this rise in pollution, combating the use of Styrofoam with its recyclable and renewable packaging made of wool and wood, a green alternative.
To address global pollution, developing nations are getting a helping hand from international entrepreneurs, too. Dutch entrepreneur Boyan Slat, founded The Ocean Cleanup at the age of 18, developing technology to remove ocean plastic, aiming to reduce the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by 50 percent in five years—a goal that will tremendously impact coastal developing nations, especially in terms of health.
In countries where poor access to healthcare has major consequences like short life expectancies and high infant mortality, entrepreneurial innovation is making a difference. India’s Embrace Innovations creates insulated products to keep newborn babies warm and, to deliver critical vaccines, Rwandan startup Zipline is using drones to reach remote areas. These companies, lean and agile, are able to respond quickly and save lives.
As technological innovation takes root in developing nations, it can be stifled by poor infrastructure and technical capabilities. In areas where Internet access is a challenge, Kenya’s Moja comes into play. A router specifically built for developing nations, it can run without electricity and connect to multiple networks, creating valuable access to education, employment and information.
Power to the people
For entrepreneurs, getting power and green energy to the one billion people who lack electricity has led to dozens of startups and solutions. From Mexico’s Bright, which fosters access to solar power, to Argentina’s Semtive, which builds compact wind turbines for homes and businesses, energy is becoming both accessible and green, even in rural areas.
When electricity and Internet connections reach new corners of the world, new educational opportunities become possible, too. EkStep Foundation’s open-source platform empowers students and educators to tap into customizable education software while Geekie in Brazil creates fully digital lessons that also measure student progress. In countries where education can break cycles of poverty or underemployment, these advances are especially valuable.
Providing basic necessities
Even as developing nations become more technologically savvy, basic human needs like access to food and water are still among the most significant challenges. Worldwide, 124,000,000 people are currently in a food crisis while 844,000,000 people lack safe water access. In Ghana, Farmerline supplies farmers with tools and education to improve crop yields while Wello Water, is making water collection easier with its Waterwheel, solving a problem that disproportionately affects women who are typically responsible for gathering water.
When it comes to women’s empowerment, entrepreneurship is helping the market, not social norms, decide success. Peru’s Laboratoria teaches women to code, helping them become well-paid professionals, while CloQ, which provides nano-credit to underprivileged and unbanked people, is led by Brazilian woman entrepreneur Rafaela Cavalcanti. With Uganda and Bangladesh claiming the highest rate of women entrepreneurs in developing nations, many countries are changing gender norms and creating economic opportunity by empowering women.