Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The HP Phenomenon: Why does HP Matter?

Monday, Dec 7, 2009 I (and a few hundred others) went to the Computer History Museum's book discussion event "Chuck House in Conversation with KQED's Dave Iverson- The HP Phenomenon: Innovation and Business" not so much to learn but to participate in the "feel good" aura that HP themed events seem to create. And I was not disappointed. Along with meeting several fellow HP'ers I enjoyed reliving HP stories. But the last Iverson question, "why does HP matter?" really got me thinking. As people know, I am a "dust to dust, ashes to ashes" kind of a person so why do I care that the HP story be told? Why do several hundred, maybe several thousands care?
After a great deal of thought, I know now why I care. And maybe why every leader should care. The answer as simple in concept as it is complex to execute and it is:
HP brought out the very best in everybody (employees, customers) - for innovation, for just being a better person, a better citizen. Because this is not easy to explain, we call it the HP way (respect for individual etc.) but it is more than that. There was an institutional element to the HP way - management walked the talk. Thus as a entry level software engineer, I stayed in the same hotel as my division GM when I travelled for work and on more than one occasion travelled coach with him on flights. The week I joined HP (after almost 4 interviews and one year) we went on "work 5 day and get paid for 4" work day schedule (this is in the book) to avoid layoffs - not in our division which was doing fine but another part of the company. We did it happily. So did management. As Chuck said, decisions were bottom up - it was our policy - we knew that good times follow bad times and so on - nothing special. Equally important was the HP way impact on community - wherever HP operated. I remember once (pre-Euro days) travelling in Europe, crossing a country border, when 2 members in our party were missing official documents. The gun toting border guards, when they found we were HP employees let us pass - as if that is documentation enough of our honesty. Another time, a new employee in my group, got an apartment rental without references because "Oh, you work at HP - you must be a good person".
HP is a leader in innovation. HP is successful. We were successful. We could be good people and we would be successful.
Good = Success. That is the HP way and HP was living proof of it.
In these turbulent times, when we make compromises with our principles every day, The HP story, that if you do your best you (and the world) will be a better place, matters.
It is the All American story.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Microfinance 2.0: People + Technology investment

The fact that microfinance has been a successful business model for poverty alleviation is undisputed (operational quibbles notwithstanding). The reason is that Grameen bank turned conventional wisdom on its head and made the unbankable (people with no collateral) into safe banking bets. Once they proved that the model was financially sustainable - the world followed suit. Now we are even looking at IPO's for microfinance institutions like SKS and others. So what is next? If microfinance 1.0 was about betting on the innate entrepreneurship of people microfinance 2.0 will be about betting on technology (providing scale by lowering cost) for changing the world. A partnership with social entrepreneurs can pave the way because they typically look for sustainability and are technology savvy. Unfortunately, social capital is still hard to come by especially for social entrepreneurs involved in changing the rural economy through innovations in renewable energy (like solar for lighting) or education (e-content for education) or healthcare. Government institutions involved with rural development should especially take note as they can provide the scale and sustainability. The Jaipur foot is a good example of medical technology that got a boost from a government partnership. Right now when India is so visible in the climate change debate, by investing in companies bringing solar to rural - off grid areas - would strategic. Companies like SELCO, D.Light, Duron energy are good investments for microfinance or NABARD (Govt. banks). It has long been held that research is expensive and emerging economies need only be markets. This is no longer the case when technologies of the developed world do not scale to meet the needs of the emerging economies.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Revitalizing the Rural Economy- NREGS?

I am looking forward to my session ‘Revitalizing the Rural Economy’. The moderator for this session is Biswajit Sen. The session is scheduled for October 28, 2009 from 1600 to 1715 hrs at the Taj Palace Hotel, New Delhi. The session brief is as follows:
“Various initiatives have been made to revitalize the rural economy and mainstream them into the promising economic growth. One of such example is the flagship large scale government program – NREGS. This programme is mandated to strengthen and boost the rural economy through ensuring minimum employability in the rural areas. Besides NREGS, NABARD, the lead bank especially targeting agriculture in India, has been leading various interventions to strengthen the rural economy, primarily the Rural Infrastructure Development Fund that has been instituted to boost the rural infrastructure. These different initiatives have been successful with their own set of challenges. This session envisages deliberating on the challenges of these initiatives and hence drawing on the learnings for future strategies.”
If you have ideas on the subject – its a good time to speak out – I am still formulating my final thoughts and recommendations

Friday, October 23, 2009

NRN VC Fund: Help those doing good work

A headline in my TOI (Times of India Friday Oct 23- I'm getting addicted to acronyms like all Indians) has made my day - yes its the one about Murthy (of Infosys fame) setting up a $36 million VC fund saying "entrepreneurship is the only cure for poverty and job creation". In India, family businesses still rule. If its not the M&M saga its headlines like "Prez's son leads the baba log charge" (about Pres. Patil's son winning assembly seat- politics is business) or how 5th generation Kapoor is set to be the next bollywood star (entertainment). So a move like this by one of the most respected people in India signals change. But it is the fine print that excites me. Murthy has said he will invest in the fields of basic health care, education and nutrition signalling that long term investment is also a priority. Additionally his reason for setting up the fund is: "there are people doing good work in India." He wants to support them and help them grow rather than start yet another effort himself and reinvent the wheel.
Good move Mr. Murthy - I am a fan of Good Capital.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Dancing in the Rain

Life is choice. Do I sit out the storm or learn to dance in the rain? Safe or Sorry? Bored or alive? It all depends on how you frame it. What if the storm lasts longer than the span of my life? What choice do I have? None. Life is not a choice. I must learn to dance. This is the technology and social impact conundrum. The digital divide is in your face 24 -7 in full color- on news channels and print and falsely interpreted as a choice of waiting technology to sort itself out. Get over it. There is no choice. Get engaged or get irrelevant. Use technology to lower cost, invent new paradigms, create new teaching models or just fun. Social entrepreneurs who want to use technology are tormented with the spectre of trying to find a solution (you can't eat technology) without understanding the problem - "if we wanted to eradicate poverty we would first have to understand the "reasons" behind poverty. otherwise what would happen is that the factors that had kept the rickshaw puller poor in the first place would operate over time to once again reduce him to poverty". Framed like this, it presents a false choice. We can't predict time- how long the storm will last. We understand poverty as we get engaged and try to dance. We will learn but we may not ride out the storm. Si there a choice? I got the comment in connection to my recent posts about microfinance and education. What do you think?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Mobile Phones for Literacy? Launch of Kontax

Mobile phones are the revolution in emerging economies. In the past year 128m new mobile subscriptions were signed up in India, 89m in China and 96m across Africa. Mobile Marvels, a special report on telecommunications from The Economist, is compelling in its detail about how handsets are helping even the poorest of the poor - through sustainable and scalable business models. Today. For the future the interesting possibility is mobile broadband Internet decoupled from the computer. What if educational content could be delivered over the phone, or a device held in the palm (like iPhone,) not the ear? Mobile affordability means, in parallel, we need research on how to use mobile phones for education. At Digital Vision program we had several projects exploring education using mobile phones. One of them just went live. Steve Vosloo (DVF 2007) of Shuttleworth Foundation writes:
Just wanted to let you know about the launch of the world's first m-novel written in English and isiXhosa (an indigenous South African language). It's a teen mystery story set in Cape Town about four graffiti writing friends. Read the press release for more info at http://tinyurl.com/kontax-pr2 Or read the first chapter of the story at http://kontax.mobi/ (on your PC or from your WAP-enabled phone). Every day for 21 days there'll be a new chapter. Enjoy. I think m-novels have the potential to be big in Africa and want to explore this space (from a practical and research perspective).
Literacy is directly coupled to creativity, innovation and hope. And education is a big market at the right price point. We already see innovation even in the computer space (there's a $10 computer just announced) and netbooks are overtaking computers in the emerging economies. Projects like Kontax are a beacon of hope.

