Technological innovations are contributing to the fight against global inequality – in healthcare, education, agriculture and finance. Globalisation has now increased access to technology all over the world. The increased access to tech tools is opening endless possibilities for social entrepreneurs to fight inequality, boost social development and scale their social impact.
Mobile phones: impact at your fingertips
Today, technological devices reach more and more people, including those in developing countries. The number of mobile phone users in the world is expected to be 5 billion by the end of this year, according to a prediction by the GSM Association, a trade body of mobile phone operators.
“The phone is a portal to financial freedom and more inclusion,” says Anis Kallel, founder of ‘Kaoun’, a financial technology company that builds reliable decentralised infrastructure for payments and credit in Tunisia, allowing the large unbanked population there access to financial services. “People have technology, but they don’t have services,” he says, explaining how phones can be used to tackle financial inequality.
Haroon Yasin, founder of the ‘Orenda Welfare Trust’ in Pakistan, says “smartphones are becoming a great equaliser.” Yasin leads a company that is spreading education through smartphones to underserved children across the country. “Pakistan is a place where 50% of children are malnourished, but at the same time 50% of people have smartphones,” he says. “As a teacher, I saw that as an opportunity to take education to places where it hadn’t been before.”
Another example of how mobile phones create impact comes from iCow, “a practical academy in how you can improve dairy farming,” says Peter Wuffli, founder of the elea Foundation for Ethics in Globalization, a philanthropic impact investor which fights extreme poverty by investing in social enterprises. iCow is a mobile phone platform started in Kenya by social entrepreneur Su Kahumbu. Funded by the elea Foundation, the platform helps farmers by sending them information via text messages on how to increase productivity.
Technology, a tool for scalability
Technology is not only a tool for social enterprises to do good. It also plays an important role when it comes to scaling enterprises and amplifying their social impact. Technology enables enterprises to “collect data cost-effectively and be able to understand in real time whether or not their products, services, interventions and business model are actually having the intended impact that they want,” says Katherine Milligan, Professor of Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Geneva.
In the case of iCow, technology has supported the scalability of what was initially a local project involving 500 farmers, helping the platform to reach 60,000 farmers in Kenya and other African countries. The service’s subscribers pay for the app, too. “iCow is an example where the mobile revolution plus technology has helped scale social businesses,” Wuffli says.
Local businesses, foreign capital
Before spreading to other countries, iCow started as a local initiative. Local expertise plays an essential role in tackling problems in specific areas or countries. “When you work at the local level, you manage to contextualise everything very well,” Yasin says.
According to Wuffli, initiatives and ideas that are successful in some countries do not necessarily work for other parts of the world. “History is full of examples of well-meant ideas brought to other geographies where the cultural conditions were different and there was a lack of commitment, understanding, and knowledge.”
That’s why elea invests in local businesses that are trying to make a social impact but need investment. “Impact is created when you bring entrepreneurship together with capital,” Wuffli says.
However, capital is not equally distributed around the world: While globalisation has increased access to technological capital, access to financial capital remains limited. The unequal distribution not only produces inequalities between individuals and countries, but it also affects local entrepreneurs seeking investments for their companies.
As a result, entrepreneurs in developing countries cannot always count on domestic capital. One solution is to seek investors abroad. Yasin says: “Foreign capital is a way for young local start-ups to thrive.”
Local entrepreneurs can drive change through technology, but they often require foreign investments to thrive – and have a social impact.
ENTREPRENEURSHIP VS UNEMPLOYMENT
Unemployment is a huge issue in southern European countries – especially for young people. In 2018, according to Eurostat, about 32% of Italians under the age of 25 were unemployed – one of the highest rates on the continent. Even for university graduates, it is common not to find a job in their area of expertise. The problem is not necessarily a lack of vacancies, but an outdated education system and political inaction.
Two young Italians rejected promising job offers to become entrepreneurs and to build up start-ups to make a change. The similarity between both companies: they connect unemployed people with companies looking for motivated employees.
Marco Cortinovis, Daily Internship
Together with three fellow students, the 25-year-old management graduate founded the social recruiting and talent discovery platform ‘Daily Internship’ in 2018. The platform connects students who are looking for an internship – particularly in business and engineering – with companies. “Our aim is to help students to easily get in touch with top companies all around Europe, and at the same time help companies spot new talents,” Cortinovis says. Based on the information about the internship applicants are seeking, an algorithm reports every offer that fits. “That saves students a lot of time,” he says. Sixty thousand students are already using the service. For them, the site is free – companies pay for being listed on the platform.
Federico Pellegrini, Boolean Careers
The start-up the 24-year-old works for was founded in 2018 and provides live online coding classes. After six months of full-time training in common programming languages, the users are ready for a job in the IT sector. “It is the fastest growing sector in the job industry in Italy,” Pellegrini says. But because the education system is not meeting the needs of the market, companies lack competent coders. Boolean Careers’ clients are mostly people who want to switch careers, and after their training, the company connects clients with possible employers to help get a job. By the end of 2019, Pellegrini says, about 150 to 200 people will have finished the training. Thus far, every student
connected with a company has been hired. — Franziska Andre