Supporting entrepreneurs in developing nations


Top-down or bottom-up economics?

Sunday Times (6th October, 2013) reports:

 

“The London-listed miner founded by former England cricketer Phil Edmonds has won a breakthrough export licence in Guinea after appointing to its board a businessman with close ties to the president.”*

*Nb. refers to Sable Mining Africa – a British Virgin Islands incorporated, AIM-registered company

 

Market economics has achieved substantial results worldwide – mainly because of huge success in China (and, to an extent, India), the percentage of those deemed at the worst stage of poverty (those living on less than $1.25 per day) according to the World Bank has fallen dramatically in the last ten years, from over half in the developing world to 21%.

Despite this, around 1.2 billion people are still impacted by extreme poverty and many areas of the world remain blighted by lack of economic progress.

Forget GDP per capita numbers – it is irrelevant where all the proceeds go to 0.1% of the population. Equatorial Guinea has a per capita GDP of nearly $20,000 – yet, the vast majority of the population live in conditions of extreme poverty.

In post-conflict states and many others where there is poor access to economic opportunities for the majority of the population, extreme poverty stubbornly persists. There are many reasons for economies to be mired in lack of progress. As Dani Rodrik states in his “The Globalization Paradox”, “the most pressing problem could be a shortage of finance; it could be government practices (such as high taxes or corruption) that depress private profits; it could be high inflation or public debt that increases risk; it could be learning spillovers associated with infant industries that prevent private entrepreneurs from reaping the full social value of investments.”

Macro, Top-down attempts at change

Normally, the response has been for nations to work to remedy this on a macro-economic basis by implementing major, nationwide changes – often hand-in-hand with the IMF or similar. Countries in Latin America were good examples of this in the 1980’s. This led countries like Argentina to see rapid growth through the dramatic reduction in capital controls, for example, and then to debilitating recessions. The WTO model – opening up to huge changes quickly through the freeing of capital and exchange controls – relies heavily on the nation’s capability for being up to the job – overnight. The problem is that the rapidity of the change is usually too much, too soon. It often leads to rapid increases in fund flows – maybe inward as the search for investment grows and maybe outward as the indigenous population (maybe the top 1%) find better investment opportunities elsewhere – and upheaval.

While it is important that positive (and well thought-through) macro-economic change happens, Rodrik shows how important it is for states to nurture their manufacturing, design, distribution and other industries. China is held up as a prime example of this. It did not join the WTO until its economy was healthy and competitive.  The same is true about Taiwan or South Korea.

Micro revitalisation– tunneling through the transaction costs

The problem in many countries is that while there may be an appetite for economic progress at government level (where an understanding of economics may be poor to non-existent and the “appetite” may be for quick profits, legally or corruptly gained), it is bound up with difficulties. These often include entrenched positioning of those in power –  an elite that has vested interests in the status quo. This is clearly seen in resource-rich countries – where small elite groups manage to take over the profits of a country’s natural resources and the mass of the population sees no economic improvement. Countries like Angola have gone way beyond corruption – the dos Santos family now owns the country’s natural resources and the companies (like Sonangol) which manage their energy wealth; or in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – see Dan Snow Wednesday 9pm BBC2; or government and business collusion (such as alleged in the Sunday Times article mentioned at the start of this post. Guinea has just has just had elections – and is a country rife with corruption as noted recently by the Economist.

Of course, some wealth filters down into the wider country, but only so that the elite (and those associated with them) becomes fatter. This remains a tiny proportion of society.

In such countries, there remains a massive desire for economic advancement through their own efforts amongst the people despite all the problems put in their way.

Organisations like the World Bank, GEM, GEDI and others are researching, for example, these obstacles to entrepreneurship and economic advancement worldwide. All show the huge desire of people to fend for themselves and not to rely on handouts from top-down aid.

GEM (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor – http://www.gemconsortium.org/) produces an annual assessment of global entrepreneurship activity; GEDI (The Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute) also ranks countries by their ability to be entrepreneurial and works on a macro basis to provide ideas on improving economic performance. GEDI works with large multi-nationals and claims that:

“Entrepreneurship-focused support not only improves the business environment, creating economic value, it kicks off virtuous cycles that create waves of social value.”