Monday, September 28, 2009

ISB iDiya Challenge Launched

ISB iDiya Challenge is a National Social Ideas Competition being organised by the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad open to all working professionals. Closing date for submission is October 25, 2009 ( <http://www.isb.edu/idiya> )
From my perspective it is great to see a management school of high calibre like ISB get involved in social issues. Tomorrow's leaders will transform the bottom line to include social impact and institutional change is required to build this new leadership.
The Situation:
49% of the world’s underweight children; 46% of the world’s wasted children and 34% of the world’s stunted children live… in INDIA. <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/13/world/asia/13malnutrition.html?_r=2>
456 million people below the international poverty line ($1.25/ day)… live in INDIA. That is one and a half times the population of the USA and one-third of the world’s population below the poverty line. <http://www.worldbank.org.in/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/SOUTHASIAEXT/INDIAEXTN/0,,contentMDK:21880725~pagePK:141137~piPK:141127~theSitePK:295584,00.html>
70% of the population does not have access to basic banking and financial services… in Rural INDIA. <http://www.urbanindia.nic.in/moud/theministry/subordinateoff/tcpo/REPORTON_BANKINGSERVICES/CHAPTER-1.pdf>
41% of the population does not own any of the basic products/assets – bicycle; radio; telephone… in Rural INDIA. <http://www.urbanindia.nic.in/moud/theministry/subordinateoff/tcpo/REPORTON_BANKINGSERVICES/CHAPTER-1.pdf>

The Response:
Some individuals have taken the untrodden path and have chosen to create companies which do good and also do business.
DesiCrew - http://www.desicrew.in/. Rural BPO delivering 40% cost savings to its clients while changing lives of rural populations. 80% of its team are women.
Dial 1298 for Ambulance - http://www.1298.in/. Rolling out a nationwide network of life support ambulance service.
Inclusive Planet - http://www.inclusiveplanet.com// <http://www.inclusiveplanet.com/> . Building the world’s largest community of differently-abled persons.

Mentoring partners for ISB iDiya: Acumen Fund, Deloitte, DFJ, Google, Intellecap, Seedfund, Unitus, Venture East.
Registration- www.isb.edu/idiya <http://www.isb.edu/idiya> . Email: idiya@isb.edu.
ISB iDiya Networking Platform: http://isbidiya.ning.com/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Hyderabad-India/ISB-iDiya/127648572855

Microfinance and Education: A win-win partnership

There is a Chinese proverb that goes something like this: if you want to plan for a year, plant a rice field, if you want to plan for ten years, plant a tree and if you want to plan for the future, educate your child. Microfinance is addressing the 1-10 year scenario which is pretty great. But last year, at the Tech Awards (http://www.techawards.org/) I heard of a business model innovation - a partnership - that addresses the future. It is a combination microfinance plus education model. In this model, women who receive loans are encouraged to send their children to a partner education NGO for "free" or at a subsidised rate. The partner institutions decide how the finances are shared (the interest payments) for optimal sustainability of both organisations. This is a win-win model where the women are encouraged to make a go of the business, (education is a social benefit - unquantifiable through standard metrics), microfinace institutions have to do less policing about the use of their funds and education NGO gets students who's parents care.
Countries with severe poverty are also plagued with prejudice against women, poor health among children and a growing opportunity gap between the rich and the poor. UNESCO proclaimed September 8 as International Literacy Day in 1965 to highlight the role of education in addressing these issues but while its importance is universally acknowledged, the deployment of quality education in developing economies has proved unsuccessful. This is also true for India where, in spite of a great rise in economic stature of the nation in recent years, the literacy divide is as great as it was prior to the IT boom. The success stories of opportunity inclusion come from the microfinance sector. So wouldn't it be nice if we could leverage the success of the microfinance model to do more? Like maybe provide quality education to those left behind bythe current system?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Education: Ultimate Empowerment

I came to the USA in 1970. When I landed in New York I knew no one and had just 8 dollars in my pocket- since that was the govt. of India regulation at that time. But I did not see any handicap in this. For I had my education. Education is empowerment.

Mahatma Gandhi: "The spread of literacy is the most effective method to advance freedom."
Yet in India, the literacy divide remains intact or worse than it was in 1970.

“Education in the new India has become a crucial marker of inequality. Among the poorest 20 percent of Indian men, half are illiterate, and barely 2 percent graduate from high school, according to government data. By contrast, among the richest 20 percent of Indian men, nearly half are high school graduates and only 2 percent are illiterate." (Education Push Yields Little for India’s Poor”, New York Times, January 17, 2008). Consider this - About 35 percent of India’s population is illiterate; there are 100 million illiterate children of ages 6-14 years.

In the course of my work we come across many organizations devoted to the cause of literacy and education for the underprivileged and they are all absolutely amazing. The fact is the education- especially at the K-12 level- is a huge challenge as it comes intermingled with issues of hunger, health, and hopelessness.

As the bay area Pratham fundraiser is coming up on Saturday, 26th I am reminded of why I support them. Pratham stands out in three ways.
1) Scale: Existing aid models for education make a huge impact but to change the world you need scale. For education, lacking a viable for-profit business model, a change is needed. Pratham is addressing this issue through partnerships. For example- they are a tripartite partnership between the government, citizens and corporates- plus they partner with other NGOs. People say the government is impossible to work with – and it is true – but they are the ones with infrastructure.
2) Metrics: Its good to have the end goal, mission and vision – but we also have to course correct. For that we need metrics and evaluations. Pratham is a learning organization that continuously monitors itself and the field.
3) Community: No service program can work if it not owned by the community, is for the community and run by the community it serves. Pratham’s many outreach programs, cadre of volunteers as well as paid staff – all have a mission of hope. This is the leadership style as well as the distinguishing strategy.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Microfinance Awards - Application Deadline Sept. 30, 2009

Awards and recognition are a great way of supporting change makers- providing emotional and (sometimes) financial support - while engendering healthy competition. So I am pleased to hear that HSBC is sponsoring Microfinance India Awards. The winners will be awarded with a cash value of Rs. 100,000 each, a silver plaque and a citation. The deadline for receiving completed nomination forms is September 30, 2009. Nominations are solicited for two categories:
1- Microfinance Institution of the year 2009 - self nominate
2- Lifetime achievement -individual - long-term, significant contribution to Microfinance sector
The awards will be presented at the Microfinance Summit October 26-28, 2009 in Delhi. Even better the awards will become an annual feature - so if not ready this year - stay tuned.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Financial Inclusion: Microfinance to Mainstream

Every year I try to do one hike in the Himalayas. It takes me back to my roots in Dehra Dun, inspires, energises and engenders hope. So in September 2008, when we did the gruelling 14km uphill trek to an elevation of 3584m (Gaurikund to Kedarnath), as usual, the mountains were unimaginably majestic but this year I saw something unexpected- man-made but equally mesmerising for me. Beyond the hike trail, on the dirt path to the last village on the India border, there flew a banner that read something like "Proud to reach 100% financial inclusion - State Bank of India". I wish I had had the presence of mind to take a picture (too tired is my excuse). Sure it is an ad. But look at the lofty goal. In a country largely supported by a rural population, where less than 50% bank and even fewer have access to credit, to reach the remotest corner of India with a goal of 100% financial inclusion is nothing short of ambitious. And indeed, all the huts I saw looked clean, had roofs and there were tiny, immaculate gardens with cabbage, cauliflower growing; chickens running around and nobody looked cold or hungry. For developing economies, microfinance (and micro-franchising) must become mainstream. So I am pleased to be invited to the Microfinance India Summit to be held October 26-28, 2009 at Taj Palace Hotel, New Delhi. The theme this year is "Doing Good and Doing Well: The need for balance". The summit will look at both the trade-offs and points of convergence as the sector grapples to balance between building the social as well as the financial capital; scale and soul; social performance measurement; client protection; products and services that the poor need; and issues linked to last-mile connectivity, among others. I also look forward to interviewing ordinary and extraordinary folks I meet at the conference - so send me your questions and I'll report back on what I hear - right here.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

An Open Mind: Key to Successful Cross Cultural Communications

Without a map Columbus probably would not have "discovered" America. But a map mislead him into thinking he had discovered India. So I love maps; but I realize that they can mislead. Phantoms in the Brain, page 39- "When asked what his biological studies had taught him about God, Haldane replied- the creator if he exists must have an inordinate fondness for beetles for there are more species of beetles than any other group of living creatures. By the same token, a neurologist must conclude that God is a cartographer. He must have an inordinate fondness for maps for everywhere you look in the brain, maps abound." by V.S. Ramachandran, Professor at UC San Diego. The good thing about a brain map (unlike a physical map) is that every interaction updates our brain map. I talked about this at the recent "Successful Cross Cultural Communications" event hosted by FountainBleu in the context of understanding and overcoming stereotype biases. The human brain creates maps to classify and simplify the life around us so we can function 9-5. Stereotypes in our heads are just like maps- useful but possibly misleading. If we can accept this, we can actually enlist what we already think we know about another culture (when one thinks about ‘cross-cultural’ there’s an assumption that it’s about people from different backgrounds, but it’s much broader than that. It encompasses differences in geography, languages, generations, companies, functional areas, regions and industries) simply be prepared to update your knowledge - add to or create a new map.
And the old cliches about keeping an "open mind" or "active listening" or "suspend judgement" that leave you wondering what action to take, start making sense.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

