Center for Science, Technology, and Society, News page

  •  Global Social Benefit Roundtables

    Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013

    Arriving in India was a sensory overload. It has hot. The food was spicy. I couldn’t understand the language and it was a twelve and a half hour time difference.

    Even with extensive preparations through the Global Social Benefit Fellowship, it was hard to process all the experiences we were emerged in daily. Utilizing my film background, I worked with sister enterprises Anudip and iMerit, who focus on rural education and job placement in Eastern India, documenting their methods, processes, and social impact. I regularly took three to four hours trains rides to rural villages to film interviews with both the employees and students of the sister organizations.

    The excursions were enlivening, eye-opening, and my favorite part of my trip providing a true insights into life in rural India. My fellow fellows and I sifted through a lot this information through discussion and blogs over the summer, but the Social Entrepreneurship Action Research Roundtables (SEARR) gave us another opportunity to analyze our time abroad in a more discussion-based manner.

    Our mentors and teachers, Thane Kreiner and Keith Warner, helped fashion us into groups for the roundtables with each team focusing on a different aspect of Social Entrepreneurship. I teamed up with Emily Albi, who worked in Uganda with Solar Sister and Angaza Design, and Jack Bird, who worked with Lifeline Energy in Zambia. As Jack and Emily are very passionate about energy poverty, we decided to center our roundtable on the idea of clean energy in developing nations. While I personally had not dealt with clean energy while working in India with Anudip and iMerit, Jack and Emily were experts on it. After a brief consultation we came up with our name, “Clean Energy: Unlocking Economic Potential,” and we were off.

    The Sunday before our presentation Jack, Emily, and I found our way in to a conference room, opened our laptops and our minds and began to talk, think, discuss, and debate clean energy in the developing world. In setting up the lecture, we decided to play to our strengths. Jack and Emily focused on explaining the idea of energy and the power sustainable energy has as a catalyst for change, while I talked about how energy access in rural areas allowed Anudip and iMerit, the companies I worked for, to enact their business strategy and help rural poor transform their lives.

    After Jack, Emily and I spoke, we planned to open it up to discussion with the audience. This was the part I was most nervous for, relying on audience participation to fuel discussion always makes me nervous because there is no way to predict what might be said or if anything will be said at all. We posed two main questions to the audience, “What defines an energy Social Enterprise?” and, “Does holding Social Enterprises to a triple bottom line hinder their growth and impact?”

    With the first question we hoped to provoke discussion by debating whether PG&E could be considered a social enterprise as they provide energy to ‘underserved’ populations in rural areas. In the second question, we speculated whether clean energy was unlocking potential, or actually undermining potential by restraining scalability in order to keep the enterprise environmentally sustainable.

    The answers for the spectators were phenomenal putting all my fears to rest. The audience was passionate, engaged and voiced defenses of both sides of the issue. The excited discussion and connection of the audience turned our lecture on clean energy into a true roundtable.

    The Social Entrepreneurship Action Research Roundtables were a fantastic opportunity for my fellows and I to organize all the knowledge we had gained while abroad in our respective placements, draw some conclusions, and compare perspectives on key issues. It allowed us voice the experiences we had, and apply them to the materiel we learned developing out action research projects.

    Moreover, the talks helped raise awareness of the fellowship as it ends its second placement and begins to recruit a third class. Hopefully, you attended one, but if you didn't keep an eye out for the talks next year with the next installment of Global Social Benefit Fellows.

  •  Women's World Banking: Founding a Movement

    Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013

     On October 30th, a role model for women around the world shared her story with Santa Clara students.  Michaela Walsh, a pioneer woman manager for Merrill Lynch in Beirut in the 60’s, the first woman partner of Boettcher in the 70’s, and Founding President of Women’s World Banking, inspired students with her story of tenacity, passion, and determination.  As one of the first women on Wall Street to be named partner, Walsh shared her vision for the next generation to be tenacious and willing to bend the rules to create change.  Students were encouraged to go beyond seeking set paths and blaze their own.   

