This past weekend, Africa.com attended the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference in Boston. As this was our first time attending, we were very impressed with the quality of the panelists and diverse backgrounds of attendees, as well as the professional execution of such a large and entirely student-run conference. This event will certainly be on our schedule for next year.
Yet with over 150 speakers and nearly 1,500 attendees, we were surprised that the conference placed such a large focus on the United States. Surely there are more examples of social enterprises, and best practices of them, outside of the U.S. that can be shared for the betterment of practitioners and eager learners alike. We loved the panel on Rural Healthcare Access and Delivery run by a Ghanian Harvard Business School student that looked at case studies from South Africa, Guatemala, Ghana, and Pakistan. We’d like to see more examples of the back-and-forth flow of knowledge between the rest of the world and the U.S., and between developed, emerging, and frontier markets.
At this year’s conference, we came across a new tech start-up that has the potential to fundamentally contribute to this multi-directional flow of information. Quid is a venture-backed company that works on mapping common entrepreneurship characteristics across thousands of other tech start-ups based in the U.S.. The analysis and visualization of this data allow for insights not previously accessible.
Quid is moving quickly to build its data-collection abilities in emerging markets, and is poised to expand in frontier markets as well. There are, of course, greater challenges around data-collection in countries without formal repositories of business data. But—as any fan of Africa knows—a lack of easy access to data will beget new and innovative ways of meeting the challenge. For instance, Quid has found that looking for insights into employment trends via sites like LinkedIn can be an accurate proxy for more traditional employment data.
The power of data is as undisputed as the power of new technology. Egypt, which just underwent its “Facebook Revolution,” will remain a shining example of this new reality for years to come. Data and technology together have the ability to place the power to transform societies and economies into the hands of many more individuals. Mapping technology start-ups across Africa will bring to the fore the newest innovations—the next M-PESA if you will. It will help to build up the nascent investor communities gaining ground across Africa.
Quid is one player pushing the envelope to bring us new innovations in a new way, and was a great presenter at this year’s event. Organizing a conference for 1,500 people is an enormous undertaking with numerous hurdles. But we also believe that as the top social enterprise conference of the year, Harvard is up to the challenge of going global. And we can’t wait to go again next year.