Sunday, December 28, 2008

Business Approach to Social Good - Rule #1: Don't Get Greedy

I have a good reason, for promoting NBC re-broadcast "Tech Awards for Global Uses of Technology to Benefit Humanity" Sunday, Dec. 28, at 9 pm PST. The show is also available online from the NBC web site billed as: "When technology is applied to philanthropy...Vision is turned into action....".
It so happened that I read an op-ed "The Sin in Doing Good Deeds" by Nicholas Kristof. It is the story of the failure of an event management company- unique in that the events raised money for charitable causes. The reason provided for its failure is about how the (stupid) world is against a business approach to philanthropy. It is a familiar tirade, a false argument, entirely unworthy of discussion. So I let it go. But then I read comments on the article and wondered how many potential social entrepreneurs would get discouraged by reading the story of Mr. Pallotta and his company? So I feel compelled to post this link to the tech laureates show - profitable businessmen doing social good. For one Mr Pallotta there are many more social entrepreneurs doing good and doing well. See for yourself.
The key to success in running a profitable business with a mission of doing social good is to not get too greedy - It sounds like that was the issue with Mr Pallotta - his argument being - "Greed is good - its Okay in regular business so its okay here too". First of all its not okay in regular business though they do get away with it (witness the mechanics of the current financial meltdown). Second - the money raised for social businesses often comes, at least initially, from charity sources -like people digging into savings- so moderation in business expense is key in keeping their loyalty. The parallel for regular business would be "delivering customer satisfaction" which obviously Mr Pallotta did not do. BUT - here is my issue - when his business failed - instead of being a good sport and fessing up, he becomes a cry-baby and writes a book about how business approach to "charity" does not work and then Kristof writes an op-ed, generalizing from this single data-point, instead of calling it something like "Pallotta Palaver" which would have been far more accurate.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Keeping your morale and sanity in tough times

Something that helps me weather challenging times, and is helping me right now is to focus on what I do have, rather than what is missing. My vehicle for this is a simple gratitude list. Try it for a week even. I simply list 10-25 things every night I am grateful for (big stuff like my good health, my son, the means to pay my bills this month usually appear on my list every night) but if you have a hard time coming up with other things it will force you to start looking for the good during your day, such as getting that parking spot in downtown San Francisco when I was running late, hearing back from a recruiter, or even how cozy my warm house feels right now in this frigid weather...I have also been looking for "bright lights" every day -- just observing people in the cars around me, or as I entered a crowded restaurant last week and I watched the (seemingly happy) Mom conversing with the two children sharing her table... Even just thinking about looking for bright lights seems to pick up my day, and I can almost feel those positive neural pathways burning in my brain...Wishing you all happy holidays,
-post from Janice Roberts

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How to Raise Social Capital- The Must, Want Principle

It is no secret that the term "Social Capital" is an oxymoron; "Capital" is a pot of money I give that comes back to me as a larger pot of money and "Social" is the giant sucking sound of the pot of money I give that comes back as a demand for another even larger money pot. This is not bad news; its just really tough news. But there is also the good news - most investors are interested in a social return - they just don't know how that is possible. So here is the secret - make it clear and explicit how it will be possible. Capital is a Must (money makes the world go 'round), Social is a Want (what good is money if the world don't go 'round?). A social entrepreneur must make it clear from the outset how the must and the want will be satisfied and what compromises will be made in case of conflict between those two objectives.

The questions I get most often are around strategies for raising social capital and in my informal survey of over a hundred social entrepreneurs, greater than 90% end up getting seed investment i.e. social capital, from a foundation or a philanthropic individual and hence incorporate as a non-profit venture. This is perfectly fine, as long as the entrepreneur exercises financial self-discipline, which is not the same as boot-strapping - it is about creating a revenue stream from the business. By definition, a foundation is not interested in a financial return so it confuses second round investors and can become a barrier when you need to raise serious money. Two rules of fund raising, made explicit from the beginning help overcome the "social capital" oxymoron:
Rule #: identify and recognise the Investor Types and their expectations
*Entrepreneurs: In-kind equity, equity
*Family and Friends: equity, debt, grants
*Individual Investors (angels or social investors): equity, grants, debt
*Foundations: Grants, Program Related Investments (PRI’s)
*Venture Funds: Equity
*Social Venture Capital: Equity, debt
*Banks: Debt, equity
*Corporations: Equity, debt
*Corporate Business Partners: Warrants, equity, debt
*Government: Grants
Rule #2: Identify business lifecycle, seek appropriate investment from appropriate investor
*Lifecycle Phase: Seed, Startup, Early expansion, Late Expansion
*Type of Investor: • Risk/return expectations • Exit strategies
*Type of Investment e.g. grant, debt, equity and so on
*Size of Investment e.g. grants are typically small and appropriate as seed and loans for expansion
The bonus rule of course is to ask for help in forms other than "money".

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Dedicated to Unity and Peace

Signpost put up by the Indian army on the highest passes in the world.......

When trekking the Himalayas, one sees amazing sights - some are man-made - like this one.

Monday, December 1, 2008

CNN Heroes - Role Models and Media

Lately, I have been following any and all coverage of the Mumbai blasts on TV and that's how I stumbled onto CNN Heroes last night. I tend to avoid TV (I disagree with the notion that only bad news is media-worthy) because the odds for good use of my time are low. But I cannot deny the power of media - especially now when global is not global - it is local. My not watching TV does nothing for anyone but me. So, when I see a show celebrating the goodness in us, I am ecstatic. Criminals and terrorists are news; but so are people who spread peace and solace. CNN heroes provides for new role-models for a generation looking for something new. I hope we see more such shows.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Wall Street Woes- and what to do about it

I don't know about you but I am getting very tired of hearing about Wall Street woes; about executives who must sell their jets and how, somehow, that translates to average folks getting laid off. Its just fear tactics. The issue is Wall Street has only one metric - financial performance. So Wall Street is always overly emotional - down in the dumps or unnecessarily bullish, which leads to hyper-movements of capital. It is an overly constrained system. Wall Street has boxed itself into a single-bottom-line system and doesn't know how to get out. So folks, - if the system isn't working change the system - think out of the box.

Its time the financial wizards admitted they have no clue what to do and start learning from us research types. Wall Street has one metric - the bottom line - and the entire house of cards is built on that. In new product development, at a minimum we evaluate around three metrics - faster, better, cheaper - its the mantra that modulates expectations -maybe you hit one maybe you hit all three - at least there is room for experimentation and different vectors to push. If wall street followed an R&D model it would look for and formalize other metrics besides financial performance. That would allow social entrepreneurs to go mainstream instead of being boutique; get on Wall street and seek capital. allow diversification of capital instead of all based on profit. I don't know what the right answer is but here are some ideas:
- following the micro-finance model - rate a company on how many people are served (not just amount)
- Tax credits (like R&D credits) for companies that serve the BOP - after all they serve those whom the government serves
- IPO for social businesses except - instead of financial returns give voting rights on how to run the company
- New job creation - e.g green job creation gets points
When I first started at HP, we used to say - focus on the value you create not the stock price. If you create value stock price will follow - Value for us was high quality products and a satisfied employee base and a welcoming community wherever we operated. Yes - its time to get back to basics - its takes more than money to be a good capitalist.
I am glad the auto-industry is not getting a bailout; but I am not glad the Wall Street isn't thinking about more change itself.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Microfinance for Beggars?