More than Money: its about Mindshare

Socially motivated organisations often get so tired of the incessant need for fundraising, that they quit or they lower their ambition and start thinking small. How then to keep your spirits up? Keep going?
Create Mindshare- A few weeks back, I attended the Pratham sponsored entertainment program put together by 8 amateur singers and one dance company. The financial goal ($10,000) was modest but the ambitious goal was creating awareness about education (and the lack of access to it) in India. The first thing I noticed was how different the event was. There were no "stars", no "egos", no agendas. Amateur talent was provided a platform, the tickets were affordable and it was a concrete forum for bringing together friends, family around a worthy cause. With a cast of over 45 people it was easy to fill the West Valley auditorium to meet the financial goal. It was particularly heartening for me to see teenagers born in the US eager to understand and give back to children less fortunate than themselves and racking their brains to figure out how.
While asking for funding is like harvesting the fruit off a tree, a program like this is like sowing a seed. Kudos to the Pratham volunteers that came up with the idea and executed it to perfection. Other organisations see the value of creating mind share. Niroga http://www.niroga.org/ teaches yoga and mindfulness skills to at-risk youth and other under-served populations. Their model holds great promise as a low cost strategy for reducing juvenile crime and violence, truancy and dropout rates, chronic health problems and many other problems affecting children and the communities they live in. Niroga is hosting a brunch on October 3, 2009 in Oakland, CA. This benefit event promises to be a great time, with delicious food, musical entertainment by members of the Oakland Youth Chorus, and inspiring remarks by students and teachers involved in Niroga programs. There is no charge to attend the event, but most attendees do pledge to make a donation at the event.
Business is Business. Whether a for-profit or not-for-profit, sustainability and even more so, scaling the venture, requires a business model with a recurring revenue stream. But till you get to that point don't forget the power of people- everyday people who want to give but don't have a forum for it. Create mindshare and reap the benefits.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Metrics and Management for Heart-Head Impact

My workshop last week at Stanford about technology fuelled social innovation as applied to the for-profit as well as non-profit world drew an exceptional group of change agents from industry, NGOs and universities. The theme- every transaction is a business - whether registered as a for-profit or non-profit and how technology can help. Some highlights:
1- A business "Metrics Intelligence Management" solution (MetrixLine) applied to Give2Asia as an example of how real time metrics generation is relevant for non-profits and can reduce the cost of data-gathering - with a live demo showing "customer" (in this case - donor) profile, balanced scorecard (management metric) and more. (by CEO Aman Walia)
2- A live interactive session showing the use avatars and game technology for education (kidscom.com) about social responsibility in teens. Our session had about 12 teens (under 14) who were asked what social issues they cared about among other things - Number 1: health care; number 2: providing a "family" for kids who didn't have one. (by Founder Jori Clarke)
3- An example of how to make a mainstream lending institution engage in micro finance through loan (social) guarantees (UnitedProsperity.org) while also providing the individual story just as an MFI would do. Another feature of this session was an illustration of partnerships (UnitedProsperity, MFI's and Banks) so each does what they are best at without re-inventing the wheel - a theme in the workshop (by Founder Bhalchander).
4. More to come...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Top 5 Myths in Social Entrepreneurship

The change-leader is a myth-buster. As technology fuelled business models change, nowhere is this more applicable than in the field of social entrepreneurship. The top 5 myths are:
1. If you want to do good, you have to create a not-for-profit company.
2. If you want to create a social enterprise with a mission, you cannot do this in a for-profit company.
3. For-profit companies are incompatible with a social mission.
4. Shareholders demand quick returns
5. Triple bottom lines (profit, people, planet) are incompatible
The fact is that the current legal and financial instruments are limited in how social impact is measured and hence the tools need to evolve. But tools can't evolve unless social entrepreneurs see them as tools to be changed. "Be the change" said Mahatma Gandhi. Nobody said myth-busting is easy - but its a lot easier if you firmly believe in the change.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Philanthropy Needs Technology

The NonProfit Times released its Power & Influence Top 50 list on Aug 1 saying-"Service is the new black. It’s so fashionable that those leading the national service movement have packed the catwalk of The 2009 NPT Power & Influence Top 50". I have no quibbles with the idea of service and "Volunteering as a Fashion Statement". However, I would like to see philanthropy shift from a "service" model to an "empowerment" model. I agree with Change.org, Nathaniel Whittemore who says social media is shifting the power dynamics of philanthropy when he writes-"Some are honored for their attempts to better train the nonprofit industry, others are noted for the innovation which they've instilled in their foundations. The one major homage to technology comes in the recognition of Holly Ross, director of the awesome NTEN nonprofit technology conference." He goes on to say that bloggers are missing from the list. The power of the Internet and social media is the ability to reduce emotional distance between people of different types. Non-profits and foundations have an opportunity to get more technology into their operations both to reduce costs as well as to engage both donors and recipients in a more "democratic" way - where both parties are seen as benefiting.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Muhammad Yunus Honored by Obama

Last week, the White House announced that Professor Muhammad Yunus will be one of the recipients of this year's Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Medal of Freedom is bestowed by the President and is the highest civilian award in the United States. President Obama said: "These outstanding men and women represent an incredible diversity of backgrounds. Their tremendous accomplishments span fields from science to sports, from fine arts to foreign affairs. Yet they share one overarching trait: Each has been an agent of change. Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way. Their relentless devotion to breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens sets a standard to which we all should strive. It is my great honor to award them the Medal of Freedom."
When Dr. Yunus receives his award, he will be joining a distinguished group of individuals that includes Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. Adds Warner P. Woodworth, Social Entrepreneur & Professor, Organizational Leadership & Strategy, Marriott School, BYU: "I have had the privilege of working with Professor Yunus for over a decade as he has advised a number of the NGOs my partners and I have established around the globe. From those little efforts, mostly launched with BYU students using my courses as incubators for global change, over 50 projects have been launched, and 22 have become NGOs. Last year alone, we collectively raised more than $46 million, trained approximately 340,000 microentrepreneurs, and grew our client base to about 6.1 million impoverished individuals who received a loan during 2008."..."While critics say the poor are lazy and that they are irresponsible, our microcredit experience, not only in the Third World, but also now in America, is that they simply need an opportunity. Our NYC outstanding loan portfolio has grown to over $950,000, and these borrowers have also cumulatively saved over $150,000, which demonstrates the impact of our savings program (http://www.blogger.com/www.grameenamerica.com/ <http://www.grameenamerica.com/>)."

Friday, July 31, 2009

Sustainability workshop- Aug 7 at Stanford

My workshop, Media and Management Bridges for Heart-Head Impact is on August 7th 9-4. Check out the video link for details. Presentations include Hybrid business lifecycle, The Millennium Project and MetrixLine platform and practical tips on using online media tools for brand creation and management. Discussion items:
° Managing tradeoffs between business (profit) and social (people, planet) goals
° Public-Private Partnership strategies for harnessing markets to solve social/environmental problems
° Pragmatic changes non-profits should take to be effective and to scale

Sunday, July 19, 2009

How to increase your personal wheel of influence

At the annual WITI keynote last month, I heard about the "personal wheel of influence" - about how you treat every business interaction as a "relationship". The idea is simple- people intuitively understand that relationships are a lifelong thing, not one-time transaction and it alters behavior from short term wins to long-term mutual benefit behaviors; inspires give-take and inspires us to think in terms of increasing "social currency" defined as our value to others. Think of a wheel with YOU at the center. Around this draw all other interested parties into circles (sales, marketing,customer etc) and then pretend that you are not in one meeting but in a long term relationship at every meeting you have. What would you do to grow the inner circle? Add value to others. Key to growing the YOU circle is understanding what your value is and to grow that vale. If you engage from the perspective adding value, the personal wheel of influence grows automatically - an outcome, willingly supported by others of what you do. To know your key value and grow it - complete the following sentences:
1. - I am known for... (write 2-4 things)
2. - I want to become known for ...(write 2-4 things)
and then have fun!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Microfinance to Mainstream?

