10/12/2010 02:23 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Calling Extraordinary Young Entrepreneurs to End Poverty

American undergraduate and graduate students are starting businesses in rural Africa that combat social problems and alleviate poverty. This phenomenon is facilitated by ThinkImpact, the nonprofit organization that I run out of Washington, D.C. that helps young Americans catalyze social businesses in rural Africa. ThinkImpact is currently searching for extraordinary applicants to begin their journey to Africa.

Each summer, ThinkImpact hosts the Innovation Institute Scholars Program, a 10-week immersion experience in rural South Africa and Kenya. The Innovation Institute gives the best and brightest American students the training and guidance to start businesses in rural Africa. The social power of these businesses lies in their ability to employ community members and address pressing social problems.

An example of a business that is currently taking flight is Mungano Soap, based in Kayafungo, Kenya. Alexandra Crosson, who graduated from Central Michigan University, helped the Kayafungo Mungano Women's Group, which comprises some 35 women from villages across Kayafungo to start a soap business. In the pilot run, Mungano Soap produced 250 bars of soap from local materials and sold them in the community market, improving access to sanitation for approximately 500 people. Every single bar of soap was sold during the first business day.

I am convinced that it's time for market-driven approaches to poverty alleviation. Instead of focusing on what a community needs, Innovation Institute Scholars galvanize the assets that a community already possesses. Instead of the traditional top-down model of development, ThinkImpact's social businesses leverage the skills of community members, leading to incredible new ideas, sustainable growth and lasting progress.

Prior to leaving for Africa, selected applicants convene in Washington, D.C. for a pre-departure training workshop. Once in country, scholars engage a comprehensive curriculum that includes language classes, a homestay experience, market research, business development and excursions. The ten-week curriculum culminates with four weeks to work on starting a social business with a community entrepreneur. Scholars may then apply to become ThinkImpact fellows, and work stateside for nine months on developing their social businesses, before returning to Africa on a year-long, fully-funded fellowship to implement the business model.

The journey to Africa for many of the most talented students in the country will begin when they apply in the coming months. The early round application deadline is December 1, and the final round deadline is February 1.

This blog was written with support from Scott Gallagher of ThinkImpact.