Yesterday at SCU's event "Transformative Changes Through Science and Technology: The Role for Social Benefit Entrepreneurs" honoring the 2008 Tech Laureates I heard something new. It has made me change my mind. (In the interest of full disclosure, I hereby state that not much changes my mind these days).
Here is the story: I am just back in the US after six weeks in India. A common sight in India is women and children at stop lights- begging. There used to be a time when I would give some change but I have stopped doing it now; doesn't giving them money encourage them? Not much has changed over the years except now they often carry tissue boxes, balloons, magazines, hats, toys etc. to sell. Where did they get the money to buy the stuff? Some tiny children offer entertainment in the from of headstands or juggling or something. "The goods must be stolen; they are just an excuse for begging - whatever" I think. I look away. I can do nothing about this. I feel rotten for a while till I get over it.
Yesterday, I heard Mohammed Yunus talk about Grameen's new program in Dhaka, Bangladesh - "loans to beggars". He thought - why not do something for the beggar? and that's how the program started. They find a beggar and ask one question - at what time in your life did you become a beggar? And then they gave him/her an idea - continue begging, but why not carry some small article to sell- give their "customer" a choice - so as to speak - buy or give charity. If the beggar agreed, they gave an interest free loan with no time set for repayment. Whenever they are read to repay, they can come back to repay. That he said was key. Enablement- a person who tries cannot fail. In fact, they said - take your time to repay. To keep their own costs low, Grameen provides no other service, just trusting the person to come back. Loan amount is $15 flat. So far there is $100K in the program and 11,000 people are not begging anymore. Most others are only part-time beggars and some are successful entrepreneurs.
So next time I am stopped at a light in New Delhi - I will roll down my car window. I may not be in a position to start a loan program but I can buy a box of tissues. Who knows? It might make a difference. Why had I never thought about this before? Why did I assume the goods were stolen? The kids wanted to trick me?
Why? Becuse I still have a lot to learn.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Social Capital is Good Economics: Invest in Technology for the Next Billion

This Sunday, reading the Times of India article - What MFIs can teach Wall Street by Swaminathan Aiyer (of Swaminomics fame) made my day! He writes "Big financial institutions of all sorts are in dire straits across the globe. But one category remains unaffected — micro-finance. Even as the global financial system freezes and giants like Lehman Brothers collapse, microfinance institutions (MFIs) are expanding unfazed. Famous financiers face defaults big enough to wipe them out, but MFIs report virtually zero default. This is extraordinary. Big financiers lend against collateral, a back-up if their borrower defaults. But MFIs lend with no collateral at all. Big financiers lend to the most creditworthy corporations. MFIs lend to poor women whom nobody in history considered creditworthy before. Yet, the secured loans to big corporations are bombing, while unsecured loans to poor women are being repaid in full."
And may I add that stimulating the BOP markets besides being a safe bet is also profitable - a double bottom line - social as well as economic good.
I want to build on this article to make two points not made by Mr Aiyar:
1. Portfolio diversification - In my view social capital is a good way of diversifying your investment portfolio and I think there IS a silver lining to this meltdown - I hope investors will go back to thinking about value creation in more than pure dollar terms.
2. Capital Gap - Currently there is a gap in the range covered by MFIs (loans must be under Rs 35,000 or so) and traditional business lending (loan must be above Rs 10 lakhs or so). Entrepreneurs that start technology based social businesses need loans in this range and they have nowhere to go. This is actually the sweet spot for social capital - it is a new area - call it "investing in technology for the next billion". There is great economic potential in this space- like the VCs who invested in technology startups in silicon Valley. It is the same story -except since the new market it is not in the traditional VC backyard, they are not jumping in. Somebody else needs to step in and I am hoping it will be the future leaders - Social Capitalists.
One can see that some new gen leaders who are now big boys (e.g. Google Foudation) are stepping into this space but it is not enough - traditional thinking needs to change too.
From my perspective, the meltdown is a wake up call for change and I hope Mr Aiyar's article is just the start of this new thinking.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

TATA Nano, Singur and Social Entrepreneurship

TATA having to pull out of Singur actually has a plus side to it.
It so happens that when TATA fist announced the Nano car (Rs. 1 lakh), I was in India and I authored my most popular (to date) blog page called TATA Nano- Is It Social Entrepreneurship? And now I am in India again when TATA is announcing its pullout from West Bengal (Singur). TATA will relocate its Nano factory to another state in India.
The media is abuzz and Gurcharan Das (an author I admire immensely) has written an article in Times of India called "When Everyone Lost". My view is different. I think this is a battle lost that will win a war. From an economics perspective, yes - everyone lost. But if you think of Nano as a social enterprise, much social value has been created.

The Singur pullout proves my point - that social entrepreneurship - defined as social as well as economic impact - is really difficult. The big win here is that this factory relocation, has engendered an open conversation: who has the best interests of the people at heart? There is data available (increase in number of savings accounts, people trained for new jobs ..) that in one year the Nano plant has already had positive economic impact on life in Singur. As other states line up to offer the best deal to TATA, hopefully the destitute landowners of Singur (ultimately they must benefit) will start thinking for themselves rather than listening to vested political interests and that is a social change that cannot be undone.
So, I hope that TATA will still get the Nano out on schedule and this relocation, while admittedly an economic bump in the road, will prove to be of immeasurable social value in educating India about creating social impact through business methods - the "double bottom line". Next time the people in Singur get a deal like the Nano, they will think twice before agitating. In fact, Ratan Tata was most impressive (I saw this on TV) when he calmly mentioned that West Bengal will be considered for the second Nano plant. West Bengal's short term economic loss is immediate benefit for some other state (evidenced by the offers).
Now that is thinking long term, thinking social entrepreneurship.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A linkage between "Ekalavya-ism" of Indian mythology and the modern concept of open courseware

Back in 2001 MIT took an unprecedented step when it announced its intention to make most of its courses and course materials freely available on the Internet over the next few years. Today MIT has advanced significantly towards this goal, with the school’s Open CoursewareWeb site now providing access to syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, exams, problems and solution sets, tools and tutorials, and a growing library of video lectures for most of MIT’s courses. Subsequently, the Open Courseware Consortium was formed as a collaboration of more than 200 higher educational institutions and associated organizations from around the world for creating a broad and deep body of open educational content using a shared model. Many of the world's leading academic institutions now contribute to the open courseware movement in their own unique ways. For example, Rice University runs a very vibrant site called Connexions as "a place to view and share educational material made of small knowledge chunks called modules that can be organized as courses, books, reports".

So what is the linkage between the modern concept of open courseware with the story of Ekalavya, an interesting character from Indian mythology? Let me give you a brief overview of Ekalavya for those who might not have heard of him. For further reading, please click here.

Ekalavya, as narrated in the great epic Mahabharatha, was a young prince from a lowly forest tribe who wanted to learn archery from the great Guru Dronacharya who taught Arjuna and his brother princes. However, Drona refused to take on Ekalavya as his student because of the latter's humble origins. Some commentaries say that Guru Drona recognized a master archer and didn't want anyone to come in the way of his favourite pupil Arjuna.

Disappointed but undeterred, Ekalavya went back into the forest, where he created a sculpture in the likeness of Guru Drona and started a rigorous schedule of self-study in archery in front of the sculpture. As a result of his tenacity and single-minded focus, he achieved a level of skill in archery that was far superior to that of Arjuna, the favourite pupil of Guru Drona.

Of course, the story has a cruel ending which the interested reader can pursue separately. But the point of interest for me is that "Ekalavya-ism" is a philosophical way of looking at learning as a self-learning process in which the meditative mind can function and learn even without the physical presence of a Guru or teacher. Ekalavya's role model was Guru Dronacharya whose sculptural likeness provided the physical and spiritual connection between the student and the teacher. Today, modern technology provides us better tools to emulate that connection.

Often, when educators discuss the important role of the teacher and the relevance of face-to-face interaction between teachers and students, the general consensus is that without teacher-student interaction students may not learn to their potential. My contention is that we need to apply the concept of "Ekalavya-ism" here. Modern technology allows us the luxury of access to information and knowledge through initiatives such as open courseware. Technology enables the student to view video images of lectures and create a mental image of the lecturer. It is then up to the student herself to create the remote spiritual connection with her guru or other role model.

