Posted by: Charlie | March 3, 2010

The Thrust Fund

Do you ever rely on a friend? Would you ever bet on them? Thats what three promising entrepreneurs behind the Thrust Fund are proposing to kickstart their next ventures. The deal is simple: $600,000 for 6% of their life’s earnings. That’s an average of $250,000/year before retirement age.

Startups traditionally pinch pennies, weary of handing control over to a majority stakeholder. The Thrust Fund could alter this dynamic, and perhaps spur greater innovation. Instead of putting risky capital into startups with low success rates, investors could instead fund individuals. We all learned in gradeschool that Edison failed hundreds of times before getting the lightbulb to shine. If investors were bought into the individual, a little failure could be just a learning along the path to great success. Entrepreneurs behind the biggest tech companies (Google, Microsoft, Facebook) prototyped in risk free college environments. The Thrust Fund could help build in a cushion that rarely exists post graduation (or drop out).

If only the method didn’t resemble indentured servitude. There will be no broken bones for broke bank accounts. Yes their are buyout clauses assuring that no one will “accidentally” fall down the stairs if their venture fails.

Venture Beat covered the complete story today to prepare for heated debate this evening. Kjerstin Erickson of FORGEwill go head to head with an entrepreneur, investor, and a skeptical peer (former editor of DGW). Based on her experience with FORGE there is little doubt in the crowd that she is poised for future success, but at what expense?

For now I’m excited to watch the heated debate over at The Hub in the Bay. Surely we’ll be seeing more on the subject in the coming days. I certainly give a hand to the innovators and risk takers willing to put their earnings on the line for the next best thing. A tilt of the hat to Kjerstin, Jon and Saul of the Thrust Fund.

After all life’s sentence into entrepreneurship may not be such a bad thing for the individual or society. I’ll put $1m on red…

Here at Do Good Well we look for innovative solutions for social change. In the past we have been critical of blanket, top-down, development projects uninformed by the needs or wants of a community. However, today the U.S. Senate proposed an initiative so absurd, so obscene, that it might just work: Build a Turtle Fence. Even better, its a musical.

So ridiculous it might just work? Of course we are just having fun. We appreciate the ability to laugh and poke fun. Thank you to the folks over at Auto-Tune the News

Posted by: Charlie | February 18, 2010

Fair Trade Frenzy

Great news over with Ben & Jerry’s today. They have made the commitment to go fully fair trade. Now you can eat ice-crema and feel better. Check out the post over at Fast Company for move…

Posted by: Charlie | February 13, 2010

Silicon Valley and Social Good

Communications technology has lowered transaction costs, uniting a global world on the web. Like the TV before it, the internet has excited potential for education and other social change. With all of its promise why isthe web is cluttered with time-suck games like farmville, internet scams from nigerian princes, and a schmorgesborg of smut? Well what if the innovators don’t even understand the problem?

Many products and services churned churned out of Silicon Valley are not accessible to much of the world’s population. Today’s story, “What’s Better: Saving the World or Building Another Facebook App” highlights the valley’s naivete of human behavior and technology in developing countires. The piece covers a 18 hour programming challenge in which teams competed for prizes for top innovative web app. Though there were many savvy apps, the judges failed to see the value in an app that connected rural populations in developing nations with health experts in the developed world via SMS, figuring they could instead use 911. Of course this first-world service does not exist in most countries where computer, business, and health services remain nascent industries.

These students, who did not win a prize, outsmarted the judges and exposed an important lesson: innovators must intimately understand communities and behavior in order create breakthrough technologies, also known as appropriate technologies. A Fax company can’t expect someone to understand a fax machine if they’ve never used a landline. Likewise, leaders of Web 2.0 companies can’t expect a farmer to use WebMD if he doesn’t have a computer.

Of course there are a promising few. Organizations like FrontlineSMS, Samasource1LPC and Longitude exploit the potential of web technologies to break down barriers between north and south and provide unique livelihoods for the other 90% of the globe.

As communications technology moves mobile – Steve Jobs called Apple a mobile company in his latest iPad presentation – there is an opportunity for greater global connectivity. Why? Because developing countries are fueling the growth of mobile technology even though highspeed internet lags in these areas. Demand is growing and the Silicon Valley Insiders ought to take notice – especially judges of competitions from companies like Facebook, Zynga, and Y-Combinator. Where there is a need there is business and an opportunity to do good well.

