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, 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

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.