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Africa | Entrepreneurship 'unlocks people's minds'

Issue: "Africa, Inc.," Oct. 10, 2009

Calvin Echodu, founder of Earthwise Ventures and Pilgrim Uganda, restores Uganda's infrastructure by rebuilding the ferries that used to provide Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania with 30 percent of their economy during British colonial rule. Now the ferries have rusted and wrecked, the infrastructure disintegrating along with them. Echodu is working with U.S. investors to build and send ferries to Uganda for construction. He plans to create a management team in Africa that one day will build the ferries there.

Andrew Rugasira, Ugandan founder of Good African Coffee, buys coffee directly from a network of 14,000 African growers, markets it internationally, and then reinvests 50 percent of the net profits in sustainable community development.

Called "the Bill Gates of Ghana," Herman Chinery-Hesse operates Africa's largest software company and works to bring ecommerce into Africa's farthest regions by enabling African entrepreneurs to sell their products and receive payments via cell phone. "Africans don't need to beg," he says.

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Ariff Shamji left his job as an investment banker in New York City to operate AAA Growers in Nairobi, Kenya-a company that grows, processes, and exports vegetables to the United Kingdom and other European countries. Seven years after starting out as a microfinance project, it supplies 60 percent of Britain's broccoli market, employs over 2,000 workers, and builds police stations and schools.

Gerard Sina, founder and CEO of Enterprise Urwibutso, has grown his company from a small bakery to Rwanda's largest integrated food manufacturer selling wine, juice, and hot peppers. It has built a fully integrated juice plant, along with public schools and street lights in the rural town it has revitalized through agribusiness.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame leads a country that is becoming a model of African development. He has pushed entrepreneurship in the wake of the Rwandan genocide, meeting with leaders from Microsoft, Google, eBay, Starbucks, Costco, and Merrill Lynch. "Government activities should hinge on entrepreneurship because entrepreneurship unlocks people's minds, allows innovation to take place, and allows people to implement and to exercise their talents," he argues. In 2008, Rwanda's GDP grew by over 11 percent. Analysts expect Rwanda's annual exports to grow from $22 million to $117 million over an eight-year period.

As an undergraduate at Cornell University, Eleni Gabri-Madhin found herself standing on a chair, screaming at students to stop throwing food because people in her country were starving to death. She became a World Bank economist and then returned to Ethiopia in 2004 to establish the Ethiopian Commodities Exchange, a marketplace where buyers and sellers can trade with transparency and quality assurance. Since December 2008, it has traded 136,000 tons of coffee, along with sesame, beans, and wheat-providing a new level of price stability and trade contracts for Ethiopian farmers despite the crisis in global finance and commodity prices.


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