Strengthening Underserved Communities With Changemaking Businesses

Large corporations and foundations might be able to make a big impact with grants and programs, but small, local entrepreneurs are the key to creating real lasting change in communities.

Strengthening Underserved Communities With Changemaking Businesses

High-impact entrepreneurs that create wealth and jobs are transforming communities around the world; Endeavor, an organization that selects and accelerates high-impact entrepreneurs, has found that in Brazil, employees who work in companies supported by Endeavor have twice the income of employees in World Bank companies, and 10 times as much access to private health care compared to the national average. That’s why competitions like “The Power of Small: Entrepreneurs Strengthening Local Economies,” an initiative of SAP and Ashoka, are so important. One day, these small-time entrepreneurs could create businesses that do big things.


The competition, open to all partnerships and organizations that are working to help underserved communities–and that demonstrate innovation, social impact, and sustainability (literally, that the idea can keep itself going)–just announced the four winning entries ,all selected via a voting process on the Ashoka Changemakers website. The winners will get $10,000 and along with a technology donation to improve their operations.

One of our favorites, the Microfranchise Accelerator (MFA) comes from Cecile Pompei of Cape Town, South Africa. This initiative is aiming to nurture microfranchise opportunities for low-income people–both on the part of the franchiser and franchisees. Franchisers get access to business models and a screened network of franchisees, while franchisees get two years of mentorship, access to mobile booking and banking, and more.

One of the organizations behind the project, The Clothing Bank (TCB), has already trained over 250 women to run microfranchise businesses. Now imagine what a large portfolio of microfranchise businesses could do.

Another winner, the Wennovation Hub, is also using the accelerator model. The Nigerian business has partnered with MIT’s Accelerated Information Technology Initiative–a program where students work in developing countries to train local university students in ICT skills–since 2011. Wennovation explains its goals on the Changemakers site:

Our solution is the Wennovation Hub, a Start-Up business accelerator that draws upon a rich pipeline of entrepreneurial ideas emerging from higher institutions in Nigeria and among the Diaspora, leverages access to a network of contacts, space and broadband into fast-paced prototyping and business development. Finally, the Wennovation Hub mobilizes internal and external network to seed and fund businesses emerging from the platform. Ultimately, the Wennovation model gets entrepreneurs from ideas to funding literally in 6 months! The crucial distinction in the hub’s incubation model is that participants come singly with their various ideas for high impact entrepreneurship, and leave in groups…of businesses.

The Hub itself sounds like a typical startup accelerator, with access to office space, mentorship, funding, and consultants. The only difference, of course, is that it will grow mobile and web startups in Nigeria, not Silicon Valley–and as the Wennovation Hub admits, Nigeria is an “extremely difficult market.” We’ll be watching.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.