The entrepreneurial gardeners

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Science  12 Jun 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6240, pp. 1179
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac7414

In 2008, a Ghanaian entrepreneur established a drug company in her country. This motivated a young Ghanaian woman to study biotechnology, and a Ghanaian man, employed at a U.S. pharmaceutical company, to return to Ghana. In the past decade, enterprising young Nigerians with few resources went to China and found ways to bring cheap computers and other equipment home, allowing Nigerian students to access the Internet and learn. Profit-driven entrepreneurs like these, big and small, are promoting learning in low-income countries in different fields, including science and engineering. How can this process be furthered and accelerated in such countries?

“Entrepreneurs are gardeners who plant innovations in the economy.”


Entrepreneurs are gardeners who plant innovations in the economy. The growth and flowering of these innovations attract bees—scientists and engineers—and advance their skills, pushing them toward new techniques, discoveries, and careers. Subsequent entrepreneurs work on a richer landscape, and a virtuous cycle sets in. Through either innovations or competition, entrepreneurs empower the average person economically, leading to tax revenues for governments. Over time, an interlocking economic arrangement among entrepreneurs, citizens, and governments emerges that hosts scientists and engineers.

Every population has entrepreneurs who push forward to the extent possible. The tragedy of the past 70 years has been state bureaucracies impeding this natural push. This push can also be misdirected. In the 1960s, South Asian and African governments invested in universities to train students in science and engineering. These efforts did not lead to economic vibrancy, but instead came with state-dominated economies that suppressed commerce and entrepreneurship and kept citizens economically weak. Science and engineering bees flew to blooming Western commercial flowers. Today, about 70% of African-born immigrants to North America have a university education.

Fortunately, entrepreneurs don't just plant; they also transplant. A prominent example is mobile technology, which serves average citizens and has spurred thousands to study associated science and engineering. This market directly paved the way for another layer of ventures for the efficient movement of money, people, goods, and market information. These ventures are now giving rise to new industrial organizations, potentially affecting science and engineering and political economies positively.

How can entrepreneurship be promoted in low-income countries? To start, it must be seen as a natural force that enriches many—citizens, authorities, scientists, engineers, and other entrepreneurs. Because they generally recognize people as their source of sustenance, entrepreneurs direct scientists and engineers toward human needs and aspirations. Scientists and engineers then confront physical realities in new ways and advance their disciplines. A virtuous cycle ensues, multiplying knowledge and choices in terms of products, jobs, and careers. The best place to start is by introducing entrepreneurship training that includes courses in basic business education, the history of Western economic progress, recent entrepreneurial achievements in China and East Asia, discussions with successful entrepreneurs from high- and low-income countries, analysis of successful entrepreneurial trajectories, and competition among students on their ideas. Governments can improve regulations, establish equity and credit funds, and provide national recognition to successful entrepreneurs. Universities can galvanize and bridge these efforts.

Scientists and engineers solve important problems. However, entrepreneurs identify what is important, in terms of relevance to people and economic sustainability. In countries where economic resources are limited, it is the gardeners—focused on what will take root—who can entice, nurture, and direct the bees.

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