Konstantin Zvereff explains why information is a cash crop on the SSIR blog

The blog post, Information as a Cash Crop, by Konstantin Zvereff, originally appeared on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog on September 11, 2012.

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In East Africa, access to accurate, timely information is improving the livelihood of entrepreneurial farmers.

Jerry Kaplan—American serial entrepreneur, executive, technical innovator, and author—says the five biggest mistakes that entrepreneurs make are having unclear goals and an unclear mission, trying to prove that they are smart, becoming greedy, hiring people they like (rather than people they need), and not knowing when to let go. I agree! But I would add one more. I live in an environment where lack of information is a driver of entrepreneurial failure. And good information can drive success.

I work for Village Enterprise, a nonprofit microenterprise development organization in East Africa. Village Enterprise is like an angel investor for entrepreneurs living in extreme poverty. Because we provide grants rather than loans, we do not receive a financial return, but we do fund more than 2,000 new businesses a year and provide training and mentoring to over 6,000 entrepreneurs during one-year periods.

As you can imagine, the profile of our entrepreneurs is dramatically different from those in the United States. Our business owners are completely committed to their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to start a business. As a result, they are also extremely risk-averse. Not earning an income affects very important life factors: you cannot take your children to the doctor, pay their school fees, or feed your family. Therefore, the choice of business is tremendously influenced by fear of failure. Until recently, Village Enterprise’s business owners relied on past experiences and anecdotal decision-making processes to launch their businesses. The majority of these businesses are agriculture-related. I’ll give you three examples.

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Konstantin Zvereff
Senior Director of Programs and Operations

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