While there is no denying the importance of role models, role models are not necessarily available as close physical entities. Role models exist in the virtual, conceptual and spiritual domain. We just need to make the appropriate connection.

So, those aspiring young students who might never have the opportunity of going through the hallowed portals of MIT or Stanford or whatever else is their ideal place of study, should not despair. They can still benefit from the open courseware movement as long as they emulate Ekalavya within themselves. In any case, higher learning is always about self-learning.

The spirit of the Open Courseware movement is the same as that of the mythological Ekalavya.


Friday, September 5, 2008

HASTAC Digital Media Competition- Seeking India Applicants

With my background in imaging and interest in new education methodologies, I have a keen interest in how Digital Media can transform learning. I attended the last Stanford event hosted by MacArthur on this topic. So I was really happy when I got the following note from Mandy:

Dear Neerja, I recently discovered your Digital Provide: From Good To Gold blog. I'm writing to announce that the HASTAC/MacArthur 2008 Digital Media and Learning Competition is now open ( This year we are piloting international eligibility for our Innovation in Participatory Learning Award and INDIA is one of the countries from which we will accept stand alone applications. We all know that there is excellent social networking being done in South Asia and very worthy digital learning projects, yet we have seen relatively little traffic to our site from that region of the world. We need your help. I know that an award such as this could change the life of someone and help make their dream a reality. Best,Mandy

I think this is a great program and would encourage you to apply-Details:
DIGITAL MEDIA AND LEARNING COMPETITION 2008 --Inviting Applications from India Now-- $2 Million Competition Focus: Participatory. Full information at:
Application Deadline: October 15, 2008
The second HASTAC/MacArthur Digital Media and Learning Competition is now open! The focus is participatory learning. Awards will be made in two categories:Innovation in Participatory Learning Awards support large-scale digital learning projects Applications from South Asia are now being accepted in the "Innovations in Participatory Learning" category as part of a pilot international program. ... Young Innovator Awards are targeted at 18-25 year olds $5,000-$30,000Full information at:
Participatory learning is defined broadly: using new digital media for sharing ideas or planning, designing, implementing, or just discussing ideas and goals together. (You can find out about last year’s winners at

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Stanford Offers Entrepreneurship Podcasts - Free!

The Stanford Technology Ventures Program has just updated and renamed what used to be called Educators Corner, a free podcast and video website for the entrepreneurship community. We are trying to get the word out about the new name and features – Entrepreneurship Corner (ECorner). We have a creative commons license, so it’s very easy for people to insert the content into their own sites and use almost at will. Obviously you may also use the material in your sites. We’ve had over 2 million podcast downloads alone, so the site is clearly providing something useful! Details below:

Stanford Offers Free Entrepreneurship Podcasts and Video Clips

The Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP) in the School of Engineering at Stanford University invites you to visit its Entrepreneurship Corner (ECorner) web site. The site includes over 1,200 free, high-quality podcasts and video clips of entrepreneurial thought leaders from Silicon Valley and beyond. Recorded during guest lectures at Stanford University, the speakers offer important insights on all aspects of entrepreneurship. The content is great for classroom instruction, research, and general enrichment. Formerly called Educators Corner, the site has added many new, innovative features and has just launched under its new name. See the Creative Commons license under Terms of Use for guidelines.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sustainability through Business Model Innovation in Education

Marvin Hall, from Kingston, Jamaica, Founder, Halls of Learning, Stanford Digital Vision Fellow, 2006-2007 has a passion for igniting the creativity in children, especially at-risk inner-city youth. His project at Stanford was Stimul-I about engaging kids through hands-on Robotics. After leaving Stanford, Marvin has continued his work in Jamaica and recently he writes about a program he has created "Lego Your Minds Jrs". He has created a model, I think, educators should seriously consider. Marvin writes:

"Being back in Jamaica the past year, I had to focus on rebuilding finances after the fellowship at Stanford but still explored the possibilities of how to expand our Lego programmes here. To that end, we were not able to get funding to take the team to the World Robotics Olympiad and I was forced to rethink my strategy....or better yet, come up with a business strategy for going forward. In March, I started a 3-month programme in the mornings at my son's school using the Motorized Simple Machines Set. The boys and girls responded very well to the activities and were excited to come to school earlier for those mornings. At the end of the term, the programme was mentioned at the school's closing ceremony and the class surprised me with an award for working with them.

In July, Halls of Learning launched "Lego Yuh Mind Jrs", a summer camp for children aged 4-11 years old. While most of our marketing was done through personal emails and spread virally, Jamaica's leading newspaper, The Gleaner, sponsored us with a series of print advertisements. We rented a large classroom and hosted the camp there. In one section of the room, we had the 4-5 year olds working with the Early Simple Machines Set III and in the other section, we had the older kids working with the Motorized Mechanisms Set. Over the 4 weeks of the camp, we had 114 participants. The cost to each participant was about US$100.

In August, I packed the summer camp materials into my car and we took it on tour to 5 at-risk communities. With that, the Lego Yuh Mind Jrs experience was delivered to another 65 children at no cost, as a part of our outreach. It made me realize that there is also a great opportunity to act as a service provider to the corporate and church foundations who have funded community centres in these neighbourhoods. They have the spaces, but there is a shortage of programmes.

There is good momentum to launch a "Lego Yuh Mind Jrs Club" that would be offered as an after-school activity. This will be our next move in the short term.

One of my biggest challenges is to find new activities for the Mechanisms and Early Simple Machines Sets and hence attract repeat customers from the summer camp who feel like they have built all the models already. I will also be ordering the Pneumatics Add-on set. I would eventually like to have my own headquarters to launch these programmes, but renting space will keep my overheads low in the short term.

Lego Yuh Mind Jrs was profitable, portable, mobile, and is scalable.
[Note: "Lego Yuh Mind Jrs" is derived from Jamaican dialect. "Lego" means 'let go' and "Yuh" means 'your'. So Lego Yuh Mind can mean 'let go your mind', 'free your mind' and to many of the children 'build your mind'. Our first robotics workshop in 2004 was called "Lego Yuh Mind", used Mindstorms with Robolab and was for older students. So Lego Yuh Mind Jrs distinguishes this brand for a younger audience and as the stage before robotics programming. The connection with LEGO goes without saying :) ]

Lego Yuh Mind Jrs inspired at least 100 happy parents and made another 100 curious. It is a great opportunity to build on and I can see our sustainability on the horizon."

Congratulations Marvin - great work.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

How Can Decision Making Be Improved?

I recently published the second edition of my book "The Practice and Philosophy of Decision Making". Some of what I say in my book is based on a Negotiating Skills class I took from Prof. Max Bazerman when I was at Kellogg. So as I worked on the second edition, I was curious what he was up to and I found his HBR paper about decision making skills. In my book I talk about creating a personal framework to understand emotional biases - some a result of stone age "fight or flight" instincts that are inappropriate in today's society. The paper also talks about "how to reduce biased decision-making." From the summary page - key concepts include:
-People put great trust in their intuition. The past 50 years of decision-making research challenges that trust.
-A key task for psychologists is to identify how and in what decision-making situations people should try to move from intuitive, emotional thinking to more deliberative, logical thinking.
-The more that researchers understand the potentially harmful effects of some biased decision-making, the more important it is to have empirically tested strategies for reaching better decisions.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Leadership Skill for Social Entrepreneurs

The leadership definition I like is from Charlie Pellerin, former Dir Astrophysics at NASA: “Leadership is influencing people to do willingly, and do well, that which has to be done.”
Doesn't that sound like what social entrepreneurs have to do?