The World Bank itself produces rankings in its global “Doing Business” listings. Along with such as Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index and countless economists, it is a continuous process to develop new macro-economic methodologies.

Rodrik himself was asked by the South African Government in 2007 to address the problem of unemployment and developed significant opportunities for real improvements in “social value” – which benefits the many not the few.

In many countries, though, macroeconomic policies do not work. William Easterly strongly makes the case that it is not the “planners” (with their top-down policies) that work for poor nations but the “searchers” – those providing bottom-up opportunities. Indeed, the annual studies show that entrepreneurialism is higher in poor countries than the rich ones. This is partly due to less opportunity to find employment but is also down to the natural and instinctive ability of humans to fend for themselves exists throughout, when the incentives are apparent and not made impossible.

Micro-economic incentives and opportunity provision are always required. These incentives may be financial or they may be educational or they may be motivational. They may be needed to provide networks and distribution facilities. There may be the need for leadership skills training or the development of manufacturing or design skills. Each nation or region or even city may well be different.

If the natural tendency to trade (so common in all countries) is allied to the skills and abilities needed to create, develop and manufacture together with some motivation and belief in the future, then real progress can be made – allied to the profit motive that underpins the market economy.

Fighting through the mayhem

The big question is how? There are a number of ways to do this – but, all rely on somehow creating the entrepreneurial business ethic and safe passage through the morass of so-called “transaction costs” which are often traumatic in countries where wealth is uneven or normally unobtainable. It also requires the desire to build an economy that is wider than an elite – where trading does not just enrich a tiny bunch.

The transaction costs may be how long it takes to register a company or gain permission to sell products or find the training and skill-up or find staff or understand royalty and tax issues or accounting problems. It may be that there is rampant corruption that stifles progress or downright intimidation. It may be that women are not allowed to participate.

All these and many more factors are grouped together to dramatically hinder progress. To resolve them takes a bottom-up approach – which has to be allied to changes on a national / macro scale. These changes must focus on, for example, eradicating corruption, developing proper taxation systems, ensuring that tax is collected and used for public good.

The bottom-up approach can be successfully done by the hardest working acting on their own – and there, of course, are examples of businesses that progress despite all the problems thrown at them.

It may, though, be provided with external help – but, this is generally through business arrangements where companies operating from developed nations see opportunity – again, mining in Guinea is an example. This is often where natural resource recovery takes place – where the Chinese now dominate throughout Africa – but where the mass of local populations doesn’t benefit. This is the case for energy and other natural resources like wood and minerals or gold.

There is another way just beginning. This is where organisations from the economically developed world (some may be social enterprises, some may be charities) that have business ability and seek out those bursting to improve their economic lives that also show some capability. By analyzing the obstacles in their way and providing an “economic tunnel” through the mayhem – for example, through training, networking, distribution channels, financing, motivation, skill development – small pockets of entrepreneurialism can be assisted to grow.

This “micro-economic tunnel” will be different in each country or region or city, but there are already examples where social entrepreneurs are providing enablement into countries that face the harshest of obstacles – like Afghanistan. Recently, two, different examples have been shown in that country – both encouraging the development of inherent capability in different ways – one through perfume, one, Future Brilliance, through jewellery design and distribution into the global marketplace.

With examples provided on a daily basis that show how lack of economic opportunity provide incentives for corruption and even terrorism, more needs to be done at the micro-level where real people with real capability and drive can be provided with the tools and incentives to thrive and provide social value. The days of top-down aid and macro-focused solutions may not be at an end, but bottom-up opportunity is the lifeblood of a nation’s success and needs to be nurtured.

 

1.2bn people still attempt to live on less than $1.25 per day. 

 

“Entrepreneurship-focused support not only improves the business environment, creating economic value, it kicks off virtuous cycles that create waves of social value.”

Jeff Kaye is a Director of Future Brilliance http://www.futurebrilliance.net

 

 

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