Big ideas don’t have to be big. That’s what the World Bank found with its Development Marketplace, a grant program for small projects that can lead to economic, health, environmental and social improvements in poor countries.
With a $108,000 grant, farmers in the Zambezi Valley of Zimbabwe found that surrounding their crops with a row of chili peppers kept elephants from trampling their fields. Not only did the peppers, whose smell elephants can’t stand, save crops and prevent dangerous clashes between man and beast, the farmers got a new crop to export.
In South Africa, water pumps powered by merry-go-rounds drew the bank’s support. Called Playpumps, the devises are installed at schools and playgrounds. As children play on a merry-go-round its spinning powers the pump, which pours water into a tank decorated with AIDS prevention messages as well as with ads that are sold to maintain the equipment. The Playpumps are more efficient and easier to maintain than hand pumps.
In Brazil, the bank financed a project to use discarded coconut husks to make decorative pots. This will stop the overharvesting of the endangered plant now used to make the pots while also stemming the flow of 4 million tons of coconut husks discarded on beaches, which contributes to the spread of tropical diseases.
Since 1998, the Development Marketplace has awarded more than $16 million to more than 330 groundbreaking projects. It showcases the best projects through global competitions and country innovation days.
“The Development Marketplace is a real opportunity to come together, with no bureaucracy, with no preconditions, and no preconceptions about each other, just about ideas and trying to see how we can help people. It is, in fact, the very best of development: people-based, partnership-based, with development impact,” is how World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn sums up the program.
The innovative projects are an example of venture capital and its potential to transform societies in a positive way. Rather than simply funding the next idea that is likely to garner millions of dollars for its originator, the Development Marketplace shows that funding small-scale social entrepreneurs can be a cost-effective way to improve the lives of the poor.