Center for Science, Technology, and Society, News page

  •  To Distribute or Not To Distribute, That is the Question!

    Monday, Jan. 13, 2014

     At the Center we provide business model centric training to our social entrepreneurs (SEs).  One element of a business model is sales and distribution.  Even in Silicon Valley, with companies working in well established markets, I’ve seen companies struggle with this one.  Do we sell direct?  Indirect? Inside sales? Outside sales?  And as a startup you can’t invest in all of them at once.  How do you pick which one is first and then the phasing of additional ones?  Our SEs struggle with the same questions.  We have seen many solar lighting and clean cookstove companies come through GSBI.  They wrestle with the question of are we a design/manufacturing only company?  Design and distribution?  It is easy to quickly think about distribution because how else are you going to get product out?  And you have the illusion of being “in control” of the sales situation.  But let me tell you, distribution in frontier markets is HARD.  

    In our recent trip to Kenya and Uganda we visited two GSBI alumni working to solve the distribution issue, Livelyhoods and Solar Sisters.  Both organizations are distributing solar lighting and clean cookstoves, some of whom are also GSBI alumni such as Angaza.  

    Livelyhoods is focused in urban slums using youth they train and Solar Sisters is focused in rural areas using women they train.  Both organizations have learned a lot in the years they have been in existence.  Some of the lessons are obvious like commission rates, keeping sales agents involved, objection handling, normal sales related things.  Others aren’t, e.g. Livelyhoods learned that even though they have a mobile sales force, youth pick up the products they want to sell for the day and walk around their community selling them, they needed to have a physical store to provide credibility.  There are a lot of transients in urban slums, if a prospect bought a product and it didn’t work, where would they go with it? How would they know the sales agent would still be around? I’ve seen this in other developing markets, product quality is so bad that everyone expects things not to work and need to return it.  

    When we went to Kapchorwa, a rural area in northeast Uganda with Solar Sisters, that wasn’t an issue because everyone knew the women selling them product, in fact their customers invited the Solar Sisters microentrepreneur and us into their homes. 

    For a product design/manufacturing company to learn all these sales and distribution lessons, it would be very expensive.  That said, as a former product person, I know the value in “hearing from the customer”.  Getting product feedback is paramount to iterating and continuing to build great products.  

    In our short time of walking around the rural areas of Kapchorwa and going into people’s homes to see the solar products they bought we learned about how the lights were used, and abused by our western standards, but it is the reality on the ground.  For instance, I have two bedside lamps, and that is where they stay, by my bed.  I also have a desk lamp that stays on my desk.  Many of these people had bought one small solar lamp, that was moved around from room to room, being connected and disconnected many times a day.  

    From this we learned two valuable things.  It behooves the product companies to meet with their distributors on a regular basis to get on-the-ground feedback. In this case they would learn that durability of the connectors is very important for the longevity of the lamp. Both Livelyhoods and Solar Sisters said that some companies whose products they sell ask for feedback but it isn’t systematic.  

    Again, wearing my product hat, getting this kind of feedback is critical to product success and it doesn’t cost nearly the same as having boots on the ground. The other thing we realized is there is an opportunity in the market for service repair and Village Energy, who is currently going through GSBI Online, has identified that.  

    We take market systems for granted in the US.  For instance, cars, there are organizations that manufacture, others that sell, others that service, some that sell and service, some that provide financing for them, others that do after-market adjustments, etc....  The reality is that our SEs, working in developing countries, don’t have the luxury of operating in a well-established market system.  Not only do they have the difficult job that every entrepreneur has, creating and building a killer product or service, but they either have to create the market system themselves or find others that are fighting the good fight in frontier markets to partner with.    


  •  December Newsletter: Goodwill and Good Cheer to All!

    Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013

    Happy Holidays! Our December Newsletter is here!

    Read all about our goodwill and good news--a big present from the eBay Foundation!

    Again, we wish you a very merry holiday season!


    The Center

  •  Immerse Yourself in Learnings from Social Entrepreneurs based in Kenya and Uganda

    Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013

    Thane Kreiner and I led an Executive Immersion program for 7 guests, including our advisory board members, to Kenya and Uganda. We got to see the work on the ground of 8 GSBI alumni from both the Accelerator and Online programs. They included Penda Health, Kopo Kopo, M-Farm, Juhudi Kilimo, Livelyhoods, Solar Sister, BaNaPads and Village Energy.

