Monday, November 26, 2007

An Internet Story - India Rail tickets

Its much easier to make reservations for travel in India from US than from India. Sitting here in Silicon Valley, I could make reservations on Indian Railways that professional travel agents in Delhi could not! This past week, I have personally experienced internet power. We are planning an India trip and for various reasons decided to take an overnight train. We contacted friends; asked travel agents but no luck- either no tickets available or try later- then it occured to us to try the internet ourselves- from the land of unlimited bandwidth - we were able to log in right away to a friendly Indian Railways screen, get all information, reserve, make payments and were done in ten minutes. I found out later that the travel agents in India also try to do the same thing - but in India where only one in 3 computers is networked and bandwidth is unrelible - they could not do it and eventully they do it through a courier - just like the old days!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

From Knowledge to Creativity Economy

For ideas on the new economy - Check out the Business week article Get Creative!: "What was once central to corporations -- price, quality, and much of the left-brain, digitized analytical work associated with knowledge -- is fast being shipped off to lower-paid, highly trained Chinese and Indians, as well as Hungarians, Czechs, and Russians. Increasingly, the new core competence is creativity -- the right-brain stuff that smart companies are now harnessing to generate top-line growth. The game is changing. It isn't just about math and science anymore. It's about creativity, imagination". Social entrepreneurs need this skills more than ever a they ntegrate technology with new user experiences.

Monday, November 12, 2007

BiD - connecting investors, entrepreneurs

The mission of the BiD Network Foundation is to contribute to sustainable economic development by stimulating entrepreneurship in developing countries. Thierry Sanders and Koen Wasmus have created an online investment platform and community to tackle the key problems facing investors wanting to help stimulate economic development in emerging markets. This year the BiD Network received 3,400 business proposals from over 100 countries. It operates competitions in Kenya, Tanzania, Philippines, India, Argentina, Columbia and Peru. All of this happens online though In addition to the business plan, over 3,700 active members contribute to the online community to help entrepreneurs in developing countries. In the first year alone the BiD Network assisted the start-up of almost 20 companies in developing countries that help reduce poverty and employ over 500 people.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Looking for Some Capital- Tech Laureates

Annually, the Tech Museum in San Jose hosts tech laureates award where the best of the best "humanitarians with business plans" are recognised. This year, as every year since 2001, people with mind boggling innovations with a potential to eradicate poverty, solve the renewable energy crisis, bring education to all, not to mention make healthcare affordable and accessible were recognised and honored. Everybody who is anybody in the field of social entrepreneurship awaits this event. A quick look at the website told me that so far 175 of these incredible innovations have been recognised. But, here is the big BUT why has poverty been increasing at the global level? Why are we still deploying fossil fuel based solutions for electricity production? Why are these innovations reserved for the poor who can't pay? I wish I knew the answer! I attended the day long seminar at Santa Clara University today (Technology for Humanity) where the tech laureates, foundations and representatives of multinationals talked about the difficulty of scaling socially motivated businesses. With the billions of dollars being invested in all sorts of tech businesses (Tesla Motors raised something like $100M for a 100K electric car) how do we get capital providers to take more risk in socially motivated businesses? Can we think of it as R&D for social impact? R&D that will eventually pay off not just socially but also financially? Can social entrepreneurs band together - sort of like mergers- instead of each one being individually heroic?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

How business must benefit community

Posted by Sujata Shyam: Part of building a neighborhood is developing the workforce the neighborhood. Residents who don't have steady employment are far more likely to be impoverished and to spend more time engaging in destructive activities. Social enterprises are finding ways to collaborate with other community stakeholders to match their own employment needs with residents who want jobs. This is a sensitive issue because residents generally believe that if businesses are moving into a given neighborhood, particularly one that is struggling, the business has a degree of responsibility to give back to the community by employing residents. I am lucky enough to be privy to this conversation in East Liberty, the neighborhood I've written about previously. East Liberty is in the process of developing a new community plan. The last community plan, an aligned vision of East Liberty stakeholders, was published in 1999, and is currently about 70% complete (according to ELDI, a major community development corporation (CDC) which is organizing the effort to create a new plan.) To create the plan, there are 8 task forces which will meet three times. The Pittsburgh Coro Fellows are serving as facilitators of these meetings, and I am facilitating the Workforce Development Task Force. The first set of meetings addresses problems regarding the task force topic, the second addresses solutions, and the third defines specific action steps and documents those who are taking responsibility for specific items. After all 24 meetings have been completed, the notes are compiled to create the new community plan. The three main points that came out of the first workforce development task force are the following:
1-Employers want to hire from the neighborhood, but they are having a hard time finding suitable candidates.
2-Potential workers want jobs that allow for upward mobility- not dead end jobs
3-Workforce development agencies ought to allow people to return to them for guidance over time, so that workers are supported in moving up from lower level jobs.
I'll let you know how the process is progressing at the end of October after meeting is ELDI's website Here is the website for the last community plan:

