I recently attended the American Economic Association annual conference in San Diego—the world’s largest gathering for economists. There were more than 50 parallel sessions on a wide array of topics and several previews and presentations of papers –so there was a surplus of interesting ideas and insights. As an Economist who works in innovation, technology and entrepreneurship, I was particularly focused on papers that were relevant to my areas of interest. Highlights are under the cut.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
“While sharing its financial results for the fourth quarter, Facebook on Wednesday announced a number of new milestones. The social network has now passed 1.06 billion monthly active users. Of those, daily active users passed 618 million on average during December 2012 and the number monthly active mobile users hit 680 million.
Here’s the breakdown from the release:
- Monthly active users (MAUs) were 1.06 billion as of December 31, 2012, an increase of 25% year-over-year.
- Daily active users (DAUs) were 618 million on average for December 2012, an increase of 28% year-over-year.
- Mobile MAUs were 680 million as of December 31, 2012, an increase of 57% year-over-year.
- Mobile DAUs exceeded web DAUs for the first time in the fourth quarter of 2012.” READ MORE
Note: This blog post is adapted from a much longer discussion by the author under the same title that was published at Tekedia on January 7, 2013. You can read that blog post here. Small sections of this article are identical to segments of the original article.
The problem in brief
Africa is experiencing a boom in entrepreneurship due to proliferating Internet and mobile computing technologies. Simultaneously African startups face the often life-threatening impediment of inadequate access to seed and early stage venture capital. Fortunately, a number of developments in other parts of the world point to the contours of an approach to solving that problem in a manner that necessarily starts out small, but that can eventually be scaled in a meaningful way.
Last week, on my way home from work, I met a young man raising funds for a charity. He stood outside of a subway station and as part of his pitch, he asked, "if you could have any superpower, what would it be?" I offered the same answer I have been giving my children for years. "I have a superpower. It's reading." I suspect this both annoys and inspires my children. Given that annoying and inspiring are among my favorite parental duties, I rather like this answer.
Since then, a few things have happened that are making me want to revise my response to that young man.
Today, 43% of the world’s population is 25 years old or younger. This young group is impatient and ready to change the world. Change for this generation “has everything to do with people and very little to do with political ideology,” according to a new global survey, Millennials: The Challenger Generation, by Havas Worldwide, a future-focused global ideas agency. Some 70% of young people believe that social media is a force for change, says the survey.
These five examples from around the world show how youth used technology, social media and the Internet to make a difference recently.
Last week, I was fortunate enough to have a discussion with Stéphane Buthaud, the founder of HumanoGames, which is a video game company whose mission is to “change lives.” Mission accomplished.
Thanks to the game HappyLife, launched just one year ago, Facebook users can provide financial backing for the projects of small entrepreneurs all over the world.
This is how it works: Each player creates his or her own micro-business in the virtual world of HappyLife and re-invests the profits to help an entrepreneur get started in business in real life.
“A Project for Solidarity on a Global Scale”
Nothing in Stéphane’s background pre-ordained him to become a creator of games for the Web. After engineering studies and a Masters degree in International Business, he gained solid experience working for a number of NGOs on micro-finance projects; first in Bosnia, then Rwanda, China, Argentina, etc. Until the day he decided to found his own social enterprise.
What made him decide to create a game on Facebook? “It was the best possible way to foster solidarity and rally a community without borders around a common objective. I wanted to develop a solidarity project with a global reach, to help people who come up with projects, but who lack the means to get started,” Stéphane explains.
Really? A game on Facebook that could help in the fight against poverty…?
Our Top Ten Blog Posts by Readership in 2012
Originally published on May 1, 2012
Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson have produced a magisterial book: ‘Why Nations Fail’. If you are interested in governance, nay, if you are interested in development, you should read it. I picked it up the week it was published and I could not put it down until it was done. That is how powerful and well-written it is. Yet it is over 500 pages long. In what follows, I am going to focus on what I liked about it and the thoughts it provoked in me as I read it.
First, I admire the simplicity and power of the thesis: what the historical evidence suggests is that nations with inclusive political and economic institutions are capable of sustained growth. Nations with extractive political and economic institutions are not. End of story. Even when an authoritarian state/regime appears to engineer economic growth for a while, it will hit a limit soon enough. Why? Human creativity, human inventiveness and necessary creative destruction of old ways of doing things cannot happen in authoritarian environments. Vested interests are able all too easily to block threatening entrants to the economy; property rights are not secure and so on. Those who control political institutions use their power to extract surpluses in often brutal ways. Key quote:
A normative definition that I use as a recovering angel investor myself is that an angel investor actively helps a seed stage startup succeed with both mentorship and capital in exchange for those intangible benefits of mentorship and a return on investment. In World Bank parlance, then, they automatically provide both investments and technical assistance with no agency costs; a great recipe for solving multiple problems (funding capacity, entrepreneurial capability and access to early stage finance) in a cost effective way. Knowing that 318,480 of them invested $22.5 billion on 66,230 ventures in the US and achieved 27% annual returns forms the basis of our hypothesis that angel investing could work well in the developing world.
Five hundred million. That’s the official estimate, the number that practitioners arrive at from a range of 200 to 900 million. That is the number of smallholder farmers in the world, and it makes a lot of eyes pop in development circles.
Take for example the most recent agribusiness value-chain event, Making the Connection: value chains for transforming small holder agriculture, which convened recently in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. While the 500 attendees represented the private sector, government, civil society, farmers’ organizations and academia, almost all discussions had a way of looping back to one topic: smallholders.Why is it that the attendees were so fixated on the farming segment of the value chain? Is Africa not yet ready to climb past the very first rung of the value chain? Today, it is estimated that a mere 10% of the global agricultural production undergoes processing.