Guest Articles

July 27

Ben Powell

Accelerating the Shift to a Sustainable Future: How Entrepreneurs Can Solve the World’s Greatest Challenges

Over 800 million people are living on less than $1.25 per day. One in nine individuals go to bed hungry each night. Our forests and oceans are threatened. One in six adults are illiterate. Increasingly, humanity seems to be in a race against itself – can we use our ingenuity to make life better for all of us, or will we descend into insularity, polarization and fear?

In September 2015, the United Nations released these astounding statistics and outlined 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) designed to address the root causes of the multiple challenges facing humanity. These goals, agreed to by 193 governments in what may have been the most transparent and inclusive global compact ever, represent the North Star for global development for the next 15 years. They challenge us to build a world that works for all people and that protects our natural resources. Shifting society onto such a path, one that is more sustainable, equitable and abundant, will require a massive global effort. Key to this effort will be entrepreneurs working to disrupt old patterns of business as usual, and replacing them with new kinds of business models that integrate profits with purpose.

For the past 11 years, Agora Partnerships has been committed to helping social entrepreneurs accelerate this shift. By finding innovative ways to drive more human, social and financial capital to entrepreneurial leaders and their ideas, we help social entrepreneurs expand their business and their impact. The leaders of these companies are committed to proving that true entrepreneurial leadership is not about making a fast buck, but about solving key problems that afflict society. So far, many are making the case, and more are launching businesses every day.

In Peru, Mariana Costa Checa, co-founder of Laboratoria, has trained hundreds of low-income women in coding and helped them get jobs in the tech sector. In Colombia, Agruppa and Suyo are, respectively, working to support low-income businesses and individuals by leveraging technology to support small food vendors, and helping families secure their property rights. In Guatemala and Panama, Teysha is creating a market for artisan shoe and accessory producers, while promoting community empowerment and talent development. And throughout Central America and South Africa, Kingo is providing rural communities with access to solar energy. These businesses represent the future – and they need support.

At Agora Partnerships, we believe deeply in the power of purpose-driven entrepreneurs like these to change their communities, their countries and the world. Now, in solidarity with the United Nations’ SDGs, we are redoubling our efforts. We are pursuing focused and coherent action, with a wide variety of public and private-sector partners, to help achieve the United Nations’ global goals by 2030.

We have aligned our work with the SDGs and will continue to hone the process of tracking and measuring results in coordination with the impact investing and global development community standards.

We are committed to advancing the SDGs where we work, in Latin America and the Caribbean. Despite tremendous amounts of natural resources and amazing human capital, these areas suffer from grinding inequality and continuing resource depletion. The region represents an incredible opportunity to show how social entrepreneurship can accelerate inclusive and sustainable development. By supporting entrepreneurs, Agora Partnerships will tap into the region’s potential to drive innovative solutions that can benefit the whole world.

For 2017, we have identified key challenges that are important for achieving the SDGs, and where entrepreneurial solutions are most needed. These are sectors where business models are ripe for disruption and where entrepreneurial leaders can offer better alternatives. Agora Partnerships’ 2017 Accelerator program tracks – urban innovation, ethical fashion, food and agriculture, clean energy, education for all, health access, and indigenous communities – are designed to level the playing field for social entrepreneurs creating market-driven impact in these areas.

Solving the challenges our world faces and achieving the United Nations’ SDGs are no small tasks, and will require massive, collective action. Key to this effort will be entrepreneurs. By giving them more agency and opportunity, we can accelerate the necessary shift to an economy that works better for the planet, and everybody on it.


Photo: Juan Fermín Rodríguez, CEO and co-founder of Agora-supported solar energy provider Kingo. Credit: MIT Technology Review en español, via Flickr.

Ben Powell is the founder and CEO of Agora Partnerships, a nonprofit organization working to accelerate the shift to a sustainable and inclusive economy through entrepreneurship. Applications for Agora Partnerships’ 2017 Accelerator program are now open. Apply here.


Social Enterprise
business development