Monday, October 1, 2007

Competition: mobile technology for NGOs

Welcome to nGOmobile :: Taking mobile technology to the grassroots
This is a text message-based competition aimed exclusively and unashamedly at grassroots non-profit organisations working forpositive social and environmental change throughout the developing world. Tell your friends about it too. The prize is good and its easy to enter.
Why text-messaging? Mobile technology has the greatest reach - it goes where internet doesn't.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Fine Balance: Chain-stores vs. Local Entrepreneurship

Stories of development have similar themes whether the development is occurring in urban Southwestern Pennsylvania or rural India. One such theme, in a very basic sense, is the tension between outside investment and homegrown entrepreneurship. Outside investment often translates to large national or international chains or corporations opening new locations in a developing community. On the other side of the coin is homegrown entrepreneurship, which refers to smaller, locally owned businesses. The tension exists because sometimes larger chains make it harder for smaller businesses to survive, while benefiting the local economy less than a smaller store. A study conducted in Austin, Texas ( ) demonstrated that if $100 was spent at a large chain bookstore, only $10 would remain in the community. If that same $100 was spent at a smaller book store, over $30 would be recirculated in the community. Additionally, large chains are sometimes criticized for zapping a community of it's unique cultural identity. Each town looks exactly like the next if the same chains define it's commercial district. Of course, outside investment can be extremely beneficial and to a community as well, and perhaps an expedient way of economically growing a neighborhood. While striking a decent balance is an ongoing challenge, most will agree that supporting small, locally owned businesses is a worthy cause. East Liberty, the neighborhood I've been working in with the other CORO fellows, is a community defined, in part, by this theme. There are several large chains that have recently opened in the neighborhood, namely a Home Depot, Whole Foods, Borders, Walgreens, and a Target, which will most likely be opening soon. These stores have successfully started to bring people back into East Liberty, which had previously been thought of as a "no-go" zone due to the perception of it as a blighted neighborhood. However, these large stores will not be enough to restore economic vitality to this community. A cadre of successful small and locally owned businesses will be crucial to this task. Luckily, there are already success stories to serve as a model and inspiration for more small businesses. Around five years ago, Justin Strong opened the Shadow Lounge ( ) on two credit cards. Since then he's built a successful business in East Liberty that is now known as one of Pittsburgh's hottest spots. Almost every night the Shadow Lounge has a space for performance artists of all types, and another space with a DJ and a dance floor. In a largely black neighborhood, Shadow Lounge is a cultural melting pot, attracting a crowd that's considerably diverse, in a city that's considerably segregated along both race and class lines. Many people would point to this institution as representing the essence of what East Liberty needs more of- A thriving black-owned and operated small business. There's a definite need for communities to support entrepreneurs like Justin in order for the small businesses to grow and thrive. Look out for future posts that will explore what's happening in Pittsburgh to this end. --- Sujata Shyam