Photo credit: whiteafrican
Posted by: Charlie | February 8, 2010

Philanthropy for All

Every economics 101 course introduces the idea of opportunity cost: the cost of a good is its price plus the entire realm of other opportunities not pursued. In other words, you pay for everything you don’t do – and thats a lot of stuff. Seems grim, right? Barry Schwartz explains in my favorite TED talk that these choices actually makes us unhappy. How can you be happy if there is something else you don’t have? Or what if someone gave you everything?

Strategic Philanthropy can often have this same approach. With a limited pool of resources, it is essential that a project have the highest social return on investment. The segmentation of philanthropic giving structures a hierarchy of social good. The marketing departments for large charities reinforce this hierarchy, bringing televised attention to pressing matters. In essence, what is rationally good is distilled by a few large organizations and their marketing teams. Domestic health issues affecting the affluent may receive more funding than devastating disease in developing countries because they are more easily cured, and easier to market.

Segmenting good in this way is a radical shift for charitable giving, which in the western world is built on Judea-Christian ethics of equality. Economic principes may further dictate who is worthy in a competitive arena. Some aid cannot be justified. But is it just to apply theory to charity?

Today’s New York Times offers a bold and equalizing alternative to such a cold picture of philanthropy: The Secret Society for Creative Philanthropy. The organization instructs givers to share $100 (maximum) in such a creative manner that the act may be bigger than the gift. Paper Airplanes out of $5 bills – I bet they’ve tried it. The movement has grown from a single writer to multiple communities in various cities. A cynic might suggest that the all the money could be better spent strategically. I think that there is an art in reminding people the of pleasure of giving, sharing, and passing it on.

In a similar light, the featured picture shows a book tracked by bookcrossing.com. Registrants enter a book into the database and leave it in a public location for new readers to discover. They are another great example of counter-veiling forces of generosity and gifting. Gifts build relationships, solidarity, and community – the backbone to our economic engines.

I rejoice in this art form, simple reminders that we are all worthy of gifts of love and random kindness.

Posted by: Charlie | February 3, 2010

Social Enterprise, The Hybrid Nerd

Social enterprises are like the smart geeky high school student who is also a an all-american football star. Well, with one exception – social enterprises are handicapped. They sit in the shaky middle between bottom-line, for-profit companies and socially & environmnetaly focused non-profit organizations. They are hybrids.

Despite recent buzz about the field, there has been a general lack of institutionalized support for the sector. Foundations are weary to fund for-profit entities even with a social mission, and businesses rarely offer tiered pricing for hybrid businesses. Where as non-profits often receive reduced rates for services like legal and tech (Google Apps is free for non-profits), social enterprises pay full price. And boy do they pay for it.

In full disclosure, in my other life I run a social enterprise called Runa. We not only have to maintain strategic relationships with small farmers, indigenous communities, and other organizational stakeholders, but we also have to run a highly profitable tea business. We want to do both, and our investors feel the same. While we have received a good deal of good will press and local support in our home town, both business and non-profit communities do not really know how to handle us. So we front the bill.

Usually the nerdy football star matriculates to college with help of a financial aid package, and thats where the metaphor ends. Luckily, there is a growing community of social enterprises fighting to do good… and do well. How will we treat these Hybrids as they grow out of the awkward high school stage?

photo credit: crimfants

Posted by: Charlie | February 3, 2010

A Culture of Generosity (Cross Post on Change.org)

This is part 4 of an 11-part series on Undergraduate Social Entrepreneurship coordinated by the Social Innovation Initiative at Brown University posted on Change.org.

There is a culture of generosity embedded in the principles and institutions of social entrepreneurship. After all, social entrepreneurship emerged out of a demand for both nonprofit values and for-profit strategic impact, and tries to draw the best from both fields.

But while traditional entrepreneurs may favor “lone wolf” innovation, social entrepreneurs are inherently, well, social. Grassroots community organizing, volunteer-ism, charity giving and a deep commitment to social justice inform our social methods. To tackle global issues, we rely upon the generosity of our network.

Why are individuals in the social sector generous? Because entrepreneurs in the social sector know that the more that you give, the more you get in return. This lesson is slowly leaking into the private sector, too. Seth Godin’s latest e-book What Matters Now exemplifies that generous people will garner generous attention.

This ethic is especially true in a student setting, where competition is low and collaboration high. As a junior in college, I co-hosted a dinner for social innovators to answer the question: “How can we help each other?” Around the dinner table, we critiqued each other’s projects in global health (Mali Health Organizing Project), food security (Gardens For Health International), and conflict resolution (Strait Talk). We worked in diverse fields, but had a common need: each other. Today, this round-table format — an open forum dinner with skilled and generous listeners — is a cornerstone of Brown’s Social Innovation Initiative. We needed each other’s critical feedback, diverse skills and open networks. Together, we helped each other fund-raise and rethink our marketing plans, and inspired one another to take our projects beyond the safety of school walls.