    Purposefully it was a mix of sectors, and urban and rural. As always when we meet with these incredible, dedicated, passionate social entrepreneurs it was exhilarating and insightful.

    In the next couple blog posts we'll share some of our learnings from the trip to include how to roast coffee to differences between rural and urban distribution.

    ·         Penda Health- provides high-quality, affordable, outpatient healthcare through a chain of health clinics. By 2020 they will operate over 100 clinics across Kenya with millions of happy patients. Penda Health aims to be affordable to everyone in Kenya, including low- and middle-income population.

    ·         Kopo Kopo- is a web based mobile payment platform that enables SME owners to accept mobile money payments. Kopo Kopo aggregates payments from multiple mobile money systems, reflects those payments on an intuitive online dashboard, and automatically posts those payments to a back-office system via a notification API.

    ·         M-Farm- connects smallholder African farmers with urban and export markets via SMS and a web-enabled marketplace. M-Farm negotiates with buyers to create demand and assures quality through its network of agents. This motivates smallholder farmers to move beyond subsistence and into cash crops that can feed Africa and the world.

    ·     Juhudi Kilimo- is changing the way farmers do business. They finance targeted agricultural assets for smallholder farmers and rural enterprises across Kenya. Operating exclusively in very rural areas, Juhudi Kilimo gives smallholder farmers access to the tools they need to scale up and succeed.

    ·         Livelyhoods- taps the power of high potential youth in urban slums two create economic opportunities. They create jobs, give slum consumers access to life-changing products and assist companies to penetrate hard-to-reach markets.

    ·         Solar Sister- eradicates energy poverty by empowering women with economic opportunity. By combining the breakthrough potential of solar technology with an Avon-style direct sales network, Solar Sister brings light, hope, and opportunity to even the most remote communities of rural Africa.

    ·         BaNaPads-  are cost effective sanitary pads made from the processed stems of freely available banana plants. The eco-friendly absorbent material is derived from plant and paper materials and is packaged for monthly distribution to school girls. BaNaPads fabrication centers employ and serve the female residents of the rural communities in Uganda.

    ·         Village Energy- pioneers the local assembly of micro-home solar systems and built distribution infrastructure with rural and peri-urban based entrepreneurs at the center. Their approach to renewable energy is to view solar products as the basis upon which previously non-existent services can be delivered in off-grid communities.

  •  eBay Partners with the Center to Benefit Social Enterprises in Bay Area and around the World

    Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013

    Last week, the Center for Science, Technology, and Society formalized a deeper partnership with the eBay Foundation to scale the impact of high-potential social entrepreneurs through the Center’s Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®).

    The eBay Foundation will sponsor two social entrepreneurs in the soon-to-be announced 2014 GSBI Accelerator program as well as 15-20 earlier stage social entrepreneurs in a custom built 2014 GSBI Online cohort. The social entrepreneurs receiving eBay support will be selected for their potential to maximize social impact through increased income generation, access to markets, and local employment. Given eBay's goals, there will be a focus on entrepreneurs from Brazil, India, and China. With hands-on mentorship and a refined curriculum, the Center will take social entrepreneurs to the next level, help them scale their enterprises, and attract funding.

    Additionally, with eBay Foundation’s support, the Center will begin to work with local social enterprises. The Center will pilot a GSBI “Boot Camp” for Bay Area Social Entrepreneurs. This will be comprehensive two-day training for 8-12 social enterprises, which are dedicated to improving the livelihoods of the disadvantaged or underrepresented populations in the Bay Area. The boot camp will help them grow their enterprises in a financially stable and sustainable way.

    More information about these programs will be forthcoming in 2014.

  •  How do we give Santa Clara Students the Entrepreneurial Edge?

    Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013

    Greetings from the Mexico City airport!

    This was a fantastic, inspiring, educational, chockablock full trip.

    Here are a few summary comments on the social entrepreneurs we visited in Mexico. The point is twofold: The GSBI® programs prepare social enterprises for success. Our alumni are doing quite well. Secondly, the Global Social Benefit Fellowship program makes Santa Clara students and their research projects attractive to social enterprises.

    We visited a number of social enterprises—Unidos, Grupedsac, Ilumexico, Clincas de Azucar, SalaUno, and Sabbia Telecom—that are alumni of the GSBI® Accelerator or GSBI® Online.  At each meeting, we asked for an update on their mission and business model. Then we conducted an informal needs assessment, which is relevant to what we at GSBI could offer.