Friday, September 14, 2007

Flickering Feather in COW Cap

Computers On Wheels -COW was set up in a UP village Etah in the month of August for Drishtee group ( CNN IBN had covered the story in its today's news. This effort was possible because of the hard work of Drishtee team and Vidal Team. Vidal team includes Ananth, Niranjana, Riyaz and Bhupal with intermittent support from me. Drishtee too had an enthusiastic team in Madhu, Anurag and Singh with intermittent support from Satyan and Nitin. Vidal team went to UP to set the COW and train the riders for applying it for their local conditions. It is a promising collaboration just now, as the value is acknowledge by Drishtee, who are interested in taking COW along with them to other regions they operate after a 60 day value audit. We hope to see new uses for COW, combining social and economic development of rural entrepreneurs and village folk. We are hoping this will give the needed push for COW to start its own life cycle, which was long over due.
I wanted to keep you posted, as I know your good wishes are always with us for our social development work and application of COW for the same. Thanks for your support.
Rajeswari Pingali,
Villages in Development and Learning Foundation (ViDAL)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Introducing Sujata Shyam- CORO Fellow As a CORO Fellow in Pittsburgh, I'm learning about numerous projects relating to social entrepreneurship, community development, and the relationship between the public, private, and non-profit sectors. The CORO Fellows Program in Public Affairs is a nine month long leadership training program, based on experiential learning. We're learning by doing and by asking questions. We have 5 placements over the course of the year in all three of the sectors mentioned. In addition, the 15 fellows work on several projects together, one of which is collaborating with a community development corporation and the residents of East Liberty on issues of community development in the neighborhood. I'm planning on sharing relevant bits and pieces from my experience on the blog, so have a look, and let me know what you think! Vacant lots Plus Biofuel Equals Social Entrepreneuership: Vacant lots are a problem in East Liberty as they end up being sites of drug trafficking and prostitution. Students at the business school of Carnegie Mellon came up with an innovative idea to address this issue. The organization, GTECH has partnered with ELDI, a local community development corporation to turn vacant lots into productive spaces through planting biofuel crops on vacant lots owned by ELDI. ELDI has been buying up properties in the neighborhood for twenty years now, with the goal of eventually selling the properties to help realize East Liberty's Community Plan ( the aligned vision of all community members and stakeholders of East Liberty ). However, while waiting for the right buyer, the vacant lots are problematic. So, why biofuel? Planting a community garden is usually a popular idea, but is not possible with these lots due to toxins in the soil, However, biofuel is not consumed by people, so toxicity is not an issue, and it can be sold. GTECH would like to employ neighborhood youth to maintain the crops, which will then be sold to companies that make biofuel. GTECH is still waiting to see how profitable this endeavor will be, but it seems very likely that the main goal will be accomplished: create a self-supporting project that turns a sites of crime into productive spaces before they are sold to new owners. The side benefits are employing local youth and supporting alternative energy. - Suj

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

My New Book: Eco-Stacking - from IAP Press

IAP: Information Age Publishing
A new book "Innovative Approaches to Reducing Global Poverty" Editors Charles Wankel and Jim Stoner is now available. Quote: "The innovative programs and projects described in these chapters are reducing poverty not just in Bangladesh, India, and Kenya, but also in the UK and the USA. They remind us that poverty is everywhere – in developed and under-developed countries. They remind us that just as poverty is in some sense almost everywhere, the opportunities to reduce poverty are also almost endless. They remind us how important a few committed individuals can be in pioneering new ways of reducing poverty and enhancing social justice. They point to the need for contributions by for-profit companies and not-for-profit social enterprises. They support and remind us of Peter Drucker’s framing of the poverty issue in terms not of seeking to make the poor wealthy, but instead in helping the poor find work that is productive and sustainable. And they remind us that reducing poverty, whether on a large scale or on a small scale, requires commitment, energy, and persistence, and a profound caring for others." PART I: SOCIAL VENTURES FOR REDUCING POVERTY— CREATING SKILLS AND JOBS ... AND PERHAPS MODELS has the chapter "Eco-Stacking: A Strategy for Success in Social and Business Agendas" by Neerja Raman. This chapter is based on the research I did during my Reuters DV Fellowship at Stanford in 2006-2007

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Give Them Jobs

Our readers know by now that I am not happy about the term social entrepreneurship but I have not been able to come up with a better "label". Here is another definition:
Bottom line - Entrepreneurship is not about big or small enterprises; entrepreneurs create jobs - for themselves and others - the entrepreneurs I am intersted in - label being social entrepreneurs - create jobs in geographies where there are no jobs and enable the "unskilled" to acquire enough skills to become procuctive workers with enough earnings to buy food, healthcare, education. In the knowledge economy this means businesses involving technology - access to mobile phones, solar lighting, internet ...

Monday, August 20, 2007

Reuter Project Market Light launched in India

Reuters Digital Vision project called Market Light is an initiative to reach the rural community in India. The service provides information on crop prices, weather updates and other agri-related news via SMS. If effective in India, Reuters will extend this service to African countries. Mr Mehra, Managing Director claimed that Market Light has enabled the farmers to negotiate better prices - Mans

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Good Times for Entrepreneurs says Guy Kawasaki