    Michaela Walsh, childhood friend of CSTS Senior Research Fellow of Emile McAnany from Kansas City, is best known for her founding of the Women's World Banking organization in 1980 and leading it as CEO until 1990 where she remains on its board. WWB was the first all-women's global financial organization to serve women in developing countries with access to small and medium loans. Today it has more than forty national affiliates with assets of  a billion dollars. But the founding of WWB was only the culmination of a journey that included many turns in her life. She was was an early female employee of Merrill Lynch, and the first woman to serve abroad with that organization in Lebanon form 1960-64, also on her return one of the first women to earn a broker's license on Wall Street. Her work at the Rockerfeler Brothers Fund lead her to attend the UN Conference on Women in Mexico City in 1975. There she met women from developing countries with whom she created a working group to help women attain financial independence. The history of that work from 1975 to 1990 is included in her 2012 book Founding a Movement. Michaela's mission today is to encourage young women to become involved in the issues of development and change with a special focus on helping women in developing economies to access the financial means to prosper. She was very interested in the work of the Social Benefit Fellows and their future careers as global change makers. 


    From the desk of Emile McAnany


  •  Lions and Tigers and Social Entrepreneurs, Oh my!

    Friday, Oct. 18, 2013


    “This is the most gratifying thing I do all year.” Dennis Rekker, GSBI mentor, told a group of 16 social entrepreneurs representing 10 startups from 9 countries in Africa and Southeast Asia on Friday, Oct 18th.


    During October, ten tech startups DEMO 2012 Award Winners from Africa and Southeast Asia traveled to the Silicon Valley on an innovation Tour to meet with industry leaders, incubators, and other entrepreneurs before pitching their ideas at the DEMO Global Showcase in front of investors and tech innovators.


    The congregation of entrepreneurs listened intently as Program Director, Cassandra Staff led the group through the workings of the GSBI Online program, targeting early stage social enterprises, as well as GSBI Accelerator, the program designed around gap analysis to eliminate obstacles that prevent organizations from achieving scale and investment.


    Mike Looney Director of the GSBI Mentor Network then discussed the roles of mentors in GSBI. He opened by asking how many of the entrepreneurs in the room had a mentor. One hand stood in the air. GSBI mentors are similar to sports coaches, previous players who know their position very well and now teach others how to play the entire field. Our mentors specialize in building business that scale and bring that insight into the program to help the entrepreneurs grow.  GSBI veteran mentor Brad Mattson talked about the full extent of the relationship formed during GSBI and how often mentors and mentees stay in contact past the program. Participants can relate to the mentors who know what they are going through and who provide push-back and honest feedback to help them succeed.


    GSBI provides an experience where mentors and mentees can share with the entire group their insights and experiences. Upon asking those assembled, "how many of you plan to find a mentor?" all sixteen hands shot up.



  •  Congratulations John Kohler, ANDE Member of the Year!

    Monday, Oct. 7, 2013

     It takes a lot to make a grown man blush.

    Yet, the cheeks of John Kohler, Director of our Impact Capital Program, flushed red when the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) honored him as Member of the Year at their annual conference.

    John thought he was going to give a talk on his ground-breaking Demand Dividend, an innovative investment tool designed to accelerate investment in enterprises serving the world's poorest village communities.

    He simply didn’t see it coming.

    “Well, the award was a surprise! Since ANDE is such a big tent covering all aspects of impact, this is a huge honor. It is peer recognition from a community of practitioners that I care deeply about. It’s just fabulous. I couldn’t be more honored.”

    John is one of the brightest stars of the impact sector. He brings over 30 years’ experience to the Center, gained from his executive leadership at Hewlett Packard, Silicon Graphics, and Convergent Technologies/Unisys and his extensive venture experience. John provides guidance as a mentor and impact advisor to the social entrepreneurs of the GSBI Accelerator and GSBI online community. 

    Congratulations, John! We are happy to have you!