On August 2, I had the opportunity to moderate a professional development workshop hosted by IWE and sponsored by Fujitsu called "Cultivating Influence: How to Influence and Deliver Results". The tech-savvy panel covered a range of expertise - large corporation (Nina Bhatti - HP, Peggy Zagelow - IBM), triple-bottom-line startup Meemli (Usha Sekar) and entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship and MicroPlace (Ashwini Narayanan). The panel was followed by a interactive skills building experience session led by Improv artist Susan Snyder of BATS. Some highlights:

There is no right way, nor is there only one way to influence others. Everything is a factor when influencing people. And we are, all of us, influenced by organizations, actions, people, places, events and situations at all times. Sometimes we are affected more or less by these things, but we are continually being influenced by what happens around us. So what about the specifics in the workplace?
Your job requires you to influence people just about all of the time. It may take the form of gaining support, inspiring others, persuading other people to become your champions, engaging someone's imagination, creating relationships. Whatever form it takes, being an excellent influencer makes your job easier.

* think win-win - articulate the benefit for organisation, individual, group
* self-empowerment: be self-aware; take responsibility for managing the perception people have of you - e.g. stop acting "fresh-off-the-boat"; build your "new" sphere of influence
* manage your career; manage your boss - build trust but don't be a threat to him/her
* lead by involving others in problem solving by posing the problems and asking "how"
* Make coworkers feel positive, can do empowered (e.g. through use of positive attributes as nicknames)
* make it "their" idea
* Make an abstract concept personal
* Power of education -to make a change in a belief system provide education/information
* Reposition points of view - e.g. microfinance is not a "handout" but a "hand up"
* Compliance - make others to "feel good" like a superhero especially if doing something difficult/different for them
* Create websites/images to convey "higher purpose" to get alignment
* Negotiate the detail only after "shared goal" has been established first
* think positive and use positive language - ex. organisational understanding - vs. "politics"
* Do uncover the problems but always from a "what could be a solution" attitude without blame

An interesting point about people, who use their influencing skills well, is that other people like being around them. There's a kind of exciting buzz, or sense that things happen when they're around.

Check out Peggy's blog on the subject for a personal account of the workshop.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

SKG Sangha - Uses Award for Training and Education

The Sustainable Energy Futures on-line case study competition resulted in a $5000 cash prize to SKG SANGHA in India for their innovative program using agricultural waste for biomass and biogas production.

Mr. Sagar writes the following:
"If we use this money for our projects, your contribution will not be reflected anywhere. Whereas, you are giving us this money as a token of appreciation which we want to be in a memorable shape. Hence, we shall use the money as part finance for our proposed training centre planned to train our beneficiaries, staff, students etc. We shall write your name as part funders for this training centre by that the contribution given by you will be visible for the years to come.

As part of our work we have to train each and every beneficiary on the running, maintenance of our units provided to the beneficiaries. We also can use the same facility to train the students who are coming to us for training from various Indian and foreign Universities as part of their Engineering/agricultural/social work. We also can use this facility for training our staff as well as staff from Government or other Institutions. The estimation for the training centre is about $40000. Last year we received £10,000 as prize money from Ashden Awards, London.
We have kept aside this amount also for our training centre. Now we have some Engineering Students from France who have come for practical training as part of their engineering course. Tomorrow we are getting two more students for training from France who are studying Agricultural Engineering. This training centre will help students from many countries apart from India. So, far the major beneficiaries are students from France. I believe education is the major tool for achieving socio-economic growth and to instill peace all over the world. I appreciate your support to a great cause."

Thanks to Mr Sagar for pointing out the importance of training and education in creating successful social enterprises.
Our case study was a good exercise in determining whether an on-line process of voting works - based on this thoughtful letter - I would say the process yielded a true winner.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Social Entrepreneurship Leadership Myth #1

Social entrepreneurs typically put up with personal economic hardship to launch their dream enterprise. Some work for a while, save money and live off of that or they have small grants, or personal assets, or working spouses or the new trend of limited prize money etc. This breeds a habit of thrift and economy. So far so good. This factor is really important when applying for grants from foundations or public funds. It is a critical personal and organisational leadership skill for running an NGO or other non-profit where one uses limited financial resources - since no new financial resources are being created there is no room for any financial risk-taking. So in my experience social entrepreneurs come to believe in a "how can I save money?" versus "how can I make money?" mindset.

This is where leading a social enterprise is strategically different from leading a non-profit. Corporate or social investors want to know when the organisation will be financially self-sustaining. strategically, a social enterprise looks more like a for-profit venture. Strategic leaders will answer the following questions:
1- how much time to first enterprise revenue dollar
2 - How much time to break even
3 - how much time to first profit dollar (social enterprises typically reinvest revenue)

A business plan that includes a well thought out financial risk (e.g. trying out or investing in a new technology) may be acceptable even if sustainability takes longer. The reason for having the "how can I make money" mindset is that :
1. It makes a more convincing argument that eventually the enterprise will be sustainable. In this mindset, fiscal responsibility is a given as good operations management and positions the entrepreneur as being strategic.
2. Additionally, investors are well versed with for-profit business plan evaluation and thus more likely to commit.

So my recommendation to social entrepreneurs: do put as much energy into your revenue streams as to fiscal operational responsibility when it comes to developing your leadership style.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Social Entrepreneurship Defined

Social entrepreneurship is somewhat new. It is difficult to understand for people new to this area because it is not philanthropy and not quite business though it is known to masquerade as both. Hope the following characterization helps:

1. The motivation is social good and the means is business creation. Typically social good is in the purview of governments, foundations and NGOs. The area lacks financial instruments required by business. Legal structures exist but are not optimal.

2. In a typical social venture, financial return follows social return. Additionally, local social mores play a role in market creation and expansion – making the task operationally more difficult and slower in yielding results.

3. There are successful social entrepreneurs around but none are achieving scale at any significant rate. Possible solution is public-private partnerships but there are few success stories in this area and many failures. Another solution is venture capital but there is low (and slow) financial return to investor. On the plus side I think the risk is lower too.

Example success stories – (mentioned in this blog over time)
Micro finance: SKS, Kiva, Grameen-phone;
Health care – Aravind eye hospitals, Jaipur foot;
Energy – Selco, D.light;
Education- Barefoot College

For organisations interested in participating in this space - Examples of useful services (become a focal “go-to” place for social entrepreneurs and socially motivated investors) are from small to big-

Scholarships to attend conferences/ events
Special track at conference/events
Infrastructure services – create incubator - office space, legal, business plan review
Provide networking opportunities
education opportunities – for investor as well as entrepreneur
sponsored competitions – e.g. best business plan
Mentor services
Technology-social entrepreneur match ups
Social venture fund creation

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Future of Social Enterprise: Harvard Business Review

I had a "duh" moment yesterday. The Kasturi Rangan, Herman Leonard, Susan McDonald HBS working paper has helped me crystallise what my blog is about- yes, I admit it- at least till I change my mind. They examine the "confluence of forces that is shaping the field of social enterprise" and propose three scenarios for how this sector might evolve (full text here):
1. Consolidation: In this scenario, funding will keep growing in a gradual, linear fashion and organizations will compete for resources by demonstrating performance. The sector will consolidate, with some efficient organizations gaining scale, some merging and then growing, and some failing to achieve either scale or efficiency and eventually shutting down.
2. Entrepreneurial: In a more optimistic future, existing and new enterprises will apply strategies to achieve and demonstrate performance, improving efficiency and effectiveness and attracting new funding sources. More organizations will enter a reformed, competitive field of social change with new entrepreneurial models, established traditional organizations, and innovative funding strategies fueling widespread success.
3. Expressive: Rather than focusing exclusively on performance, funders and organizations may view their investment as an expressive civic activity. As much value is placed on participating in a cause as on employing concrete measures of impact or efficiency. In this scenario, funding will flow as social entrepreneurs experiment with new models based on a range of individual priorities and relationships.