Yesterday I went to the talk: "By the Numbers: How I built a Web 2.0, User-Generated Content,Citizen Journalism, Long-Tail, Social Media Site for $12,107.09" by Guy Kawasaki, whose latest venture is the website ( While it was as expected, great marketing and entertainment in typical "Guy Style", I got what I went for- breakdown of costs to launch his website (website = business) which is: 5k legal, 4k software, 1K domains, 0.4k for logo and that's about it. Run rate is what it costs to host the website - on yahoo it would be about 30/month. This means good times for entrepreneurs! (no need to beg VCs to prove your concept - versus old days when it would take a million).
And here's my point - this is now affordable for social entrepreneurs who often pay for stuff themselves (like me) and must prove themselves far longer than a standard for profit business. I have been thinking I can get going for free - design my own logo, etc and so now I know it can be done. Now if I could only get the kind of marketing clout the name "Guy Kawasaki" brings! Help?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Business School with a difference

The Maan Deshi Udyogini Business School for rural women, founded by economist and farmer Chetna Gala Sinha last December, is gradually becoming a symbol of empowerment for women at the bottom of the economic pyramid. Situated in the dry region enveloping Mhaswad and Vaduj villages, 270 miles (430 kilometers) from Mumbai, the school is targeted at school dropouts and women without formal education. Today the school offers 19 skill-development courses, including computer training, bag making, English-language training, and financial literacy instruction.
And the cost is not the thousands of dollars that a standard B-School charges- but the equivalent of $2.50 for the entire course.
- from netika

Saturday, August 4, 2007

How About Accidental Entrepreneur ?

I have decided that the term "social entrepreneur" really does have a lot of baggage. One particularly vitriolic comment on our earlier post says "Distribution of poverty and collateral misery" is the goal of a socialist - further confusing the issue of social versus socialist. Hence I am now proposing - how about accidental entrepreneur? Accidental because the person would really rather do social good (remove poverty not distribute it like peanut butter) but must engage in business in order to be self sustaining.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Making a little company look Big - International Herald Tribune

The basic principles of social or activist entrepreneurship are no different from "regular" entrepreneurship. At the end of the day other folks want to invest (their money or time) in what succeeds. As entrepreneur, if you believe you can succeed, you will succeed. Its called "inventing the future" in Silicon Valley. Help yourself: make yourself look successful. Two reasons why this article is so relevant:
1 -it gives good advice and even more importantly
2 -it says its Ok to create the illusion
Check this article from the NY Times (no registration required) "To build a successful company, entrepreneurs need to play a variety of roles -- visionary, sales representative and morale builder, to name a few. " But, in some cases, especially in the early years, they may need to play another, less obvious one: illusionist. "That means finding resourceful ways, like renting temporary office space or using answering services, to make themselves seem larger and more firmly established than they may actually be." (Reminds me of how Hewlett and Packard gave their first product the model number "200A" to give the impression that they had a product line. --cg)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The New Face of Entrepreneurship

On Saturday July 10th I had the opportunity to be on the PAN-IIT panel "Social Entrepreneurs: The New Breed". My objective with this panel was to create mindshare for this emerging area of entrepreneurship - so it was really gratifying to see how the large hall filled up and the audience created a huge positive energy -bringing their passion for "doing well by doing good" to the Q&A part. In addition to the panel I hosted lunch tables on two days. Bottom line is I met more enthusiastic, dedicated folks in these two days than I have in any other two days in my whole life! Many people shared their stories with me. So what did I learn? I learned that it is hard to be a social entrepreneur - it involves risk-taking, passion to persist in the face of obstacles and yes ability to manage finances -Best of luck and kudos for trying! You are all winners.

Rural Innovation Fund

A good source for social entrepreneurs in India - Rural Innovation Fund supported by Microsoft

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Creation of an Ecosystem

My mentor during my stay at Stanford is currently visiting Motorola India Research Labs in Bangalore on a temporary posting. He used this opportunity to invite me to make a presentation on our Disease Surveillance project to a group of senior people at Motorola India Research Labs this morning. It was a highly interactive session in which about 15 researchers took part and asked some very interesting questions on my project. Rajiv's objective was to get the local Motorola team interested in supporting our project in some collaborative way. A one-hour session went on for over 2 hours and was then followed by lunch. So I think it was great exposure
for our project. I also got to meet a set of very smart, young people who are excited about the potential applications of mobile technologies to social problems.

Thanks, Rajiv, for arranging this talk. Let us keep networking and propound our ideas in every possible situation. That is how we can create an ecosystem for social entrepreneurship in India.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Social Entrepreneur or Activist Entrepreneur?

Back in Bangalore, I was recently discussing our stint at Stanford's Digital Vision Program with a few friends when some good ideas came up. I was giving my usual spiel on Social Entrepreneurship when my good friend Partho Ray chirped up and said that instead of "Social Entrepreneur" we should perhaps consider the term "Activist Entrepreneur".