Micro finance methods have captured our imagination, hearts, social conscience and even our technology innovation dollar, but, sadly, never the institutional support that ideas need to go from boutique to mainstream. Till now. Eric Bellman, Wall Street Journal July 6, 2009 headlines "Rural Demand Helps Indian Banks". Bless his WSJ heart, the byline says "once considered a burden, remote branches prosper on aid for farmers". Note: aid, not loans. Other than that quibble (though technically aid is correct, because there are some subsidies involved but given all the baggage associated with the word "aid" I would rather use "stimulus" or something else), the rest of the article is worth every bit of ink. India has been resilient to the global meltdown because of growth in rural India; technology to reach remote areas and as market is growing, traditional for-profit banks are moving in too- completing a virtuous cycle. Key points:

- rural banking growth - from 12% to 20% has offset decline in urban - from 28% to 19% which is more tied to the global economy
- technology helps - remote branches have a finger-print scanner and mobile phone for identification and processing (State Bank of India) - loans and deposits are small amounts
- the benefit is felt by the state owned banks, which were forced to maintain rural branches (at a loss), but as the "market" is growing, multinationals (e.g. HSBC) are entering the market -thus taking it mainstream
-because of low default rates etc. - interest rates are competitive (10%)
- customer profile- "No one in my family has ever had an account"
I generally highlight media coverage of business+technology+social impact - and coming from WSJ - I thought it was especially noteworthy. In fact it made me track down other noteworthy articles (one especially on cell phone growth in India) by the same author.
For emerging markets -if there is a killer app - it is banking - whether it is delivered through cell phones, kiosks or moving vans; think of the potential customer base! I hope this story is an indication that "microfinace" is moving to "finance" - its the kind of change the world needs.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Purpose vs. Profit Driven Venture Creation

I like it. And it is not just the alliteration. I like it because "Purpose" and "Profit" don't sound mutually exclusive whereas "Social" and "Profit" do. When it comes to championing a business approach (vs. philanthropy) to address social issues like job creation, access to education, health care and even climate change, there is no elevator pitch. Most of us in this field talk about "sustainable business" or just stick with social entrepreneurship or social business (substitute venture, capital, purpose, impact...as fits) because that is what works in search engines. Historically we are conditioned to think of a business as for profit and philanthropy (or government action) as being for social impact. But we know that the strictly for-profit venture is just as unsustainable long term as is pure charity for social impact - hence the need for a mixed model - where we need profit AND we need social impact. I was reminded of this with a recent email from Jerri Chou, who I met at the "Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business" awards.
Jerri writes "I run a company called All Day Buffet which launches purpose driven ventures, one of which being The Feast Social Innovation Conference. I was really quite excited for your award last night -- for you personally and the social innovation world in general. Much of our work is galvanizing the community and movement on this (east) coast (despite old school philanthropy and investment) so seeing recognition for your work was a pleasant surprise.
Our next venture is also based in education and democratizing creativity and innovation skills through distance learning, (which I noticed you've done some work in) so would love to get your thoughts in case you're interested. Regardless, congratulations again and hope to stay in contact
"
What I found intriguing about Jerri's work is that her company is trying to change the whole thinking around sustainable business creation not just through launching ventures but also holding events to create mind share and leadership in this area. Coming up is- The Feast: Social Innovation Conference, New York // October 1-2, 2009
http://www.thefeastconference.com

Monday, June 1, 2009

Entrepreneurship and Kal Penn

Pop culture and Politics - that's what I thought "An Evening with Kal Penn" event was about. Hosted by Sanskriti at Stanford University the blurb said: "Kal Penn looks at the intrinsically political nature of pop culture. He also gives us a glimpse into the darker side of the entertainment industry, full of prejudices and comically misguided casting agents ("Where's your turban?"). One of the few Indian-American actors -- so far -- to break into Hollywood, he looks at how pop culture can reinforce, but also challenge and overturn, racial stereotypes." In actuality there was less about politics than there was about entrepreneurship. In person he turned out to be charming and while there was humor, there was no negative energy. And I think that is a key to his ability to break barriers. For example when asked repeatedly about his opinions on Slumdog Millionaire he laughed and said "why? like I can't have an opinion on Milk?" All in all, he was candid and open with the audience and his top three entrepreneurial skills, that came through in several of his stories were:
Passion - It was clear that Penn was passionate about his acting career but at the same time understood the barriers he faced and was willing to tackle them.
Flexibility - Penn took on some roles because "he needed the job". They allowed him to continue working even if not perfect roles
Communication (Ability to Dialog) - when he got some unfavorable comments (a letter about his role in Harold and Kumar) he wrote back positioning the film from the characters' perspective explaining how that forces us to see beyond the ethnicity of the two characters.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Entrepreneurship and Improv: Two Peas in a Pod

Entrepreneurship is a contact sport and social entrepreneurship is extreme contact sport. The keyword here is contact - its as much about the other as it is about you. Different, for example, from heli-skiing where it is all about you. So last week, when I saw two amazing Improv plays (not stand-up comedy), I remembered that Improv training is great entrepreneurial skills training. Its the way to maneuver the "contact" aspect of the sport. You learn to "act" on your feet while gauging the audience; you learn to create laughter out of adversity to build camaraderie and most important you learn not to take yourself too seriously -for entrepreneurs are sustained by passion and social entrepreneurs by extreme passion (that burdens them with an un-endearing righteousness). Two snippets from the Improvised Shakespeare Company production I saw provide illustrations. At the start of the production the group leader asked for a play title - the answer from the audience was "King Lear Goes to Jail". In laying the foundation for the story, there was wordplay around "retire" - as in retire from job or retire for the night. The audience laughed so the players built on the theme to the point of introducing a new character called Webster (as in dictionary) and Webster was a huge hit. Another obvious aspect of Improv is that players switch roles frequently - in this case each player had multiple roles which were conveyed by getting into character with diction, body language, gestures- convincingly enough that the audience couldn't caricature the player into any one human trait (clever, conniving, fool etc).

Just for fun or just for work, this summer, do something for yourself: sign up for an Improv class and watch your entrepreneurial skills improve. That's because we learn by doing and Improv theatre provides a "safe" place to do.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Top 3 Entrepreneur Strengths that Become Weaknesses for Scaling

From Idea to IPO- that was the entrepreneurship mantra of the last decade. Get in quick and get out even quicker - with a pile of money - to invest in your next big idea. Scaling comes after IPO, sometimes with new leadership. This business path isn't applicable to social entrepreneurship where the mission is sustainable growth with no clear exit strategy (at least at the start). So one would think that current Wall Street woes would help the cause of the social entrepreneur - maybe divert some capital into long term investments like infrastructure, education, health-care, poverty alleviation - the things that worry the social entrepreneur. While capital is certainly an issue, it is not just about capital. The impact metric of social entrepreneurship is scale. You educate 100 kids, you educate a 100 kids. You educate 1,000,000 kids you change the world. That is the "impact metric". Scale is the equivalent of the IPO for social businesses. But entrepreneurial characteristics, the very ones that allow a company to form (for profit or not-for-profit) may become barriers to scaling or taking the company to the next level. With the fall in the number of recent IPOs there is a timely bit of advice in HBR from Anthony Tjan "Why Do Most Entrepreneurs Fail to Scale?" that I think is especially relevant for social entrepreneurs. The top three double-edged traits to watch for are:
1. Persistence. Willingness to persevere despite obstacles has created many great innovations and is often the foundation for successful start-ups. However, persistence can easily turn to stubbornness. Stick with your ideas when you know you are right and have supporting evidence. Be willing to abandon your position when signs show you need help or redirection.
2. Control. Early phases of company growth require the founder be involved in all operations. But as the company scales, that maniacal attention to detail can be counterproductive. Recognize the importance of delegation and let go when it's time.
3. Loyalty. Close ties inevitably form when people work together day in and out, and loyal relationships can yield great results. However, you need to know when loyalty is clouding your judgment in assessing capabilities and skill gaps.

To this list I would add collaboration - the equivalent of "mergers and acquisitions"- a common growth strategy to take a company to the next level. What do you think? Will the economic downturn be a blessing in the long run? Will social entrepreneurship no longer need the social and just become entrepreneurship?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Technology Solution for Hunger: Akshaya Patra

Studies report more undernourished children in India than in Sub-Saharan Africa. "Give me fish and you feed me for a day; teach me how to fish and you feed me for life" is the mantra for education providers and in recent years, Internet and computer technologies have done much to improve education across the world. But how well do I learn if my stomach is empty? As in the US, the Indian government provides funds for school lunches but unlike the US, those funds are inadequate as well as ineffective. Technology has no immediate answer for hunger; or so I thought till I heard about Akshay Patra and their school lunch program. The Akshaya Patra Foundation has applied technology for efficient meal production by automating large scale kitchens and their meal delivery system involves innovative logistics using custom designed vehicles to transport food from the kitchens to schools according to a strict schedule with optimal storage and minimal spillage. Hence, they have quickly scaled to feeding over one million children every day from a start of 1500 in just a few years. This technology (kitchen video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQYc8WH9Srs) has resulted in improved attendance and education according to an AC Nielsen survey. What distinguishes Akshaya Patra from other midday meal programs is that the entire food production and delivery system is intelligently designed and engineered to maximize operational and cost efficiency, while adhering to international standards of hygiene and quality. This makes the government funds they get for raw food-grains go much further and cuts out the middle man. Obama has recognised their unique approach: "Your example of using advanced technologies in central kitchens to reach children in 5,700 schools is an imaginative approach that has the potential to serve as a model for other countries." Additionally, they have been able to extend their approach to rural areas where transportation is more expensive and infrastructure minimal, by using smaller kitchens thus providing employment to women who cook meals. Catch the people of Akshaya Patra at Tiecon 2009 in San Jose and be part of the solution.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

