USAID Seeds Innovation: 15 Social Entrepreneurs Making a Difference

Picture this: A farmer in Nigeria needs to plow her field, but does not have laborers to do it. Using her mobile phone, she sends an SMS message, and within days, a tractor arrives. She can now plow her field 40 times faster than manual labor, and at one third of the cost. And the tractor owner earns a profit as well.

This “sharing economy” platform is more than a great idea; it is a startup called Hello Tractor, founded by Jehiel Oliver – a recipient of a global fellowship from Echoing Green, sponsored by USAID’s U.S. Global Development Lab.

Through a partnership, the Lab has funded two classes of Echoing Green’s Global Fellows. The goal is to “prime the pump” for global social entrepreneurship by supporting individual entrepreneurs working in developing countries.

Over two years, fellows receive up to $90,000 in funding to realize and advance their innovations. Fellows also participate in leadership development events and receive mentoring from leading business professionals. To date, the Lab has supported more than 29 Global Fellows from 20 organizations.

With interests that range from “Uber for tractors” to rights for the visually impaired, the innovations from this year’s Echoing Green Global Fellows provide essential services, create jobs and reduce poverty  -- often through market-based solutions.

I recently spent time with a number of fellows at a retreat, listening to their stories about the inspiring work they engage in around the world.

Wendell and Etienne

Global Fellows Etienne Mashuli and Wendell Adjetety used their personal experiences as motivation to help post-conflict African youth through the Tujenge Africa Foundation they established in Burundi.

Having survived the Rwandan civil war and genocide, Etienne escaped a cycle of poverty thanks to quality education later in life. “I remember the first time I did really well in school,” Etienne said. “My father was so proud, he gave me a loaf of bread.”

But school became struggle for Etienne after his uncle was shot. He managed to overcome this setback, getting a full ride to a college in Illinois and later earning a master’s degree from Yale.

To help other youth in similar situations, Wendell and Etienne began the foundation to strengthen education, leadership and peacebuilding in Burundi, South Sudan, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Afzal and Sabrina

After seeing the dire conditions in the informal baby care centers of Nairobi’s slums, Sabrina Premjiestablished Kidogo with Afzal Habib.“The smell was the first thing I noticed,” said Sabrina. “As I walked forward into a dark room, I felt something brush my foot, and when I reached down, I saw it was an infant. There were at least a dozen infants in one small room.”

The experience drove her to find a way to provide high-quality and affordable early childhood care. She teamed up with Afzal, who applies his background in management consulting to lead the organization’s strategy and finances.

Afzal and Sabrina launched Kidogo last year to transform the trajectory of children living in urban slums by providing care and education.

This year, USAID is funding 15 Global Fellows who are sparking change in communities around the world. Other fellows include:

  • Aleem Ahmed -- Love Grain connects Ethiopian teff farmers with international markets by building partnerships with farmer cooperatives and supporting supply chains.
  • Katy Ashe and Edith Elliott -- Noora Health trains and educates marginalized families in India with simple, low-risk health skills to improve clinical outcomes, provide care and save lives.
  • Sara Leedom and Julienne Oyler -- African Entrepreneur Collective works with incubators, accelerators and investment funds to support young entrepreneurs in Africa by providing capacity building, mentorship and direct financing to grow their enterprises.
  • Mohammed Dalwai and Yaseen Khan -- The Open Medicine Project saves lives in under-resourced communities in South Africa, India and Pakistan by providing healthcare workers with free and open access to critical health information using mobile technology.
  • Sara Minkara -- Empowerment Through Integration empowers blind youth in Lebanon and Nicaragua by providing life skills and emotional support through inclusive education and recreational programs.
  • Matt Alexander-- Suyo unlocks the transformational impact of secure property rights by making it easier and more affordable for low-income families in Latin America to formally register their property.
  • Pranav Budhathoki -- Local Interventions Group creates efficient feedback loops between governments in South Asia and citizens demanding better services.

Within the Lab, we believe good ideas can come from anywhere, but innovators need the resources and opportunities to thrive. There is no doubt that social entrepreneurs will continue to change communities, economies and nations for the better, and we are committed to enabling promising ideas worldwide.

About the Author: Tahalia Barrett is a Global Partnerships Advisor in the Center for Transformational Partnerships within the U.S. Global Development Lab at USAID.

Editor's Note: This blog entry originally appeared on the USAID Impact Blog.

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Patrick W.
Maryland, USA
July 30, 2015
So, what your saying is two heads are better then one, and a group can solve may more problems, if they work together. Maybe, Uber should think about working with other business, like companies do here. A group is always better the one person, when it comes to solving problems. I like this post ! It show what people can accomplish if they work together...
Mathew, a field engineer, stress tests the Smart Tractor at a test farm in Kaduna as kids from a nearby village watch [Jehiel Oliver]
Posted by Tahalia Barrett
July 30, 2015


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