After approving the peace accord meant to bring an end to nearly 60 years of armed conflict, we Colombians are far from letting our guards down. In fact, our state of peace is a variable that may be entering one of its most volatile periods in recent history. For a general picture of some current risk factors that contribute to its drastic variation, consider this:
- Since 2002, more than 70,000 individuals have given up their arms and are in urgent need of opportunities to securely reintegrate into civil life. At the same time, over 6 million victims are demanding justice and reparations.
- Bringing technical support and protecting our rural economy is one of the main priorities for creating a stable post-conflict environment. However, inequality remains rampant and over 40% of Colombia’s 113 million hectares of agricultural land belong to less than 1% of its people.
- The urgency behind relocating displaced communities from fragile areas is quickly leading to unregulated migration patterns that could introduce new social and environmental problems.
- Land redistribution comes with new infrastructure demands that risk unbalancing the fragile equilibrium of some of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet. While the end of the conflict does open doors to a new era of conservation in Colombia, it also means that natural resources, previously out of reach, become targets of new economic opportunities.
Colombia is an impressive example of how peace, planet and prosperity are inherently interconnected issues that cannot be solved in isolation. We need to collectively and effectively set in place permanent and sustainable capacities that address issues such as rural development, migration, justice, employment, education, health, wellbeing and environment with similar degrees of urgency and priority. Most leading voices in global development agree that advancing entrepreneurial approaches is the most effective way to take on that challenge.
The good news is that Colombians – possibly motivated by the perceived weakness of government and institutions – are problem solvers by nature. Today, the country is one of the most prominent technological hubs in Latin America, and one of the countries with the highest numbers of innovative startups worldwide. Hundreds of private and public programs have emerged to support entrepreneurial initiatives, but – as recently discussed during the Global Innovation Summit in Bogota – most of these initiatives work in isolation and continuously change their focus to attract new entrepreneurs while effectively remaining at a beta testing level.
In general, entrepreneurs – especially those in urban settings – can find a certain degree of initial support, but a hyper-competitive environment and lack of continuity hinders collaboration and capital-efficient growth.
On the other hand, social entrepreneurs – the subset that combines an economic mission with an aim to use the market as a tool to drive development – face additional challenges. Besides a systemic and widespread misunderstanding of their for-profit enterprise’s dual nature, the perceived risks resulting from their social dimension are not weighed well against the value of their social or environmental “return.” For example, selling solar panels to the bottom of the pyramid may not seem productive unless we can integrate the value of the public benefits that stem from increased wellbeing and security into the equation. Both government and investors disadvantage the narrative of social entrepreneurs and decrease their capability to access risk capital when these public benefits are ignored.
As a result, accessing capital funds, particularly at an early stage, is extremely difficult.
Social entrepreneurs and innovative, scalable ideas aimed at doing business in ways that benefit society are, without a doubt, one of Colombia’s best bets to reducing our “peace volatility.” However, this will only be possible if we can enable them to meet their missions at scale.
In order to do so, we will find a first subset of these entreprenurs, support them and effectively bridge the collaboration gap between venture philanthropy, public funding and investment to start investing early stage risk capital into game changing ideas.