20 Ideas for Social Entrepreneurs [Part 1]

Photo by Filipe

If it will work in Africa, it will work anywhere.‘ That’s the new mantra among African tech enthusiasts thanks to Erik Hersman. With that in mind I’ve been brainstorming about ideas that I think would work exceptionally well in Africa. Since I’m only one man with way too much on his plate already, I thought I’d give the rest away. =) If you’re a social entrepreneur or social capitalist here’s some ideas for responsible fortune hunting in Africa and other emerging markets…

01. Asynchronous Wireless Nodes (Mesh Networking)

When Mesh networking was introduced in the early 21st century by companies like Meraki, it was expected to revolutionize the way we connect. And it has, from Apple’s Airport Expresses to free wifi initiatives like FreeTheNet. A recent study reveals that the African broadband market is stet to quadruple by 2012. Whether you’re manufacturing mesh units, distributing them or reselling them it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what this rapid growth will mean for business.

Example - Meraki, OpenMesh

02. Airtime Donations

This operation would allow people to opt-in to a donation program where instead of their unused airtime minutes getting rolled over into more airtime, the collective minutes would be tallied, given a monetary value and used as a seed fund for African entrepreneurs or charities (although I’d prefer the first). This would require relationships with mobile carriers around the world who would then ask their customers if they want their unused airtime donated at the end of the month.

Example - none that I know of

03. Alternative Business Models for Airlines (like RyanAir in Europe)

Groups like RyanAir and EasyJet have perfected the art of low-cost air travel. They do this by charging excessively for excessive passenger luggage and selling the majority of undercarriage space to postal services. They also charge a lot for in-flight purchases like snacks and drinks. Lastly, they allow advertisers to promote their brands on board. All of these methods together underwrite the actually airline ticket allowing users to fly sometimes for as little as 1£ plus taxes.

Can this work in Africa? I’m not sure but the benefits of low-cost inter-continental travel could potentially spur a spending boom of jet-set Africans.

Example - RyanAir, EasyJet

04. Solar, Solar, Solar

Doing anything with solar energy has always been a popular idea for Africa. As the costs of producing solar cells drops, look for ways to partner with manufacturers of things like cell phones and laptops. Another unconventional idea would be to partner with satellite dish manufacturers to power dishes for their customers which are already placed outside on the roof of their homes. Double bottom-line cleantech!

05. Low cost alternative energy Automobiles

Who killed the Electric Car? Not Africa, while electricity is still a problem here, alternative energies would go a long way towards cleaning up the air and reducing respiratory illness in African cities. India’s had some success with a wind powered vehicle, perhaps instead on importing cheap Toyota’s someone should consider importing these vehicles and Prius’.

06. Call graphing and mobile user analytics (for NGOs, researchers, scientists)

In the fastest growing mobile market in the world, the person who can correctly analyze the market will have hundreds of companies lining up to buy their reports.

07. Peer to Peer Lending

The promise of websites like Prosper and Zopa are that they allow communities to help each other when institutions like banks and MFIs won’t. The idea is to create some sort of communal hedge fund and allow community members to submit ideas that the community gets to approve funding for. Judging by the response to this post, this idea would be well received.

08. Book Recycling

There’s a ridiculous amount of books being printed and thrown away in America and Europe. The idea here is to import them and redistribute them to places like African schools and book stores.

Example - betterworldbooks.com

09. RSS and Creative Commons to Print

The amount of words published each day electronically through things like blogging, email, newsletters and wiki’s is more than the amount of words printed each year by book and magazine publishers. There should be a way to harness all this mental activity and human energy so that we aren’t repeating ourselves. there should also be an easy way to get that information to people without computers. Writers would opt-in to have their works licensed through something like the Creative Commons, then a publisher would filter through all that content and print magazines that were 100% crowd-sourced. This would allow the publisher to keep a very small staff of editors. Like all magazines, this would be ad subsidized and the revues would be shared with the writers. For good measure, the magazines would be printed on recyclable/biodegradable paper. Of course, all the content would also be available online.

Example - Scroll Magazine

10. Mobile Desktop as a Phone
Why do I have a laptop and an iPhone? Because no one in their right mind wants to program with a smart phone. I’m imagining a device the size of an iPhone that has similar features. The only difference is it would have a USB keyboard option and a video port allowing it to literally become a desktop computer when necessary. No more carrying USB sticks and hard drives between work and home, no more trying to figure out how to transfer files from you computer to your phone and vice-versa, no more distinction between the two at all. This would be your personal desktop, accessible at almost all times.

Continue on to Part 2

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About the author: Jonathan Gosier is a UI designer, software developer and writer. He currently lives in Kampala, Uganda where he incubates and invests in East African entrepreneurs as the CEO of Appfrica Labs. He's also a TED Fellow.
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