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Massachusetts Institute of Technology Legatum center for development & entrepreneurship

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Below is an article from the Legatum Center

2021 Legatum Fellows: Overcoming Challenges and Making an Impact

2020-2021 was an exceptional year for the Legatum Fellowship. Even as the most well-established businesses struggled during the pandemic, starting a new venture was even riskier, if not folly. But the 2021 Legatum Fellows have grit. Not only did the cohort adapt to a remote environment that kept them from their peers and target markets, but they also managed to push their ventures forward by developing their products, raising funds, and building partnerships despite travel restrictions. In fact, many ventures grew stronger in light of the pandemic. Fellows pivoted their businesses and redoubled their efforts as COVID-19 proved the urgency of the high-impact solutions that their ventures offer. The 22 Fellows are addressing pressing questions of infrastructure, food, livelihoods, and quality of life in Africa, Latin America, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Here’s what they are working on:


Though many around the world are able to enjoy the conveniences of modern life, billions of people around the globe lack dependable access to basic infrastructure. 2.2 billion people lack safely managed drinking water, and 789 million people lack electricity. In the developing world, renewable energy is in even shorter supply as only 12% of the 21.4 billion spent developing alternative energy is invested in lower-income countries. In addition, effective waste management is challenging in resource-light environments as low-income countries collect only 48% of solid waste in cities and 26% in non-urban areas. The 2021 Legatum cohort is tackling these global challenges by finding affordable ways to provide essential water, energy, waste management, and financial infrastructure to people in Africa and Latin America:


Because of COVID-19 production and supply disruptions, food insecurity reached a 5-year high in 2020. 155 million people experience acute food insecurity in 2020, which is 20 million more than in 2019. Small-scale farmers, who represent 40-85% of food production in developing countries, have seen their incomes fall during the pandemic as supply chains have been interrupted. The 2021 Legatum Fellows address these issues by creating solutions that would allow farmers to sell more and consumers to access more affordable, healthy food in South Asia and Africa:

Quality of Life

The pandemic has reset priorities around health and wellness worldwide. Healthcare has become a top priority across the globe. However, the pandemic has highlighted the shortage of medical professionals. More than 40% of countries have fewer than 10 physicians per 10,000 people, and 55% of countries have fewer than 40 nursing or midwifery personnel per 10,000 people. COVID-19 has also given rise to another pandemic as domestic abuse has risen worldwide during quarantine. This year’s Legatum Fellows have taken a multilayered approach to improve the human condition. Their ventures provide accessible healthcare, diagnosis, and counseling resources to people across the developing world, as well as imagine new ways to mobilize the financial resources to contexts in need:


Securing a dependable livelihood is a challenge only exacerbated by the pandemic. In part, many struggle to find suitable employment because they lack the skills needed by the job market. In lower- and middle-income countries, almost half of job seekers are either over- or underqualified for the opportunities available in their area. COVID-19 may only stress these estimates due to disruptions in education. 500 million students have not been able to access remote learning, and by 2030, 200 million children will be out of school. Even those who have been able to secure regular income in the past have struggled during the pandemic. Sellers who have depended on in-person marketplaces have needed to digitize to stay in business. The social commerce market, where transactions are facilitated by social media, has grown enormously and is expected to reach USD 1948.5 billion by 2026. The 2021 Legatum Fellows are working to connect people with the capacity building skills to find employment and new opportunities to grow their businesses online:

The 2021 cohort graduates at a moment in time where their solutions are needed more than ever. We are proud are of their achievements and look forward to the more inclusive, equitable, and prosperous societies that their innovations promise.

Congratulations to the 2021 Legatum Fellows!

If you want to learn more about the Fellows and their ventures, join us for our Demo Day celebration on May 18th, 2021 from 9:00-11:00 AM EDT.

This blog post was co-authored by Regie Mauricio & Megan Mitchell of the Legatum Center.

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