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Building An Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

I have found that there are three types of people in this world; some are oblivious to everything around them, some see problems and complain about them and some see problems and get all excited about solving them. The difference between a vibrant community and an impoverished community is the mix of the second and third type of people. When I look at places like Silicon Valley and Cambridge, Massachusetts they are filled with folks who are looking to solve problems. In fact, entrepreneurship is so widespread that entrepreneurs typically struggle to find meaningful problems to solve.

In impoverished communities, whether they are in affluent economies or developing countries, a large part of the community tends to sit around and complain. This is because they their problems have become chronic and not easily solvable. As a result, they feel victimized and their every conversation quickly turns into complaining about everything. They expect others to solve the problems due to their feeling of helplessness.

The typical approach to this situation has been to bring in external help. Either the government or the philanthropic community come in and often study the overall situation, pick the most important problems and try to come up with a solution. Unfortunately, most of them fail because there is a no local ownership. When the intervention is over and the outsiders leave, things revert back.

For the last ten years, we have been trying a different approach with some success. Instead of solving the problems, we try to identify and encourage problem solvers independent of which problem they want to solve. This has two benefits; the solutions they come up with tend to be very relevant to the local situation and by strengthening local resources it becomes easy to build the capacity to spread the solution.

As you build this local capacity, as more people become problem solvers, they are able to absorb bigger ideas from the outside and execute them.

We have seen this situation evolve in India. We started the ‘Social Innovation Sandbox’ project in Hubli, India about 9 years ago. Over the years the team, built from local resources, has strengthened their capabilities and improved their self-confidence to the point that they can now engage with the teams from advanced institutions like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on a peer to peer basis.

By building local capacity and creating more problem solvers, the region benefits from their solutions. More importantly, as they grow in capability, they provide a fertile opportunity to seed new ideas from outside and guarantee their growth and adoption.

Partnering with outside organizations becomes easier as the local resources serve as a bridge that provides better understanding and requirements to partners like MIT, while allowing the partners to test and implement their solutions with confidence in local resources. The result is a win-win situation where the local ecosystem grows while providing and accessing solutions that it might not have had otherwise.

My hope is that we can continue to understand this dynamic so that we can effectively innovate globally and execute locally scalable solutions that the world has not seen before.

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