  •  Evolution and Adaptation of the Flagship GSBI Yields Promising Results

    Tuesday, Sep. 17, 2013

    Evolution and Adaptation of the Flagship GSBI Yields Promising Results  

    As part of its vision to positively impact the lives of 1 billion of the world’s poor by 2020, the Center is successfully experimenting with ways to scale social benefit.

    We explained the design of these experiments in a Huffington Post blog earlier this summer. The GSBI Online experiment met with terrific success and we’ve just announced a third cohort. Through GSBI Network, we help “incubate incubators” for social enterprises, and are pleased by the recent addition of two new members, Birla Institute of Management Technology (India), and Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey (Mexico).  But our most ambitious experiment was the GSBI Accelerator to prepare proven social enterprises for scaling their impact and help them secure appropriate capital.

    We think of the Center as an open-source learning laboratory for scaling social entrepreneurship and impact investing. As we learn from our experiments, we endeavor to share the knowledge with the broader ecosystem. Data from our GSBI Accelerator experiment suggests that optimal capacity development paradigms will vary depending on the stage of the social enterprise. We discussed some key emergent parameters just before the social entrepreneurs arrived on the Santa Clara Campus for the in-residence component of GSBI.

    Immediately after the GSBI Showcase in a NextBillion blog, we explained both the GSBI Accelerator design and what Silicon Valley can learn from social enterprises that are preparing to scale. This year’s highly customized program for more advanced social entrepreneurs was extremely well received by mentors, content leads, impact investors, and critically, the social entrepreneurs themselves. As Venture Beat noted, our central theme of investment-readiness includes helping the entrepreneurs learn how to find appropriate capital. Impact investors are engaged in the continued evolution of our GSBI Accelerator experiment. We are accepting applications for the next cohort! 

    From the Desk of Thane Kreiner


  •  CSTS September Newsletter

    Sunday, Sep. 1, 2013

    Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®

    Evolution and Adaptation of the Flagship GSBI Yields Promising Results

    As part of its vision to positively impact the lives of 1 billion of the world’s poor by 2020, the Center is successfully experimenting with ways to scale social benefit more


    GSBI Accelerator Showcase Videos Now Available

    Meet 12 social entrepreneurs who are shape shifting the scaling and impact investment environment.
    Watch the Videos

    2014 GSBI Accelerator Applications Open Through October 31, 2013

    Social entrepreneurs – the GSBI Accelerator can help prepare your venture to scale its impact and be ready for the investor due diligence. 
    Impact investors – maximize social and financial returns by encouraging your portfolio ventures to participate in our capacity development program.  
    Apply Now

    GSBI Online 2013 Fall Cohort Welcomes 15 Organizations

    With a focus on clean energy solutions, this cohort includes organizations serving populations in Haiti, India, Jordan, Madagascar, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, Uganda, and the United States. 
    Fall 2013 GSBI more

    GSBI Alumni News – A Snapshot of Our World

    - Promethean Power:  Full Cream Ahead!
    - Juhudi Kilimo: only social enterprise to win CIO 100 Global Award!
    - Husk Power Systems featured in Obama’s Power Africa Initiative!

    - Manoj Sinha CEO of Husk Power Systems on his Accelerator Experience 

    GSBI Alumni: have any news or enterprise updates? let us know by emailing 

    Of Note

    Demand Dividend Builds Momentum In Impact Investment Space
    Looking for an investment vehicle optimized for small and growing businesses in frontier markets? Check out the Demand Dividend and generate your own term sheet.