His reasoning was that while the word "entrepreneur" captured the concept of a passionate individual or group focusing on doing something positive very well, the word "social" has negative connotations as it tends to represent the average NGO and/or politico who is typically a stumbling block to progress. He felt that the concept of "social entrepreneur" is an oxymoron. The "socialist" is typically some guy out to bring the least common denominator to society, he is out to promote poverty as a virtue and to bring everyone down to a lower common level of wealth. On the other hand, an "activist" is a person out to disrupt the status quo, to bring about positive societal change and raise the level of the least common denominator itself.

Sounds familiar? A socialist society encourages shared community resources and distribution of wealth, even though unearned, and discourages private ownership. Distribution of poverty and collateral misery is the goal of a socialist, though he may not think so. On the other hand, a capitalist society encourages creation of individual wealth through personal initiative and ownership. How do you distribute wealth without first creating it? Sounds reasonable?

In a sense, "social" and "entrepreneur" do not mix very well and "social entrepreneur" may be an oxymoron. However, an activist sounds like a positive person who has his heart in the right place.

Now that's an interesting idea worthy of a fresh debate. Social Entrepreneur or Activist Entrepreneur? Does anyone want to take this theme forward?


Sunday, July 8, 2007

How India can learn from Africa

Ethan Zuckerman's- overview of development camps- more aid? better governance? infrastructure? entrepreneurship? …My heart’s in Accra » Incremental infrastructure, or how mobile phones might wire Africa puts me squarely in the entrepreneurship camp - so now I know where I stand! More so I think India can learn from his africa eample on how mobile phone business may even fund distributed solar or biofuel energy for rural areas

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Green is Good Gold

"I think many Googles will be created in the energy business" says Vinod Khosla - from the San Jose Mercury News, June 11, 07 - and Khosla Ventures is puting its money where its mouth is - Now couple that with some research needed for markets like India to bring costs down (see previous blogs on Selco and energy issues in Gurgaon) and we have something green and gold and good.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Trip to a Museum and Building Robust Futures through Scenarios

Amongst the many awesome resources at Stanford is the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts located close to the Quad. A truly remarkable museum that we visited on our penultimate day at Stanford, we found it to be a hidden gem well worth a visit even though we could spend just a few hours there. I do wish every visitor to the Stanford campus would find some time to visit this place and spend some time there.

It started as the Leland Stanford Jr. Museum way back in 1894, around the same time as the formation of the university itself, but in 1999 it re-opened after extensive modifications as the Cantor Center for Visual Arts.

The Rodin collection and the Rodin Sculpture Garden are truly remarkable. We also saw an exhibition of artifacts depicting the life of the Tuareg, a nomadic tribe of North-western Africa. The good news is that Cantor Museum allow visitors to take pictures, except in their Photo Gallery. So, thanks to the versatility, portability and unobtrusiveness of the digital camera, we landed up taking a lot of pictures.

However, we had a major disaster that I should have been better prepared for. While we managed to take loads of pictures inside the Museum, our camera battery died on us when we came out into the Rodin Garden. I was reminded of the usefulness of Neil Jacobstein's Robust Futures and Scenarios Workshop in which he taught us to think of the worst-case and best-case scenarios that our projects might encounter and then prepare strategies for handling them and build robust organisations. A pity, I hadn't thought of carrying a spare camera battery while visiting a museum. I had a spare high capacity memory card and was confident I would have adequate storage capacity for the entire day but forgot a basic fact that modern mobile devices have finite battery life!!

So Neil's workshop on planning for robust futures and a visit to the Cantor Museum brought home to me the importance of scenario planning for any major activity that we wish to undertake. While intuition is good, it can always be improved through formal structure and scenario planning. Thanks Neil, for the wonderful workshop that I will always remember and for exposing us to a different way of thinking about the future.