I am not satisfied with item 1 - too slow and more of the same. Item 3 is okay but business scales much faster than pure social activity. So here I am: My blog is promoting (creating mind share, providing links and just plain evangelizing) the entrepreneurial scenario (#2) leveraging technical innovation - much like what has fuelled the growth of silicon valley. What would you say?

...And The Winner is .....

Our casestudy competition came to an end Sunday with the winner being SKG - India - Biomass & Biogas -Mothers and daughters making income from selling fertilizer and making electricity.

Many who voted cited this case's ability to also address local sustainable agriculture- which given the recent global food shortages is becoming critically important.With our first event over and our group reaching the facebook imposed cut off limit of 1200 members we will be launching some new initiatives from the facebook fan page: Two new initiatives we will start:
ANGEL INVESTING: Competition for groups looking for start-up funding for sustainable energy technologies
ACADEMIC GRANTS: Student research grants for projects studying sustainablity.Hope we can continue to build and reinforce this sustainable community we have created.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Three Things I learned From Mohammad Yunus

June is graduation month and I got to double dip -my niece's MIT graduation and commencement speech by Mohammad Yunus, in person - all at once.

For me, it wouldn't have mattered what he said- the symbolism of Yunus, with all that he represents, standing at the podium, was enough. By inviting Yunus, MIT faculty is publicly telling its grads, hey look - we know "Each of you has the power to change the world" and this is the direction - a better world for all. Maybe, I don't give enough credit to MIT but I was surprised when I found out. And maybe Yunus was too - because he started his speech with an ad lib that taught me lesson number one.

Relate first and find common ground: he started by thanking MIT for making him feel right at home by bringing on the rain (yes it was pouring out there), just like the monsoons in his native Bangladesh. I could feel the collective tension of a few thousand people dissipate - hey its only water and we are all in it together!

Individual: The "New" Businessman: "money-making is a means, not an end. But for the businessman in the existing theory money-making is both a means and also an end." Businesses have only one metric of success but humans are multifaceted: as people, he said, we are multidimensional but business has one measure- profit. Don't sell yourself short by identifying too much with the current institution of business - it is not only unidimensional, it is flawed. "Poverty is an artificial imposition of the system." Can you change the system? How about a new kind of business with a new kind of metric? "We can easily reformulate the concept of a businessman to bring him closer to a real human being. In order to take into account the multi-dimensionality of real human being we may assume that there are two distinct sources of happiness in the business world 1) maximizing profit, and 2) achieving some pre-defined social objective. Since there are clear conflicts between the two objectives, the business world will have to be made up of two different kinds of businesses --1) profit-maximizing business, and 2) social business. Specific type of happiness will come from the specific type of business"

Action: Break a big problem into bite sized chunks. "Three basic interventions will make a big difference in the existing system : a) broadening the concept of business by including "social business" into the framework of market place, b) creating inclusive financial and health care services which can reach out to every person on the planet, c) designing appropriate information technology devices, and services for the bottom-most people and making them easily available to them."

Do read the whole speech. His ideas about financial instruments (dow jones for social businesses, partnership with Danone, Intel.. make it all sound not only possible but probable.

Go Grads!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Now We're Talking! Voting ends June 15th

We have had a surge of voting activity - SKG Biomass in India has pulled into the lead with over 300 votes- I will leave the voting open until the end of the weekend. Vote at :
For those of you just joining us: The Bordeaux Energy Colloquium is a private group of energy executives and policy makers. We are sponsoring this on-line casestudy competition for outstanding individual efforts in sustainable energy.
There are 10 videos- all available under the video section of the group page
Competition Goals:
1. to educate the members about how very simple and inexpensive solutions can create such large life-changing effects for those involved.
2. to diffuse this information by sharing it with others – forwarding on the videos and asking people to become involved.
3. to humbly reward the casestudy participants by holding a vote and offering a $5000 first prize.

from Kimberly

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Aravind Case: Business at its Best

It is worth studying the Aravind case - a business that does well by doing good. Aravind has overcome barriers of distance, poverty and ignorance to create a self-sustaining system; social entrepreneurship at its best with latest in technology, revenue generation for sustainability and a business model for scaling.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has selected the Aravind Eye Care System , to receive the 2008 Gates Award for Global Health.

But the contribution made by Aravind is broader than just healthcare - they validate and thrive on the concept of "doing well by doing good".

"Founded in 1976 in a rented house with only eleven beds, Aravind has grown into a thriving network of hospitals and satellite clinics that provide eye exams and surgeries, train healthcare professionals, conduct research, and manufacture eye-care products. In the past year, the Aravind network provided out-patient care to approximately 2.4 million patients and performed more than 280,000 surgeries. Thanks in part to its efforts, the estimated number of blind people in India fell from 8.9 million in 1990 to 6.7 million in 2002 -- a 25 percent decrease according to Philanthropy News."

What I hope this recognition will catalyse is growth in investment in social enterprises, like Aravind, early in their lifecycle so it does not take 30 years to scale.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Microsoft's alliance with OLPC, and the exit of Walter Bender!!

I have several problems with Negroponte's philosophy on the OLPC Project. At the outset, I must confess my admiration for any "disruptive" idea or technology. By that count, the OLPC is a good disruptive technology. However, Negroponte’s business model of initially insisting that poor countries purchase 1 million units at $100 a piece was a real stinker. Imagine, having to shell out $100 million for an unproven concept!! No matter how relevant and exciting the OLPC technology might have been, that is not the way to gouge poorer countries with unproven concepts and products. Poor countries have scarce resources and have the right to prioritize usage in their own unique ways.

The right way to proliferate the OLPC in these countries would have been to align with philanthropic foundations that would put up the money to deliver OLPC devices to poorer countries.

Then, this recent OLPC tie-up with M$ has come as an absolute shocker. The initial focus on the "constructionist" learning model will now vanish with M$'s focus on the dollar. Young students starting out with XP will become robotic users of mobile computing devices and applications as defined by M$, rather than develop as creative human beings capable of personalizing open source software to their unique situations through incremental or deeper changes.

I am glad Walter Bender has seen the light and moved on to Sugar Labs where he will continue with the constructionist learning philosophy.

Since Sugar is open-sourced, we would love to put it on our own hardware, the Encore Mobilis which I designed and built with a small dedicated team of engineers at Bangalore, India. We are justifiably proud of our own product but also appreciate the good features, like Sugar, in competing products. I am glad we will now be in a position to offer Sugar on the Mobilis, should we decide to, and provide our users more choice.

Good luck, Walter, and keep the open-source flag flying!! Freedom of choice is important for all of us. Let a thousand flowers bloom.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Social and Business networking study- Make your voice count!

This is the first of a kind event- where we are using the 'social web' to spread the word about how everyday people can make an incredible impact on a Sustainable Energy Future for us all. We have selected 10 videos and you need to VOTE HERE:

You can view the videos (they are inspiring!) or vote based on your cause. Winner gets $5000 prize and there is a $500 BEST RECRUITER prize. So if a friend told you about the event- make sure to give their name- $500 buys a lot of pizza and beer that can be shared with many friends!

Videos are as follows:
1. Shelby Tyne- Greenway Farms - S. Africa – Biogas Shelby teaches others how to manage farm waste and generate elec
2. Dan Robichaud - Canada - Solar Heater
Dan shows that anyone with a bit of initiative can create their own low-cost energy solution.
3. DAXU - China – Biomass
Replacing coal with biomass bricks for home cooking.
4. Practical Action - Peru - Micro Hydro
Local schools keep teachers in villages with electricity.
5. AIDS - Phillipines - Hydro pumps
Over 15,000 people now have access to clean and safe water
6. SKG - India - Biomass & Biogas
Mothers and daughters making income from selling fertilizer and making electricity
7. BioTech - India – Biomass
Keeping the streets clean and reducing the spread of disease.

