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How Entrepreneurs Are Helping the UN Solve Social Problems

3p Contributor | Wednesday January 8th, 2014 | 1 Comment

United Nations   Flickr - by AshitakkaBy Geri Stengel

In a world in which social needs seem to be ever-increasing, we need to be more creative in the way we solve these problems. One approach is through public-private partnerships, which are transforming the way we problem-solve at local, national and international levels. The United Nations is entering into these partnerships, too.

Elizabeth Gore (no relation to Al Gore) is working to support the UN on these initiatives. She is the first-ever resident entrepreneur at the United Nations Foundation and chair of UN Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurs Council. Entrepreneurs think differently, Gore asserts. They’re not bound by doing things the same old way.

“Entrepreneurs don’t see barriers,” she says. “To an entrepreneur, barriers are merely challenges that you climb over, slip under, go around or push through. Many entrepreneurs think globally and understand the importance of having a thriving community around them — corporate social responsibility is part of their DNA. Working with entrepreneurs on solving world problems is a natural fit.”

Every two years, Gore recruits a new group of 10 entrepreneurs to be part of the council and provide their innovative thinking to problems that, as a group, they decide to focus on. The latest council is focused on women and girls, among other issues. Research shows that when women are economically empowered, entire communities benefit. Women spend more of their income on food, shelter, healthcare, education and other family needs.

Entrepreneurship is a significant source of women’s economic opportunity – employment and income generation – for both urban and rural women in low-income countries, according to A Roadmap for Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment, a report by UN Foundation and the ExxonMobil Foundation.

Whether they’re running a big global company or a small local one, “entrepreneurs share a common mindset” and have an astonishing ability to persevere in the face of obstacles, Gore says. Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, calls it grit. Of course, entrepreneurs also are passionate, resourceful and creative problem-solvers.

One of the people that fits the entrepreneurial profile to a tee is Ingrid Vanderveldt, entrepreneur-in-residence at Dell and a council member. Vanderveldt has founded and sold a couple of companies. She is on a mission to empower a billion women by 2020 through business, policy and media. Being on the council is a perfect fit for Vanderveldt and the company for which she works.

Dell has made entrepreneurship its cause. Entrepreneurship and technology have the ability to change the world and Dell is committed to making that happen. Between 1985 and 2005, when the PC model was proliferating, “the percent of people worldwide living in poverty was cut in half,” said Michael Dell in his keynote at Dell World in December. “We’re going to keep doing what Dell does: making technology more accessible and affordable; providing more value and making it easier to use. We’re providing the infrastructure for the next billion people to rise out of poverty.”

Dell is also deeply committed to supporting women entrepreneurs with Dell Women’s Entrepreneurs Network, Dell Pay It Forward and the world’s first gender-focused, global entrepreneurship index, based on the Entrepreneurship and Development Index (GEDI) it commissioned last year. The research identifies barriers that women face in starting and scaling high-growth companies in 17 countries. I will be fleshing out this research by developing lessons-learned and best practices by women who overcame barriers in the U.S.

One UN Foundation initiative that Vanderveldt is particularly passionate about is Girl Up, which helps American girls raise awareness and funds for UN programs that help some of the world’s hardest-to-reach adolescent girls.

Successful women entrepreneurs tend to be more socially responsible and philanthropic than their male counterparts. A fellow gal-pal entrepreneur of Vanderveldt’s is Heidi Messer, co-founder, president and COO of LinkShare and and now chairman and co-founder of Collective[i]. She offered to host a fundraiser for Girl Up early this year. Naturally, Gore will be at the event with several other council members. That’s girl power at its best.

When entrepreneurs are faced with an insurmountable obstacle, we recite that childhood mantra: “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” It’s time we apply that mantra to solving social problems.

Image credit: Flickr/Ashitakka

Geri Stengel is founder of Ventureneer, which connects values-driven small business owners with the knowledge they need to make the world a better place and to thrive as businesses.


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  • Valentin Sommer

    Valuable information presented in a friendly way.
    I would like to know if my niece, 17 Y.O. and a half, can in any way to access any programs.
    She has many awards in IT competitions and her main power is to solve heuristic tasks.