    The social businesses are scaling very quickly, to my eye. Three of them—Ilumexico, Clincas de Azucar, and SalaUno— are about 30 months old and have 25, 29, and 75 employees respectively. These enterprises would all like to host our student fellows. In return, they would like to share some elements of GSBI learning with their senior staff.  The social entrepreneurs could provide senior staff with a sort of “GSBI On Demand”, sharing the latest findings from the field.

    I asked many of the SEs why they were keenly interested in our Global Social Benefit Fellow students. Why don’t they drawn on local, Mexican students? The answer was quite consistent: they want students to work with them who have been trained to think in the GSBI model. This is one very tangible, value add that the Center gives to Santa Clara students. 

    Indeed, our visit to Monterrey Tech was fruitful because they are very eager to learn how we prepare students to think and work with a social entrepreneurial mindset. Our work with the students shapes the next generation of changemakers, and our partners at Monterrey Tech are eager to learn more at the next GSBI® Network conference, at SCU in May 2014.

  •  GSBI Network Gathers in Manila

    Friday, Dec. 13, 2013


    In the wake of Typhoon Yolanda, Thane Kreiner and Andy Lieberman spent an amazing week in Manila for the 5th convening of the GSBI Network.

    In the midst of supporting relief efforts in the Tacloban region, the John Gokongwei School of Management at Ateneo de Manila orchestrated a stimulating week of connecting, learning, and collaborating for the GSBI Network partners who hailed from the United States, India, Spain, and Mexico.

    In addition to strengthening relationships with each other, the Network members were treated to a deep dive into the social enterprise space in the Philippines, a chance to build relationships with the drivers of Ateneo’s social enterprise efforts, and new connections with East Asian Jesuit business schools.

    The GSBI Network meets about twice a year to exchange best practices and foster collaboration. This time, the most spirited conversations were around the strategies for engaging students in social entrepreneurship through service learning and incubating student-led social enterprises as the delegates discussed their programs, such as the Center’s Global Social Benefit Fellowships.

    The Network meeting coincided with the annual meeting of the deans of the East Asian Jesuit Business Schools, at which Thane and Andy presented GSBI. They deepened the attendees’ interest in social enterprise, with several of the participants expressing desire to launch their own GSBI programs.

    Ateneo conveniently arranged the international events to coincide with their annual social enterprise conference, which let the international visitors get to know the Filipino SE ecosystem and key players, including Jaime Ayla, Filipino Entrepreneur of the Year, and Dr. Lisa Dacanay, author of several books on social enterprise impact assessment.  The GSBI Network’s panel during this conference and Thane’s participation on the Technology Changing Lives panel provided a global perspective to complement the excellent work being done locally.

    Of course, no Center trip would be complete without visiting social entrepreneurs.  We enjoyed meeting the teams at the Manila offices and workshops of Rags2Riches (‘11) and Gifts & Graces Fair Trade Association (‘09), both of which provide livelihoods to marginalized women through production of crafts.  A 90-minute van ride and 45-minute uphill hike through coconut groves took us to a sari sari store in the Hapinoy (‘11) / CARD BDSFI (‘13) network that provides solar lamps using a rent-to-own model.  We also visited current GSBI Online participant, Veritas, the xChange social innovation co-working space, and Gawad Kalinga’s Enchanted Farm—home of 17 social enterprises, launched mostly by graduates of Ateneo de Manila.

    2014 will see even more gatherings of GSBI Network members and prospective members, starting with a week of activities at Santa Clara University in May that will highlight service learning and action research with social enterprises.  In July, Thane will lead a social enterprise track at the International Association of Jesuit Business Schools annual meeting, which will include a GSBI Network panel and a keynote by Thane.  GSBI and Ateneo de Manila are also planning a train-the-trainers workshop in Manila to prepare faculty and mentors from East Asian universities to work with social enterprises using the GSBI model.

    To learn more about the GSBI Network, please contact Andy Lieberman at

  •  Now Hiring GSBI® Program Manager

    Friday, Dec. 13, 2013

     We are hiring a GSBI® Program Manager! Join a great team with a fantastic supervisor and secure a job with purpose.