    Special Issue on Social Entreprenuership

    A special issue of The Journal of Management for Global Sustainability edited by Thane Kreiner is devoted to the notion of social entrepreneurship as practical social justice and is now available online

    Accelerating Adoption of Off-Grid Energy

    Based on its work with more than 60 social enterprises addressing energy poverty, the Center posits that matching off-grid energy sources to productive use will accelerate economic development by creating sustainable livelihoods in poor rural and urban communities...Read more
    BOP Summit October 21-23

    BOP SUMMIT: Creating an Action Agenda for the Next Decade 

    200 leaders will meet at the William Davidson Institute to develop a robust roadmap for building better BoP enterprises October 21-23. Executive Director Thane Kreiner and Founding Executive Director Jim Koch will represent the Center and its GSBI and impact investing programs. 
    BOP Summit October 21-23

    Experienced CEO Pamela Roussos Named Strategic Alliances Director 

    "Having been a GSBI mentor for 5 years, I’ve been very impressed with how this organization has grown and truly established itself as a leader in the social entrepreneurship and impact capital space.” Read Pamela's bio here

    SOCAP Recap

    The Center Shines at SOCAP13
    The Center reinforced its position as a thought leader and practitioner in social enterprise. Read about our role in mentoring entrepreneurs and advancing impact more

    Read blog entries from workshop panel organizers John Kohler, Thane Kreiner, and Andy Lieberman

    AT A GLANCE: GSBI Statistics 

     •    202 enterprises have completed GSBI programs
     •    Nearly 100 million people’s lives have been positively impacted* by these
     •    40% of the enterprises are scaling, meaning that impact is growing in
          a financially sustainable manner

    •     This scaling rate is more than three times that of conventional
          for-profit ventures
     •    $89 million of funding has been raised by enterprises post-GSBI programs
     •    90% of GSBI alumni are still in business

    *Social impact is challenging to measure, especially since GSBI alumni impact lives in many different ways. As part of their participation in GSBI, entrepreneurs identify a metric for tracking the number of lives their venture positively impacts, such as number of people with clean drinking water or number of people using clean cookstoves.  The impact of each enterprise is displayed on its alumni profile.

  •  Call for Fall 2014 GSBI® Accelerator Program Applications

    Monday, Aug. 26, 2013

    Up to 20 Scholarships for Social Enterprises Available

    SANTA CLARA, Calif., August 26, 2013 — Applications for the Fall 2014 GSBI Accelerator Program open on September 2, 2013, and will be accepted through October 31, 2013.  Up to 20 ventures will be selected and enrolled in the lauded ten-month social enterprise capacity development program.  The 2014 GSBI Accelerator program runs from February 2, 2014 through November 30, 2014, and includes a ten-day in-residence “accelerator boot camp” at Santa Clara University, a leading Jesuit university in the heart of Silicon Valley, California.  Information on the application process can be found at:

    The GSBI Accelerator helps social entrepreneurs understand and fill gaps in their organizations that prevent them from achieving scale, and prepares them for appropriate capital to rapidly increase their impact. Investment readiness is a central theme of the Center’s Impact Capital program, which provides thought leadership and financial innovations to drive impact investing into underserved sectors.

    The GSBI Accelerator combines best practices of online learning with a proven curriculum (over 11 years of experience), complemented by experienced in-country and Silicon Valley mentors, to provide social entrepreneurs the tools to help them scale their enterprises and prepare them for financial investment.  “The GSBI Accelerator brings together mentors, experts, impact investors, and social entrepreneurs to collectively identify and overcome gaps in their operating businesses,” said Cassandra Staff, GSBI Program Director.

    At the end of the in-residence or “boot camp” portion, entrepreneurs present to a select audience of impact investors, philanthropists, corporations, and government agencies.  With GSBI’s successful track record, Accelerator program draws the best practitioners in the social impact world. The 2013 GSBI Accelerator Cohort recently presented to almost 200 premiere investment professionals, corporate and foundation executives, and Silicon Valley leaders with entrepreneurs returning home having tapped into Silicon Valley acumen and potential funding.

    For more details about the GSBI Accelerator program, visit For questions regarding the program, please send an email to

    About the Center for Science, Technology, and Society
    The mission of the Center is to accelerate global, innovation-based entrepreneurship in service to humanity. Its flagship GSBI® programs include the GSBI Accelerator, GSBI Online, and GSBI Network, which have served over 200 social enterprises over the past 11 years. The Impact Capital program improves the capital match between social entrepreneurs and impact investors. The Global Social Benefit Fellows Program provides practice-based action learning opportunities for undergraduates with GSBI Alumni.

