In his famous TED talk “Plutocrats, Pitchforks are coming”, the billionaire venture capitalist Nick Hanauer says “Capitalism works by effectively creating new solutions to human problems.” Meaning the capitalist system works by enabling anyone within a society to create solutions to existing problems, and in the process, awards the creator. The system provides incentives to come up with solutions to human problems.
Does the same principle applies to underdeveloped countries, is a question one might ask; whether all the challenges in these countries are also countless opportunities waiting for people with entrepreneurial mindset. There’s no reason to believe that the challenges in the third-world countries are any different from those that more advanced countries once faced in the past. Much of the services and commodities we are now enjoying in developed countries, which facilitates our lives, were brought about by individuals who took it upon themselves to solve problems the population was facing. Developing the third-world countries won’t be any different. We just need to spend more time discussing the economic potential lies behind solving the problems rather than these countries doom and gloom. According to a report released by the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) in 2014, between 2006 and 2011, the average rate of return on foreign direct investment in challenged economies was as high as 14.5%. That is far above the global average of 6.2%.
It would be inaccurate to say that someone can just start a business in a third-world country and will start making a profit. It is definitely not as simple and straightforward as it is in more developed countries, due to lack of infrastructure. Nonetheless, economic opportunities exist anywhere, one just needs to learn to adapt to the environment.
Example of an innovator
In October 2014, Chris Kwekowe, a 23 year old computer science graduate from Lagos, Nigeria turned down a high paying software engineer position at Microsoft to start Slatecube. The startup specializes in training and internship placement for Nigerian college graduates. According to surveys, of the annual college graduates in Nigeria about 45 percent remain unemployed. The main reasons employers often reject graduates is for lack of professional skills; critical thinking, entrepreneurship, and decision-making.
Slatecube offers virtual internships in courses ranging from corporate finance to anger management. Once a candidate completes a course in their chosen discipline, he/she is paired with a company for a virtual internship. Slatecube has worked with companies such as Cisco and accounting firm Grant Thornton.
In an interview with Newsweek, Chris Kwekowe said “If you can do business in Lagos, you can do business anywhere in the world. The struggle is real here.” The struggle is real in any third-world country, but so does the possibility to make anything happen.
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Example of a problem solver
About 5 years ago, three individuals from a Haitian family living in the United States realized that, despite being an island in the Caribbean, eating fish in Haiti is somewhat a luxury. The locally caught fish is expensive, and what the average population can afford is usually imported from the Dominican Republic or other nearby countries. They decided to start an aquatic farm in Haiti to raise hormoneless tilapia to make available to the local population. They started Taino Aqua Ferme. Now the farm has an annual production of more than 300 tons of fish to sell on the Haitian fish market.
Time to adjust our view of developing economies
When I left Haiti in 2000 for the United States, to make an international phone call, one had to go to the city to what we then called a Teleko early in the morning, wait in line until it was your turn to use the booth to make the call. Now people call me while in their farms in different corners around the country. Something happens on one continent, it can impact the social, economic and political dynamics of the entire globe for months event years to come. People are running multi-million dollar businesses from their laptop while they are traveling from one place to the next. What a lot of us are failing to realize is that the world has gotten a hell lot smaller and more connected than ever before. Technology is developing and changing our cultures at rates we can barely keep up with. Now is the time to revise our view of less fortunate countries, to stop seeing them as being stuck in time. But rather to think of them as places with opportunities that can be leveraged using our current technological and economic advantages, all while we’re making an impact.