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climate innovation

Powering up Africa through innovation

Simon Bell's picture
Recent World Bank investment climate surveys find that the top two constraints for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Africa are access to finance and access to energy. Given that SMEs contribute disproportionately to boosting job creation, GDP, and exports, addressing these two constraints is critical to promoting economic development on the continent.
 
A new project combining skills across the World Bank Group and IFC is taking advantage of disruptive advances in the energy and finance sectors to address these longstanding challenges for SMEs.
 
Current access to electricity remains woefully low and is a major impediment to economic growth. More than half of Africa’s population isn’t connected to the energy grid and has no access to reliable power. At the same time, fewer than 50% of adults have an account with a formal financial institution.
 
In recent years, however, two important developments have made it possible to begin addressing these challenges:
  1. Off-grid energy solutions—notably solar power—have fallen dramatically in price with new business models working to scale them
  2. New digital-based financing mechanisms, such as crowdfunding, cryptocurrencies, peer-to-peer lending, psychometric testing, big data, and blockchain have emerged as tools for under-served finance markets.

There are strong parallels in these advances for both sectors. Whereas both energy and finance are traditionally provided by large-scale, centralized service providers—state-owned electricity utilities and large commercial banks, respectively—new solutions have effectively decentralized and democratized the provision of these services. Now a range of smaller, innovative companies can provide these services and consumers can go “off-the-grid” for both their energy and financial needs.
 

Anne Mwaniki, CEO of Solimpexs Africa, a Kenyan company producing solar-powered heating systems.
Photo © infoDev / World Bank

The changing face of entrepreneurship

Ganesh Rasagam's picture


Members of the World Bank Group’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship team – along with two of the entrepreneurs supported by the team (with their affiliations in parentheses) – at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. From left to right: Temitayo Oluremi Akinyemi, Loren Garcia Nadres, Natasha Kapil, Kenia Mattis (ListenMi Caribbean), Ganesh Rasagam, Charity Wanjiku (Strauss Energy), Komal Mohindra, Ellen Olafsen.


What do you picture when you hear of new technologies and hot startups? Perhaps a trendy office space overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and tech moguls from San Francisco? Well, think again.

At the recent Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Silicon Valley — an annual event hosted by President Barack Obama and attended by nearly 700 entrepreneurs — one message came across clearly: Great ideas come from anywhere. And, increasingly, they’re coming from talented entrepreneurs who are overcoming the odds in cities like Nairobi, Kenya or Kingston, Jamaica.

Increasing internet and mobile-phone access is bringing new opportunities to young entrepreneurs from developing countries. More than 40 percent of the world’s population now has access to the internet and, among the poorest 20 percent of households, nearly 7 out of 10 have a mobile phone.

Businesses that can take advantage of the widespread use of digital technologies are growing at double-digit rates — in Silicon Valley, as well as in emerging markets. Ground-breaking technologies and business ideas are flourishing across the world, and a new, more global generation of tech entrepreneurs is on the rise.
 
The potential impact — economic and social — is significant. Entrepreneurs have a powerful ability to create jobs, drive innovation and solve challenges, particularly in developing economies, where technology can address old inefficiencies in key sectors like energy, transport and education.
 
“[I]n our era, everybody here understands that new ideas can evolve anywhere, at any time. And they can have an impact anywhere,” said John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State. “In my travels as Secretary, I have been absolutely amazed by the groundbreaking designs I’ve seen, by the ideas being brought to life everywhere — sometimes where you least expect it.  By the men and women striking out to create new firms with an idea of both turning a profit as well as improving their communities.”
 
But for many of the brightest minds in developing countries, entrepreneurship is not an easy path.

As President Obama said during the Summit: “It turns out that starting your own business is not easy. You have to have access to capital. You have to meet the right people. You have to have mentors who can guide you as you get your idea off the ground. And that can be especially difficult for women and young people and minorities, and others who haven’t always had access to the same networks and opportunities.”


President Barack Obama on stage at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit with Mark Zuckerberg and entrepreneurs.
 

On Your Mark — Get Set — Pitch!

Katerina Koinis's picture



Charity Wanjiku pitching for Strauss Energy
 
What does the journey of an entrepreneur look like? For founders like Mark Zuckerberg, it often begins with a groundbreaking idea, followed by several rounds of fundraising through Ivy League and Silicon Valley networks. But what if you weren’t raised in the United States? And what if your idea is not global in reach — but instead addresses clean technology needs that are unique to your region?
 
The World Bank Group’s Climate Innovation Centers are one solution to this challenge. The seven centers — in the Caribbean, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, South Africa, and Vietnam — support more than 270 clean-technology startups with training programs, grants and mentorship. Increasingly, the centers have turned to competitions to help entrepreneurs grow.

Bootcamps and pitching competitions have emerged as promising opportunities for jump-starting an entrepreneur’s journey. Participants train intensively with seasoned entrepreneurs to perfect their pitch. They learn to showcase their business idea and strategy in mere minutes before a panel of judges. Winners bring home significant prizes — and, perhaps more important, connections with potential investors and a greater understanding of the business landscape.
 
The 1776 Challenge Cup is a pitching competition on a grander scale. The Challenge Cup is a tournament for startups from around the world to share their vision on a global stage and compete for more than $1 million in prizes. 1776, a Washington-based incubator and seed fund, hosted its first annual Challenge Cup in 2014. Past finalists have developed mobile training for Middle Eastern women entering the workforce, have built charging devices for electric vehicles, and have disrupted the value chain in Kenya for perishable goods like bananas.

Bringing together earth-friendly products and South Africa's poor

Forget about flying cars and wristwatch phones—innovators Will green innovations such as solar cookers be embraced? And by whom? (Credit: infoDev)today are more likely to be tackling solar lamps, cleaner cookstoves, energy-efficient housing and water filters. Such products promise the tantalizing combination of steady jobs, better lifestyles, and a cleaner planet…but for whom, exactly?

The big challenge is making sure that those opportunities reach the more than a billion people living in poverty. Recently infoDev teamed up with the Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship global practice, the World Bank Country Office in Pretoria, and the Gauteng government’s The Innovation Hub to run four workshops on low-income communities’ needs, attitudes and perceptions about climate technology products.