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USAID Seeds Innovation: 15 Social Entrepreneurs Making a Difference

Faith, 11 years old, carries baby Richard to a Kidogo Center, enabling her to go to school. Photo courtesy of Kidogo.

By Tahalia Barrett, Global Partnerships Advisor, U.S. Global Development Lab, USAID

Picture this: A farmer in Nigeria needs to plow her field, but does not have the labor to do it. Using her mobile phone, she sends an SMS message, and within days, a tractor arrives. She can now plow her field 40 times faster than manual labor, and at one third of the cost. And, the tractor owner earns a profit as well. This innovative shared economy platform is more than a great idea; it is a startup called Hello Tractor, founded by Jehiel Oliver – just one recipient of a Global Fellowship award from Echoing Green, sponsored by USAID’s U.S. Global Development Lab.

Through our “Priming the Pump” partnership, the Lab has funded two classes of Echoing Green’s Global Fellows. The goal is to prime the pump for global social entrepreneurship by supporting individual entrepreneurs, fostering the growth of social entrepreneurship ecosystems, and increasing awareness and support for social innovators in developing countries.

With interests that range from the “Uber for tractors” to rights for the visually impaired, the 2015 Echoing Green Global Fellows’ innovations are tangible examples of potentially transformative solutions that provide essential services, create jobs and reduce poverty often through market-based solutions.

I recently spent time with a number of Fellows at Echoing Green’s New Fellows Retreat –referred to as “the boot camp for new Fellows” – listening to their stories, and learning more about the inspiring work they engage in around the world.

Wendell and Etienne
Global Fellows Etienne Mashuli and Wendell Adjetety used their personal experiences as motivation to help post-conflict African youth through the Tujenge Africa Foundation they established in Burundi.

“I remember the first time I did really well in school,” Etienne shared. “My father was so proud, he gave me a loaf of bread…I did well in school until my uncle was shot.” Having survived the Rwandan civil war and genocide, Etienne escaped a cycle of poverty through quality education later in life.

Wendell and Etienne began the Tujenge Africa Foundation to catapult post-conflict African youth upward through quality education, leadership and peace-building.

Afzal and Sabrina
Afzal Habib is motivated by solving complex challenges, and particularly by applying business strategy to address big global issues. His partner, Sabrina Premji, is driven by a desire to provide high-quality and affordable early childhood care. After seeing the dire conditions in the informal baby care centers of Nairobi’s slums, Afzal and Sabrina established Kidogo.

“The smell was the first thing I noticed,” said Sabrina. “As I walked forward into a dark room, I felt something brush my foot, and when I reached down, I saw it was an infant. There were at least a dozen infants in one small room…”

Afzal and Sabrina launched Kidogo in 2014 as a sustainable and scalable social enterprise that is working to transform the trajectory of children living in urban slums by providing care and education.

USAID is funding 15 2015 Global Fellows that are creating catalytic change. In addition to those mentioned above, they include

  • Aleem AhmedLove Grain—connects Ethiopian teff farmers with international markets by building partnerships with farmer cooperatives and supporting the supply.
  • Katy Ashe and Edith ElliottNoora Health—shift the health paradigm by training at-risk patients and their families in India with high-impact health skills to improve outcomes and save lives.
  • Sara Leedom and Julienne OylerAfrican Entrepreneur Collective—work with incubators, accelerators and investment funds to support young entrepreneurs in Africa by providing capacity building, mentorship and direct financing to grow their enterprises.
  • Mohammed Dalwai and Yaseen KhanThe Open Medicine Project—save lives in under-resourced communities in South Africa, India and Pakistan by providing healthcare workers with free and open access to relevant guidelines and clinical support tools using mobile technology.
  • Sara MinkaraEmpowerment Through Integration—empowers blind youth in Lebanon and Nicaragua by providing life skills and emotional support through inclusive education and recreational programs.
  • Matt AlexanderSuyo—unlocks the transformational impact of secure property rights by making it easier and more affordable for low-income families in Latin America to formalize their property.
  • Pranav BudhathokiLocal Interventions Group—solves last mile governance problems by creating efficient feedback loops between governments and affected citizens of South Asia. 

Within the Lab, we believe that good ideas can come from anywhere, but entrepreneurs and innovators need the resources and opportunities to thrive. There is no doubt that social entrepreneurs will continue to change societies, communities, economies and nations for the better, and we are committed to enabling promising ideas and fostering strong social entrepreneurship ecosystems worldwide.


Priming the Pump is a global development alliance with General Atlantic, Newman’s Own Foundation, The Pershing Square Foundation, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, and Echoing Green. This four-year, $4 million public-private partnership invests in early-stage social innovators pioneering new models and solutions for global development challenges. The partnership’s goal is to “prime the pump” for global social entrepreneurship by supporting more global entrepreneurs, and by fostering the growth of entrepreneurial ecosystems that support social innovators in developing countries.

Fellows receive up to $90,000 in funding over a two-year period to realize and advance their innovations. Additionally, Fellows participate in leadership development events, receive mentorship from leading business professionals and become part of a global network of leaders. To date, the Lab has supported more than 29 Global Fellows from 20 organizations working in the developing world.

About the U.S. Global Development Lab: The U.S. Global Development Lab’s mission is to produce breakthrough development innovations by sourcing, testing, and scaling proven solutions to reach hundreds of millions of people, and to accelerate the transformation of the development enterprise by opening development to people everywhere with good ideas, promoting new and deepening existing partnerships, bringing data and evidence to bear, and harnessing scientific and technological advances. The Lab proactively seeks to build partnerships which leverage the combined skills, assets, technologies, and resources of the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to deliver sustainable development impact.

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