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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

NextBillion at the "Business of Inclusion" Conference in Cartagena, Colombia: A Preview

By Francisco Noguera

BIDI'm writing from Cartagena, Colombia, where "The Business of Inclusion" conference will take place later this week. The conference is organized by the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Multilateral Investment Fund (FOMIN) and NextBillion has been invited to cover the discussions that will take place during the next few days as a media sponsor. As someone whose interest is contributing to a stronger and more meaningful development-through-enterprise movement in Latin America, I am grateful for this opportunity.

There are two aspects of the conference I am particularly excited about. First, WRI will co-host a panel on Friday, in which we want to highlight creative and entrepreneurial solutions to some of the most pressing challenges faced by our society. Also hosting the panel will be AVINA, one of the largest private foundations in the region, and FUNDES, a key actor in the local enterprise development space.The three organizations form the Network for Inclusive Markets, through which we intend to identify scalable business models serving the base of the pyramid in key sectors and mobilize key actors for their implementation in Latin America.

Joining the panel will be a group of social entrepreneurs that are using market-based approaches to address complex challenges. Arme Facil, from Venezuela, will represent a successful business model implemented by a large corporation (MASISA), integrating low income communities in the production and distribution of low cost furniture. DMT Toilets, from Nigeria, will present its experience providing affordable and high quality sanitation services to communities that would otherwise lack access to it. Last but not least, Mr. SK Sharma from SBA Hydro will comment on the company's experience bringing energy services to rural communities through small scale hydroelectric systems.

As a sidenote, SBA Hydro has worked closely with the two organizations that sponsor NextBillion.net. It worked with New Ventures India in the past, and recently received investment from Acumen Fund. It will be interesting to hear Mr. Sharma's comments about the role these organizations have played to facilitate and boost the growth of business, and the challenges he continues to face looking ahead.

There's something else I'm looking forward to and it is that the conference will serve as a venue for the launch of NextBillion en Espa?ol.

That's right, NextBillion in Spanish.

We're still in the process of making a couple of final tweaks here and there before formally presenting the site. But stay tuned; I will properly introduce it here in a matter of hours, sharing with you the reasons why we think it is important to create a space of learning and discussion about development and enterprise focused on Ibero-American community, similar to the one this site continues to provide for the English speaking world.?

This does not mean I will not be writing about the conference (and any topic for that matter) here on NextBillion.net anymore. Expect my notes and thoughts from it later this week, as well as a post I'll write about the day I spent yesterday visiting some of the poorest neighborhoods in this beautiful but strikingly unequal city, as well as some of the programs that are interested in market-based approaches to make it a little less so.

I must go now but make sure to check out the conference's website. Let us know if there is any particular topic you would like to hear about in more detail. I'll be happy to hear your thoughts and questions about the challenges of using business to serve low income markets in this region of the world.
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