Andreas Widmer — Investing in Entrepreneurship & SMEs
President, The Carpenter’s Fund, Switzerland
We know that that that small and medium sized companies are what carry the economy... we really need to start focusing on how you grow that Missing Middle in emerging markets.
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Andreas Widmer — A Global Leader for Enterprise Solutions to Poverty
Andreas Widmer is the Director of Entrepreneurship Programs at the Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C. He also serves as President of The Carpenter’s Fund. He was previously the co-founder of SEVEN Fund, a philanthropic organization run by entrepreneurs who invested in original research, books, films, and websites to further enterprise solutions to poverty.
Andreas and his business partner Michael Fairbanks initiated the Pioneers of Prosperity Awards, a first-of-its-kind industry program that finds and promotes the best entrepreneurs in emerging markets.
Andreas works closely with top entrepreneurs, investors, and faith leaders around the world to foster enterprise solutions to poverty and promote virtuous business practices. He has developed entrepreneurial initiatives at the intersection of business and faith such as the Catholic Mental Models Project, a research effort through his social science research firm GSPEL LLC.
Andreas is a Research Fellow in Entrepreneurship at the Acton Institute and an advisor to the Zermatt Summit, an annual business leadership event that strives to humanize globalization. He also serves as an advisor to Transforming Business, a research and development project at the University of Cambridge. He currently serves on the advisory boards of the Templeton Foundation, Global Adaptation Institute, Spring Hill Equity Partners, Karisimbi Business Partners, and Catholics Come Home. He is on the board of directors at the New Paradigm Research Fund, Virtual Research Associates and the World Youth Alliance, a global coalition of young people committed to promoting the dignity of the person and building solidarity among youth from developed and developing nations. He was appointed by the Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty as a member of the Task Force to Advance Multireligious Collaboration on Faith, Health and Development, which presented its findings at the White House in November 2010.
Andreas is a seasoned business executive with experience in high-tech and international business strategy consulting and economic development. He was an executive in residence at Highland Capital Partners, a venture capital firm. He served as CEO of OTF Group (formerly part of the Monitor Group) and helped lead Eprise Corporation, Dragon Systems and FTP Software. He has worked extensively in the United States, Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America, and has brought more than 100 leading-edge technology products to market.
Andreas Widmer — Book and Articles on Development
An author on the connection between entrepreneurship, economic development and spirituality, Widmer blogs regularly at www.thepopeandtheceo.com. He contributed two chapters to the book In the River They Swim: Essays from Around the World on Enterprise Solutions to Poverty. A chapter entitled Ministering to the Pioneers of Prosperity was recently published in Springer’s Ethical Economy series book Free Markets and the Culture of Common Good. He has authored articles and been featured in various business and general interest media including the Financial Times, Bloomberg News, Sky TV, Kigali Times, FastCompany, Catholic TV, ZENIT, RomeReports, CNS, EWTN and First Things.
Andreas Widmer — Degrees and Pontifical Service
Andreas served as a Pontifical Swiss Guard from 1986-1988, protecting Pope John Paul II. He holds two business degrees from Switzerland, plus a B.S. in International Business from Merrimack College and an M.A. in Ministry from St. John’s Seminary in Boston. A citizen of Switzerland and the United States, he speaks English, German, Italian and French.
SMEs and The Missing Middle
Research has shown that in prosperous countries, 95% of all companies are small and medium-sized companies. They employ seventy-five percent of the entire workforce in places like Europe or, or America. They contribute— over fifty percent of all the GDP comes from SMEs, not from multinational large corporations. If you look at that same distribution in emerging markets, in poor countries, you see that there are a lot of very small companies and a few very large companies and nobody in the middle. Yet we know that it is this middle that carries the economy, that is how you grow an economy and create a middle class. That is called the Missing Middle. And one of the things we really need to start focusing on is how do you grow that Missing Middle in emerging markets; how do you get these small and medium-sized companies to grow.
It’s a culture of looking at something and saying, I’m going to take responsibility and solve this problem or solve this issue, or even, not from a negative perspective, from the positive perspective, to say, I have confidence so I’m going to realize this dream of mine. I believe that I can realize my vision and create a company and do it. That is, a forward looking positive attitude that comes out of your culture, and that is something that needs to be supported locally.
Aid vs. Investment
Consider this: Africa is 12% of the world’s population, yet it receives 29% of all aid in the world, yet only 1.4 percent of foreign direct investment. Africa doesn’t need more aid. Africa needs more investment.
Aid vs. Investment
You know, the famous line is that it takes the government three dollars to distribute one dollar, right? Maybe that’s overblown, but it sort of— it’s an indicator. So it takes the government three dollars to distribute one dollar, yet research suggests that for every dollar put into an SME [a small or medium enterprise] through a loan or through an investment, we create twelve dollars in the local economy. That equation, even if it’s half of that, is so good that we should really focus on investment and loans to SMEs.
Networks and the Poor
Being poor has nothing to do with one or two dollars per day. Being poor has something to do with being excluded from networks of productivity and exchange, that means cell phones, internet, banks, financial systems, educational systems, trading systems to be allowed to trade, to have free trade, to have products from here that are produced here, to actually be allowed into other countries. If we’re not allowing that to happen, you can’t have entrepreneurs here grow their companies properly.
The Global Oligarchy
What is happening in the world, in the world market is not capitalism. What is happening is not a free market. What is happening is not competitiveness. It’s actually more aligned with the principle of an oligarchy.
Where Does Foreign Aid Money Go
What I’ve seen is you basically have these huge organizations, these huge NGOs, coming to Africa in the name of solving poverty. And what ends up happening is that all those multinational corporations that are in the aid business, in essence they are in the poverty business. And like in any other business, if poverty is your business, more poverty is more business…” “The World Bank recently made a study where they said something like sixty percent of all the aid money stays in the donor country, because it goes to all of these consultants and people and this and that. Sixty percent of the entire money stays in the country that pledged it in the first place. That is not aid! That is the business of poverty.
Competition in the banking sector is a key if you want to have affordable lending. That doesn’t mean that it gets out of control and that things are being sold unjustly and untrue and, and you’re lied to. That has nothing to do with that. Competition creates lower level of interest for borrowing, and therefore, it helps the economy grow.
I would describe an entrepreneur like a person who sees an additional color. Everybody sees chaos; they look out, they see chaos. An entrepreneur sees patterns. That’s why often people think that entrepreneurs are crazy because they say I can’t believe that they are doing this, but they see something to perceive a pattern. Often people say, “Oh, everybody can be an entrepreneur.” That’s not true. I think one in a thousand is an entrepreneur because they have that talent of seeing something, seeing patterns where others see chaos.