Monday, June 25, 2007

"solar energy is cheap for the poor, expensive for the rich"

Lighting up lives in rural India
24 Jun, 2007 l 0013 hrs ISTl-Neelam Raaj/TIMES NEWS NETWORK

NEW DELHI: An auto driver, a midwife, a rose picker...these may not sound like your average consumers of renewable energy but for Harish Hande, a 37-year-old engineer whose solar energy company Selco India recently won the prestigious `Green Oscar', it's all about tailoring innovation to match a particular need. "Rural India isn't running microwaves and ACs. Here, a little electricity goes a long way," says the IIT Kharagpur alumnus who founded the company 12 years ago.
Let there be light The solar panel installed above R Vijaya Kumar's small house on the outskirts of Bangalore has ignited the change from auto driver to entrepreneur. Every day at 4 pm, Kumar drives to the Bomanahalli market on the outskirts of Bangalore with 50 batteries that he hires out to street vendors for Rs 15 per battery per night. He returns at 11 pm to take them back, having made thrice what he would earn as an auto driver. Not only can the vendors give up their polluting kerosene lamps for a cleaner and cheaper energy alternative but Kumar gets enough money to repay the loan he took to buy the solar panels with which he recharges the batteries every day. Both in Karnataka and Gujarat where Selco works, lives have been touched — and transformed by solar power. From helping midwives in Gujarat to deliver children with the aid of solar lighting kits to giving rose-pickers outside Bangalore solar-powered headlamps so that they can work in the pre-dawn darkness with their hands free, innovation has been the key to success. "Design has to be customised to fit the needs of the customer. The one-size-fits-all approach that's usually used when the user is from a financially weak background invariably fails," says Hande. Selco, which won the Ashden Award (or the Green Oscar as it's called) for the second time, has also tied up with the Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) bank in Gujarat where it plans to sell a range of energy services, including energy efficient stoves, to the bank's 300,000 low-income female customers.
Banking on micro-finance A few extra hours of work after sundown, less fumes from lamps and more study time for kids — it's all these things that make a difference to people hampered by electricity outages and the reliance on a few expensive litres of kerosene. Selco, say the Ashden award judges, is based on the conviction that solar energy is cheap for the poor but expensive for the rich — that is, poor people can afford to buy solar systems, because they pay so much for other forms of energy, such as kerosene and batteries. But it's still difficult to convince the poor to shell out anywhere between Rs 18,000 and Rs 20,000 for a standard 40-watt solar light system that can light several 7-watt bulbs and charge batteries which can be used after dark. For daily wagers, that's a stiff financial commitment. That's where microfinance came in, says Hande. Initially most banks were reluctant to lend money to those who earned less than Rs 100 a day but company executives managed to convince them that increased productivity would enable borrowers to repay loans. Now, fewer than 10% of customers default. It also taught Hande that financing had to be as innovative as the product. "While some found repaying Rs 300 a month difficult, they found it easy to put away Rs 10 a day." The answer lay in ensuring a collection mechanism that would work on a daily rather than monthly basis. Service success There was still the need to address a misconception — that solar-powered technology doesn't work. "Without after-sales service, the technology gets a bad name," points out Hande. And with ambitious plans of reaching 200,000 customers — the current client base is 80,000 — that's one thing he certainly doesn't want.

I loved this article and I hope the experience in business innovation can also translate to research innovation (like technology to create lower price solar panels)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Social Entrepreneurship: Definition

A couple of weeks ago we had a lively debate in the DV lounge at Stanford: Topic - are we social entrepreneurs? Needless to say there was not much agreement. But we did agree on one thing- Who is the hottest date in town these days? A social entrepreneur!
Why? hmm.. interesting... sounds like an oxymoron, could be different in a familiar sort of way; after all everyone knows the words "social" and "entrepreneur" separately so why not together?
The Stanford Social Innovation Review (spring 2007) has come up with a whole article "Social Entrepreneurship: The Case for Definition". In the DV loune we agreed that all entrepreneurs are good entrepreneurs, its just that social ones are the new kids on the block. So when you are out and about try my simple test to help determine who's who -

Business Entrepreneur:
Motivation: Economic agenda (social benefits follow)
Metric: Revenue growth, profits ($)
Philosophy: Support employee to grow market

Social Entrepreneur:
Motivation: Social agenda (economic benefits follow)
Metric: Social return sustained by revenue from business
Philosophy: Grow market to support employee

Monday, June 18, 2007

Stanford-India Biodesign

A 2 year fellowship program from Stanford University. Deadline July 15th - Checkit out
Stanford-India Biodesign

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

In the new India, the old problem with electricity - International Herald Tribune

Green buildings for Gurgaon, India
I was in India a few months ago and the sleepy farmland area just outside new delhi is sprouting glass behemoths like you wouln't believe. Real estate is booming but to makeit sustainable the buildings need new technology. Green buildings are popular in Europe and starting to gain popularity in the US. But for anybody that really wants to grow try doing business in India- Check out the report below:
In the new India, the old problem with electricity - International Herald Tribune

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Infra sys and Solar energy

Infrasys is a for profit social business that is investing in rural India.
Check out the update on solar energy in India -

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

SRI - Socially Responsible Investing: A new paradigm?

