Entrepreneurship in hard places

I took this excellent online class given by a Princeton professor (what a nerdy way to start posts by the way), called “Making Government Work in Hard Places” . The class tries to capture patterns and lessons learned from public policy experiences in “hard places” – counties, states and districts choked with weak institutions, corruption and rotten bureaucracies (I am sure we all know few countries like this) – and discuss cases of successful implementation of reforms, such as reducing diversion of funds in citizen services, preventing conflicts of interest, building trust, overcoming capacity traps through specific schemes or change of intensives. In fact, it shows that  “simple” steps can create large changes in difficult countries. Why don’t we have similar classes for entrepreneurs?
We should definitely design a decent and helpful curriculum for entrepreneurs in hard places. I am not an expert in entrepreneurship education, although I have been attending or remotely following few curriculum in Tunisia and the region. Some are of very good quality, but here what I have also noticed:

  • It is rarely designed by or with local entrepreneurs: Many of them are being given by international networks and/or non-local trainers using generic and replicable material. They are certainly of high quality but they quickly show their limits. I have still not seen trainings 100% designed and produced by local stakeholders and entrepreneurs;
  • It does not frontally address the issues, very related to the first point. Entrepreneurs in hard places do not only struggle with the “mainstream” problems – access to funding, access to market etc. – but they also have to face very specific and local ones, from corrupt customs to lack of trained engineers. They need support and knowledge on those very issues, and mentors from US and Europe are rarely familiar with them
  • It rarely relates to the incentives of the entrepreneur: Stories of entrepreneurs in the Valley rarely resonate with those in Egypt or the Philippines. They have different constraints, different incentives, different sources of inspiration. When I talk to entrepreneurs in India, in US or in Tunisia, the stories rarely match. Entrepreneurship education also needs to accept that.

Personally, I enjoy listening to podcasts such as this and this one. It is full of insightful experiences and ideas. On the other hand, I was wondering how  stories told by the founder of Task Rabbit- who had lunch with Tim Ferris and was mentored by the founder of Zappo – can be of use to an entrepreneur developing an app in the suburbs of Kasserine. The gap is so huge. I assume there is indeed a large “technical” overlap with regard to processes, but it needs to be complemented – greatly – with few hundreds of tips and local insights.
I don’t have a solution. I just think it would be great to start a portal or a class called “Entrepreneurs in Hard Places” with customized resources, like Jennifer Widner did for policy makers. Isn’t the lessons learned by someone struggling to open his business in Egypt way more useful to folks in Tunisia then the cover stories of Inc. Magazine?


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