Leveraging the entrepreneurial potential of grassroots innovation

Leveraging entrepreneurial potential of grassroots innovations

Global development is entering a phase where entrepreneurship will increasingly play a more significant role. Emerging countries, most notably the BRICS -Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa- have seen remarkable growth driven by an entrepreneurial potential revolution.

Leveraging the entrepreneurial Potential of Grassroots innovation

Traditional approach

The traditional approach of helping challenged communities is no longer practical or sustainable, some even argue that this approach perpetuates a colonialism mindset. It is important for NGOs to address the lopsided power relations of the ‘aid’ recipients by bringing them to the discussion table. Majority of NGO’s and corporate organizations offer either standardized solutions for all communities or watered-down versions of developed-world products typically referred to bottom of the pyramid (BOP). Few engage communities in the deliberation and decision making process or explore ideas and potential solutions from local communities. Practitioners need to collaborate with communities as equal partners who have a wealth of knowledge and innovation centered towards their own specific needs. I remember hearing a story where an NGO (which I will not name) established the need and donated a radiography machine to a certain clinic in a Southern African village. They failed to account for the fact that the village had no electricity, trained radiographer or someone familiar with the machine in the event it broke down. Sadly, this is not an isolated case, there are countless organizations sinking resources on projects that look good on the face of it but lack the sustainability element.  Community engagement and consultation are effective ways of addressing pressing issues. We must not forget that local people are the experts on any issue regarding their well -being.

Innovation and entrepreneurship

There are many young people from the Global South that have come up with innovative solutions to their own specific issues. William Kamkwamba, a 14-year-old school drop-out from Malawi powered his whole village by building a windmill from recycled materials. Busisiwe Mashiane, a South African chemical engineering student created a water filtration system that collects clean water from polluted rivers using sun and sand. Kelvin Doe from Sierra Leone taught himself engineering at the age of 13, built batteries using scrap from the dumpster to address the lack of power supply in his community in Freetown. He later also built a generator and a radio transmitter which he used to start his own radio station. Now at 20, Kelvin Doe runs his own social enterprise, Kdoe-tech Inc. These are just a few of young immerging innovators who are changing their own communities and the world. Entrepreneurship and innovation is central to the economic development of the global South. The biggest business opportunities in the coming decade will be created by Africans who start businesses, generate jobs and wealth and capture growth opportunities.

Building on community knowledge

Skill Transfer Trips with GlobetrotterSEVEN are opportunities to meet communities, grassroots organizations and businesses with innovative ideas that are changing their own communities. These meetings have the potential to push an innovative idea into a full- fledged solution that can also be used in other communities. Such meetings of mind can lead to an accidental  new discovery; for instance, an innovator in India developed a groundnut digger that is pulled behind a tractor uprooting and sieving the soil out. An entrepreneur in another part of India heard about this licensed technology and adapted it as a beach cleaner. The idea was the same but the usage very different. Skill Transfer Trips a designed so participants can understand the communities they visit. They are done in collaboration with local agencies and communities who identify their needs, challenges and opportunities for collaboration.

Our perspective on the Global South should shift from Bob Geldof’s Live Aid concert 1980s days where these countries were regarded as destination points of aid, goods and services to one that recognizes and utilizes its human capital.  The Global South is a source of ideas, innovation and possess established organizations that can engage both formal public and private institutions.


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