On Wednesday, Bill Clinton will present the Hult Prize at the Clinton Global Initiative meetings in New York. The $1 million award will go to a team of young social entrepreneurs with a business idea to improve lives in developing countries. The finalists this year include a group that has invented a chewing gum that slows tooth decay and another that has trained bees to diagnose diabetes. Some 10,000 college and university students worldwide applied; this year’s finalists represent schools that include MIT, York University, and the Indian School of Business.
The Hult Prize is just one of a number of awards recognizing young people keen to change the world, reflecting what inspires would-be world-changers these days. Forget bureaucracies, charities, foreign aid, and big multinationals, they might say, the best way to fight global poverty is through the right blend of innovation and business savvy. In its own way, this is simply a new brand of naiveté. The fact remains that poor countries can’t develop without a big, traditional private sector that creates jobs, and the smartest innovations can only go so far without functional governments to provide basic services and infrastructure.