Tag Archive for 'entrepreneurs'

Book Notes: In the River they Swim

In the River they Swim, available at Amazon.com

Among the benefits of attending I2I were the two books I snagged by presenters which have deepened my reading stack, though one made it to the top of the pile by virtue of cracking it open on the long subway ride from the Village to JFK.

And if I may: if there’s one must-read Summer book on entrepreneurship and development, “In the River they Swim” (“The River” from now on) is my cool and refreshing pick. First off, its a collection of essays, which makes it easy to dip in and out of. Second, its well written and edited, which means you’ll find the intellectual waters at a constant and cozy temperature. [Caveat: I'm precisely half way through the book; these observations may not hold. But I think they will].

A few thoughts.

  • Every student who wants to work in international development – whether commerce, government, academia, relief, etc – should read this book. The contributors come from a range of backgrounds and perspectives. What they share is a sense that the growth of domestic and international business activity is a cornerstone of development.
  • Its not just for students. The depth of the contributors’ experience in international development is impressive – essays from heads of state (Paul Kagame, Rwanda), leaders of multinational institutions (Luis Alberto Moreno, Inter-American Development Bank),  international business executives (Malik Fall, Microsoft), and global financiers (Michael Fairbanks, S.E.VEN Fund) – will appeal to the most pragmatic of professionals.
  • Think globally, act globally. “The River” challenges conventional wisdom about how to approach work as a development actor. It recognizes that today’s global economy turns on interdependence, and thus requires high levels of thinking and broad theaters of action. Its not a guidebook for the underachiever.
  • For business to survive, culture must thrive. One of the things I like about the book is that its contributors span the globe. While most have spent some time at elite intellectual centers, they speak from the homes where they’re grounded – Senegal, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Colombia… And many of the authors point to the benefits – and difficulties – of surrounding themselves, and others, with the broadest intellectual and talent base possible.
  • Reflection, praxis and anticipation. The book is divided into three sections: the first are essays that nurse out into important dynamics in international development, as seen from a range of actors – from cultural pluralism in the workplace to hard lessons learned about managing expectations – and more. The second section is less about lessons-sharing and more about advice-giving: the authors introduce intellectual models – tools and analytical frameworks – for better performance. The third section is a little ambiguous – not just because I haven’t read it, but with a quick scan it seems less focused – a pastiche of globe trotting anecdotes aimed at contextualizing(!) the global economy in ways that bring wealth creation vs poverty trap into some kind of resolution, integrate lessons from around the world into a coherent framework for, if not coordinated action, shared assault.

Learn more about “In the River they Swim.”

Three Myths About Entrepreneurs

In a recent survey of entrepreneurship (Global Heroes), the Economist proposes a narrow definition that I quite like (“someone who offers an innovative solution to a (frequently unrecognized) problem”) and identified five commonly held myths about entrepreneurs, at least three of which resonated with me. They are:

  • Entrepreneurs are “orphans” or “outcasts.” In fact, entrepreneurship is a social activity. While they may be more independent than the company player, entrepreneurs almost always need business partners and social networks to succeed. Related, entrepreneurship flourishes in geographic clusters, partly because entrepreneurship is a way of life in these areas and partly because infrastructure exists to support entrepreneurs.
  • Entrepreneurs are just out of short trousers. At least in the U.S., a recent study found that of 652 bosses of technology companies set up in 1995-2005, the average boss was 39 when they started. The numbers of founders over 50 was twice as large as that under 25. It will be interesting to dig up some figures both globally, and for the social sector.
  • Entrepreneurship is driven mainly by venture capital. Most venture capital goes into a narrow sliver of business: computer hardware, software, telecom, and biotech. The money for the vast majority comes from personal debt or “the three f’s:” family, friends and fools. Makes me wonder about the implications for microfinance and the social sector.

Obviously this is an incomplete picture – there are two more myths I found less helpful, and a much larger data set needed than a thumbnail sketch of entrepreneurial activity in the U.S. But its an interesting start. One of the bits that I’m interested in is the role that inducement prizes can – and likely does – play in encouraging entrepreneurial activity. TBC.