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Ideas on Entrepreneurship and the Forefront
July 21, 2015 | Cheryl L. Dorsey

Breaking Boundaries to Solve Global Development Problems


Global Fellow Jehiel Oliver, founder of Hello Tractor, uses smart tractors to equip women with improved planting technology.

By Cheryl L. Dorsey
This article article originally appeared on Skoll World Forum.

There is no silver bullet to fix societal inequality. There is no one solution; there is no one answer. The truth is we must unleash a generation of creative thinkers, with big ideas across a wide range of issues, each ready and willing to challenge the status quo. When those individuals are empowered and supported to put forward new ideas to decades-old problems – that’s when we see dramatic change instead of incremental change. Meet a new generation of leaders ready to do just that.

Last month, Echoing Green announced the 2015 class of Fellows, a group of social entrepreneurs working on everything from improving early childhood education in the slums of Nairobi to government accountability in Nepal. While global funding structures tend to be siloed – focused on specific issues or target countries – we know that social entrepreneurs are best-in-class at breaking down silos. They bring together unlikely partners and see beyond their sectors: their ability to collaborate across organizations, countries, and issues is what holds great promise for social change – no matter what issue they are trying to solve.

What do these boundary-breaking leaders look like?

Jehiel Oliver, founder of Hello Tractor, is working to bring tractor services to smallholder farmers in Nigeria using an innovative SMS texting platform. Hello Tractor produces affordable “Smart Tractors” whose owners offer farmers timely tractor services contracted via SMS. But it’s about more than farming. Jehiel has broken the mold by giving farmers, mostly women, access to improved planting technology, which equips women with the tools they need to improve the livelihoods of themselves and their families.

Etienne Mashuli and Wendell Adjetey, founders of Tujenge Africa Foundation, catapults post-conflict youth upward through quality education, leadership, entrepreneurship, and peace-building. Their social intervention looks to young entrepreneurs, scholars, and artists to participate in their countries’ post-war reconstruction rather than relying on governments alone to rebuild and sustain their communities.

Afzal Habib and Sabrina Premji, co-founders of Kidogo, are transforming the trajectory of children living in urban slums in Kenya by providing high-quality, affordable early childhood care and education for less than one dollar per day. Kidogo is not just about affordable access to education: their innovative “hub and spoke” model combines daycare and preschool services with the scalability of a microfranchising program to support local “Mamapreneurs” starting or growing their own childcare “spokes.” By empowering mothers, and giving young children the best start to life, Kidogo is transforming the trajectories of families living in slums and helping break the cycle of poverty.

While these leaders are working to improve farming, peace-building, and childhood education, it’s clear that they all have the potential for great impact outside their specific issue-areas. Innovation cannot be boxed into a silo; these solutions cross boundaries and bring in new ideas and new players. This is the key to global development and why Echoing Green, working in partnership with the U.S. Global Development Lab of USAID and others, supports entrepreneurs across the world and across issues.

Because there is no one solution to the world’s biggest problems. But there are plenty of problem-solvers ready to challenge the status quo.