MARCH 29, 2017
For many entrepreneurs, entering new and developing markets paves the way for global expansion. But for entrepreneurs in this global age, the next step of building required infrastructure can also entail enormous obstacles, like government corruption, a local lack of education and violent extremism.
When I was in Somalia earlier this year, for example, I narrowly escaped several mortar attacks over the span of just two days. During the same time, two members of that nation's Federal Parliament were assassinated, and an attack on a popular hotel left 13 dead.
In this type of environment, staffing a startup in is difficult, to say the least, and the limited educational opportunities stunt the pool of viable employees.
Politicians have tried to help: At the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit, former Secretary of State John Kerry pushed for tech entrepreneurs to tackle world issues like violent extremism, and former President Barack Obama told the 700 international delegates, “The world needs your creativity and your energy and your vision.”
What the world needs from entrepreneurs are economic alternatives -- especially in communities targeted by violent extremists. Indeed, entrepreneurial efforts have already proven effective at producing radical change. I've personally witnessed the positive, dramatic impact that an influx of resources can have on a region suffering a dearth of meaningful choices. A big reason behind the rise of extremism? Lack of opportunity.
How entrepreneurs can help
Developing nations are home to the world’s fastest-growing economies. And those countries realize the humanitarian importance of keeping that growth going: Recent legislation in India, for example, has helped its economy maintain momentum, and Cambodia has used manufacturing to pull much of its population out of poverty.
The U.S. State Department, meanwhile, has established training centers in countries such as Pakistan, Kenya and Cambodia to prepare the next generation of entrepreneurs. And, given the more than 300 investors and company founders that participated in the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit, startups with a global outlook have plenty of resources available to them.
If your own startup is ready to branch into developing regions, here are ways that you can help foster stability in those countries' vulnerable markets.
1. Boost educational opportunities.
Promoting education develops the local employment pool and hinders recruitment by violent extremists like Boko Haram. To make an impact, work with educational institutions, create vocational programs or offer internships in vulnerable communities.
Violent extremism makes it increasingly difficult to establish educational institutions, but it’s crucial to keep moving forward to break the cycle of poverty and limit extremists’ recruiting bases.
My team recently began a project in Adamawa State in northeastern Nigeria that uses data to craft targeted solutions to poverty, including education. The goal was to ultimately prevent Boko Haram from returning to the region.
We’re not alone in Nigeria: Lagos-based startup EduRecords provides educators there with an algorithm that personalizes learning for individual students. The startup also is working to automate some teaching processes and create study guides tailored to each student’s strengths and weaknesses. EduRecords predicts that its product will increase Nigerian literacy levels by 30 to 40 percent within three years.
If your company isn’t equipped to undertake such ambitious projects, you can still get involved by teaming with global organizations such as the Global Innovation through Science and Technology initiative, which assists with startup creation through boot camps, webinars and competitions.
2. Make sure the local community benefits, too.
Bolstering an area’s social fabric puts its population at a ower risk for radicalization. So, engage with local leaders, whether for financial purposes or simply to garner support. Startups like Airbnb, for example, enable people around the world to profit, without constraints like regular hours or office space.
Whether I'm helping to build a school in Kibera, delivering supplies after a typhoon in the Philippines or providing children with medical care in Haiti, everything I’m able to do as a humanitarian worker helps heal communities. But startups have the capability to do this, too.
In Indonesia, a country that struggles to keep extremist groups from expanding within its borders, startups are already working hard to provide jobs to blue-collar workers who might otherwise join the extremists. GO-JEK, for instance, is an app similar to other ride-sharing apps that summons an ojek (a type of motorbike taxi) driver, but it can also help users purchase groceries and concert tickets.
3. Collaborate with other startups and investors.
Find shared goals with noncompeting startups to broaden your collective influence on economic development. That might take the form of providing jobs or on-the-ground training to expand the local community’s skill set. My team, for instance, has partnered with organizations like Predata, a U.S.-based company that analyzes political risk. That partnership is helping us to gain access to predictive geopolitical analysis platforms that help us locate communities in the early stages of instability.
Once you’ve identified the holes that your own startup can fill, seek funding specific to your cause. Affinis Labs, for example, acts as an incubator for startups seeking to empower entrepreneurs in conflict zones, bringing groups together through global hackathons and mentorship programs.
Even powerhouses like Facebook are open to collaborative projects to prevent extremists from spreading their message. According to Tech Times, the internet giant has begun rewarding companies that help combat hate speech on its platform. Those rewards last year totalled about $1,000 worth of ad credits.
Tech Times indicated that Twitter had also taken steps to curb the spread of extremist ideologies, banning more than 125,000 accounts linked to the Islamic extremist group ISIS.
Entrepreneurship, then, can be a powerful force for creating economic stability and weakening extremist groups. While violent extremism is a global issue, it can be fought locally. Involving your startup in the struggle against violent extremism benefits everyone, and it can even help your business grow.