8. Center for Rural Technology - Nepal - Micro Hydro
Each improved mill replacing diesel offsets 2.4 tons/yr of CO2
9. Deng Ltd - Ghana - Solar PV Panels
Maternity wards now benefit from reliable lighting and refridgeration for vaccines.
10. SEEDS -Sri Lanka - Micro financing for Solar
Financing of over 52,000 solar home systems in rural areas of Sri Lanka

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Social Mission as Strategy

It is becoming quite popular these days for a non-profit to position itself as a business- to show streamlined operations for example. But often a non-profit is missing a strategic view of its social return on investment. It is possible to go one sep further - have the social mission be the strategy for the company. Check my article in WITI magazine for three case studies where social mission has become a differentiating and competitive strategy for the business. They are:
Southwest Creations Collaborative, a 501c3 non-profit enterprise in New Mexico, integrates a successful contract sewing and handwork business with a social mission to enhance dignity in the lives of families. Website :
Digital Equalizer, a flagship program of the American India Foundation, is charted with bridging the digital divide by taking advantage of computer and internet technology to engage, educate, enrich and empower India’s underserved children. Website:
Vamos Blogar (Let’s Blog!), a Reuters Digital Vision Project at Stanford University, is aimed at improving employability of at-risk youth in Brazil through an innovative literacy curriculum based on multimedia web logs. Website :

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

An Image Makeover for Peace

Why Peace is not popular has to do with War.
I think we all know what is wrong with violence; we just can't seem to help ourselves.
I am reminded of this because today, April 30 is seminar titled "from a culture of violence to a culture of peace". Great. There are educational efforts to promote peace (Ahimsa Center and a class at Stanford are two I am involved with). But the fact remains that peace is not mainstream; it remains in the activist category. It is so because we make it abstract. The hard truth about peace is:

1. Lousy Economics: war is good business; peace is not a business - it is an NGO activity at best
2. Results Perception: violence is viewed as the weapon of the strong, peace of the weak, passive or otherwise uncool - any video games about peace out there?
3. Lacks Leadership: war is institutionalised so we know how to participate; peace is recognised as an absence of willingness to war. How to be proactive about peace? What image comes to mind? e.g. Churchill is seen as powerful, Mahatma Gandhi as saint - we can't all be saintly; it is easier to get fat and stick a cigar in your mouth.

I hope Social media will accelerate fixing the perception issue (item 2) - we can make it cool to have a culture of peace - just by hanging out together in cyberspace and sharing the sorts of content generated by events mentioned here. Re, Item 3 - I hope social entrepreneurs can begin to tackle. As for item 1 - any ideas?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Brand IIT: Quota Controversy and My Opinion

"Ending uncertainty over the controversial law providing for 27 per cent reservation for Other Backward Classes in central educational institutions including IITs and IIMs, the Supreme Court on Thursday upheld its validity but ruled that the “creamy layer” among the backwards would not get reservation" reports the Hindustan Times on April 11 2008.

I agree its a risky move. I agree with everything that everybody- academics, students, administrators - is saying about why the move is flawed and won't work. Lets also take it as a given that same facilities, same resources (teachers, funds) and more students, some less qualified as measured by the tests will put a huge strain on the system.

What is at Stake? - Brand IIT
What is to be gained? - Brand India (wealth creation through social/education inclusion)

Taking the long term view: What choice does India have? Home to the world's richest AND the poorest, the most educated AND least literate, the best health care AND the worst, what is next?

Why it will work: It all really depends on IITians (students and alum) and they are a smart bunch. They have an opportunity to make lemonade from lemons - prove that they can not only create new wealth but they can create it in areas where it has not been done through normal capital channels.

Additionally - I offer two arguments:
1 - resource issue is a red herring - average spend per IIT student is a pittance compared, to lets say, an MIT student and IItians claim they are the best. Since adding 50% more students changes this ratio not a whit. - why should it matter?
2 - student quality degradation is a red herring - It has been proven in business that employee diversity is a business asset for the different kinds of thinking and viewpoints it brings. The superhuman IIT exam barrier has self selected a narrow slice of intelligentsia into IIT's - the new student pool will bring, at a minimum, - new market knowledge. Hopefully that translates into local markets and technology innovation, like alternative energy, for local consumption.

BTW - I am a proponent of a high tech version of a Peace Corp type program for India to bridge the urban rural divide. This could a stop-gap measure. After all the ruling will be under review in 5 years.

I post this knowing full well the battle that awaits at home ...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Vipani: Making Market Forces Work for the Poor

Farming is a tough business. Investment is up front, production is risky, goods are perishable, and market is uncertain. So it is not surprising that a vast majority of the world's poor are small farmers. George Thomas, founded Vipani (Sanskrit for marketplace) to make market forces work for the small farmer. "A farmer can produce tomatoes; but what good is it if he can't sell them when they are ready and ripe?" he says in Ode article. Vipani works by having staff members research community demand for crops and then recruiting farmer-agents to work with the organisation to create a network of farmers, buyers, suppliers and lenders. Micro loans, technology, education all improve/enable the farmers' lot. But if farmers cannot get fair prices for their crops these improvements make little difference.

Poverty is often seen as a failure of political policy or aid. But it is also a failure of market forces - in connecting the community. Vipani has demonstrated the validity of its approach in Kenya - where boosting income has also shown the ability to heal deep-seated ethnic conflicts.

As I was reading about Vipani, I was struck by the success of their social entrepreneurship approach. And it was a real plus to find that George is a fellow alum of the Digital Vision Program at Stanford and his acknowledgement that he researched the idea during his fellowship.

Vipani and George are demonstrating that market forces can be made to work for the poor; that even minor capital investments yield major social and economic returns; but it takes time and it takes dedicated leadership.

Tomatoes anyone?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Three things I learned from Amartya Sen

Economics Nobel laureate, Amartya Sen was in residence at Stanford this week. His upcoming book is - "The Idea of Justice" and after all his is the mind that provides the theoretical validation for socially motivated business creation. So I juggled my calendar and attended. The three lectures were called Indignation and Room for Reason, Impartiality: Contracts versus Voice and my favourite - Beyond Institutional Fundamentalism. I also attended his office hours - to know the man behind the words - a lot of words - a lot of really really really good words. His office hours were Q&A format - with 10-15 people. I was seeking to go beyond philosophy to actions that stem from conviction born of thoughtful argumentation (I like "The Argumentative Indian"). Here are the top three gems (using his words - from my notes) for me:

1- If you feel threatened it makes intelligent discourse impossible
2- For creating a just society: Empowerment is not enough. You must to ensure "enlightened empowerment" which can only come from public discussion and giving a political voice (to those who are not being heard)
3 - Recognition (or fame) can useful unless it becomes a substitute for doing anything useful

I noticed:
For every question, he acknowledged both sides of the argument and when he disagreed it was always with a smile.
He talks more about the voice of the poor (or minorities) because they have no/less voice - not that others don't deserve a voice.
Throughout my 3-5 day interaction I always saw him speaking from intellect and emotion - never from ego and recognition.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Market Light - Mobile Phones to Aid Farmers

It always feels good to follow up on a good plan- to see how it is doing. This one feels really good because I have seen it grow from seed to sapling. Project Market Light, originally developed at the Digital Vision Program has the full backing of Reuters and is now being scaled in India , starting in Maharashtra. "Standing in an onion field in a village outside Pune, Chandra Kant can check weather reports, get crop spraying information and find out how much onions are fetching at the local market, all on his mobile phone, for 175 rupees per quarter. Information put out on mobile phones could transform the fortunes of small farmers–(TimesOnline article here) - and farming is India's largest employer - and the one that could use technology innovation. The article also draws a parallel to Grameenphone (which brought banking to the poor) to illustrate that success in this field is absolutely possible. They say about mobile services aimed at the rural poor "by 2006 Grameenphone had more than 6m subscribers and held a 60% market share in Bangladesh. It is now among Bangladesh’s largest private taxpayers and has created more than 250,000 jobs. "

Thursday, March 20, 2008

New Technology for Energy Savings - Why Bangalore?

