Everyone A Changemaker: Social Enterprise Conference with Muhammad Yunus.

November 14, 2008

“If we don’t do it, noboday else will.” Muhammad Yunus’ words echoed over a captivated crowd of students, professionals, and social entrepreneurs. Yunus opened as the keynote speaker for the conference honoring the 2008 Tech Laureates, for “Technology Benefiting Humanity” at Santa Clara University. Muhammad Yunus opened, explaining that his work started with a “simple idea, and a simple action.” Yunus founded the Grameen Bank (http://www.grameen-info.org), a bank dedicated to serving the poor. The Grameen Bank went from one village, to now having over 7 million borrowers. Yunus has since expanded the Grameen initiatives into IT, education, irrigation and health.

Yunus emphasized the importance of mindset; of how we make our minds. As we grow, we need to set our minds to lead us in the right direction, to help, to empathize and to believe. Many people told him his ideas could not be done; their minds were set in a different way. Yunus had confidence in people, he believes every human is an entrepreneur, given their chance. He explains, sitting down with a beggar and understanding their story, gives him confidence that they can work out of it. Grameen is owned by the poor; he puts the bank in the hands of his lenders. His confidence in the poor may seem risky; to that he explains, “just because I don’t know, doesn’t mean I can’t try.”

He talked at length about the idea of social business. He explained business solely driven off of profit, assumes people are very one-dimensional; but they’re not. Social business allows people to express they’re selfless side in they’re work. He defines social business as a non loss, non dividend venture with a social objective. His visions for the future include a social stock market, a social wall street journal; where investors and entrepreneurs are motivated by their return on social impact.  It may seem crazy to some, but it poses many interesting ideas. Why aren’t we concerned more with our gain on social impact when valuing a business? Some  controversial points in his views, are whether a social business should be profitable; Does it limit the talent and motivations necessary for driving social business forward?

Bill Drayton, the founder and CEO of Ashoka (http://ashoka.org), was the next speaker. Ashoka builds an amazing community and network of powerful social entrepreneurs to collaborate across the world to make a holistic change. He talked about the difference between business as usual and social enterprise. He argues that there should be a difference in the type of management, measurements, etc and that we shouldn’t try and mold social enterprise into standard business. Which makes me wonder… social enterprise thrives because they implement a lot of the practices that make business successful. So where is the line; how close can social enterprise really come to competitive business models without losing what makes them unique and powerful in the first place…?

Drayton emphasized the need for people to “give themselves permission”. He described an Ashoka fellow as giving himself persmision to change the world. It’s amazing how much things can change when people believe they can make a difference.


Part One: The Assassination of the Third World

October 17, 2008

At what point did the term “third world” become a cultural slur? Rising anxiety surrounding this nomenclature seems to have coincided with a number of events in the late 1980s and early 1990s: the U.S. assault on Panama; the beginning of a long period of jobless growth in the U.S.; the fall of the Soviet Union (“the Second World”). With the collapse of the ostensible global hierarchy, and a rising necessity for the U.S. to maintain relationships with nascent, burgeoning nations to sustain jobless growth, the terminology seems to have been quickly replaced with more strategic ‘phrases du jour’: developing countries, emerging economies, etc. But Vijay Prashad argues that this liberal nominalism missed the entire significance of the Third World, the ideals it originally represented, and how it was assassinated.

Last week I attended a lecture given by Prashad, Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College, genre-busting political and social historian, and prolific author. In his most recent work, The Darker Nations: A Peope’s History of the Third World, Prashad explores the notion of the Third World rather as a intentional ‘project’, originating with the first sparks of anti-colonialist rebellion in the 1920s and dying in the embers of the global debt crisis of the early 1980s. The objectives of this project, which was hoisted to global significance by post-colonial intellectuals and leaders such as Nehru of India, Castro of Cuba, Nkrumah of Ghana, Mandela of South Africa, was to develop a universal platform for newly emancipated nations to come to the table, in the United Nations and elsewhere, with the countries to which they had for too long been subordinate. These leaders held strong to their beliefs that a new world order would require peace (disarmament), economic and trade reform, and justice (gender and racial equality).

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2008 Social Capitalist Awards

October 6, 2008

Fast Company is my favorite business magazine, hands down.  Every year, the magazine chooses 45 Social Entrepreneurs that are changing the world.  Some of the top picks include organizations that have been highlighted in the Market-based Approaches to Poverty course, like Acumen Fellows, KickStart and Scojo Foundation.  Definitely check out the list if you’re interested in working for an innovative social enterprise – I’ve got my eye on a few of them as well!

The role of design and social impact

September 30, 2008

Another fantastic round of speakers at our weekly seminar series – Market-based Approaches for Reducing Poverty. This time the speakers were our very own senior lecturers: Jocelyn Wyatt of IDEO’s Design for Social Impact and David Lehr of Mercy Corp’s Social Innovation team.  While Jocelyn and David have done a great job facilitating dialogue with other speakers during class, it was really interesting getting to hear about their own experiences and background.

