Viewpoint: The Next Big Idea May Be Growing Far From Silicon Valley
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made his first trip to Africa this summer with stops in Nigeria and then Kenya. In June, the Chan Zuckerberg initiative—the philanthropic foundation of Zuckerberg and his wife Dr. Priscilla Chan—invested $24 million in Andela, a company that trains top software developers in Kenya and Nigeria. This trip and investment is a departure from the prevailing mindset in Silicon Valley, where top venture capital firms are investing in companies making products and services—like monthly deliveries of cannabis products or on-demand set-up of personal karaoke parties—to address increasingly minor “first world” problems with some of the country’s best talent.
True innovation now comes from places and people that are typically overlooked by Silicon Valley—for example, from capital-constrained places—and maybe it always has. As Sand Hill Road continues to hold its unicorns dear, you’ll have to look much further east or west or south to find new (or at least newly recognized) sources of innovation.
Often times, breakthroughs come from resource-deprived environments. That’s what my organization, Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE), has learned in Rwanda. Our first initiative, SHE28, aims to make affordable maxi pads, since the existing ones cost girls a day’s worth of wages. To keep costs low, we turned local waste material (banana fiber) into absorbent fluff to replace the most expensive part of the pads. With that material, we were able to use minimal amounts of water, which is a scarce commodity in Rwanda, and electricity, which is expensive. Compared to products made by multinational companies, ours is environmentally sustainable—at a “moneyball” price.
- Health Care