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How We Enable Local Drone Entrepreneurs and Businesses

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August 12th, 2020

Image from i OS 3

What if the use of emerging technologies for social good exacerbates inequality? We know that the vast majority of so-called “Technology for Good Projects” are foreign-led, top-down, and techno-centric. So foreign drone companies and manufacturers are often contracted to implement these projects in far-away countries they know next to nothing about. This doesn’t mean that we’re anti-foreign companies. It does mean we’re pro-local companies. And not just any kind of local company but instead locally owned and locally-managed companies. But this may still not precisely describe what we have in mind. The following are said to the executives of the top startups in Kenya

Kenyan Startup Founders Image via Robert Alai

So let’s be a tad more specific. We want to see local companies owned and led by entrepreneurs who are actually from and based in the country in which the company was established. Again, this doesn’t mean we’re anti-foreign entrepreneurs. Life is more complicated than binary thinking. We simply want to see more truly local companies. Talent is evenly distributed, but opportunity certainly isn’t. When we talk to local entrepreneurs across the Flying Labs network, none of them are looking for a handout. What they want is equal opportunity. They’re asking for a global economy that is fundamentally fairer. They’re looking for new opportunities, new solutions, new skill sets, and new startup opportunities. They want to be included. 

But you saw what the startup scene looks like in Kenya. According to one study, a white foreign founder is 47,000% more likely to be funded in Kenya than in the United States. What’s more, of the top 10 African-based startups that received the highest amount of venture capital in Africa last year, eight were led by foreigners. Don’t even get us started on the difference between male and female founders. This needs to change—all of it.

Graphic via Emanu, www.emanu.se

This is why we launched our Entrepreneurship Program soon after WeRobotics was founded. We’ve run this program with Flying Labs in both Nepal and Tanzania, and we’re now rerunning it with Flying Labs in Senegal and Panama, given how successful the program has been. In Nepal and Tanzania, the program led to the launch of 6 locally-owned businesses offering drones as a service. One of these fully-owned Nepali companies, DroNepal, has become a regular partner of Nepal Flying Labs and WeRobotics. In 2019, they took the technical lead on this joint medical drone delivery project, which focused on TB reduction. They also partnered with us on this humanitarian drone project in Nepal and India (the latter with India Flying Labs). Over in Tanzania, the locally-owned company Agrinfo partnered with Tanzania Flying Labs on this joint agriculture project. We’re grateful for the opportunity to now work on this entrepreneurship program with Senegal and Panama. 

This program is not a “side event” or an “add-on” to our work on systems change; it is central. What’s more, we also support and advise local entrepreneurs outside the Flying Labs network as demonstrated by our Unusual Solutions competition. In addition, we advise existing cargo drone startups outside the Flying Labs network who get in touch with us from countries like Kenya, Senegal, India, and Colombia. We want to play our part in helping local entrepreneurs create local jobs and local businesses. What’s more, we want to actively drive new clients and business opportunities to them. These opportunities would otherwise exacerbate inequalities by going straight to the usual suspects in the Global North.

We’ve launched this site to document how we shift power with local experts. We’ll use it to share the model we’re co-creating and co-implementing with Flying Labs in ~30 countries. We’ll also report on our progress, learnings, and mistakes.

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