Jocelyn, and her colleague Sally Madsen, kicked off the session with an introduction to IDEO’s design approach and how it can be applied to achieve social impact in developing countries.   Development is a topic we’ve heard about many times before, but this time Jocelyn and Sally emphasized a different perspective -a bottoms up approach, talking directly to the people being affected, and coming in with no preconceptions but an open mind and a willingness to listen.  The ideas weren’t necessarily revolutionary, but sparked the “a hah!” and “well, of course that makes sense” moments of insight several times throughout the presentation.  A couple of examples:

  • Place individual behavior in the broader context (e.g. don’t ignore the role that culture plays, as illustrated by Yang Liu’s East vs. West)
  • Realize that design trade-offs are necessary for different audiences (For example, both IDE and KickStart have irrigation pumps. IDE pumps are made out of bamboo and are affordably priced to the mass market. In contrast, KickStart has a more reliable, but expensive metal pump.  Both products serve the same need, but with completely different business models).
  • Understand that owning a business is risky and most entrepreneurs in developing countries would prefer a more steady source of income if given a viable alternative

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First day of class beating my expectations

September 3, 2008

Day 1 of the new GIH Speaker Series – “Market-Based Solutions to Poverty”…how can any MBA—especially a Haas MBA—not be interested in this class given the title? Well, if the first class was any indication, it’s not going to disappoint.

This class, which was bursting at the seams, was the brainchild of my good friend Roxanne Miller, who didn’t join us for the kickoff as she was trekking around somewhere in Africa. She’s, you know, cool like that. But we were joined by two international development gurus – David Lehr, who will be running the actual course, and guest speaker George Scharffenberger, who heads the Richard C. Blum Center at Haas and as such has purview over all things international development at the school.

Lehr, who has spent time with Acumen Fund and is now with MercyCorps, expertly and passionately set the stage for the course and shared his overarching views on development. He then turned over the reins to Scharffenberger, who stole the show with his remarkably entertaining survey of the major modes of development and schools of thought over the last half-century.

It was an atypically hot late August afternoon in Berkeley – and the overflowing room of mostly first- and second-year full-time MBAs was noticeably engrossed as George walked us through the field to which he’s dedicated his life—and thus has an incredible knowledge base in—in a single hour. As someone getting increasingly interested in international development despite having no real experience in it per se, I found it to be a fascinating (and informative) look back. George drove home the point that, while prevailing development approaches have evolved over the years (and many efforts have been largely futile), it’s incumbent on us – the next generation of change agents – to really understand the history of development and what has and hasn’t worked. There are lessons to be learned from successes and failures, and we can’t (and shouldn’t) be reinventing the wheel.

That seemed to make a lot of sense to me. I was sold.

And George was a special treat for me given the crazy connections my family has to him – which he (uneasily for me) chose to mention at the very outset of his talk. My dad worked with him for years at an NGO outside of D.C. called Volunteers in Technical Assistance, and my stepmom was in the Peace Corps with him in Senegal!

Small world. Even when your workplace is literally, well…the world!

I felt the stares of my classmates bear down on me when he mentioned this, expecting me to be some kind of expert in the subject matter, which, again, I am not, but it was no big deal. I, like all of them and like my dad, stepmom, George and David, am all about playing my part in alleviating poverty and improving people’s lives. We were all bound by that shared interest and passion, and the excitement and connection in the room was palpable.

I’m super pumped for the rest of the class. The speakers and readings lined up seem well-thought-out and credible, and I can’t wait to dive deep into this newfound interest of mine. The class certainly got off to the best start imaginable – the stuffy room and lack of seats notwithstanding.

-Omar Garriott, 2nd Year Full-Time MBA

FallA Speaker Series…Market-Based Solutions to Poverty

August 26, 2008

I couldn’t be more excited to announce a new speaker series for FallA that GIH has been helping organize along with two Acumen Fund Alumni, David Lehr and Jocelyn Wyatt.  The speaker series is titled: Enterprising Solutions: Market-Based Approaches for Reducing Global Poverty.

You can read all about the class including the specific topics and speakers for each week.  This class is going to be an excellent forum to discuss and learn about these newer market-based approaches to development.  My goal is to make the class as inter-disciplinary as possible by inviting students from across the campus to join the debate and dialogue about these topics.   We want to use this class to help students meet others who are interested in these same areas, regardless of their discipline.

This speaker series is the result of a partnership between GIH and two excellent ambassadors to this field: David Lehr and Jocelyn Wyatt.  David and Jocelyn have volunteered their time to lead lectures at the beginning of each class and used their fantastic network to recruit some top-notch speakers!  I can’t thank them enough for their dedication to making this class happen.

I look forward to seeing you in class!

-Roxanne Miller

GIH Co-Chair

BiD Network Visits Campus

November 15, 2007

Yesterday Global Initiatives and the Blum Center co-hosted the founder of the BiD Network for an evening of discussion about providing access to capital for SMEs in developing countries.

The BiD Network is a social enterprise based in Amsterdam that aims to contribute to sustainable economic development by stimulating entrepreneurship in developing countries. They do this by hosting a number of business plan competitions (called BiD Challenge) in several developing countries with the help of local NGOs. They also have an online BiD Network which connects mentors from Europe with entrepreneurs in developing countries.

Thierry Sanders and Koen Wasmus shared with us their plans to transition the organization from running business plan competitions that provide limited prize money to providing ongoing access to capital by creating a deal-flow model linking entrepreneurs and investors more immediately.

The BiD Network isn’t the only organization looking into the issue of capital for SMEs. Google.org has partnered with Technoserve to run a number of business plan competitions branded Believe, Begin, Become in a number of developing countries. It will be interesting to see if these organizations can collaborate to serve the SME customers in these regions in a coordinated fashion.