Global Smarts: Cue the Innovation Generation

Jonathan Ortmans, President, Public Forum Institute

 If you ever pick up the Wall Street Journal, you have probably seen a series of IBM Smarter Planet advertisements.  These intrigued me and I clicked further.  The innovators behind the Smarter Planet campaign want to improve highly complex global systems by connecting solutions. With the message that getting smarter is possible across all our systems, they are looking for more efficient systems for electricity grids, water and waste management, roadways, health care and many other operations that impact our quality of life.  After being focused by weeks of heavy headlines on economic recovery, I found IBM’s message of being smarter energizing.

As Friedrich Hayek said “Society’s course will be changed only by a change in ideas.”  What can be most interesting about these times is the new global scale of innovation.  What was once a smaller world of people confined by geography and cultures is now a world of young media-savvy, fearless, informed and networked people. A new generation of creative people around the world is emerging as the solution designers for our most pressing global challenges and it is they who will innovate us out of this recession.

Ideas are abounding, but Thomas Edison reminded us the “value of an idea lies in the using of it”. We must now encourage more young entrepreneurs to translate their potential into success. The 2007 Harris Interactive Youth Pulse revealed that 40% of 8-21 year-olds in the U.S. have or want to start their own business. Moreover, 37% want to invent something. Young innovators are eager to develop new ideas by starting a new firm or by contributing to existing business’ entrepreneurial approaches. People are inspired by things like Smarter Planet and people like Kevin Rose (digg) or Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) who PDE profiles this week.

My recent experiences in Nigeria, Ghana, India and Kenya supported the 2007 Gallup Poll results on the entrepreneurial drive in these countries. In Nigeria, 67% say that they have thought of starting a business. Almost half of Nigerians said they actually plan to start a business in the next 12 months. In Kenya, Zablon Karingi Muthaka received at 27 years of age the Entrepreneur of the Year Award from Youth Business International (YBI). Zablon runs Beta Bins Waste Management throughout his local community, a slum on the outskirts of a Nairobi slum. He expressed his entrepreneurial spirit: "I want to be the Bill Gates of the waste management and environmental conservation industry." In 2008, then 29 years-old Ramu Uyyala from India received the YBI award for his growing plastic bag recycling business, M.R. Plastics. And finally, don’t forget the “Bill Gates of Ghana,” Herman Chinery-Hesse, who is an early investor in Internet cafes and founder of one of the nation’s first and largest software companies, SOFTtribe.

Not surprisingly, last November over 3 million young people participated in over 25,000 activities in exactly 100 countries during Global Entrepreneurship Week. The Week inspired young people around the world to explore their entrepreneurial and creative potential to solve problems.  More importantly, the Week connected young innovators from different cultures around the world to share their innovative ideas on how to tackle today’s key challenges.

We need more young people who have confidence in themselves and believe that being a smarter planet is the way forward. This morning, the Global Entrepreneurship Congress will assemble in Kansas City a powerful coalition of leaders from 52 countries to explore new ways to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs to unleash their ideas, take action and help jump start growth.  The Global Entrepreneurship Congress symbolizes the beginning of the campaign work ahead for thousands of organizations around the world who will host Global Entrepreneurship Week 2009 from November 16-22, 2009.  A global campaign for its day that mines the best ideas and inspires action.

Our global economy needs a massive infusion of new ideas.  Driving these ideas will be legions of courageous and creative entrepreneurs like Herman Chinery-Hesse who can create jobs, save economies, but most importantly offer us some better ways to be a “smarter planet”.
 
 

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