Sparking Innovation in Post-Conflict Nations

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Team Burundi, Great Lakes Peace Cup

Conflict and post-conflict countries traumatized by years of instability are not commonly thought of as a source for entrepreneurial talent. Nonetheless, even under the most difficult circumstances, incredible entrepreneurial and innovative talent can and does surface.

According to the World Bank’s Fragile and Conflict Situations unit, one in four people in the world – more than 1.5 billion – live in fragile and conflict-affected situations. These are countries that are often rife with socio-political instability and large-scale organized crime, resulting in precarious security situations. Although there are consistent efforts from international organizations and NGOs to aid in their transition, as the 2011 World Development Report states, insecurity is one of the biggest developmental challenges of our time. It severely affects a country’s overall economic growth.

Yet even under these circumstances, grassroots entrepreneurship can be a way for people to impact their communities while also promoting economic growth. Still, many in the development community question why entrepreneurship thrives in some places rather than others.

At infoDev, we believe that great ideas can be born anywhere. That philosophy is supported by our recent feasibility study that aimed to gauge the mobile applications sector in Afghanistan and provide recommendations for growth.

Cases like these begin to answer the question posed earlier: why entrepreneurship thrives in some environments versus others. In the future, however, perhaps we should strive to better understand the conditions that foster entrepreneurship and its growth in fragile, less secure environments.

Kalsoom Lakhani, the Founder and CEO of Invest2Innovate (i2i) has also sought to answer these questions. i2i is an accelerator that supports early-stage social enterprises by connecting them with seed capital in new markets. With firm family roots in Pakistan and a passion for – and a master’s degree in – conflict resolution, she has expressed a strong pull toward working in conflict-affected areas, specifically in parts of her own country.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Kalsoom and explore her reasoning for focusing i2i’s efforts in conflict-affected and post-conflict countries.

“These places tend to be misunderstood. There is so much happening on the ground but it’s just not seen,” she explained. i2i’s approach dives deep into the country, building relationships on the ground, taking the time to foster trust through transparency, and supporting entrepreneurs and innovators with impact-driven businesses that could ideally play a large role in the country’s future.

Almost three years after starting Pakistan’s first accelerator and building one of the first angel-investor networks in the country, i2i is about to launch its 2nd class of the i2i Accelerator with seven new entrepreneurs. They also have plans to expand to other areas of interest, such as Tunisia or Bangladesh.

“When you go to the country, the energy there is so palpable you can feel it on the ground, how many young people are there and how many young people have ideas,” Kalsoom said while describing Pakistan at an event on young women social entrepreneurs. Through i2i’s accelerator, she has seen the development of social enterprises like EcoEnergy Finance, which helps deliver clean energy to rural Pakistan, and BLISS, a fashion enterprise that helps women and at-risk girls living in low-income parts of Pakistan build sustainable skillsets.

Whether a country is wrought with conflict, has weak infrastructure, or is visibly overflowing with talent, at its very core are people with innovative minds and entrepreneurial passions seeking opportunities to take their ideas to market and strengthen the future of their communities.

Photo: The first i2i accelerator class with founder and CEO Kalsoom Lakhani (center).
Photo credit: Sonya Rehman



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