How to Market a Movement - 7 lessons

Let's face it. Social entrepreneurship requires marketing just like any other new idea. And suffering as it does from being neither charity nor business, its business model ires investors and philanthropists alike. But when the Internet started, there was no clear business model either, so I remain undaunted. What makes people flock to new ideas? I think its all in the buzz, the art of creating a movement that people want to be a part of. So I went to hear the buzz-meister Geno Church (of WOMMIE, EFFIE and ADDY awards fame) of Brains on Fire (brainsonfire.com) at the NewComm Forum 2009. His specialty is creating a Word of Mouth (WOM) movement using "brand ambassadors". His brand ambassadors are not highly paid celebrities, but unknown people who are not paid. They build a movement because they want to, and so it grows. His 7 key factors are:
1. WOM marketing is built on passion - find people to be brand ambassadors who are passionate about the cause
2. Have inspirational leadership
3. Empower people with knowledge - provide hard data to ambassadors for their use
4. Encourage ownership
5. Make advocates/members feel like rock-stars
6. Create supportive communities that live on-line and off-line - bring people together 5x a yr
7. Move the Media - practice random acts of advocacy
Rage Against the Haze (South Carolina's youth led anti-tobacco movement) started with just $800K in funding which was used to train the ambassadors - called viralmentalists. The movement consisted of kids talking to other kids about smoking as a choice. In the end he says, the power lies in supporting a cause, enabling an experience and telling a story. Now if we can translate the lessons to creating a buzz around the field of social entrepreneurship!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

India’s First Social Enterprise and Investment Forum: Sankalp 2009

Change doesn't just happen - It needs faith and cheerleaders. And I should add Sankalp -Determination.
And institutional change requires changemakers to gather and become catalysts for action. So I am excited about Sankalp 2009 - India’s first Social Enterprise and Investment Forum with the primary goal of bringing together various stakeholders sharing a common conviction that capital should be invested to create multiple bottom-line returns (financial, social and environmental) and not exclusively financial (profit-maximizing) or social (philanthropic) returns. Set against the background in India, where 924.1 million Indians (nearly 95% of India’s population) have incomes below USD 3000 per annum in local purchasing power, and 78% of this from rural India, India has been able to clock growth rates between 6.5% and 7% despite the slowdown. India presents us with questions of development coupled with the unlimited potential of an emerging market. The event is designed to recognise and award truly impactful enterprises and catalyze investments in sectors such as agriculture and rural innovations, affordable education, healthcare inclusion, environment and clean energy, and highly scalable social models. Sankalp 2009 featured Naina Lal Kidawai, CEO of HSBC India, Vijay Mahajan, CEO of Basix, Anthony Bugg Levine of Rockefeller Foundation, Gurcharan Das (former MD P&G), Sarath Naru of Venture East, and Vineet Rai, founder Aavishkar.
Sankalp Forum is the brainchild of Intellecap – a pioneer in the multiple bottom line investment industry. The key partners for the inaugural 2009 event include Rockefeller Foundation from the US, Rianta Capital from UK, National Bank for Rural and Agriculture Development (NABARD) and Rural Innovations Network (RIN). Sankalp Forum (held in Mumbai, April 28th) details at http://www.sankalpforum.com/ .
I have been spending 4 months out of 12 in India for the past 24 months, doing seminars, giving talks, attending conferences and writing (triple bottom line investing article in ISB Insight, Hyderabad) to create mindshare and thought leadership in the area of business creation for social impact so Sankalp 2009 marks a major milestone in my journey. I will be keeping you posted on the actions resulting from Sankalp.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A different kind of story - win big, think small

Have you noticed how the stock market never goes up or down? It soars or plummets. Somehow hyperbole hustles us to the same stories over and over. So whenever I see mainstream news with a story truly different I feel the need to applaud. Such is the case with CBS news story on micro-lending. Bigger is not always better. Think micro-loans. And how they are giving good returns when banks are loaded with "toxic assets" of large loans. The CBS story, on location in Peru, is one of the best explanations of micro-loans (features MicroPlace, Ashwini Narayanan) and truly inspiring. Another big player in this space is Kiva and there is a nice blog with details about the two. But here's the main point: Micro-finance isn't so much about the fact that the loan amount is small - its about the fact that loans are being made to people who the banks have declared "not creditworthy". It means loans are made to people normal banks don't give loans to. Banks, using metrics based on collateral (i.e. how much they already own), decided that these people could not pay back their loans. In other words, you have to be rich already to get a loan. Now isn't that backwards? This is the Big Idea; The Big Win of micro-lending phenomenon. Micro-loans and the fact that they get almost 99 percent payback prove that establishment thinking is wrong; can be wrong. So it is really unfortunate that micro-finance still remains in the "boutique" category (yes- just calculate the percentage of money in micro-loans versus total lending) and seems a long way from becoming mainstream. There are entrepreneurial efforts (e.g. UnitedProsperity) to make lending to the poor more viable by raising money for guarantees and this is change in the making.

Change doesn't just happen - It needs faith and cheerleaders - and -yes mainstream media can do a lot by uncovering stories like this one. Cheers for CBS.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Digital Media and Learning Awards -- 19 projects share $12M

Nineteen projects from around the world were awarded funding today to explore digital media’s ability to help people learn. Administered by HASTAC, winners include a radically affordable $12 TV-computer, a video blogging site for young women in Mumbai, India, and a cutting-edge mobile phone application that lets children conduct digital wildlife spotting and share that information with friends. All projects are fantastic - one of my favorites because it has technology, global scope, climate, and engages children is : DigitalOcean -engages middle and high school students in 200 classrooms around the world in monitoring, analyzing, and sharing information about the declining global fish population that, in its implications for humans and the ecosystem, dwarfs other food issues in our time. DigitalOcean uses multi-disciplinary teams of students, scientists, and new media experts, partnering with Google Ocean, NASA GLOBE, and ePals, to engage the next generation of consumers in a global dialogue on the interrelationships among local human customs, regulatory laws, fishing practices, wildlife management, and the future of the sea. In the young innovators section my favorite (since I worked with ACCI to promote science education) Cellcraft: Addressing a decreasing interest and proficiency in the biological sciences among American teenagers, Cellcraft seeks to engage kids in ways that make biological principles personally meaningful and relevant. Built on the powerful Maxis Spore strategy game engine, Cellcraft will put middle and high school students in control of a cell, tasked with the job of coordinating all of the organelles in order to process food, create new parts, fight off viruses, and grow. During game play, students learn valuable biological information, while also developing organizational, planning, coordination, delegation, and logistical skills. This annual competition- $2 million- is funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and is a good one to track for inspiration.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Mainstreaming Electric Vehicles- from Tesla to Reva

One sure sign that a particular innovation is approaching mainstream consciousness is a burgeoning of obscure acronyms in that technology, and by that yardstick, electric vehicles are about about to leap onto the great American Highway. Do you know what REEV is? A Chevy Volt is one. Who would have thought! Chevrolet? EV being an electric vehicle, REEV is a Range Extended EV (when there is a gas engine also that kicks in), HEV is Hybrid EV and PHEV is a Plug-in HEV and so on - all modifications to address the main issue with electric cars - what is know in the industry as "Range Anxiety" - which is the nervousness people have about running out of charge on the highway. Tesla - is all EV, and so one of the world’s most closely watched start ups, and having the most brand recognition of any “green” or alternative-energy company- even though the Indian company's Reva EV (typical daily distance requirements being smaller in India) has been shipping for a while. So last Thursday I went to to the Stanford Law and Technology Association (SLATA) seminar with Craig Harding, General Consul, discussing the regulatory environment relating to the sale of electric cars, the batteries that power the cars, and current state and potential developments in the electric car industry. I learned about how laws obsolete as fast as technology- e.g. Tesla body designers found they could significantly extend the range of the car by replacing the side-view mirrors with digital cameras in the back - but they found they cant eliminate the mirrors because of how the car-safety laws are written- and it will take a few years of work to get the guidelines rewritten - who had heard of cameras when the car manufacturing laws got written? The biggest issue for Tesla is safety (batteries get hot and explode). The Tesla all electric vehicle has 7,800 small batteries- there are no large batteries for safety reasons. Their solution to safety and range anxiety is to lash all of these together and never let the temperature vary by more than a few degrees across the entire set. That's $25,000 of battery cost. Batteries are pretty simple in principle with just three parts - Anode/Cathode/Electrolyte and they have three main issues when it comes to passenger cars- Materials/Costs/Safety. Hence the Tesla innovation is a big deal. And yes, Craig said there is an agreement with recyclers to process spent batteries (expected life 5-7 years at this time). They say that in two years, by the time a more affordable roadster comes to market, there will be plenty of competition in the XX-EV space. I think that's good news. Though Craig was a bit down that day - saying orders are slow right now and he had to let his administrative assistant go as part of the cost cutting measure. But he is not getting much sympathy from me. The Tesla sedan, standard price tag at $60K has 165 mile range and the premium version with 300 mile range is $80K. The Reva car is expensive (for India) to buy but pays the extra off in just a few years.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Challenge-Based Learning- New Report

