Monday, March 29, 2010

Boond: Micro-franchising for Achieving Scale in Social Impact

In October 2009, when I was a speaker at the Micro-Finance India Summit, I was truly humbled and awed by the entrepreneurs I met, some fresh out of college, who shared their business plans (ventures in various stages of development) with me. One thing that was common to all was that they took on great risk (financial, social, time investment) with amazing optimism and a can-do attitude. One such entrepreneur is Rustam Sengupta who has founded a for-profit social enterprise "Boond" (which in Sanskrit means a drop). I was captivated by the ambition reflected in the vision & mission: “Reach 1 million individuals with light, clean water and pest control by 2012”. But even more so by the fact that scale was integrated into the strategy and operations from the get-go. "Boond’s mission is to bring development to the poor living in remote areas of India through the specially designed Boond Development Kit. The specially designed kit consist of a Solar lamp, a water filter and a mosquito net and is sold through local villagers with 3/6/9 month financing schemes to make it affordable for the BPL household."
The unique aspect of Boond is its strategy to reach its market - the prepackaged kit is sold through the Boond Officer: Boond has put together a micro-franchising solution: a kit, a reseller and financing.

Boond development kit customers live in remote places that are hard to reach and without proper market infrastructure. So meet Boond Officer Bikash: a native of Manipur who teaches young children in the local school and earns about Rs. 2600 (US$58) a month. He is a talented singer and dancer, immensely passionate about Boond products, and has set a target for selling 30 kits in a month. The village he targets has less than 10% electricity coverage and no running water.

Boond has created a very low-cost solution: with just $20 a financier can empower a villager to deploy the kit.

I believe that the biggest development challenge for India is reaching, enabling and developing the rural market in spite of development in the metros. Boond has created a solution. "In India, nearly 300 million people still live in complete darkness while WHO statistics highlight that a million every year die from water borne diseases. Boond believes that these are the two biggest development challenges we face and can be surmounted by a collective effort of ordinary individuals. Malaria, nearly eradicated from the Western world still kills nearly 300,000 people a year and we believe that this is unacceptable since it’s easily preventable for a low cost. Boond is also trying to change the peoples mindset through its website and campaigns ( and encourages collective action to fight the biggest challenges faced by India today – Light, Clean Water and Pest Control" says Rustam.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Is All Entrepreneurship Social?

Carl Schramm makes the case in a Stanford Social Innovation Review article that all entrepreneurship is social. "Let’s not overlook what traditional entrepreneurs contribute to society" he worries and provides several cases (largely in a US context) to support the thesis.

This is a question I used to struggle with but in the last year I have developed a position: All entrepreneurship is not social. That is because we do not live in an ideal world. The cost of development is disproportionately born by the poor (think toxic e-waste for one), often willingly, in the name of progress. In India, despite high growth rates in the last 10 years and a burgeoning middle class, the poverty indicators as measured by opportunity (i.e. basic food, education and health-care access) have actually declined- creating social tension that rips the very fabric of the unique Indian ethos. So like quotas and affirmative action - in an ideal world we wouldn't need them; but till there is equal opportunity for all we do. Similarly ideally, all entrepreneurship is social - but only if there is equal opportunity. Till then, it is merely obfuscation to blur the line between business motivated by social impact and business.

The irony is that in India where entrepreneurs actually do social good, creating local jobs, innovation and creating a market at the bottom of the pyramid, the term social entrepreneur is relatively unknown and if known draws wonderment - because isn't all entrepreneurship social? In their case I agree. It takes a lot of guts to be an entrepreneur in a developing econnomy because the cost of failure is high while there is safety in a job or joining the family business that serves the developed economy.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Netizenship - Do and Don't

Help yourself - Be a Good Net-izen.

In a professional context, the best thing about e-communication is that distance becomes irrelevant. It is also the worst.They say that words once spoken can never be taken back. Hence think twice speak once. But spoken words only live on in the memory of the listeners and speech is accompanied with physical cues which gives us a chance to resolve miscommunication. E-words, on the other hand, live on in perpetuity; for a search engine to discover, out of context, out of date. The probability of leaving others with impressions of ourselves we never intended is greatly enhanced. Second, e-communication may be the first order contact to be followed by in-person, if all goes well. So home-grown conventions have been developed but they vary. My rule is better safe than sorry. From daily email to social media sites, blogs e-behavior that wins friends and influences people is somewhat of a mystery. There is no e-Miss Manners to save me for getting that foot into my mouth (and remember it stays there). Social entrepreneurs must communicate with a variety of people; people very different from ourselves but possibly sympathetic to our cause. So experiences can be enhanced for all parties with simple net-iquette.