    Position Information:
    Temporary, Feb. 3 – Jun. 27, 2014
    Job Classification: Non-exempt, full time
    Salary Range: $25 - $29/hr.
    Reports to: New Programs Director, GSBI, Center for Science, Technology, and Society

    The Center for Science, Technology, and Society accelerates global, innovation-based
    entrepreneurship in service to humanity. Our signature program, the Global Social Benefit
    Institute (GSBI®) supports social entrepreneurs (SEs) through intensive capacity‐building that
    integrates the development of knowledge and skill with experienced mentoring to address the
    challenges to achieving both social impact and financial sustainability at scale.
    The GSBI Program Manager is in charge of driving GSBI Online and GSBI Accelerator programs
    towards successful completion. This person is responsible for overseeing all day-to-day activities
    and keeping track of and documenting program operations.

    Job Description:

    GSBI Accelerator

    Manage program information and disseminate to internal and external stakeholders as

    • needed
    • Provide updates at weekly GSBI team meetings relative to SE/Mentor work progress and program logistics
    • Manage program communications to mentors and SEs
    • Manage Groupsite online collaboration platform (member invitations, timely work product postings)
    • Maintain accuracy of website
    • Work with marketing team to promote the social enterprises and the August
    • Showcase event to impact investors and other stakeholders
    • Prepare program status updates for sponsors

    Support SE/Mentor teams

    • Work with Mentor Network Director to identify local in-country mentors
    • Provide support to entrepreneurs (e.g. writing letters in support of visa applications, give advice and assistance where needed for participant travel arrangements)

    Support content leads and content meetings

    • Working with Content Leads, ensure modules are posted in timely manner, webinars are scheduled, and delivered (support content leads, communicate to SEs, track participation)

    Information Management

    • Maintain database of applicants, alumni, mentors

    Event Logistics

    • Coordinate event logistics for 8/14/2014 Welcome Reception and 8/21/2014
    • Investor Showcase (e.g. book venues and send save-the–date e-mails)
    • Coordinate housing and food services for August in-residence

    GSBI Online

    • Manage recruitment and selection of GSBI Online Spring 2014 cohort
    • Manage communications to applicants regarding their application status
    • Prepare online platform for April launch
    • Work with Mentor Network Director on identification and pairing of mentors
    • Manage mentor and SE orientation webinarsWork with marketing to update website
    • Prepare program status updates for sponsors

    Ideal Capabilities/Skills:

    • Bachelors degree required
    • Excellent writing and communication skills
    • Strong time management skills, exceptional attention to detail, proven planning skills, and superior follow-through
    • Proficient with PowerPoint, Excel, and Google Docs. Familiarity with Salesforce desired
    • Experience participating in, or working in, a capacity development training program (desired, but not required)
    • Flexible schedule, including ability to work remotely and participate in early morning and evening webinars as required
    • Exercises judgment and maintain confidentiality
    • Able to work independently

    To Apply:
    Please send a cover letter describing your interest in working with the Center and CV/Resume to
    Cyndy Ainsworth at


  •  CSTS November Newsletter

    Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013


    Our November newsletter reflects the urgency of our work in light of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, GSBI Accelerator's new cohort, Tech Award winners and more! Read it here.

  •  Giving Tuesday!

    Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013

    Next week, people across our relatively blessed nation will have a Thanksgiving feast and then go on a shopping spree for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. There is a growing nationwide movement to follow these days of indulgence with "Giving Tuesday." Now in its second year, Giving Tuesday is a national day devoted to remembering those less fortunate and supporting the charities that help them. Join us on December 3rd on our facebook or donate here.


  •  Human Capital, Sustainable Social Enterprises, and Fossil Fuel Subsidies

    Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013

    Originally published on Weds, Nov. 20 2013 on

    The BoP Summit organized by William Davidson Institute last month focused on creating an “action agenda” to help build better enterprises serving the global poor. In both breakout and plenary sessions, human capital emerged as a core challenge. Specifically, many social enterprises struggle to attract, develop, and retain talent – especially in rural markets that lack infrastructure and the big-city vibe that appeals to young entrepreneurs.

    A number of social enterprises focus on livelihood training and have developed hybrid models. GSBI alum Anudip, for instance, provides market-aligned skills training for marginalized women and youth in rural and peri-urban India. Graduates can compete in the open market, or if they wish to remain in their communities, work at global “smartsourcing” firm iMerit, a for-profit in which Anudip holds a significant stake. Digital Divide Data, another GSBI alum, provides higher education opportunities and impact sourcing employment to youth in Kenya, Cambodia, and Laos.

