Building Markets was founded by Scott Gilmore, a diplomat who specialized in conflict and post-conflict missions. In 2001, Scott took leave from the Foreign Service to join the newly deployed UN peacekeeping mission in Timor-Leste. Unfortunately, once on the ground he quickly grew frustrated with the international community’s inability to create jobs or generate an economic recovery, even though the operating budget of the UN was larger than the GDP of the country! Scott worried that the opportunity for a prosperous future for the Timorese was slipping away.
One day, Scott woke to the incessant banging and clanging below the window of his bedroom. All week he had been woken by his landlord, Senhor Antonio, hammering at the rusted-out hulk of a burnt bus. But when he went to slam his shutter closed, he paused in wonder. The wreck of a bus was now brightly painted, had new windows and wheels, and was receiving a new engine. That is when he had an epiphany.
Senhor Antonio was using Scott’s monthly rent to refurbish minibuses burnt in the conflict. Each month he would take that money and use it to hire local boys who he trained as mechanics and drivers. After a few months, Senhor Antonio was the biggest employer in the neighborhood and had a small fleet providing bus services across the country.
Scott realized that Timor-Leste’s future was not being built by traditional aid programs. Small entrepreneurs like Senhor Antonio were literally building it from the ground up, using the little amounts of international money that was leaking into the local economy -- like Scott’s rent checks. The private sector development programs of the aid agencies were nowhere to be seen. But nonetheless, local entrepreneurs were building Timor’s future. Scott decided that he needed to help people like Senhor Antonio if he wanted to make a difference.
After Timor-Leste, Scott worked in Afghanistan where he saw similar phenomena. The only jobs being created were by the aid money being spent through local entrepreneurs. That’s when he gathered an informal group of aid and peacekeeping professionals to share lessons learned in the hope of improving the economic and strategic impact of peace and humanitarian missions. In 2004, Scott resigned from the Foreign Service, and with a small amount of personal savings launched Building Markets.
Its mission is to build markets and to create jobs by championing local entrepreneurs and connecting them to new business opportunities. Initially operating with a staff of four, Building Markets soon began to expand and work closely with UN managers, donors, and international agencies. More than ten years later, Building Markets has operated in over ten countries, helped local businesses win $1.3bn in new contracts, and created 70,000 jobs.