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Entrepreneurship in Transitioning Economies – Lessons from Professor Michael Goldberg
September 5, 2014

Professor Goldberg spent his entire career structuring and implementing global business operations. From September 9-11, 2014 Goldberg hosted a #YALICHAT where he connected with hundreds of African entrepreneurs in the YALI Network. 

South Africa held its first democratic elections in 1994. I was there, and what I learned has stayed with me throughout my business career.

Running a voter education workshop at Groenberg Secondary School, Michael Goldberg and five volunteers sit around a registration table.
Running a voter education workshop at Groenberg Secondary School, Grabouw, South Africa, 1994. Photo courtesy Michael Goldberg.

In a warehouse in Cape Town, I was working with a team of black South Africans, puzzling out a distribution plan for voter education materials. My colleagues, raised in the apartheid period, hadn’t had the educational opportunities I had as a fresh graduate from Princeton University. But they came up with the creative strategies we needed to distribute voter education materials to the people who needed them, something that had never been done in South Africa before.

Lacking reliable delivery services in the townships and remote rural areas, my South African colleagues knew how to tap into alternate distribution channels like mobile health units and informal taxis. Their entrepreneurial approach was a success, and their ingenuity was impressive.

Earlier this year, I worked with other entrepreneurial Africans in the virtual environment. I developed and taught a free massive open online course (MOOC) for Case Western Reserve University called Beyond Silicon Valley: Growing Entrepreneurship in Transitioning Economies. Silicon Valley is the region of California where the U.S. technology industry boomed, and this course went way, way beyond …. all the way to Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Zimbabwe. More than 23,000 students from 183 countries enrolled. Through a series of short, documentary-style videos, students learned how an entrepreneurial ecosystem has developed in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. A decade ago, things were dismal in Cleveland for any entrepreneur wanting to start a new business. We were losing manufacturing jobs by the thousands each year, as our old industries declined and no new ones replaced them.

In 2002, Cleveland was ranked last among 61 cities rated for entrepreneurs by Entrepreneur Magazine. In the course, we investigated the massive efforts by Cleveland’s business, philanthropic, and government leaders to reverse the trend and make the city a better place for new businesses and accelerate the growth of start-up companies in the region.

My MOOC also highlighted entrepreneurial perspectives from transitioning economies outside the United States. For example, Jovani Ntabgoba, the general manager of kLab, a dynamic accelerator in Kigali, shared his perspectives in several of the videos about how entrepreneurs are supported in Rwanda. Students from around the world shared ideas in our lively discussion forums regarding to how to enable the growth of start-up companies.

I am offering the MOOC again this October, and I would love to see additional students participate from Africa. I particularly hope that members of the YALI Network interested in entrepreneurship will consider organizing local events to have discussions on topics that coincide with the course. These could be held at local universities, accelerators, or other hubs of entrepreneurship and would enable MOOC participants to reflect on how the lessons of the course might apply in their community.Learn more about this course and how it may be of value to you on Coursera’s website

The YALI Network recommends online courses (MOOCs) from a variety of providers on a range of subjects. Find more courses here.

Interested in taking the next step with your business? Check out our #YALIEntrepreneurs page.

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government.