    About Santa Clara University
    Santa Clara University, a comprehensive Jesuit, Catholic university located 40 miles south of San Francisco in California’s Silicon Valley, offers its more than 8,800 students rigorous undergraduate curricula in arts and sciences, business, theology, and engineering, plus master’s and law degrees and engineering Ph.Ds. Distinguished nationally by one of the highest graduation rates among all U.S. master’s universities, California’s oldest operating higher-education institution demonstrates faith-inspired values of ethics and social justice. For more information, see

    Media Contacts:
    Beverly Nuako | Marketing Manager | 408-551-6048 |
    Deborah Lohse | SCU Media Relations | 408-554-5121 |




    Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013


     Capacity Development Program Matches Silicon Valley Expertise with Early-Stage Social Enterprises

    SANTA CLARA, Calif., Aug. 15, 2013—They don’t know each other, but for six months beginning in October, 15 social entrepreneurs from around the world will be virtual classmates in a program designed to help them in their quest to build viable ventures that help solve some of the most persistent problems of poverty.

    GSBI® Online is a mentored, training program pioneered at Santa Clara University (SCU) and targeted to early-stage social entrepreneurs. The GSBI Online Fall 2013 Cohort includes a woman who runs a tutoring service in Jordan; a Canadian who has installed simple, but effective, water filters all over the world; an entrepreneur who is franchising solar lighting in Madagascar; and a Stanford MBA who is helping women start home-based child care centers in Brooklyn. 

    “We are thrilled with the diversity of this GSBI Online cohort,” said Cassandra Thomassin, Program Director of the GSBI.  “A third of the entrepreneurs are women; the ventures are located in 10 different countries; and they work in clean energy, education, health, economic development, agriculture, and microfinance.”   

    Many of the selected entrepreneurs were referred to GSBI Online through the GSBI Discovery Partners Network, including members Echoing Green and Unreasonable Institute. The GSBI Online Fall 2013 cohort is supported in part by Applied Materials, the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, and Donor Circle for Africa of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. 

    Entrepreneurs receive scholarships, valued at $5000 each, to participate in the six-month GSBI Online program. Through a competitive application and screening process, they have demonstrated the potential to create significant social impact through their businesses. The Fall 2013 Cohort commences October 2013 and ends April 2014.  Program graduates will be equipped with business-plan presentations, elevator pitches, and one-year operating plans, all of which can help them procure appropriate impact capital to scale their ventures. 

    The Fall 2013 cohort is the third of the GSBI Online program.  To date, 30 social enterprises have completed this GSBI program.  Its sister program, the GSBI Accelerator, includes an in-residence component and helps later-stage social enterprises become investment-ready so that they can increase growth and impact.

    Each GSBI Online participant will be paired with two seasoned mentors, who serve as guides through structured, online modules that help the entrepreneurs apply core business concepts such as target market segmentation and distribution strategies to their ventures. One mentor will be an experienced Silicon Valley corporate-level executive; the other will be an in-country executive familiar with the local challenges each entrepreneur faces.

    Fast facts regarding the GSBI Online Fall 2013 Cohort

    * Average company age: 3.5 years.

    * Nine for-profit companies; six non-profit companies.

    * Geographic areas of focus include: Haiti, India, Jordan, Madagascar, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, Uganda, and the United States.

    * Impact areas include:

    ·      Clean-energy solutions

    ·      Higher efficiencies in agriculture

    ·      Education via mobile and internet technology

    ·      Low-cost and innovative technologies to improve health

    ·      Connecting the unbanked with capital 

    Cohort members

    (Enterprise Name, Entrepreneur, Geographic Area of Focus, and Sector)

    AYZH Health and Livelihood Private Limited (Zubaida Bai), Global, Education, Health

