Madame Ngetsi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of thousands of women in the world who—despite their talent, drive, and potential to contribute to the economic development of their countries—may never be able to fulfill their dreams of starting their own businesses. Their dreams may be dashed because of outdated legislation that reproduces debilitating gender roles.
If she were a man in the DRC, Madame Ngetsi’s initial steps in starting her business would be to obtain a certificate confirming the headquarters location, notarize the articles of association, and register with the Commercial Registry. As a woman, however, a significant roadblock stands in her way: She is legally mandated to first obtain her husband’s permission to register a business. This legal requirement, found in the family code rather than in any commercial or business code, is fully in effect in the DRC. Permission letters are readily found on file at women-owned company registries. Married men face no such requirement.
The importance of dividing entrepreneurs into two distinct categories: transformational and subsistence was the topic of an inspiring talk of MIT Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance, Antoinette Schoar at the World Bank. In crude terms, subsistence entrepreneurs are solely concerned about their survival, and are tiny businesses and unlikely to grow or create new jobs. However, it needs to be said that they remain an important economic pillar, especially for developing countries. Contrarily, transformational entrepreneurs, the considerably smaller group of the two, strive for growth, are generally larger business owners, and provide relatively secure employment opportunities for others. They are the catalysts of innovation, job creation, productivity, and competitiveness. This leads to a crucial question for development – should we target our policies towards entrepreneurs with transformational qualities even though they may not be the poorest of the poor since these are the ones that create more, sustainable and (often) productive employment?
One of the winning 'startup' teams at Pivot East2013 (Credit: PivotEast)
Innovation competitions of all sorts have become prevalent throughout Africa, from hackathons to ideation challenges, demo days, code jams, bootcamps, roadshows, and pitch fests, the list is endless. This development is almost parallel to the rise of tech hubs (BongoHive counts about 100 African hubs) that have sprung up from Dakar to Dar Es Salaam.
While it’s evident that events and competitions are valuable opportunities—especially for young innovators looking to leave their mark—more advanced ecosystems, like Nairobi’s, have already begun to show signs of competition fatigue and competition hopping.
infoDev, a team within FPD, is committed to supporting promising entrepreneurs.
At infoDev, we’re fortunate to work with exciting technology startups in emerging and frontier markets every day. One of the questions we ask ourselves frequently is whether a startup team could achieve high-growth if it weren’t for the barriers they face that are specific to their local environments. These could include anything from a lack of experienced role-models and mentors, to inadequate early-stage financing, to challenging regulatory environments and the lack of an interconnected innovation ecosystem.
Women entrepreneurs in the Caribbean are breaking through the walls (Credit: infoDev)
In the last few decades, women in the Caribbean have made impressive strides to break through the glass ceiling and obtain positions of power and responsibility. In governments throughout the region, we’ve seen women as national leaders including Janet Jagen (Guyana), Eugenia Charles (Dominica), Portia Simpson Miller (Jamaica) and Kamla Persad-Bissessar (Trinidad). In addition, the region’s women are attaining high levels of academic achievement, and now there are more female than male college graduates in total. While this is all extremely positive news for gender equality in the Caribbean, we shouldn’t rest on our laurels just yet. There is still one area of the playing field that remains to be leveled, and not just in the Caribbean, which is women succeeding as well as men as high growth entrepreneurs.
A solid business environment can help fragile states rebuild (Credit: World Bank)
One and a half billion people live in areas affected by fragility, conflict or large-scale organized criminal violence. Their hope at a better life is often marred by the realities that exist around them. It is indeed a vicious cycle as one of the findings from the Word Bank’s World Development Report 2011: Conflict, Security and Development, confirms that lack of economic opportunities and high unemployment are key sources of fragility.
However, it is not completely hopeless in fragile states. Our work in the World Bank Group shows us daily that a favorable business environment in which entrepreneurs are enabled provides an opportunity for people to escape poverty. The key question is-- how can we build a solid business environment in fragile states to ensure strong private sector-led growth?
A culture of angel investment could help entrepreneurs in developing countries (Credit: infoDev)
Investors and ‘Africanists’ Wesley Lynch and Keet van Zyl, co-founders of AngelHub in South Africa had fascinating things to say about early-stage innovation financing during infoDev’s Global Forum on Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship in South Africa. Not only did they help in selecting the most inspiring entrepreneurs for the Forum’s Dragons’ Den pitching contest, they were putting forward a lot of passion in explaining how a culture of angel investment for startups and fledging entrepreneurs could be established on the African continent. As access to finance is noted often as the main problem for innovative startups, we should look seriously at models that show potential.
With as many as 12 million mobile phone users, mobile is booming in Afghanistan (Credit: USAID, Flickr Creative Commons)
Afghanistan has made significant progress in its development since 2001. Yet, these achievements remain fragile due to a volatile security situation and limited human capacity. Of an estimated 30 million inhabitants, 46 percent is under the age of 15 and with high population growth, the country is experiencing a classic youth bulge. In addition, literacy rates remain at extremely low levels (approximately 43% for men and 12% for women).
Local businesses can create jobs in Pakistan's conflict areas (Credit: Zerega, Flickr)
How can you effectively support areas shaken by years of regional instability? The Western border areas of Pakistan are one such region, where a 2009 insurgency and subsequent military operations in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) led to one of the worst crises in the country's history. More than 2 million people were forced to leave their homes and considerable damage was caused to physical and social infrastructure. The unprecedented floods of 2010 only made the situation worse.