Friday, March 27, 2009

How to Change the World with (only) $750 Million

What difference can $750 million make in our brave-new-billion-dollar-denominated world? We're going to find out. Ten days ago at the Skoll World Forum in Oxford the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) announced the creation of a new $750M fund, backed by a network of entrepreneurial service providers, designed to support potentially high-growth enterprises in developing countries.

This is what Julia Novy-Hildesley of the Lemelson Foundation had to say: "Funding start-ups and young ventures is more important now than ever before, given the current global economic crisis. There is no better way to build a middle class from the bottom up than through small and growing business."

I've written about the "invention to innovation" challenge faced by technology entrepreneurs, for example here. ANDE's new fund addresses another category of challenge: that faced by potentially high-growth new enterprises in developing countries. What is promising about ANDE's approach is that it recognizes that promising new ventures need more than money to get to the next level of success. Access to expertise and global networks are at least as important as cash.

The promise? Everyone believes that there is real money to be made in, say, China and India--even while advancing human development. But what about a company started in sub-Saharan Africa, serving Africans, for example? Can such an enterprise ever prosper? One anwer is to check out the story of CelTel, a mobile communications company created by Mo Ibrahim in 1998 and sold to Kuwait's MTC in 2005 for $3.5 billion. Real profits, real change. Ubiquitous cellphone usage then creates on infrastructure on which to build a new generation of applications to advance development.

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