Entrepreneur Looks Beyond Africa's Problems To Focus On Solutions

Play associated audio

Each week, Weekend Edition Sunday brings listeners an unexpected side of the news by talking with someone personally affected by the stories making headlines.

Vital Sounouvou comes from Benin, a small country in West Africa. To help promote global trade in Africa, he founded the company Exportunity.com after some sobering advice from a college professor.

"When I was 16, I graduated from high school and I started college," Sounouvou says, "and the first thing the professor told me: 'After the three years you'll spend here, you won't find a job, so you better create your own company.' "

Exportunity is an online platform that connects producers with traders. It allows a farmer in Benin to sell his products to a buyer in South Africa — or even the U.S. — with just a cellphone.

Sounouvou was one of 500 African leaders chosen to be part of President Obama's Young African Leaders Initiative, which met in Washington this past week. He tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer that his company was inspired by sites like eBay, but adapted Exportunity to the African market.

"We built the only mobile application that works on all types of mobile devices, including non-smartphones," Sounouvou says.

In Africa, Sounouvou says, there are 700 million mobile phones, but a large percentage of them are not smartphones, especially those used by farmers.

"Almost 70 percent of whatever crop is produced in Africa is wasted because the producers have no way to get the product to market," he says.

Sounouvou says that after bad deals with other countries, including China, the U.S. has an opportunity build a new trade relationship with African nations.

"We see America as a hope ... to build a genuine relationship based on trust and cultural understanding," he says.

Sounouvou says focusing only on the problems in Africa — war, poverty and disease — it's hard to come up with change and innovation. He says what's needed is less focus on the problem and more focus on solutions. One of those solutions, he says, is empowering people.

"We need to empower people economically," he says. "When somebody has food to eat, he can think about innovating."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Remembering Robert Swanson, Advertising's 'King Of Jingles'

Robert Swanson revolutionized American advertising and wrote some of the most memorable ad jingles of the 1950s and '60s for products ranging from Campbell's Soup to Pall Mall cigarettes. He died at 95 July 17 at his home in Phoenix, Ariz.
NPR

More Than Just Saying 'Cheese,' Hundreds Sit Test To Become Official Experts

The American Cheese Society will begin proctoring its next Certified Cheese Professional Exam in Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday, during the group's annual conference.
WAMU 88.5

Democratic National Convention Day Two: Uniting The Party

An update on day two of the Democratic convention: Bill Clinton takes the stage and ongoing efforts by party leaders to build unity.

WAMU 88.5

How To Help Teens And Children Fight 'Tech Addiction'

Many parents and therapists say obsessive internet use is a very real problem for some teens and children. But the term “internet addiction” is controversial and not officially recognized as a disorder. How to help kids who compulsively use computers and mobile technology.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.