A precise definition of Social Entrepreneurship continues to elude us as we go about our task of bringing our projects to life. We are moving on from the conceptual stage to that of a living organism, the pilot stage in which we will actually interact with the under-served people we intend to impact the most. Along the way we will face challenges in raising capital, remaining sustainable, managing growth, managing the different constituencies that make up the social enterprise, and yet managing to remain focused on the initial mission with which we intended to start out. But are we the only ones with problems? But another key constituent in the social eco-system, the social investor, has her own set of problems. Her big challenge is to choose from amongst a range of social initiatives and decide which one gives the biggest bang for the buck.

The Social Investment Forum ( defines “Socially Responsible Investing (SRI)” as the integration of personal values and societal concerns with investment decisions, in the sense of considering the investor’s financial needs with the investment’s impact on society. So, what’s new here? Is this a new paradigm for age-old philanthropy? Is it new wine in an old bottle? Is there a problem of plenty here? Maybe, but maybe not.

To give credit where it is due, there is now a willingness on a certain part of the investment community to take a more holistic look at investment by considering the impact on society and the environment, in addition to a return on investment. So metrics such as social return on investment, social impact and social outcomes are just as important to the socially responsible investor as they are to the social entrepreneur.

There is hope yet, that the investment climate will become conducive to the needs of the social enterprise even though the process may be slow. We need an enabling ecosystem to survive. How do we save the world, if we don’t build sustainable social enterprises? So let us move forward and redefine the social ecosystem.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Mobile phone technology is solving the last mile problem:
Mobile Phones Revolutionize African Banking - Yahoo! News:
"Mobile Phones Revolutionize African Banking "

Note the title - Interesting update on MDG - Millenium Development Goals
Millennium development holes : Article : Nature

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Empowering the Poor: Information and Communications Technology for Governance and Poverty Reduction A Study of Rural Development Projects in IndiaRoger Harris and Rajesh Rajora Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme (APDIP)2006

Monday, May 21, 2007

Social Sweat Equity: Monetisation of Social Capital

We have recently had a wonderful and lively discussion on the topic of social entrepreneurship. A lot has been said about building a sustainable organisation using the standard tools of business, so I will focus this discussion on just this issue of sustainability.

It is not clear to me how one would build in sustainability without periodic infusion of capital. Is an NGO that is built on periodic grants a sustainable entity? Or, does sustainability imply a steady revenue stream which is higher than the expenditure of an organisation? Or, is there something else that provides sustainability?

This is especially hard for those organisations that do not fit into a classical mould of a business where the consumer or customer ma not be a paying customer. Capital infusion could be grant-based, or it could be through the venture capital route. While traditional philanthropies and foundations have often provided grants to NGOs or non-profits, the average VC does not understand social entrepreneurship. While the VC understands financial metrics that are easily measurable, an NGO cannot easily provide metrics for social impact.

So we need to find a new abstraction to help in the monetisation of social impact. We need a new ontology, a new vocabulary, that will convey the meaning of this abstraction in traditional economic terms. We need an abstraction that will allow us to put an economic value on social impact. For the moment, let us call this abstraction "Social Capital" or "Social Sweat Equity". An analogy of "sweat equity" might be in order here.

The concept of "sweat equity" came up when VCs started funding entrepreneurs. This abstraction allowed the entrepreneur to put an economic value on his/her prior work in getting an idea off the ground and claim a significant share in a venture where cash infusion was provided by the VC. Wouldn't it be nice if we could use the abstraction of "Social Capital" or "Social Sweat Equity" to attract potential funders into investing into a social venture just as sweat equity is valued by a VC in a traditional venture?

We need to get some economic thinkers and financial gurus to think about this concept and provide a theoretical foundation which may then benefit the field of social entrepreneurship in the long run. "Social Capital" or "Social Sweat Equity" could clearly be defined in a way that would measure social impact which could then be monetised. Hence it is very important to create this abstraction.

Any ideas? ?


Digital Vision Program at Stanford University
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Friday, May 4, 2007

Business and Global Poverty

Harvard Business School has created an MBA elective, Business at the Bottom of the Pyramid, to fill the need for increased awareness of BOP issues in the business world

Apple Going Greeener?

Reducing toxic e-waster: From Nishita Bakshi of "As You Sow" : Apple - Steve Jobs released an environmental statement yesterday announcing a recycling effort:

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Internet for the next billion?

