Seeking experts in entrepreneurship AND international development

If you ran a developing world economy, who would you want to advise you on creating a vibrant entrepreneurial environment to catapult your nation out of poverty?  Ideally, you’d want an expert on entrepreneurship.  But you’d also want someone who understands the big picture of international development.  Unfortunately the overlap between these two fields almost nonexistent.

For very anecdotal evidence of this lack of overlap, try looking up the term ‘international development‘ in Wikipedia and searching within the article for ‘entrepreneurship’.  At least today, the only reference is to microfinance.  There are zero references to technology startups or venture capital  Likewise, when you look up ‘entrepreneurship‘ in Wikipedia and search for the term ‘international development’ or anything related, you come up empty-handed.  There are no sections whatsoever about the potential to alleviate poverty and contribute to GDP growth through focused efforts on supporting startups or spurring the development of the venture capital industry.

Perhaps someone will ultimately edit these entries to show the critical link between international development and entrepreneurship.  But right now, the connection just isn’t there.  I think a big part of the reason for this is that the overlap between the startup community and the international development community is very, very small.  Not only is the connection very small, but both communities are relatively small.  The average citizen of most any country doesn’t know a successful technology entrepreneur, a VC, or an international development practitioner.

Take the startup community.  Very few entrepreneurs and VCs have been involved professionally in international development circles.  While there are successful startups in many places, the center of the universe for the startup community is Silicon Valley, California.  Many VCs don’t invest outside of driving distance from Sand Hill, let alone in the developing world.  Many VCs are either career investors or had a successful startup or two of their own in the United States.  Entrepreneurs tend to have more varied background, but they  don’t tend to have worked overseas in development.

What about the international development community?  In the U.S., this industry is mostly centered in Washington D.C., where government-sponsored programs like USAID and the World Bank are located, along with private sector development firms like Chemonics and Booz Allen.

It’s time to figure out ways to create overlap between these two communities.  Often, the best solutions to challenging problems require knowledge and experience from multiple disciplines.  In this case, the impact can be huge.  Those who work in international development have tremendous expertise on the challenges facing countries in emerging markets, while VCs and tech entrepreneurs have a deep understanding of what it takes to advise and build successful and extremely scalable businesses. Creating a vibrant community of people interested in both disciplines can accelerate the contribution entrepreneurship can ultimately make to creating vibrant economies in the developing world.

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