I've been thinking about this idea a good bit: starting a (non-profit or profit-sharing) software company in an impoverished (but relatively stable) region. Because software can be developed anywhere, and has the potential to significantly boost a local economy. But of course, there are a number of challenges to be addressed.
is hard no matter what resources you have at your disposal. Such a thing could never succeed unless the product created was actually good. There have to be some core people who drive the vision and understand what their customers need.
For such an endeavor, leadership is needed that is committed to building the local community with the company, not lining their own pockets at the community's expense. This problem also ripples out into local governments -- when corrupt officials want their slice of the pie too. Problems of this category may not even come up until the company experiences success.
I don't have a lot of concrete thoughts here, but I know that cultural values can come in conflict with the day-to-day business operational needs. For example, island cultures sometimes have a concept called "island time" which conflicts with a typical business's set work schedule. The company should be adaptable to such things.
I will add here that there must be buy-in from the region. In a situation where there is outright resistance to embracing growth or the technology that enables it, there is a long uphill battle ahead. It would be best to invest the effort into a more amenable area, and wait for inevitable march of time to break down the resistance of the other.
Not many people are going to have experience or education with software. (This is not easy to get when you have no computer access.) It would be absolutely necessary to offer education from first principles, even if it was tailored to the specific techs used by the company.
I think for the first phase, only a few individuals would be selected (based on their aptitude and character) and trained. This would form the core team. This team would (just by doing the work) help form the core processes and culture of the company.
To both invest in the local community and perhaps sweeten the deal with local officials, the company could also offer open classes on technology basics. Having a workforce capable of performing standard office tasks will raise the interest of other businesses in coming to the area.
Semi-reliable internet could work, but utterly unreliable internet would make it very difficult. Most of the infrastructure would be on a cloud provider, so it is not so much that internet is needed for the software we develop. It would be more that we need internet as a dev resource as well as to provide support and fix issues. I think mobile internet could work depending on the area, but it may be too expensive for daily business use.
We would need phones as well. If the internet was only semi-reliable we might have to use mobiles or land lines. Otherwise VOIP could be used.
It could be that deals would need to be struck with local governments to add the infrastructure necessary. And infrastructure construction expensives be part of the initial startup cost of the company.
The equipment needed by software development can be pretty valuable. Especially for an impoverish area, the risk of theft can be high. This is not cultural indictment, but one of the hopelessness of poverty. If a person is literally starving, they need the food they can trade for my laptop more than I need my laptop. But this idea can often spill into less-dire situations and leave people feeling it is ok to take without asking when there is a high concentration of resources.
There would obviously have to be some physical security in place to deter thefts. But bars and locks do nothing to assuage the feeling of imbalance that comes from knowing there is a lifetime's worth of meals (in the form of, say, computers) locked away behind them. So I believe it would be critical to have an outreach component to the organization. Probably the shape of that outreach would be different depending on region. Maybe it is a monthly community meal or party. Maybe a "food closet". I mean after all, the organization we are talking about building is there to help break the cycle of poverty in the region.
Personally, I could not do something like this in an area with a lot of violence or revolutionary problems. The business risk is simply too large to consider.
On the other end of the spectrum, if the company is a run-away success, another crop of problems arise. Let's say our core team suddenly gets raised up to market value (of a large city in their country). The danger is that instead of building the region, we have divided these individuals from the community into pockets of wealth (relative to the area). This still positively affects the local economy... when they build their nice house or pay for services they could not previously afford. But it is not exactly the picture of success I had in mind.
I cannot presently think of a fair way around this scenario. These developers did their job and should enjoy the success of it. I think instead it becomes all the more important to hire the right core team members. People who are not thinking only of themselves. (The inability to consider the needs of others is what I call "short-term thinking"... if I deal selfishly with you today, what happens tommorrow when I find myself in desperate need of your help?)
Anyway, those are a few of my rambling thoughts.
Nice one up there @kasey
Exiting poverty will not happen overnight, one of the things we do at Techwheel is to imbibe the culture of long-term reward. Poverty to a large extent is a mindset game. A lot of things happens to this set of people during the course of training, one of which is the refinement of mind.
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