Any person, organization, company, or nation working to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) knows that a local commitment to the goals is necessary for success. The theory is that if you can get locals involved and get them to support the programs you’re implementing, then they will carry the results of the project forward to infinity and beyond once the program staff leave. For example, if you distribute water pumps and train locals to maintain them, a virtuous circle of health and prosperity will result. The locals will “buy in” to the pump initiative and have clean water for ever after.
Sometimes these kinds of efforts can work for years. But often they fail because buy-in is just not enough. In this example, it could be the pumps are manufactured a continent away, require parts that are expensive to replace, and is not how the locals prefer to get water anyway. So what if, instead of local buy-in, we focused on local lead-in? What if we focused on supporting small, locally-based businesses that have a long-term incentive to continue offering the poverty-fighting product or service?
When I was asked to get the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) off the ground almost 10 years ago, I was drawn to the mission of the yet-to-be-launched network. It would be a group of organizations that recognize that any long-term approach to global poverty reduction cannot happen without locally-led solutions.
ANDE members support small and growing businesses (SGBs) in emerging market economies. These kinds of businesses drive economic growth by creating jobs, paying taxes, purchasing from local suppliers, and selling to local and global distributers. They bring critical goods and services to their communities, create stronger supply chains, and can empower marginalized groups. In fact, it is estimated that $1 invested in SGBs generates $13 in the local economy.
TechnoServe was one of the organizations that launched ANDE. (Indeed, I can still remember Simon Winter, then a TechnoServe Senior Vice President, grilling me in a job interview about my views on how business could address poverty.) TechnoServe was one of the first 34 entities that came together with the conviction that support for often-overlooked small and growing businesses represents one of the most effective ways to create homegrown opportunities that can lift families, and entire nations, out of poverty. Now, as the world seeks to align itself to the SDGs, we believe that supporting these local, homegrown, entrepreneurial solutions to the SDGs is one of the best ways to make progress toward the goals truly sustainable.
For ANDE and TechnoServe, local lead-in means helping entrepreneurs from the countries we say we want to help lead the way. We may provide support, new ways of looking at problems, or may suggest different methods, but it is about recognizing the agency, dignity, and dreams of the people we claim to help, and helping them find a way to get there.
Many entrepreneurs I speak to have grown up in the communities that they want to help. They have a deep understanding of what the market is missing, and how their businesses can also make the quality of life better in their communities. For example, these entrepreneurs are fighting poverty, improving access to healthcare, and creating more economic and social opportunities for women (including Mishky Cacao, TechnoServe-supported business in Peru). In fact, ANDE members are supporting local SGBs that are addressing every single one of the SDGs. Whether it involves eliminating hunger (Goal #2) through creating more competitive agribusinesses or creating more high quality jobs through local industries (Goal #8), SGB entrepreneurs are an essential ingredient to fostering long-term, systemic prosperity.
ANDE members recognize this. Our network of more than 280 organizations, which consists of investors, capacity development providers, foundations, corporations, academic institutions, and more, work together toward these goals. They recognize that no organization can solve poverty alone, and that if we want to create a more prosperous world through the power of entrepreneurship, we need to band together. We are all part of a small business movement that seeks to catalyze economic growth and wellbeing for all.
TechnoServe has been with us from the beginning, helping lead this movement, advocating for and providing viable paths to homegrown solutions to end poverty through the power of enterprise. I am proud to have such a motivated and effective partner, and thrilled to recognize TechnoServe’s hard work and dedication over the last 50 years. And I hope that, 40 years from now, TechnoServe will still be standing by ANDE’s side if and when we hit our own 50-year anniversary.