Two months ago, I stood on the Plateau Central of Haiti talking to Haitian women who pick avocados from very tall trees and carry the fruit on their heads for the three-hour descent on foot to the plain below. At the end of the three-hour walk, the pickers sell their avocados to other women on the plain. The women on the plain then sell the avocados to other women who live closer to the cities, and so on in a simple chain of small gains. But avocados go bad if you do not freeze them within 3 days. The Haitian women have neither the technology nor the infrastructure necessary to form the kind of cold chain that would allow them to sell their avocados to Whole Foods.
Then, a week ago, I found myself sitting next to a Mexican entrepreneur who has invented a technology to dry up avocados while preserving all of their qualities. The avocados come right back to life when you add some water. "Could you bring your technology to Haiti?" I asked him. "Sure, I can," he said. "We have also been asked by Chileans and Peruvians, who are great producers of avocados."
Rooted in Reality
This serendipitous moment—where a clear development need in Haiti may have found a simple, innovative solution in Mexico—did not happen by accident. I was at "Foro Emprendedores 2013" in Mexico City, which was organized jointly by CNN Expansión, the World Bank (WB) and its private sector branch, the International Finance Corporation (IFC).
The Minister of Economy, Dr. Ildefonso Guajardo, opened the Forum with our country director, Gloria Grandolini. There were some 300 people in the room and more than 1500 watching via video. Many colleagues attending the forum had similarly relevant conversations with other entrepreneurs.
What I found most valuable was that the event was strongly rooted in the realities of business people's daily lives. "It took me 7 months to get a building permit to start my business," posted a Mexican entrepreneur on the blog. Another wrote, "Banks are not financing my innovative ideas. Where are the venture capital funds?" The panels discussed in real time how the public sector and the World Bank Group can help reduce bottlenecks for private firms to start and grow their businesses.
Give the Firms a Voice
Reducing poverty and increasing shared prosperity requires action from both the public and the private sectors. As Viswanathan Shankar recently noted in Project Syndicate, public development support accounted for 70% of capital flows into developing countries during the 1960s, whereas 87% of the $200 billion in total US resources for development in 2010 came from private sources.
From Novartis providing medicine and health services to 42 million people in India to the Mexican entrepreneur who may be able to help get Haitian avocados to Whole Foods, the private sector is critical for development. In order to make progress, we need to ask private firms how governments can remove the constraints they face and how we can help them scale up their businesses. Engaging more than 1,500 Mexican entrepreneurs at a time via CNN Expansión is the kind of novel partnership building that we need to do more of.
Private sector firms make development happen. Let's give them more opportunities to speak. And listen to what they have to say.