New technology innovation and adoption can sometimes happen faster in a developing economy - it has the economic support for investment in new infrastructure because current infrastructure is poor and/or expensive.
This topic came up a few weeks back, at a seminar I gave at Stanford about the economics of innovation. The example I used to make the point is for a technology I am intimately familiar with - the HPLabs "Smart" Data Center. It is a data center cooling technology that can cut down energy use by 40-50%. You would think HP would be debut this technology in an expensive place like Palo Alto, Right?- but no- HP has released it first in Bangalore, India - Why?
Because in Bangalore, just like in other big cities in India, with its poor infrastructure and intermittent power supply, you get data center up time of 24/7 by supplementing grid electricity with diesel burning generators - which is expensive - more so than grid electricity in PA. And so economically it makes more sense to refine/test it there. Additional benefits of course are emissions reduction etc.
So the lesson is - if you have great technology, and it does not seem economically feasible to innovate further in a developed economy, with its good, cheap, reliable infrastructure, try it in an emerging economy - there will be economic as well as environmental incentives, i.e. a double bottom line. For details -check out the Businessweek article.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wage Peace: Submit Youtube video, win $250

One of my favourite courses at Stanford is around technologies for Peace. Here is an invitation from my colleague Adam Tolnay:

"I write to ask you to please spread the word on a contest we are running at the Persuasive Technology Lab. It would be amazing if person from the developing world would win!
Win $250 for identifying the best peace video on Youtube!
Sincerely, Adam"

deadline is march 31

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Energy from Tidal Waves: Gavin Newsom

San Francisco, California, Mayor Gavin Newsom has done it again - being controversial that is - his tidal energy project has lately been debated (or attacked) even by alternative energy supporters.

A while back (early 2006) Newsom announced that the City will explore the possibility of generating power from the tidal flow under the Golden Gate Bridge and launched a $150,000 feasibility study to examine the tidal energy project, which could generate up to 35 megawatts of power, according to the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

The issue is that early indicators point to less promising results and so of course many want to scrap the project.

To which Mr Newsom said something like - I heard this on NPR while driving so I paraphrase- "I understand the the arguments against it. I only want to hear the arguments for it because - somebody's gotta do it - and I'm gonna do it."

This is why you've gotta love Newsom - its not his looks or his gravel voice - its his convictions. And his long term thinking. Research is risky business but its rewards are proportionally great. To give up on a project at the first sign of an obstacle is short term thinking - and in the scheme of things - the investment in this project is modest. He has a goal of making SFO carbon neutral by 2020 (see video on second life) and I think it is a worthy goal. We should be leaders in this space not laggards.

I get his philosophy. At a speech Newsom gave to the Indian American community - he articulated why he loves San Francisco - he said the secret sauce that defines San Francisco is that it is a diverse city (39% born outside the US) where "Dreamers become doers".

So Mr. Treehugger analyst, I disagree with your advice to the Mayor - I do not agree that it is inappropriate use of money to invest in cutting edge research. I agree with Newsom -if we don't do it who will?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Tech Museum Awards - Technology Benefiting Humanity | Submit a Nomination

The Tech Museum Awards - Technology Benefiting Humanity Submit a Nomination
due March 24: Nominations and applications are evaluated according to the following criteria:
The technology application significantly improves the human condition in one of the five award areas: economic development, education, environment, equality, or health.
A serious problem or challenge with global significance is addressed by this use of technology.
The application of this technology, which may be either a new invention or an innovative use of an existing technology, makes a noteworthy contribution that surpasses previous or current solutions.
The technology application has the potential to serve as an inspiration or model for further innovation.
The technology application is in the field and has demonstrated a measurable benefit.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

India Billionaires: So why am I not ecstatic?

Forbes just released its list of billionaires and there are 4 (not 1 not 2.. but 4) Indians in the top 10 - at 4,5,6 and 8 we have Lakshmi Mittal, Mukesh and Anil Ambani and KP Singh. If you grew up in India like I did - where the only foreign coverage we saw was BBC pictures of starving children or worse stories of "Suttee" and "thuggery" this is great news- its about India "arriving", India "shining" etc. Not only that I am personally a beneficiary of their endeavors: I am thankful for my flat in Gurgaon, great phone connectivity everywhere in India and not to forget - that Reliance data card - slow as it is - that gives me internet access from anywhere, everywhere in India.

So why am I not ecstatic? Because India's dreams are not big enough. Because I can't help but think that India could do more- we are not living upto the innovation potential of the full billion people. Wouldn't it be great if Gurgaon had green buildings? Ones that wouldn't have to run Diesel generators but could still have power 24/7? Better infrastructure? Is there enough investment in new R&D suitable for India's climate? Like Solar? Wind?

Technology can create wealth - Bill Gates (and the rest) has proven that over and over again. How about now we employ technology that will also distribute the wealth instead of making the income gap larger - especially in India where a majority still lives on less than $4/day.

Monday, March 10, 2008

India Rail Story. Continued...get tickets with Mobile phones

A few months back when I was on my way to India, I made online reservations for a train journey in India sitting here in Palo Alto - something travel agents in India had a hard time doing. I wrote a blog on it. The point of the story, ofcourse, which many people missed - inferring from the comments, was how empowering the internet is but so many in India do not have internet access and are not expected to get it anytime soon.

Well here is the good news - my blog readers may have missed the point but the Indian Railways didn't (yes I take full credit for this development!). "In a rare example of action pre-empting intention, mobile rail ticketing had already been in use for several months before Railway Minister Lalu Prasad announced it as one of the highlights in his budget to modernize train reservations. The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corp Ltd (IRCTC), a division of Indian Railways which issues tickets to about 15 million passengers daily, launched IRCTCmobile (link to article) services to provide "cutting-edge technology" developed by C-SAM inc. IRCTCmobile, which is device and network agnostic, allows passengers to perform various services such as book tickets using credit and cash cards, view train schedules, check availability, get fares, perform inquiries and access many other associated information services through mobile phones. "

'"IRCTCmobile is a great example of how the most advanced mobile technology can be deployed in a country like India to benefit the masses, including people at the bottom of the pyramid," Pitroda said.

Given the size of the Indian Railways and the rapid growth of mobilephones in India, This stands to becomeone of the largest mobile phone applications in the world - benefiting all involved.

Give them technology!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Can Text Messaging do Social Good? Ask NETWAS

Back in November 2007, in partnership with we launched a competition- to encourage text messaging for social good.

