Technology Salon


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a discussion at the intersection of technology and development

How We Can Support Digital Entrepreneurs in Developing Countries

developing country entrepreneurs

An increase in the number of tech entrepreneurs in the countries in which we work represents a huge opportunity to work with local talent to tackle important barriers from growth and economic opportunity, to financial access and healthcare.

However, recognising that around 80% – 90% of start-ups fail in their first year, we need to be careful how we support them – current support is often inconsistent and ad-hoc: competitions to identify the “best idea” followed by a couple of weeks of boot-camp, whereas in reality more sustained lifecycle support is needed.

This question of How Can We Support Digital Entrepreneurs in Developing Countries? inspired April’s Technology Salon in London with key discussants:

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Another role for donors in supporting entrepreneurs?

Much of the conversation explored what roles donors can play, beyond funding and running short-term hackathons, technology prizes and incubators. We heard case studies from a number of programmes and there was general consensus that donors and other development practitioners should be providing more sustained support, and looking at the local technology sector as a whole ecosystem, rather than the entrepreneurs in silo.  Five key items emerged as critical:

1. Promoting gender equality in the sector

Donors and implementers have a responsibility – and the purchasing power – to hold organisations to account for their gender balance and approach to gender equity. We spoke about the prevalence of all-male or male-dominated start-ups and the need to complement wider work on gender equality and inclusion with holding the companies we are funding and working with directly accountable. Of course, this role also needs to be applied to equality in terms of ethnicity, race and other marginalised groups.

2. Supporting entrepreneurs to develop soft skills

Our participants highlighted the importance of not only mentoring entrepreneurs in the technical skills, but also in the soft skills required to run a business and work together with colleagues. We spoke about the importance of mentoring – providing the right connections, opportunities to observe peers and network also helps with confidence, as well as whether the training and support to improve these soft-skills is the same everywhere or needs to be highly adapted to local contexts.

3. Bringing in different actors

Our participants saw one of the central roles of donors as bringing together different players in the local technology sectors. For example, bringing in successful entrepreneurs and large tech companies to coach start-ups and provide valuable lessons learned, or linking entrepreneurs with technical specialists (e.g. agriculture or health sector), or bringing in real users to ensure tools are appropriate and targeted.

We talked about the importance of bringing the development and technology sectors together, so they can better understand one another. One participant noted a shift from development organisations looking for ways to integrate ICT into their projects, to tech entrepreneurs looking to understand how they can use their skills to solve the problems their communities are facing.

By bringing these groups together, we can help them better understand and tackle these problems collaboratively.

4. Supporting Policy and Regulation

Outside of supporting entrepreneurs directly, we also need to be working to support the wider ecosystem such as policy and regulation that affect organisations’ ability to innovate. Policy and regulation hackathons and regulatory sandboxes create opportunities for bottom-up policy, tackling core issues like Intellectual Property. This demonstrates another great opportunity for donors to convene conversations between regulators, MNOs, governments and technology companies.

5. Focus on privacy and safeguarding

In a world where data is high-value and its sharing can be high-risk for the individual, we as the development community have a responsibility to ensure its protection. One great soundbite was that given the way the world is heading, maybe we should be “designing for a dystopian future”.

Donors Still Need to Support Carefully

We ended on a final cautionary note: Donor participation can have a negative influence on the ecosystem and donors need to critically examine their role – one of the most difficult decisions is to know when not to intervene – stopping funding something is much harder than starting it!

Further Reading

London Tech Salons are sponsored by DIAL, DAI and Accenture Development Partnerships.

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