In the largest study to date of the practice anywhere, new findings from the New Media Consortium's K12 think tank confirm that challenge-based learning is extremely effective with 9th grade students, including those most at risk of dropping out. The report, entitled Challenge-Based Learning: An Approach for Our Time, followed six schools across the US as they implemented the practice in high school classes.Challenge-based learning is not a curriculum. It is a strategy to engage kids in any class by giving them significant that have real-world implications. More than 320 students and nearly 30 teachers in the schools, all of which had implemented a policy of providing full-featured notebook computers to every student, worked together to research, formulate strategies, and ultimately implement local solutions to problems of global significance. Students used their laptops for just-in-time research, to document their rationales, and to present the outcomes of their strategies. The outcomes of the three-week experiment, conducted last fall, were overwhelmingly positive.The study revealed that both teachers and students found challenge-based learning significantly effective and engaging, even with the students most at risk of dropping out. Teachers noted that students learned more, and produced more than expected. Students reported learning skills that overlapped almost completely with the critical competencies identified by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.The project was organized by and built on work by NMC Platinum Partner, Apple Education, where the concept was initially developed. (For more on the approach, see Apple's site at http://www.challengebasedlearning.org.) The NMC's role was to assess and evaluate the outcomes of the work.The teachers, students, and staff that participated agreed to allow their experiences to be exhaustively chronicled and researched. The students, primarily 9th and 10th graders, were chosen based on the desire to represent not only a variety of urban, suburban, and rural settings, but also private, public, and magnet schools, richly diverse schools and relatively homogeneous schools, and both affluent and low socio-economic status schools.The report traces the development of challenged-based learning over the last several decades, and makes a strong case for why it is needed in schools, especially in programs serving ninth graders. (Studies from the National Center for Education Statistics show that more than 30% of students will drop out before the end of their first year of high school. Challenge-based learning is offered as a strategy to reverse that growing trend.) In addition to reporting on the outcomes of the experiment, the report extensively details teacher and student experiences throughout the project. Recommendations are provided for schools that wish to try the approach themselves. The 38-page research report is available free of charge and has been released with a Creative Commons license to facilitate its widespread use, easy duplication, and broad distribution. The report is online at http://www.nmc.org/pdf/Challenge-Based-Learning.pdf [PDF, 38 pp, 672 kb].
From - Larry Johnson, Chief Executive Officer, NMC

Monday, March 23, 2009

Debugging the Elephant: My Aha! moment at IIT Clean Tech 2009

Have you heard that elephant story? When 4 blind people touch different parts of an elephant and they just can't figure out how it can possibly function? Software designers are required to laugh at this story to make the grade but it is relevant for all new endeavors. When it comes to figuring out the clean energy space- yep I didn't have the big picture. Aha! All is changed. On March 21, I attended the IIT Clean Tech Forum: "To inform and educate attendees about opportunities for jobs, businesses, investments, research and development in the emerging new energy economy." But I got more. I got to visualise the elephant. A software person, at such events, I position myself as a dilettante- its a defensive posture. The conversation quickly moves into PV cells, Silicon stuff, Nano or Giant windmills, even biomass (a polite word for waste matter among other things). Else its about policy, big government programs and so on. The Forum featured great talks (Solar energy, Biofuels, Energy Storage etc. ) but I was really interested in the talk by Raj Vaswani, Silver Spring Networks, on Energy Management. It was great - overview as well as details; not to mention entertaining. The energy crisis is real - NIMBY -> BANANA -> NOPE (not in my backyard, build anywhere nothing anywhere near anything, not on planet earth). He also called software the "Fifth Fuel" (I love that) and mentioned demand side management several times. I got the trunk of the elephant - I knew how software skills could be applied. But I still didn't have the big picture - Who cares enough to help me build my dream? The real AHA moment came during the panel. It came from Adam Grosser, Foundation Capital. In a nutshell: "Demand side applications are more amenable to VC funds than supply side- e.g. storage, transmission, data management - like Raj's company". So the companies that focus on "efficiency" are the "low hanging fruit" - and that is what VC's fund. Infrastructure energy projects are supply side - which is where solar, wind etc come in - payback (and witness increase in government funding) comes after a little longer period of time and required different capital strategy. That's it- this is how I can slice/dice the space - tell the tail from the trunk and what's in between. So, if you are in clean tech or thinking of getting into it- create a framework that works for you: ask - Supply side or demand side? Where is my expertise a strength? Low hanging fruit or long term payback? and then develop your funding and execution strategy. An oh, by the way, Raj's company is growing and hiring like crazy - write hr@silverspringnet.com . A word of caution - Raj says "my customers are the big Utility companies and they don't even like low hanging fruit; they will just pick up the fruit if its laying on the ground."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

IBM Water Services Business will open doors for green innovation

I love this latest announcement from IBM Global Services - a new business in water purification and management that could become $20 billion in 5 years - and not just because it makes great headlines (Blue goes Green, IBM Dives into Water, Water is the New Oil... - there are tons of links out there). Its about scale. IBM's announcement leads the way for large corporations to think entrepreneurial; think "smart" - find a big problem that needs solving, apply a healthy dose of technology, innovate and get a new business going. Entrepreneurs have been thinking smart in this space; but when it comes to infrastructure kinds of issues, there is a big gap in innovating smart and taking the innovation to market and repeat the cycle. Because the business model is a little more convoluted and sustainability takes longer to achieve there is not enough VC money around and there it is too much risk for government funding other than the slow university channel. IBM will be able to bring technology, staying power as well as a business model to the green business. So it will endure and scale- hopefully. And a host of new businesses will emerge in this space. This announcement reminds me of the early days of the software industry; I am from the time when software had no business model - we were subsidised by hardware dollars. It just needed Microsoft to get big - and that spawned a whole lot of innovation in software. At that time, startups had one exit strategy - get bought up by Microsoft - and VC dollars became available. Not to mention all the other big businesses that got into the space. So that is why the IBM announcement is so great - its great for IBM (especially since water is just one of a host of other infrastructure services they are looking at) and great for launching innovation to solve a critical environmental issue. Apologies to folks who wanted to hear more about the technology - which is absolutely fascinating - maybe later..This time it is about my favourite subject - How technology+business = social impact scaled. And the fact that big business is getting into it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How would you advise a friend who wanted to get promoted from manager to director level?

Typically at the Director level, leadership is reflected in having additional breadth - including scanning external factors and making new proposals. What I would do, in such a situation is: scan organisation for director level people I admire; list typical things they do; list the sorts of things I do - make a match and identify gaps if any between the two lists. If gaps are there, develop proposal to fill gaps. Approach your manager to let them know that the organisation will benefit with your proposal; you are the best person to follow on proposal; explain why this is a good thing for the organisation - work off of your list- be concrete - its about the work. If no support from manager (could be because they don't have the authority), inform that you want to go to next level etc - make presentation and ask manager to be there to show support. Meanwhile garner support from peers and employees for initiative.
The same method works for leading change management - which social entrepreneurs must deal with.
Question - posted by Betty Lamarr on WITI group -

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Campaign using Social Networking

Ever since I wrote about Obama style campaign for India politics, I have been gtting email asking for details. So check this WSJ article "How a young tech entrepreneur translated Barack Obama into the idiom of Facebook" written by Amy Schatz in May 2007 - useful pointers on how things got started.

Friday, March 6, 2009

By the Numbers: An Obama Style Digital Makeover for India Politics?

I attended the Accel Stanford Symposium on Feb 25, 2009, The Impact of 2008's Dramatic Events on the World of Digital Media and Technology. Like others who know about Obama's tech savvy youth following, I have been curious about the nitty-gritty of the digital (My.BarackObama.com) campaign so I was all ears for the panel "Technology Priorities in an Obama Administration: Lessons from the Campaign" with Matthew Barzun (National Finance Team for Barack Obama) and Chris Hughes (co-founder facebook who time off to be Architect of Obama's digital Campaign Strategies). But I am not just curious for the sake of curious (as anyone who knows me would guess). I have been thinking; India elections are coming up next year, with Mumbai attacks and India's growing economic abilities, India-youth is willing and able to engage with the political system to free it of corruption and bring in young leaders (avg. politician age is 70 I think).