I heard a talk by Sanjit Biswass : technology that could provide internet for a $1/month.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Demand Clean Tech

India Today (April 23, 07) has outlined 25 things Indians can do about global warming - 2 I like:
1)Just as in HIV/AIDS, for which nations agreed to drop prices of drugs to suit every pocket, get the governement to persist on developed countries to sell clean technology to developing nations cheap - specificall India - so that we can cut down on emissions...
2)Rationalise price of electricity - with electricity being supplied for free in many states in rural areas, no-one really bothers to istall energy efficient pumpsets.Or for that matter to put off the switches when not using them....So haul up politicialns for indulging in populism and educate villagers on the virtues of paid power.

2007 Stockholm Water Prize for Stanford Professor

The 2007 World Water Week is scheduled at the Stockholm City Conference Centre between 12 and 18 August 2007. Information on the 2007 World Water Week is available at

Professor Perry L. McCarty from Stanford University, California, a pioneer in the development of the understanding of biological and chemical processes for the safe supply and treatment of water, has been named the 2007 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate.

More information on this is available at

This might specifically be of interest to Netika.


Handhelds for Health web-site is up

The web-site of Handhelds for Health is now up. Please visit for further information on our project on Disease Surveillance. We shall keep it regularly updated to reflect the progress we make.

Shashank, Isha

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Bunker Roy's Barefoot College

I would like to invite you to visit the web-site of the Barefoot College, founded by Sanjit "Bunker" Roy in 1972.

Bunker Roy, IMHO, is one of the original band of social entrepreneurs who started out
well before it became fashionable to run an NGO and certainly well before this terminology
was coined. He happens to be one of the most highly decorated social activists around.

I reproduce below an extract from the Barefoot College web-site:

"The Barefoot College is a place of learning and unlearning. It's a place where the teacher is the learner and the learner is the teacher. It's a place where NO degrees and certificates are given because in development there are no experts-only resource persons. It's a place where people are encouraged to make mistakes so that they can learn humility, curiosity, the courage to take risks, to innovate, to improvise and to constantly experiment. It's a place where all are treated as equals and there is no hierarchy."
His single-minded focus, honesty of purpose, deep personal sacrifice, and emphasis on transparency are all highly commendable and worthy of emulation. He has been able to build and nurture a sustainable organisation by involving the very people whom he has targeted, in the formation of the enterprise.

It would have been great if we could somehow have Bunker Roy over for a seminar at RDVP. Some other time, some other place, maybe we will.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"Language, Literacy and Sacred Cows: Using Multimedia to Radically Change How we Educate and Communicate" - Neerja Raman - presented at the annual conference in Monterey on "Emerging Technologies in Teaching Language and Culture"

Our own Ken Banks, fellow DVFer and the face of Kiwanja is featured on World Summit on the Information Society website: Story of the month for April 2007: FrontlineSMS

Sunday, April 22, 2007

India Science & Technology news

Netika - check out the story on Nanotechnology for pure water developed by IIT-Chennai

Thursday, April 19, 2007

CASEconnection Knowledge Newsletter - February 2007

An update from CASE
CASEconnection Knowledge Newsletter - February 2007

3rd Global Knowledge Conference

just came across this great conference on youth social entrepreneurs
3rd Global Knowledge Conference

Friday, April 13, 2007

A field trip to Bangalore in the Spring Break

Isha and Shashank went on a short field trip to Bangalore during the Spring Break at Stanford.

They visited a small village called Huskur on the outskirts of Bangalore and met a government health-care worker to gain first-hand understanding of how the health-care delivery mechanism works in the rural areas. This would help them to refine their project specifications.

Eric Brewer has a cheap and convenient answer for connecting the world's poorest villages
60-Mile Wi-Fi -

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Business in Development Network
Apply now for an award (by May 31st, 07)
Submit your business proposal for profit and poverty reduction
Win up to 20.000 euro per person
Get exposure to a network of interested investors
Receive personal and professional coaching to develop a complete business plan (over 350 professionals)

Friday, March 30, 2007


The Center for Social Entrepreneurship is at this point virtual and will probably always be. Our physical presence will be reflected in what we call "sites". We will be launching trial sites later this year. Our first pilots will be in India and we have secured several partnerships.

I have started this blog to keep our own team updated (because we are never in the same physical place and emails are getting too tedious)

Our Center is more of a"do-tank" than a "think-tank" not that we are particularly opposed to thinking once in a while.

So if you think you want to get involved go ahead and do it!