Ben Powell

Latin America in the Spotlight, Part 5: Ben Powell Explains Why Granada Matters

Editor’s Note: The Miami Social Enterprise Conference kicked off today in Miami. Stay tuned for updates, an interview with its founder and a wrap up later this week. In the fifth entry of Latin America in the Spotlight, Agora’s Ben Powell explains why next week’s ANDE Latin America Conference marks a landmark for the industry in the region.

On March 24 – 26, over 100 representatives from over 50 organizations across Latin America are convening in the colonial city of Granada, Nicaragua for the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs’ (ANDE) inaugural regional conference, a venue that holds huge promise to put entrepreneurship on the development agenda in some of the hemisphere’s poorest communities.

The setting is auspicious. After Haiti, Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and there are few places where innovative entrepreneurs are more needed than in this country. With investors and development organizations looking for new models to support sustainable capitalism throughout all of Latin America, the meeting is timely.

The conference aims to build the entrepreneurship movement in Latin America by bringing together development organizations, fund managers and funders. While microfinance and large-scale businesses in these countries have markets that function reasonably well and are supported by professional industries, the same cannot be said for the small business sector. The ecosystem that supports small and growing businesses is on life support in places like Nicaragua throughout the hemisphere.

These communities need a serious injection of energy, coordination, investment, trust, and partnerships to lay the foundation for entrepreneurship to flourish. They need a professional class of local men and women who can work together to create a self-sustaining environment that encourages innovation, risk taking, and entrepreneurial vision.

As new pools of impact capital form to invest in companies whose contribution to society extends beyond the bottom line, there is increased urgency to find, train, invest and support those (too few) entrepreneurs who run formal economy businesses that, through their success, address social and environmental problems (we call these people “impact entrepreneurs”). Supporting this key group means also creating conditions conducive to their success – regulatory reforms that support small business creation and investment, a media and culture that celebrate entrepreneurs whose businesses improve society, and local angel investors who support entrepreneurs outside of their own immediate family. In short, we need to create a viable ecosystem that supports impact entrepreneurs in the most difficult environments on the planet.

Creating this ecosystem is a tall order but in Latin America it will receive a major push from the Granada gathering. Tagged “Connect, Collaborate, Build the Field,” the conference will give the staff and leadership of ANDE organizations operating in Latin America the training, networking, and intellectual give-and-take necessary to build that ecosystem.

To scale and become institutionalized like microfinance did, people at all levels in the industry must know one another and have a certain degree of trust, of shared definitions, assumptions and agreements on best practices. Even if they are competitors at one level, they must be able to work together towards a common purpose. Most importantly, they must see that they are playing a pivotal role in something greater than themselves, and then take personal ownership for making the movement a success. This is what Granada is all about.

If impact investing is to become the force so many of us hope it will be, it is going to require local, trained professionals to find and inspire the kinds of entrepreneurs the planet so badly needs. One of the biggest constraints to the impact investing industry, the lack of entrepreneurial human capital, will be solved not by investment funds but by the men and women coming to Granada and others like them across the globe who are building the industry from the ground up.

Granada is also important because the conference is taking the case for entrepreneurship directly to regional banks, governments, local development organizations, and critically, the regional media, aside from helping train and build trust among regional staff and leaders.

For the entrepreneur movement to reach its enormous potential, its members will need to extend their culture and know-how far beyond the halls of Washington or Amsterdam to the regional leaders, staff, entrepreneurs and policymakers who are ultimately responsible for the model’s success. To build the field, conversations between industry leaders in the north and the south are vital, as are the conversations between the movement’s leaders in the south and entrepreneurs, banks, development institutions, and governments.

Through the Granada conference, these conversations just got a much larger megaphone.

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