On 18 November, the INCLUDE research group ‘Changing the mindset of Ugandan entrepreneurs: from muppets to gazelles’ from the Eindhoven Centre of Innovation Studies (ECIS) hosted a conference on ‘Dynamic entrepreneurship in developing countries’. Presentations illustrated the great potential for entrepreneurship in Africa, but also emphasized the danger of implementing ‘once-off, trickle-down interventions’ to boost innovative entrepreneurship. Innovations do not by themselves address socio-economic inequalities. Innovations may have positive impacts on productivity and job creation, but the benefits of their introduction are not necessarily inclusive –  that is, not everyone benefits equally. In fact the more marginalized, such as rural women, may find it less easy to benefit from innovations. This suggests that supplementary efforts are needed to achieve inclusive innovation, such as paying specific attention to mobile phone skills in training programmes or adjusting the franchise models used in the mobile money sector.

The working conference focused on the question of how innovative and dynamic entrepreneurship in developing countries can be explained and boosted. You can find links to the programme and the presentations in this newsitem.

In the morning session on entrepreneurship, Cees van Beers (Techical University Delft, Centre for Frugal Innovation in Africa (CFIA)) opened with a presentation on entrepreneurship and innovation, which stressed the importance of local economic linkages for inclusive business models. This was followed by Joris Knoben (Radboud University) who provided a comparative perspective on innovation and growth. Reporting on a cross-country analysis of innovation and productivity growth, Knoben emphasized the importance of gender diversity on boards and in the workforce in general. Having both women and men on a board (rather than either only men or only women) is a good predictor of innovation and growth in productivity. Saskia Vossenberg (CFIA, Institute of Social Studies), Henny Romijn (ECIS) and Sarah Kyejjusa (Makerere University Business School (MUBS)) presented on women’s entrepreneurship in Malawi and Uganda. Both presentations stressed the importance of socio-cultural constraints on women’s entrepreneurship and the need to address gender issues in entrepreneurship development programmes (e.g. by including men in trainings as well as women). In discussing the importance of social capital for entrepreneurs, Giacomo Solano and Gerrit Rooks emphasized that especially women entrepreneurs tend to depend on informal relationships to access business resources.

The afternoon was devoted to innovation and new technologies for dynamic entrepreneurship. Rebecca Kiconco (MUBS) reported on important differences in the use of mobile financial services in rural and urban Uganda and the role of mobile phone skills in the uptake of mobile financial services, suggesting that skills training packages should also pay attention to mobile phone skills, especially in low literacy and numeracy context, such as rural Uganda. Iva Pesa (African Studies Centre Leiden/CFIA) presented her findings on Zambian mobile money agents and tellers, highlighting the increasing informalization and precarious work conditions in the mobile money sector, especially for tellers (who are subcontractors of these money agents). Richard Duncombe (Manchester University) talked about how information systems may help the development of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The technology is there, but that in itself is not sufficient to generate change. The example of M-Farm in Kenya shows that technology has to be put to work to make transformational changes – and trial and error are important, as are learning processes. Miguel Heilbron (CFIA) reviewed the experience of start-ups in Kenya and Nigeria under the VC4 programme, emphasizing that the opportunity to use new technologies depend a lot on the type of market that the entrepreneur operates in. He also pointed out that start-up success is determined by both the level of education and entrepreneurial spirit of the founder. Madeleine White (Challenges Worldwide) closed the meeting with reflections on the challenges facing online market platforms, hailing the mentoring and finance opportunities generated by the connected approach that is facilitated by technology.

These presentations from a range of  international researchers  showed the great potential for entrepreneurship in Africa, but also emphasized the danger of implementing ‘once-off, trickle-down interventions’ to boost innovative entrepreneurship. Innovations do not by themselves address socio-economic inequalities. Innovations may have positive impacts on entrepreneurship, but the benefits of their introduction are not necessarily inclusive –  that is, not everyone benefits equally. In fact the more marginalized may find it less easy to benefit from innovations. This suggests that supplementary efforts are needed to achieve inclusive innovation, such as paying specific attention to mobile phone skills in training programmes or adjusting the franchise models used in the mobile money sector.

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