e-mail: be factual, be non-judgmental. Keep it short - it is not the place to vent your feelings, opinions. Do document decisions after a meeting. Always acknowledge even if to say there will be no follow-up. If resolving an issue - do not go back and forth more than 3 times. If not resolved after 3 iterations, e-mail will not resolve it. There is no excuse for not following up on email (includes CEOs- if only to delegate - convention varies on this between India and US - but I know when I get a reply from an admin - I think the CEO is old-school - not net savvy and hence - is he/she worth my time? ).

social media sites - advantage is that such sites already impose a certain amount of discipline. Studies have shown that teenagers actually benefit from the open group interaction because they are motivated bu having as many friends as possible. But still, before posting that pic, ask yourself - how many people are interested in seeing my cross eyed drunken face captured at the last party? Not even you.

blogs: decide what the blog is about and deliver what you promise. Its not how often you write, its what you write. Simplest way to start is - as the name says - a personal log of things that interest you. Blogs are a great way to espouse your cause as long as that cause is not you.

websites- Do create a personal (or professional) website - this is the place to brag about yourself/your organization/your team. - as long as it is the truth. Easy navigation, process, policy, values clearly stated will set you apart from others and create an aura of openness, fairness. Initially you can treat a website like a resume. If you are adept, a website is a great way to communicate your mission, vision and build supporters. It grows as you grow and saves time in the long run by reducing replication of work.

Finally a word about Humor - Don't. Unless you are a professional you won't get away with it. That is because humor is context sensitive, time sensitive. However, do take a light friendly tone (free of overt status verbiage - a problem in India more than US). Save that for in-person. If you become an expert there (you can see who laughed and who didn't) you can then try it - maybe - on your blog, fb update.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Want To Design a Mobile Phone? LG Announcement

SAN DIEGO – March 16, 2010 - LG Mobile Phones, the fastest growing mobile phone brand in North America, is partnering with crowdSPRING, an online marketplace for creative services, and Autodesk, a leader in 2D and 3D design, engineering, and entertainment software, to hold an innovative competition to define the future of mobile communication. Starting on March 15th, LG Mobile Phones will give consumers the chance to design their vision of the next revolutionary LG mobile phone and compete for more than $80,000 in prizes.

The competition will award over 40 winners. The first place winner will be awarded $20,000, one Wacom Intuos4 medium tablet, and Autodesk industrial design software. The second place winner will be awarded $10,000 and Autodesk SketchBook Pro software, and the third place winner will be awarded $5,000 and Autodesk SketchBook Pro software. To reward as many people as possible in the name of creativity, LG will also be giving out a whopping 37 honorable mentions at $1,000 each.

This year’s competition marks the inaugural participation of Russell Bobbitt, a world renowned movie prop master. Bobbitt has worked on a variety of visually stunning films such as Star Trek, Iron Man and Iron Man 2™. He recently received the prestigious “Behind the Camera” prop master award for his work on the first Iron Man film. Bobbitt will serve as a guest judge to reward one contestant’s cutting-edge design with the Prop Master’s Choice award. The contestant’s design will then be created into a non-working mock-up that could wind up in Bobbitt’s next blockbuster film. The Prop Master’s Choice winner will also receive $3,000 plus Autodesk SketchBook Pro software.

“We’re very excited about this competition because it gives consumers and design enthusiasts all a chance to exercise their creative imaginations and have their ideas be heard,” said Ehtisham Rabbani, vice president of marketing and innovation for LG Mobile Phones. “You don’t have to work for LG to make an impact on the future of mobile phones.”

Autodesk will supply participants with a free 15-day trial of SketchBook Pro, a paint and drawing application for use on the Mac or PC. It offers an intuitive, streamlined user interface so even new users can be productive within minutes. The 15-day trial will give all competitors access to industry-leading professional design software and levels the playing field for professional and amateur designers alike to create the phone of their dreams.

“We’re thrilled to partner with LG and Autodesk on this innovative design challenge. The challenge represents the real power of crowdsourcing - by allowing anyone to have the opportunity to design the next generation mobile phone for a global leader,” said Ross Kimbarovsky, co-founder of crowdSPRING. With a pool of over 55,000 designers and writers in more than 170 countries, crowdSPRING is one of the world’s largest creative communities and is an open platform where anyone can post projects or submit entries. Both seasoned and aspiring designers can submit their entries until April 26th at
Competition Details
Eligibility: Any U.S. resident (citizen or green card holder) that is 18 years (or age of majority in state of residence) and older

Start and End Dates: The competition begins on March 15, 2010, at 12 a.m. PST and ends on April 26, 2010, at 9:00 a.m. PST

Winners will be announced on May 14, 2010 at