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Published: February 28, 2012
 / Spring 2012 / Issue 66

 
 

Linda Rottenberg’s High-Impact Endeavor

Rottenberg says that her proudest moment was when the editor of a leading Brazilian dictionary told Endeavor Brazil that thanks to its efforts, the dictionary was incorporating the word empreendedorismo, or “entrepreneurship,” in its next edition.

From “Charming” to “Important”

By 2003, Endeavor had reached an inflection point of its own. Its four country affiliate offices had helped create 8,562 jobs at 97 companies across Latin America, with annual revenues totaling $332 million. Mass media coverage began to increase; a Harvard Business School case study followed.

Intrigued, Warner Music Group chairman and CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. joined Endeavor’s board. “When I witness the power of Endeavor’s model to pioneer entrepreneurship and to create opportunity, inspiration, and economic growth, I am convinced that Endeavor is instrumental in catapulting emerging markets out of international aid and firmly into international investment,” he says.

Yet Bronfman was not without reservations. “I believe in the model,” he told Rottenberg, “but I think it’s charming. If I am going to commit to this organization and get other people involved, it needs to become important.” Rottenberg got the message. To become “important,” she believed, Endeavor would have to increase its rate of global expansion. Together with the board, she established a target of operating in 25 countries by 2015 — an exponential increase in the breadth of the organization. If the plan succeeded, it would put Endeavor on the map, both literally and figuratively.

In June 2004, Endeavor opened an office in South Africa. Nearly a decade had passed since the end of apartheid, but its aftereffects could still be felt. Extreme differences existed between the incomes of whites and blacks, and only 10 percent of startups were created by black entrepreneurs. Unemployment was at 31 percent. Despite these challenges, Rottenberg believed that South Africa had the creativity, drive, and talent necessary to emerge as a global innovation hub.

Malik Fal, Endeavor South Africa’s managing director, shared his goals in 2009 with a national newspaper: “We need to think about making entrepreneurship ‘cool’ and encourage young people not just to look for a job in the government or in a company where they will take a salary and that’s it,” he said. “It’s about creating a nobility of real entrepreneurship, not cronyism. It’s about finding a product, seeing an opportunity, building a business, employing people, and creating wealth in the true sense of the word — free of prejudice.”

Over the next few years, Endeavor’s South African entrepreneurs created 6,000 jobs in a broad range of industries. Their companies, which grew at an average annual rate of 25 percent, were responsible for innovations that include a biometric security system designed to prevent fraud in African banks.

Endeavor’s global expansion plans continued. By 2006, the organization had established offices in Colombia and Turkey; Egypt and Jordan followed. An Indian affiliate was established in 2008, but it failed to garner sufficient support and closed its doors a year later. “When it’s not getting pulled in locally, we know that it won’t work. We would rather pull out, and be pulled back in if and when it’s right, than push the model on [the region],” Rottenberg says.

Looking Ahead

Rottenberg views Endeavor’s expansion as part of a larger trend in which social entrepreneurship moves into the mainstream. In recent years, she argues, several high-profile individuals have helped create a tipping point of sorts for the concept.

In 2006, U2 front man Bono morphed from musician to social entrepreneur with the launch of Product Red, a global campaign to fight AIDS in Africa. “In an instant, social entrepreneurship became cool,” Rottenberg says. Later that year, Muhammad Yunus’s Nobel Peace Prize for his work in the field of microcredit gave the movement a recognizable leader. In 2008, Bill Gates launched his vision for creative capitalism, “where business and nonprofits work together to create a market system that eases the world’s inequities.”

 
 
 
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Resources

  1. Thomas Friedman, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005): Bestseller that describes the context of globalization in which Endeavor emerged, including an account of Rottenberg’s work.
  2. C.K. Prahalad and Stuart L. Hart, “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid,” s+b, First Quarter 2002: Seminal article by the late globalization expert and management thinker on business opportunities in the developing world.
  3. Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else (Basic Books, 2000): A classic analysis of the cultural and institutional impediments to entrepreneurship in the developing world.
  4. Endeavor’s website: Features case studies, statistics, a blog, and more.
  5. For more thought leadership on this topic, see the s+b website at: strategy-business.com/global_perspective.
 
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