SEATTLE — Led by Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (GSB), the Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies (Seed) is working to end the cycle of global poverty. Through a year-long training program, Stanford Seed provides business leaders in developing countries with the tools and skills needed to improve and grow their companies. Seed is active in East Africa, southern Africa, West Africa and most recently in India.
Seed was launched in 2012 following a $150 million donation from Robert and Dorothy King, the founders of King Philanthropies, an organization whose mission statement is to “alleviate extreme poverty by magnifying the impact of high-performance leaders and organizations.” Seed is one of five initiatives supported by King Philanthropies.
By working with business leaders, Seed’s goal is to improve the overall growth and development of economies in developing countries, reducing unemployment and poverty. In 2015, the 20 countries with the fastest-growing economies were in Africa and Asia, highlighting the potential of these regions.
Seed Gets Its Start in Africa
Although it is led by Stanford’s Business School, Seed is supported by all seven Stanford schools, and has 25 Stanford faculty members that travel abroad to train local business leaders. Students from 14 different academic programs at Stanford volunteer as interns, and Seed also hires coaches who volunteer on a yearly basis to provide one-on-one mentorship.
To explain why he was eager to volunteer as a Seed coach, James Crotty told Poets & Quants, “To make a lasting impact on poverty, we need to help people help themselves and create economic growth. And that’s what Seed is all about.” Similarly, Seed coach Hans Nilsson discussed how Seed’s goal of creating “proper” jobs in developing countries inspired him. He explained that even when unemployment rates are low, the jobs available often do not pay enough for families to feed themselves, causing them to remain in poverty.
Stanford Seed conducts its programming in Accra, Ghana; Nairobi, Kenya; Gaborone, Botswana and Chennai, India. The program is open to CEOs and founders of for-profit companies that have an annual revenue between $150,000 and $15 million. Participants are charged $5,000 for the year-long curriculum that includes strategy building, accounting, value chain innovation, marketing, finance and investing, business ethics and human resources.
After the program, Seed continues to work with the business leaders through the Seed Transformation Network. Former Seed participants are invited to leadership groups, training workshops and networking events, and can continue receiving support from Seed consultants and Stanford students as they implement their new business plan.
Successes of Stanford Seed
To highlight the success it has had so far, Stanford Seed reports that 62.7 percent of Seed-trained business leaders have created new jobs. It also notes that 58 percent do business with other Seed participants, 86 percent have more customers and 57 percent have increased their revenue.
GoSolarAfrica is a company founded by Femi Oye that installs, owns and operates solar home systems as well as innovative cooking stoves that use ethanol gel, as opposed to regular fuel, which can cause respiratory issues. After participating in the Seed program, Oye secured $1 million in funding and sold more than 300 stoves, making an impact in the lives of more than three million people.
To increase its impact, Seed’s goal is to continue expanding to developing countries around the world. In 2017, Seed expanded to India, its first initiative outside of the African continent. For its first year of programming, Stanford Seed selected 45 Indian companies from different areas, including energy, retail, education, financial services, healthcare and agriculture. The Dean of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, Jonathan Levin, explained to Inc42 that they “selected India because of the high number of promising entrepreneurs with exciting businesses, and the potential for our Seed Transformation Program to support those businesses in their expansion.”
In regards to the expansion, Jesper Sørensen, an executive director of Seed, told Poets & Quants, “We are five years into our journey, and just getting started. We believe—and have seen firsthand—that this unique model can help some of the most dynamic business leaders in these regions drive the kinds of firm growth that underlies sustainable regional prosperity.” He added that they are “very eager to see its impact in India.”
In addition to providing training for business leaders in Africa and India, Seed funds and supports the Stanford Center on Global Poverty and Development (CGPD), which conducts research in developing countries. The purpose of this research is to help leaders create policies that will improve the livelihoods of the impoverished, contributing to global efforts to reduce poverty and its effects. Like Seed, CGPD involves faculty and students from multiple Stanford schools, allowing for a diversity of methodologies and perspectives.
With the programming conducted by Stanford Seed, business leaders in Africa and India are able to improve their companies, create more jobs for local populations and produce and sell products and services that have the ability to improve quality of life and boost the economy. This work, in combination with research supported by Seed, is essential to the fight against global poverty. The continued growth and expansion of Seed will positively affect developing countries around the world.
– Sara Olk