Press Release: Inn...

Press Release: Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship Initiative Launched in Three Developing World Regions

Creating Sustainable Businesses in the Knowledge Economy

Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia to benefit from a four-year public-private partnership between Finland, Nokia and infoDev aimed at poverty reduction and achieving the Millennium Development Goals.


Friday, December 18, 2009, Washington, D.C

A new development program will soon bring much-needed expertise in assisting innovative, technology-driven Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurs in Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (ECA). The four-year program, valued at €11.9 million, known as Creating Sustainable Businesses in the Knowledge Economy, will focus on enhancing the competitiveness of SMEs in the information and communication technologies (ICT) and agribusiness sectors in particular, as well as the use of the mobile communications platform to grow content, services and applications for developing countries.

The program is funded by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland and will be implemented in partnership with Nokia by infoDev, a global development program housed at the World Bank. It will leverage infoDev’s existing program of activities in these areas. The three partner organizations created the program in an effort to foster the adoption of ICT technologies and innovative, technology-driven business models in developing countries, an approach that is known to have a transformative and long-lasting effect on economically, socially and environmentally sustainable development efforts.

The program will seek to create jobs; improve the three regions’ innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems; increase productive capacity in the targeted sectors; demonstrate the mobile platform as a powerful vehicle for development; and increase south-south and north-south partnerships among a range of stakeholders.

“The Creating Sustainable Businesses in the Knowledge Economy program is an excellent example of how public-private partnerships are making remarkable contributions to sustainable development across the world by bringing their unique perspectives and know-how to solve common problems,” said Kathy Sierra, World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development, who chairs infoDev’s Donor’s Committee. “infoDev, Nokia, and Finland each bring complementary expertise to the effort. I look forward to seeing the program’s long-term impact.”

“We are delighted to collaborate with Nokia, the World Bank and infoDev on this program. Finland’s approach is to empower developing countries by harnessing innovation to grow sustainable businesses and economies,” said Ambassador Kauppinen of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland. “This program is designed to address several of Finland’s key goals, including supporting sustainable agriculture, private sector development, promoting women’s entrepreneurship, connecting developing countries to the global information society, and harnessing innovation, science and technology for development.”

“Mobile technologies and applications are moving at a rapid pace, and nowhere is this more evident than in developing country markets, where take-up rates are soaring,” said Jussi Hinkkanen, Head of Government Affairs, Nokia Middle East and Africa. “Developing country users see their mobile phones as a tool to help them work, live and communicate more effectively. This program will enable the development of demand-driven applications by developing country entrepreneurs for developing country markets by helping them launch and scale their business ideas. Nokia is very proud to be part of such an important effort.”

The program will combine an inter-related series of global, regional and country level activities. Highlights include:

  • Creating three regional mobile applications laboratories that will incubate up to 10 new mobile applications each;
  • Establishing social networking hubs in selected countries in Africa, Asia and the ECA region to create opportunities for exchanges between mobile applications entrepreneurs and the wider industry;
  • Incubating and providing technical assistance to more than 100 firms in the agriculture and ICT sectors by establishing and strengthening small business incubators in countries such as  Mozambique, Tanzania, Vietnam and Cambodia as well as in the ECA region;
  • Delivering a program to encourage and increase the competitiveness of women entrepreneurs in Vietnam and Cambodia;
  • Removing barriers to investment in cross-border broadband infrastructure and public-private partnership opportunities in the ECA region;
  • Holding the 4th infoDev Global Forum on Innovation and Entrepreneurship in 2011 in Finland. The Global Forum is the largest gathering of the developing world’s innovation, technology entrepreneur and business incubator community. It focuses on leveraging innovation and entrepreneurship at the grassroots for economic development, job creation and social inclusion.
  • Generating major new resources and online tools that show the development community how ICTs and Innovation Systems can be meaningfully harnessed in agriculture and rural development projects.

Program Partners Bring Complementary Perspectives


infoDev has worked to enable enterprise creation and growth through small business incubation since 2002. Today, infoDev has a global network of nearly 300 business incubators, across nearly 90 developing countries, with a reach of more than 10,000 SMEs. In the area of mobile communications, infoDev has had a long track record of research and knowledge creation and is today viewed as one of the world’s front-runners in thinking on how to leverage mobile solutions for development. infoDev’s location within the Global Information and Communication Technologies Department of the World Bank Group gives it the opportunity to leverage the vast experience and reach of the entire institution across the developing world.

infoDev’s network of 285 developing country business incubators, which is now the largest across the developing world, has found that some 75 percent of developing country SMEs are still operating three years after they graduate from an incubator - a dramatically higher survival rate than for those companies that do not receive focused incubation assistance.

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MFA) of Finland is one of the thought leaders in the global development community on the Information Society and innovation, bringing specialist skills in the field of agricultural and rural development and forestry as well as in the application of mobile phone technology. Finland also emphasizes sustainability and environmental awareness in its development policy. Finland’s Aid-for-Trade (AfT) initiative seeks to enhance trading capacity in developing countries so that they can more effectively participate in the global economy. Its Wider Europe Initiative aims to widely promote stability and prosperity in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia, as well as the wider European region.

About Business Incubation

Business incubation provides growth-oriented start-up enterprises with a set of focused and inter-related business and capacity development services, designed to help them grow and compete effectively. infoDev has found that incubators can be important change agents in the innovation and entrepreneurship eco-system of developing countries: for banks, incubators offer a way of reducing risks to investing in SMEs; for policy-makers and regulators, they provide first-hand feedback on what is needed to stimulate SME start-up and growth; and for universities, they offer opportunities to commercialize research and expose student entrepreneurs to the real world of business.

About Mobile Solutions for Development

Today, the mobile network is the world’s largest distribution and communication platform, with more than four billion subscribers worldwide. Even in Africa, mobile phone service reaches more than 600 million people, and World Bank research indicates that mobile coverage could be extended to cover 97 percent of Africa’s population without public subsidy.  This offers an enormous potential to leverage mobile networks to extend know-how, services and transaction capability to those previously underserved.  For example, Voxiva, a company launched with an infoDev seed grant, and expanded with an IFC investment at a later stage, shows the impact of mobile applied in healthcare; Wizzit – a South African company - illustrates the power of mobile in extending financing services to those never before reached by conventional banks. This Program includes the establishment of mobile applications labs as a way of piloting new mobile applications to extended needed services to underserved populations.

About Harnessing Technology in Agriculture and Rural Development

The Green Revolution bypassed many developing countries because there was no platform for the dissemination of knowledge.  At the first stage of the agricultural value chain, farmers often have limited access to know-how and market information that can increase their yields, enhance the quality of their products, and enable them to obtain competitive prices on their inputs and outputs. At the second stage of this chain, innovative entrepreneurs that have ideas that could lead to value added agro-products often face enormous barriers to starting up a new business or growing it beyond a certain threshold. These include limited know-how and resources to tap into markets beyond their immediate vicinity. At both stages, the application of ICTs can make a big impact on competitiveness, by improving access to relevant and timely information, and increasing the speed of transactions.  

Contact: Ian Larsen, +1 202 458-1833 (o), +1 703 929 2099 (m),

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