From Hotel Uniforms To Life-Saving Water Filters: Evolving The Humanitarian Entrepreneurship Model
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
In recent years, investments in global public health have created opportunities for private innovators, technology developers, and business investors to join the fight against infectious diseases affecting people in developing countries. Such private entities are focusing their innovative platforms on developing technological breakthroughs for the most vulnerable people, often in the most extreme situations. As a result, a new business model, “humanitarian entrepreneurship,” is being shaped by innovators at all levels. Here, doing good is good for business.
The humanitarian entrepreneurship business model focuses on technology development for the poor. Opportunities within the humanitarian entrepreneurship business model are plenty. One of the best measures of human welfare is life expectancy. In the richest countries, average life expectancy is around 80 years, while in the poorest countries it’s about 40 years. That’s an intolerable gap, but it also represents a huge opportunity for private companies to get involved.
Companies following the humanitarian entrepreneurship model do not seek grants from foundations or other donors to develop products, technologies or concepts. The investments are all made by the companies themselves. The end users of the technologies are people in developing countries who receive technology and services free of charge. Payment comes from governments and donors like The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and, increasingly, faith-based organizations. Most of the products are given away for free to the end user.
My company, Swiss-based Vestergaard Frandsen–maker of mosquito nets and the LifeStraw–devotes its innovative platform to creating and deploying products for people in developing countries. But it wasn’t always the case. In Denmark, in the 1950s, the family trade was making work wear for hotel and restaurant workers. But even when I was a kid, I knew there was just no way that I was going to grow old selling shirts in Scandinavia.