Across the country, a proliferation of university support for student social entrepreneurs is on the rise. What’s more, in the same way that social entrepreneurs have for years, universities are now using the same culture of generosity to build their programming. The team at AshokaU, for example, has convened Change Maker campuses around the United States, sharing experiences and programming to enhance the entire sector.

Generosity spreads. This principal is evident in the proliferation of open sourcing in the social and private sector. Generosity gives back. Online fundraising is changing the way we make change. Generosity comes back. So, what did you do for somebody else today?

Photo Credit: micah.e

Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, Organic, Wild Harvested, Heart Healthy, what do they all really mean? Each certification has different standards and a different emphasis on social, environmental, and labor practices. While certificaitons assure consumers that their purchases are ethically sound, does the proliferation of certifications, especially in the food industry, dilute their meaning and effectiveness?

Multiple certifications can confuse consumers. Consider Fair Trade vs. Rainforest Alliance, their standards are dramatically different. These variations give producers the ability to choose their prefered certification based on service and price, while consumers are left largely in the dark.  Kraft has been a registers Rainforest Alliance member and major donor since 2003. Consumers should ask if Kraft’s donations influences the laxity of the certification.

According to Fairtrade.org, the labeling intends to connect consumers with producers. But with so many labels out there, and businesses choosing their preferred certification, producers may actually be disconnecting from consumers.

I invite you to join the conversation.

Posted by: Charlie | December 15, 2009

Do Good Digest: Maybe Money does Grow on Trees

Pitfalls of Non-Profit Marketing:  In his latest HuffPo blog post,George Weiner, CTO of DoSomething.org explains the greatest misunderstanding in online fundraising: strangers don’t want to give you money, nor do they want to marry you. Rather, they might like a story or useful and interesting content to get them hooked. DoSomething.org is one of the most successful fundraisers out there, take their word.

Google Saves Trees: Google announced another life-changing technology, and no its not the Nexus One. They announced just a few days ago at the Copenhagen conference a new forest mapping technology that will track deforestation using Google’s geo technology and cloud computational power. This technology will speed up research and give us immediate data on deforestations contributions to climate change.

Help me Reforest the Amazon: My tea company, Runa, is half way to our goal of reforesting one hectare of the Amazon. We are planting highly caffeinated Guayusa tea in agroforests. Indigenous farmers harvesting guayusa can increase their incomes by 200% in a season.  Giving the gift of tea gives back a little more.

Posted by: Charlie | November 20, 2009

The Future of Social Entrepreneurship

Diana Wells at Brown, courtesy of the Brown Daily Herald

Last week I had the pleasure of moderating a conversation with Diana Wells, the president of Ashoka. We discussed how Ashoka has diffused the concept of social entrepreneurship through its network of fellows. Nearly 30 years since Ashoka started the dialogue, social entrepreneurship and innovation has reached a national consciousness. Last summer, the Obama administration appointed Sonal Shah, former head of global development at Google.org, to lead the charge as the head of the White House Office of Social Innovation. With strong growth in the field, Wells gives us a peak into the future of social entrepreneurship.

True to Ashoka’s mission, Wells instructs that funding leaders must be a top priority. She exclaims, “the author of the idea will be its best champion.” Social entrepreneurs must have undying passion to battle trying social issues. Luckily, there has been a surge in leadership funding, with organizations supporting leaders at different stages in the lifecycle of entrepreneurship. However, on a national level, this funding is still miniscule. Wells incites that the Office of Social Innovation’s largest role will not be funding leaders, but contributing to a national set of priorities, primarily leadership. But as a new entry into this growing dialogue, does the office threaten to dilute the conversation?

There is a tension between local solutions to social issues and scalable ideas. To deepen, rather than dilute the dialogue, Wells sees the future of social entrepreneurship as aligned with Ashoka’s strategy: support ideas that are system changing by their ability to be replicated in other locations. In other words, cookie-cutter approaches to change scaling will not work. Instead, change-makers should adopt and modify workable solutions to local issues. Don’t the best ideas often come from another place? Car and Bike sharing germinated in Europe before entering U.S. markets and the British Invasion co-opted the best of American blues and rock & roll. Open-sourced web development expands this trend to a global arena.

The various stakeholders are dynamically defining the field. As leaders like Wells and Shah of social change embed themselves in our institutions and media waves, we can hope to see a future of positive social change.

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