The question is How? Viola - Like Obama did.

Barzun explained the Hunting vs. Farming Model (from Purple Cow, Seth Godin) strategy. Obama realised he didn't have a long list of large-amount donors to chase (hunting) so he decided to grow new ones (farming). Some numbers: Feb 2007 Clinton starts with database of 250,000 names and Obama has 20,000 names; March 31, 2007 Clinton supporter calls convert names to 50,000 donors (divide by 5) and Obama digital campaign converts names to 100,000 donors (multiply by 5)- How? 1. Ask never-heard-of people to get 10 donations at $25 each and get the emails of the donors- all did it. 2. Raise expectations (ask for another $25) and so on. The goal was to have email lists larger even than the donors - to increase reach. Eventually -they ended up with an average $90/person donation. Chris explained the architecture and said they did regular surveys for course correction. They found that people like to donate via email and they liked to form community over facebook. So they did both. For example Barzun paraphrased the kind of email letters that were written - designed to show - in a young people way- Respect, Empower, Include - the campaign theme. But the panel was skimpy on financial detail. So, I cornered Chris Hughes (thanks Martha!):

ME - Really Chris, so how did you do it? I want to do the same for India elections next year

CH- I don't know how popular facebook is in India. It won't work. Besides its expensive and I can't do numbers for India

ME: Just give me US numbers; I'll do the conversion. My background is software development.

CH: It took 8-10 full time developers to create the platform, $15-20 million investment, and most importantly the push has to come from the top. It couldn't have worked without Obama pushing it. and he was right to push because we raised 3-4 times that in funding; not to mention the large number in popular support that converted to votes.

ME: And you also had lots of free time donated to the digital campaign - like yourself.

CH: Ah yes. Not just me but hundreds of staffers and campaign people gave time.

ME: thanks.

And here I am thinking - for India - money can be got, expertise can be got, digital model can be adapted to allow for lack of PC penetration in rural India, BUT- who is this leader? Rahul Gandhi are you listening? Or send this to your favorite candidate - I have no allegiances yet.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Innovations in Farming and Rural Communities Competition: deadline May 13

Ashoka’s Changemakers announced today the launch of “Cultivating Innovation: Solutions for Rural Communities,” a global, online competition to seek out the most innovative solutions in farming and rural communities in Sub-Saharan Africa, India, and around the world. The competition is funded as part of a grant awarded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Using the Changemakers’ open-source online platform, the competition will be open to anyone striving to stimulate rural development and agriculture.
Today, three quarters of the world’s poorest people—the 1 billion who live on $1 a day or less—live in rural areas, and most rely on agriculture for their food and income. Many small farmers cannot grow enough food to sell or even eat. Innovative solutions like the ones Ashoka is seeking offer hundreds of millions of the people the opportunity to overcome hunger and poverty.
Over the next two months, people from around the world will be nominating those who are making a difference in farming and rural communities, or submitting their own innovative projects. The Changemakers community will be continually commenting on the initiatives entered in the competition. Entrants and nominators will be able to network with media, academics, and thought leaders. A panel of judges—Roy Steiner, Senior Program Officer for Agricultural Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Gene Kahn, Global Sustainability Officer for General Mills; Beatrice Gakuba, CEO of Rwanda Flora; Suzana Padua, Founder of the Instituto de Pesquisas Ecol√≥gicas (Institute of Ecological Research); and Raj Patel, activist and author, Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World Food System—will narrow the entry pool to 10 to 15 finalists. The global Changemakers community will then vote for three winners, who will each receive a USD $5000 award from Changemakers to fund their initiatives. The finalists and winners will receive media attention and are showcased on the Changemakers website. All entrants will gain increased access to a global network of innovators, supporters, and investors with the means to help them fund and/or scale their projects.
These innovations have many faces and can come from anywhere. For example, we are motivated by people like C.K. “Bablu” Ganguly, an Ashoka Fellow whose innovations have regenerated farmland and created jobs via organic farming and marketing cooperatives in southern India. Or, people like Adrian Mukhebi, another Ashoka fellow who created a virtual trading floor via radio and SMS messaging to link thousands of farmers and buyers and sellers in Kenya. Ganguly and Mukhebi’s work not only helped to revitalize the local farming economies but also directly met many of their communities’ education and health needs, in addition to empowering local women to actively participate in farming and business development.
The online competition will showcase innovative solutions, encouraging members to comment, network, and assist one another in making a difference. Nominations and submissions are welcome until May 13. Changemakers is powered by a strong network of partners, Ashoka Fellows, and everyone who has a desire to change the world.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Poverty Action Lab at MIT and India Police Makeover

From my last post maybe you can tell that I have been looking for crazy stories - and there is none crazier than this one - and I first found out about it in the San Jose Mercury news - good going SJM! This one is a classic case of how someone coming from the outside can spot an issue someone from the inside cannot. I spent my formative years in India before coming for graduate school in US. I don't quite know why (Bollywood movies, hearsay, just plain ignorance) since I never met a policeman in India, I was one of those that subscribed to the theory the Indian policemen are corrupt, lazy, overweight, insensitive etc etc. In short stay away from them. And in spite of all my years of management coaching, this one image I had not shed - till yesterday - when I read about a MIT Poverty Action Lab project in India. "The dominant image of an Indian police officer, etched in people's minds and embedded in movies, is that of a slothful, rude and bribe-taking constable" says Rama Lakshmi in a Washington Post article. This perception of poor performance caught the attention of the MIT Poverty Action Lab, and they found that the negative image was a barrier to effective police-work. Their study proved something the policemen knew all along - that policemen in India are sleep deprived, overworked (7 days a week), underpaid with a threat of constant transfers from political bosses which means effectively no family life. No wonder the constable is irritable and rude! MIT-Station (or MIT Thanas) trials where constables were given etiquette training and relaxation time, showed thirty percent improvement in crime-victims satisfaction with victims' satisfaction of case handling.
Seems so obvious now as I think about it - but it is not something I ever thought of before- "we are not experts in policing" says Daniel Keniston who co-ordinated the field research. Well done I say - this is not about policing - it is about good management - and it took innovative action to prove it. An interesting statistic - India has one of the lowest ratio of policemen to number of citizens (source- India Today) while Egypt - where I have been travelling recently - one of the highest at 1 policeman per 7 citizens (source - our tour guide on the trip to Abu Simbel)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Journey Across India in Electric Car

"... the world needs crazy ideas to change things, because the conventional way of thinking is not working anymore" says Fullbright Scholar Alexis Ringwald, in a New York Times Op-Ed by Thomas Friedman. What is this crazy idea? A Climate Solutions road tour, using modified electric cars from India’s Reva Electric Car Company, whose C.E.O. Ringwald knew. He was persuaded into donating three of his cars and to retrofit them with longer-life batteries that could travel 90 miles on a single six-hour charge — and to lay on a solar roof that would extend them farther. "Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 5, they drove the cars on a 2,100-mile trip from Chennai to New Delhi, stopping in 15 cities and dozens of villages, training Indian students to start their own climate action programs and filming 20 videos of India’s top home-grown energy innovations". Their idea was to bring awareness and spur innovation around energy solutions that are here and now - technology that already exists and can be deployed today. India Climate Solutions website documents the experience and its leadership action wing, The Indian Youth Climate Network aims to generate awareness and empower a generation of young people to take effective action against climate change, at a local, state, national and international level. India with its growing energy needs can emerge not only as the new big green market, but also lead innovation. I have blogged about the Reva car in the past and wondered why we don't see more of them in India - my nephew, who lives in Bangalore, is a 2-Reva Car family and loves them - it is easy to drive in India's narrow roads and distances are manageable. Hopefully this experiment will do something for Reva cars as well.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Don't Under-Estimate the Power of the "Cool Factor"

There is much being written about the economic meltdown and how it means that social capital has all but disappeared. But I have a story to tell. We moved from New York to California in the late seventies. My husband, who used to be a chain smoker in New York stopped smoking overnight after we moved. Wow, what self-control! I thought. Then, as we shared stories with fellow recent-Californians, I found many more who also stopped smoking overnight- And why? I think it is the "Cool Factor". California - always a leader in social trends - had already decided at that time that smoking was no longer "cool". The point is that we human beings are social animals and while few can be super heroic, most want to be socially relevant. So I speak with the voice of experience when I say - don't underestimate the "Obama Cool Factor". Yesterday's news is all about Obama chastising Wall Street executives about their "shameful" behavior in taking billions of bonus money even as their companies sought bailouts. Earlier in the month, Jan 19th, Obama asked the nation to devote a day to social service and Californians responded in droves. Yes, all over America, social responsibility is "cool" and self serving smack is out. Big changes come from small people in big numbers. For social entrepreneurs this means looking for capital and support from not just the few "big guys" but also from many smaller investors and yes -Do play upon the "cool factor" - No need to be apologetic about your social agenda as you explain your fiscally conservative business plan. Now if we coulld only get politicians in India to believe that honesty is cool and corruption is out.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How to change our education system: From Scarcity Mentality to Abundance Mentality

