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Big Idea 2014: Entrepreneurship Without Boundaries

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We in the U.S. love to think of "The Next Big Thing" as a great trend or shiny new object or platform. It is a wonderful thing about our culture, in fact, that we remain so hopeful and excited by the innovation we unleash.

For me, however, the next big thing is less about the gadget or capability, but what they are unleashing in human behavior here at home and, now and forever, around the globe. And that such innovation can and will in the future will be created anywhere and everywhere. The Next Big Thing thus will be a mass and global wave of tech-enabled entrepreneurship.

I have spent much of today reading through the mind-blowing posts of some of the world's greatest entrepreneurs convened in McKinsey on Society's Voices series Entrepreneurship Without Boundaries. It brings to bear in one place, perhaps as well as anywhere, the revolution in our midst.

Societies, everywhere, are creating bottom up innovation and problem solving unleashed by both unprecedented access to technology and frustration that traditional top-down government, business and non-profit institutions are not keeping up. And at the same time, these same top-down institutions have an unprecedented and historic opportunity to embrace the entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs who are making a difference, strengthening their communities, creating jobs and offering entirely new windows of opportunity.

The Middle East, where I have recently focused, is a lens to what is happening around the world. In only the last several years, entrepreneurs are inventing apps to crowd-share navigation of traffic-clogged Arab cities and creating online platforms to crowd fund startup ideas. They are launching video platforms offering classes in languages, math, and computer programming to supplement often-inadequate formal education. They are building enterprises that use solar energy to add arable land or create fresh water. They are testing countless initiatives in health and wellness.

The Arab world has a collective GDP the size of India’s, and a per capita GDP nearly twice that of China. To reach the region’s growing population of digitally savvy consumers, local entrepreneurs are building e-commerce capacity and innovating in mobile payments. With the world one click away, entrepreneurs who were once confined to local markets can reach virtually any market connected to the Internet.

And as I argued in the series, the key is that while none of us can predict clearly the future, two realities are all but guaranteed. First, there will be a lot more -- millions more, billions more -- of people with a lot more technology on their person. Estimates of 5 billion smart phones in a decade don't merely mean better phones, they mean two-thirds of humanity with a supercomputer in their pocket. Second, there is no going back once this capability is unleashed.

The great entrepreneur Fadi Ghandour, who is founder of the Middle East and Africa logistics juggernaut Aramex and a leader in the entrepreneurial revolution in the region, writes in A New Framework to Mobilize Mobilize Corporate Entrepreneurship that the private sector can put rocket fuel into the engine of entrepreneurship:

The private sector remains the least active player in this highly energized environment. While most companies at least pay lip service to the importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR), the private sector as a whole retains a reputation for maximizing profit, seeking shareholder value above all else, and divorcing itself from the challenges and ailments of the communities that it serves... I would like to shift the conversation toward creating jobs and promoting entrepreneurship, two areas in which the private sector can play a central developmental role. In short, companies need to move beyond CSR and embrace corporate entrepreneurship responsibility -- CER.

Global entrepreneur star Richard Branson argues that government too must play a role or be left behind:

Governments around the world should figure out ways to put more capital in the hands of entrepreneurs in order to drive economic growth, broaden the tax base, and create jobs. Special attention should be paid to young female entrepreneurs, who often face many more barriers that limit their access to credit, markets, and social networks. And yet, we know that women reinvest more of their earnings into the health and education of themselves and their families, which has a valuable multiplier effect that we all, men and women, stand to gain from.

Venture for America CEO Andrew Yang notes what can happen here at home if we imagine what would happen if Silicon Valley moved to Detroit:

Imagine if the same talented young graduates who now tend to pursue law or finance careers on the coasts were instead joining start-ups and early-stage companies around the country. Even allowing for a high rate of failure, I think we would see dramatic results with regard to new-company formation and innovation in these cities. In turn, these new companies would give urban economies a much-needed boost.

These are a few of the many provocative gems not of worlds coming, but of worlds here -- at our finger tips unleashed by many Next Big Things available now -- which offer unprecedented and new ways to build sustainable and hopeful futures. Anywhere, and for all. One doesn't get much bigger than that.

Originally posted on Linked In on December 11, 2013.

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