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 ...