The idea was simple: more people have cell phones than internet so more people could innovate socially motivated phone system than an internet based system. So we invited NGOs from developing countries to submit a short proposal outlining how text messaging could make their job easier. At this time we're delighted to announce the winners of the inaugural nGOmobile competition. With over seventy entries from all corners of the globe, judging was a real challenge with the standard of entries incredibly high. Listen to the winners announcement on the BBC World Service here (MP3)

According to the Judges: "the sheer inventiveness of the submissions made judging the competition a real pleasure. We think we've chosen winners who combine creativity with the ability to deliver, and look forward to seeing how they progress" The top four are:

Entry name: Participatory rapid response forest management system
Organisation: Centre for Training and Integrated Research for ASAL Development Project Manager: Francis Kamau
Country: Kenya
Project summary: CETRAD is working with local communities to promote the protection and sustainable use of environmental resources. They plan to implement messaging services to help with reporting, field communications and to provide an early warning system to help combat poaching and illegal logging

Entry name: Ask NETWAS a water, sanitation and hygiene question and get an answer
Organisation: Network for Water and Sanitation
Project Manager: Cate Nimanya
Country: Uganda
Project summary: NETWAS plans to launch an SMS-based service for rural communities allowing them to ask a range of water-based questions on topics such as sanitation, hygiene, water harvesting, and water technologies

Entry name: SMS at the service of healthy forests and families and empowerment of women
Organisation: The Equilibrium Fund
Project Manager: Cecilia Sanchez Garduno
Country: Mexico
Project summary: This project seeks to help rural Central American and Mexican communities solve problems of deforestation, poverty, malnutrition, unemployment and the marginalisation of women using SMS to improve a range of communications and provide market data, training and advice

Entry name: Count to 5! Campaign
Organisation: Digital Development
Project Manager: Razi Nurullayev
Country: Azerbaijan
Project summary: This campaign will use text messaging to help grassroots and politically excluded people understand their human and legal rights, and to engage them further in the political process

Do check out details and pics on the ngoMobile site.
Many thanks to our sponsors. We will be doing this again and if you wish to sponsor in any way (laptops, phones, PR) we welcome your help

Friday, February 29, 2008

2008 Social Capitalist Awards : FastCompany

Check it out - useful list with pointers to - in their view- the best in the field

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

MMM Good: Social Entrepreneurship Day at Stanford

As Social Entrepreneurs we must routinely flirt with Media and Money. The event at Stanford on Sunday (info in my previous blog) was an incredible such opportunity. But if you missed the Feb 24 event -not to worry. Catch up in the blogosphere. I am still pretty caught up with eweek so will get to my musings later but I wanted to get the ball rolling - For starters let me point you to great pics from Mitchell Tsai and a detailed writeup on the panelists from Project View John Kuner.

For the panel - Kriss pointed out that the debate was not about "what is social entrepreneurship?" - an endless and incredily engaging topic in and of itself - but about "how to be a social entrepreneur" by showing the Greg Dees definition of social entrepreneurship. For me this really set the tone of the event in a positive fashion - less intellectualizing and more action. All the panelists were stellar in providing practical "how to" advice. I liked "Do Good Smart" from Jessica who said she first heard it from someone else.

Digital Vision Fellows - that's us showcasing projects in all areas from Tele-medicine to Digital Big Game- attending "in the flesh" and "in the virtual" created an incredible buzz with their passion and energy. I met some new people and we all made new connections and partnerships that should further the cause of social entrepreneurship.

Ah yes - in answwer to the question "what else is the one thing, besides money, a social entrpreneur needs?" - the answer was - "Mentor" - and talking about mentors Stanford eweek is piloting a program called "Coaches On Call" a mentor match up program -

MMM Good is my summary: for social entrepreneurs - easy to remember- MMM - its Mentor (to bounce ideas in a supportive fashion), Money (SE is a new business model so it is extra efffot getting started and be prepared to do something fo a while before you get any), Media (get the word out and let them find you) but most importantly "Moi" - i.e that's you - the social entrepreneur - its about your focus, your passion and your leadership that will get the M3 chasing you an not the other way round.

Or, to quote: Just do it!

gotta go -

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Give Them Technology

One month after announcing the world’s cheapest car — the $2,500 Tata Nano — India has unveiled the telecommunications equivalent: the $20 “people’s phone.” Developed by Spice, the Indian telecoms group that is listed in Bombay and worth $2 billion, is angled at the very lowest end of the market.,2933,330784,00.html
I think the world ought to sit up and take notice. These are early indicators of a change in the making. An important change; a great change: where lower cost comes from reducing non-essential features in product design not from using older, cheaper technology developed for a market with completely different economic drivers.
For years technology has been associted with “expensive”, “complicated” and most importantly “irrelevant” for the poor or people living on less than $2/day. This is a red herring. Give them food, give them medicines and ah yes give them education; but technology?
Yes technology - the best and latest technology; the kind developed for the market that represents the next billion.
Affordability and access (communiction, transportation) are backbones of productivity - imagine what the world would look like if not just two billion but the gobal population, 6.6 billion people, were engaged in the innovation process!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Invitation Social Entrepreneurship Day, Feb 24, Stanford

You are invited to a free panel discussion on funding social enterprises, and a Social Entrepreneur Showcase, sponsored by the Center for Social Innovation and the Stanford Social Innovation Review, and the Digital Vision Program this Sunday, February 24, at Wallenberg Hall, Stanford University, from 3:00-5:00 PM. The event is part of an exciting week of activities for Entrepreneurship Week at Stanford University.
Kriss Deiglmeier, executive director of the Center, will moderate a lively discussion among funders of social enterprises and their grantees, including: o Jenny Shilling Stein, executive director of the Draper Richards Foundation o Jessica Jackley Flannery, cofounder and director of business development of o Amy Clark, Global Fellows Program Leader at Ashoka o Suzanne McKechnie Klahr, Ashoka Fellow and founder of BUILD The event is open to all, with no registration required (but we recommend that you arrive early). For more information, visit Immediately afterwards, from 4:00-5:00 PM in Wallenberg Hall, the Stanford Digital Vision Program will host a fair showcasing social entrepreneurs from around the world. Meet these entrepreneurs in person and learn about the innovative IT-based applications they have developed in the areas of health, education, and financial services.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Entrepreneurship Week, Stanford Feb 22-29

Stanford e-week is coming up ( and Social Entrepreneurship Day is Sunday Feb 24, Wallenberg Hall, from 3-5: agenda is
Panel – Funding Social Enterprises 3-4 (this one is being put up by Center for Social Innovation)
Showcase of Social Entrepreneurs 4-5 (this one is being put up by Digital Vision Program - that's us!)
See you there.

Friday, January 25, 2008

TATA Nano : is it Social Entrepreneurship?

I am just back from India after a two month stay touring all sorts of places – and I have decided India is two (at least two) parallel universes – intertwined but unconnected….and maybe just maybe…. The TATA Nano will provide a connection – and that’s social entrepreneurship- at least in the India context.

New Market: The Nano (the people’s car) target market is the 4 person family who cannot afford a car today - so along with folks in the large cities who can afford the SUVs– there will be a big rural demand for this car – i.e. a whole new market will be opened and a productivity and lifestyle improvement created that will benefit the India economy – and that means the global economy. This is the point critics of the Nano in India are missing as they envision choked (as if they can get any more choked) city streets.

Eco-friendly: The green-guys are missing the point that the Nano is pretty eco-friendly car (better mileage than Prius, same emisions as a scooter). If Tata can make enough Nanos to enter the export market and replace just the SUVs in Californmia that will take care of the added "Nano footprint".

Innovation: I believe it will spur innovation in the “green-car” space through competition – witness the announcements by almost all major car companies to do something including Ford. Since gas in India is almost twice what it costs in the US and the car is being sold to those who cannot really afford the gas – green alternatives will be developed – there is already talk of the e-nano and India does have the technology – witness the Reva electric car at Rs. 4 lakhs – catering mainly to the export market.

I used to be in the "Nano-is-disaster" camp but after being on the ground -in the target market for the car where it is the realization of a dream - I am a convert. I just hope TATA can make it to keep up with demand and it does not end up in the black market.

Check out the article Nano- hypocrisy below:
"Social Entrepreneurship will be no different from "core business" as the TATA Nano will demonstrate." says Gerardo Rego. I agree.