A farmer holds up a smartphone with the AfriScout mobile app, giving pastoralists access to the satellite-generated maps. Photo by: Project Concern International

Time and again, humanity has overcome the challenges it has confronted through determination, innovation and hard work. Never has that been more evident than in the decades following the end of the Cold War. Since then, nearly 1 billion people have lifted themselves out of extreme poverty. 

When my husband, Steve, and I served as Peace Corps Volunteers in Samoa 35 years ago, nearly 70 out of every 1,000 children died of malnutrition and related diseases. Today, that number has been cut in half, and average life expectancy around the world is 10 years longer than it was when we served. More than 18 million people with HIV now have access to life-saving antiretroviral drugs and the disease is no longer a death sentence in many parts of the world. 

There's more. Since 1995, the average income of people living in developing countries — excluding China — has doubled, after accounting for inflation. That means that, on average, the real income of hundreds of millions of people in the world's 100 poorest countries has doubled. 

That progress isn’t just remarkable, it’s absolutely unprecedented. And we can expect these positive trends to continue and even accelerate if we all work together to bring the right tools, technologies and investments to the last mile. This is why I am so glad to see governments, investors, corporations, foundations, NGOs and individuals coming together in new and creative ways to help unleash the innovative power and entrepreneurial spirit of communities around the world.

Skoll World Forum: Key takeaways

The 2017 Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship focused on stories of finding common ground.

There is, of course, so much more to be done. And we stand at a crossroad today, as the nature of the United States’ engagement in the world is in question. But at the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship last week, I was reminded of the remarkable promise innovation and social enterprise offer in accelerating development progress and solving some of the world’s most complex challenges in partnership with others.  

Time and again, we have learned that times of uncertainty are opportunities in disguise. Communities that take charge of their own future ensure the solutions they develop generate income and opportunity. With access to tools, capital, training and technology, they can be sustainable for generations to come.

Fostering innovation and entrepreneurship in partnership with others is at the very heart of our work at Project Concern International. Throughout East Africa, pastoralists are losing their herds at staggering rates, as traditional grazing areas have experienced drought and erratic weather patterns. Partnering with Google.org, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the World Food Program and the governments of Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania, PCI puts smartphones and satellite-generated maps into the hands of pastoralists, so they can plan the shortest routes to waterholes and green pastureland for their animals. As a result, herd deaths have been cut in half, and their incomes have grown.

Innovations to jumpstart the agricultural revolution

As part of the Spring Meetings, the World Bank convened young innovators with new ideas about how to make the agriculture and food systems work better for farmers, consumers and the environment. Here are four pioneering projects.

From Afghanistan to Zambia, women are leading the charge to end poverty. Participation in savings groups and access to mobile banking creates key linkages for women to start, or expand, their own businesses, bring income to their families and become powerful agents of economic and societal transformation within their communities.

And subsistence farmers are using technology, such as drones, to map the topography in flood-prone areas, so they know where to plant their crops, dig for wells and create areas for watershed. As a result, the farmers have higher crop yields to feed their families and take to market.  

Innovative, entrepreneurial, community-driven initiatives like these are changing the global landscape. Through investments and partnerships that reach to the last mile, communities are building better lives for themselves and their families.  

Our country has been at the forefront of innovation, investment and partnership for development for many decades, and our leadership is critical to future progress. Maintaining this commitment is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do. By helping other countries build stable, prosperous economies that generate opportunity at the last mile, we ensure our own prosperity and security.  

As the debate about America’s role in the world takes shape in the coming months, let us take heart in the belief that big, seemingly insurmountable challenges offer unparalleled opportunities for progress when we work together to amplify the innovative power and entrepreneurial spirit of communities around the world.

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About the author

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    Carrie Hessler-Radelet

    Carrie Hessler-Radelet is the president and CEO of Project Concern International. She served as the 19th director of the Peace Corps from 2012 to 2017, and as deputy director from 2010 to 2012.