When asked what he thought was wrong with the education system, Ravi Gulati answered with a story. "It is well known that Gandhi ji, was always smiling, cheerful, always full of hope. When pushed one day to say one thing, just one thing that depressed him Gandhi said - the heartlessness of the educated." This year (Jan 15,16 2009 at Stanford) the annual King Holiday celebration theme was Education for Global Liberation. Among other events, there was a panel discussion with three educators/activists from India. These educators have developed educational curricula different from traditional models in that social awareness and justice is built into the classroom experience starting grade 1. From Riverside School in Ahemdabad, for children from relatively affluent backgrounds, to Manzil for urban lower middle class children to Manav Sadhana for the poorest of kids, each school is a product of inspired leadership. Ravi Gulati says his MBA education, with its focus on increasing consumption to increase market, as having been the catalyst in seeking alternative economic models which led to an examination of the education system. What happened to the values he learned as a child in an average middle class family, where frugality was the ethic of choice? Encouraging consumption as a market driver, leads to a scarcity mentality where no matter how much you have , you never feel you have enough, he says. He wants to create an education system based on an "abundance mentality". Viren Joshi spoke about a child from his slum school who returned a large sum of cash he found in the street simply because "it was not his" a natural behavior of the values learned in school.
So how does one instill ethics and social justice into young minds? How does one get away from the "don't know = don't care" syndrome? I got some answers from these educators who talk about the values they instill "To whom much is given much is expected"; They ask their students to ask themselves "what am I doing to "preserve" my rights?" "What am I doing to "deserve" my rights". Speakers’ Bios are:
Kiran Sethi is the Founder/Director of Riverside School in Ahmedabad, India, which focuses on social justice curriculum and experiential learning. She was elected a 2008 fellow by Ashoka, the world’s leading authority on social entrepreneurship for her innovative “aProCh – A Protagonist in every Child.” (http://www.aproch.org/)
Ravi Gulati is the founder of Manzil, (http://www.manzil.in/) a youth empowerment and learning center in New Delhi. Operating out of Gulati's home, Manzil is a unique resource designed for local low-income youth. It offers classes in traditional subjects such as English and Math, but also fosters the creative arts and leadership capacity building to provide a more holistic approach to critical thinking and learning.
Viren Joshi is co-founder of Manav Sadhna http://www.manavsadhna.org/ in the Gandhi ashram, Ahmedabad. Inspired by Gandhian ideals of truth, non-violence, uplifting the oppressed, and promoting health, sanitation, and education, Manav Sadhna strives to adapt these ideals to the complex issues facing India and the world.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Leadership Lesson- Learn from Obama

Like millions of others I watched Obama getting sworn in - from President Elect to President. I watched his face on a 54 inch HD screen that shows every spot, every crease, every expression magnified several fold. There is lots being written abut the famous flub, but what I found interesting is something different: a lesson in leadership. Because of how he handled a crisis - a completely unscripted moment when we see the man- being himself. Here is what happened: The camera is focused on Obama's listening face as we hear a man (Justice Roberts) off camera reciting words that Obama is supposed to repeat - and even at it starts - something goes wrong - the words aren't in the right order or something. Obama's expression changes to friendly compassion, a slight nod - and it goes on. Obama's unscripted reaction made it clear (to all of us who do not know the oath by heart) that the error was not his. More important-there was no anger, no self-conscious tittering, no tension, no laughter at the other person's mistake, no negative body language at all. But he wasn't stone-faced either - he did have an expression - it was one of trust, confidence, friendship, teamwork. There is a leadership lesson in this for all of us - when things go wrong, and something always goes wrong, our first reaction should not be one of blame or anger or even withdrawal. And it should also not be denial- face adversity with compassion and trust. In addition, don't create a crisis - maybe no harm is intended; and even if it was intended - the best way to deflect it in the moment is to stay calm, cool, unemotional (which does not mean devoid of emotion). Yes - "No Drama Obama" - Here is a leadership lesson - we can all use, especially those of us involved with social issues where things are always grey and emotions run particularly high. I do believe it is possible to train oneself to be calm and show compassion in crisis, so even if it takes a bit of work - just do it - eventually it will become a natural response.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Social Enterprises Panel and Showcase 2/22/09

Mark your calendar and plan to attend the third annual Entrepreneurship Week at Stanford University, February 18-25, 2009. Enjoy a variety of events throughout the week, including prestigious speakers, panel discussions, workshops, mixers, VC/student "speed dating,” a start-up job fair and more. Most events are free and open to the public. The Social Enterprise Panel and Showcase is on 2/22/09, Wallenberg Hall, 3-5pm. Entrepreneurship Week is hosted by the Stanford Entrepreneurship Network (SEN), a federation of entrepreneurship-related organizations across Stanford University. SEN programs, including Entrepreneurship Week, are proudly sponsored by Deloitte.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Education- the gift that keeps on giving- isn't that called investment?

The following 2008 update letter is part of a package sent to investors. As financials are tough, I wish you all the best in making giving (investment) choices right for you.

Dear Friends,
The greatest doer must also be a great dreamer.” -- Theodore Roosevelt
In December 2007, I stood on the grounds of the Rural Women’s College in the village of Gangapur, Varanasi and as I looked into the eyes of so many eager young faces, it felt like a dream come true. The aura of hope, excitement and vitality was so strong that all I have to do is close my eyes and I can still feel it today. In the students’ young faces, I see an India that is vibrant, compassionate and wise. I see an India that retains what is best in our ancient culture without the shackles of poverty and desperation.

Our story starts many years ago when my husband and I got a letter from Salt Lake City, in the mail, outlining a dream and also a plan which included the establishment of the “Foundation for Women’s Education in the Rural World” for a school for young women in rural India. We were so moved by the vision as well as the well thought out plan that we decided to give what little financial support we could provide, to keep in touch with Dr. N.P Singh but mostly to be cheerleaders for his grand vision and a most worthy cause. We had never heard of Dr. Singh but we figured when someone takes up such a major challenge, being cheerleaders was the least we could do.

Today, the school is very real and it is making a vast difference. The buildings are functional, grounds neat and kept clean by an assiduous staff. The environment feels safe and supportive. But what is most impressive is the attitude the students and staff bring to the picture – they are enthusiastic, hard working and energized.

Their individual stories are inspirational. During my visit, I noticed several young girls with “sindoor” in their hair and so when I asked I found that many of the students had already done a full days worth of house-work taking care of families even before taking the long ride to the school. And yet they projected no hint if tiredness or hardship. In fact they were proud of themselves, their school and their family for supporting their dreams.
They say that “a dream is just a dream until you write it down….then it becomes a plan”. We feel honored to be included in the planning of this dream and look forward to seeing it grow. There still remains much to be done, but believe me to share in this dream gives rewards far greater than any investment one makes. Please do plan to join in making dreams come true for a most deserving group – young rural women of India.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Networking Strategy for Social Entrepreneurs

I was at Minority Development Workshop where Donna Nelson presented the results of her report "A National Analysis of Diversity in Science and Engineering Faculties at Research Universities". The data (US) is pretty grim: “Progress for female and minority faculty at research universities, produced from past attempted solutions combined, has been too slow. If significant progress is to be made within the next couple of decades, new and totally different approaches to solving problems facing women and minority faculty will be needed.” The report made a huge impact on me. Being a corporate type I always thought universities were more hospitable to qualified women (after all, in 1975 I knew a university professor who wore saris to work and one who took her baby to office). The report also finds that many qualified faculty women opt to drop out or settle for a lower position (very few deans for instance). After a while it is "just too much of an uphill grind", "not worth it" etc. I see this with social entrepreneurs too - it results from having inadequate informal support infrastructure. Support can come from Networking- There are two networking strategies :
1- "Blending In" is being like the majority; socializing in their playgrounds - it gives you access to influential colleagues, you understand the rules of the game - it often feels like hard work.
2-"Sticking Together" - stay close to family, race, community; gives you stress relief, builds social support and strengthens you- it can be a time sink
The key to successful networking is to explicitly adopt both strategies, to be aware of their powers and pitfalls and employ as needed in your situation. As I listened to Donna's talk I realised that in my corporate life - I followed the "blending in" strategy (no community) and now in my university life I follow the "sticking together" strategy (community of social entrepreneurs). I can see how I could have done better with a more explicit understanding of this system - I have always hated networking (time sink, too much work, no fun etc.) and now I understand why.
How do you network ?