    Many social enterprises provide other goods and services that governments and markets fail to deliver – safe drinking water, clean and affordable energy, therapeutic foods, agricultural inputs – to name a few. While these enterprises frequently result in dignified livelihood opportunities that fuel local economies, the paucity of proximal talent can impede their rate of scaling. Experienced managers know that the cost of turnover is high: it takes time to recruit and develop; institutional knowledge, often not centrally stored is lost; and relationships that drive revenue aren’t instantly transferable. Harris and Kor recently reported on the role of human assets in scaling of social enterprises.

    The human capital challenge spans every level of the enterprise including entry-level positions, mid-level management, senior leadership, and more often than not, governance. Proportionally, there simply aren’t that many experienced, successful business people who can serve as leaders or mentors in frontier markets, particularly not in rural areas. Moreover, entrepreneurial ecosystem services that catalyze formation of appropriate human capital are underdeveloped, including a paucity of institutions of higher education, credentialing programs, and enterprise incubators and accelerators.

    A “$1:$1:$1” recommendation emerged from the BoP Summit working group on Enterprise Support. It goes like this: for every $1 invested directly in a social or BoP enterprise, there is a need for $1 in capacity development or technical assistance to the enterprise, and for another $1 in ecosystem development. The dollars don’t all need to come from the same source. Still, the burning question is, where is all this money going to come from?

    In September, the World Economic Forum assessed the impact investing sector from the supply side, citing various estimates of growth to the $400 billion to $1 trillion range by 2020. However, WEF noted the current market size is around $25 billion. Whether the growth estimates are unrealistic or not, the estimated $41 trillion upcoming wealth transfer from Baby Boomers to Generation X and the Millennials is transforming asset management paradigms as younger generations express enthusiasm for double or triple bottom line returns. Once reliable financial and social returns are demonstrated, it is reasonable to anticipate that investment capital will become much more abundant.

    But human capital is a different matter. Among the more than 200 social entrepreneurs with whom we’ve had the honor to work, a significant fraction are Western educated. As they scale their ventures, their compelling visions for a more just and sustainable world attract young talent, whom they train and groom. These ambitious young managers forsake high-paying jobs with benefits that enable them to plan for their own futures. After several years, however, many feel they are “falling behind” – servicing student loans, saving for a home, creating a foundation for their own families are simply not possible on the salaries social enterprises are able to pay them, even if they enable quality lifestyles in Kenya, India, or elsewhere in the developing world. In the developed world, social sector salaries present many of the same challenges and often preclude quality lifestyles, especially in big cities; the human capital gap is not limited to BoP markets.

    Providing reasonable compensatory benefits to Western educated talent would encourage more to devote their careers to building and leading social enterprises; this of course only a partial solution: ecosystems services must evolve to generate sufficient local talent to build and lead impact enterprises globally. In parallel, however, encouraging well-educated Western youth to pursue careers in social entrepreneurship can help close the human capital gap.

    It seems ironic that choosing vocations devoted to poverty eradication and planetary sustainability should consign some of the most talented young leaders of our generation to relative poverty themselves, at least compared to their peers. Providing compensatory benefits, such as contributions to a 401(k) and student debt service, would further tax the financial returns of social enterprises, or reduce the surplus available to invest in scaling. So, what, then, is a possible solution?

    The Overseas Development Institute identified a potential source in a report released last week: redirect fossil fuel subsidies to support human capital for social good. Shockingly, the International Energy Agency found that fossil fuel producers received over $500 billion in subsidies in 2011. These subsidies distort both energy and carbon markets. Off-grid clean energy solutions created by social enterprises around the world are less competitive, as the full cost of extraction isn’t reflected in market prices for fossil fuels. Carbon prices are artificially low as a result of these subsidies, limiting incentives for innovation that slow global warming. Energy accounts for a disproportionate share of household expenditures among the poor, and global warming disproportionately affects the poor, a fact that not only causes significant harm to those nations, but is disrupting international relations around the world. As ODI indicates in the title of its report, time for change: let’s shift subsidies to sustainable energy solutions and to closing human capital gaps so that social enterprises can scale more quickly.

    Thane Kreiner is executive director of the Center for Science, Technology, and Society, at Santa Clara University, home of the Global Social Benefit Institute.


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