    Green Bio Energy Ltd (David Gerard), Uganda, Clean Energy, Economic Development

    Jiro-Ve (Rik Stamhuis), Madagascar, Clean Tech & Energy, Infrastructure

    MASCINCUENTAYDOS (Isabel Cristina Aranda Güémez), Mexico, Community Development

    MicroGraam (Rangan Varadan), India, Agriculture & Fishing, Microfinance

    MyRain (Steele Lorenz), India, Agriculture & Fishing, Economic Development

    Second Home Early Child Care Network (Erica Williamson), USA, Education

    Silver Linings (Phillip Cooke, SJ), Haiti, Community Development & Infrastructure

    SpellAfric Initiative (Elvis Austins), Nigeria, Economic Development, Education

    STAMP (Keneth Ndua), Nairobi, Clean Tech & Energy, Water & Sanitation

    Tadreesna (Noura Sa'd), Jordan, Education, Information & Communications Technology

    Twothirds Water Inc. (Bradley Pierik), Global, Health, Water & Sanitation

    UpEnergy (Sylvain Romieu), Uganda, Clean Tech & Energy, Environment

    Veritas Social Empowerment, Inc. (Fr. Benigno P. Beltran), Philippines, Infrastructure

    Village Energy Limited (Paola de Cecco), Uganda, Clean Tech & Energy

    Details about each enterprise can be found here

    About GSBI®

    GSBI is the signature program of the Center for Science, Technology, and Society at Santa Clara University. The mission of the Center is to accelerate global, innovation-based entrepreneurship in service to humanity.  GSBI programs prepare social entrepreneurs for appropriate capital so that they can build sustainable, scalable organizations that solve problems for people living in poverty around the world. The GSBI leverages Silicon Valley startup acumen and expertise to eradicate poverty through its GSBI Accelerator, GSBI Online, and GSBI Network programs. The Center’s impact capital program encourages interested but uncommitted capital to enter the impact space, and drives impact investing into underserved sectors. The Center’s education program provides practical, social justice learning opportunities for students and faculty with social enterprises. For more information about the Center and GSBI programs, visit


    Media Contact
    Deborah Lohse | SCU Media Relations | | 408-554-5121
    Beverly Nuako | CSTS Marketing | | 408-551-6048







    Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013


    In The Power of Unreasonable People, John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan articulate what makes social entrepreneurs seem so unreasonable, including: a drive to transform dysfunctional systems; insane ambition; enormous emotion that fuels them; the ability to see the future, and create it; and incorporation of social benefit into the value equation. They quote Muhammad Yunus, “the future of the world lies in the hands of market-based social entrepreneurs.” Many of us who are working to help social entrepreneurs overcome barriers that appear insurmountable endorse this future.

    It is evident, however, that social entrepreneurs often face challenges far beyond the complexities of launching a Silicon Valley venture. What drives social entrepreneurs to pursue these unreasonable endeavors, to imagine the impossible, and to make their dreams real? Viktor Frankl quotes Nietzsche in his landmark memoir Man’s Search For Meaning, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

    “Why?” is thus a fundamental vocational discernment question for social entrepreneurs, and by extension, for impact investors and other stakeholders in the broader social enterprise ecosystem.

    Santa Clara University, in the heart of Silicon Valley, fashions future leaders of competence, conscience, and compassion to create a more just, humane, and sustainable world. The Jesuit tradition in which Santa Clara’s educational paradigm is rooted emphasizes “men and women for others” and a “preferential option for the poor”; Chris Lowney’s Heroic Leadership articulates four unique values of Jesuits that form the core of what he calls “leadership substance”: self-awareness, ingenuity, love, and heroic ambition. These characteristics aptly describe many social entrepreneurs I know.

    Indeed, every great spiritual and religious tradition is built upon a belief that there is a greater good, or a why, that transcends personal success, wealth, or power. While conceptions of God or gods vary in many dimensions, the universality of helping the poor and living righteously illuminates a core tenet of humanity. More and more, young people today are choosing careers with meaning; meaning is often influenced by individual spirituality. In fact, Time magazine reported in 2007 that Generation Y workers want to “spend their time in meaningful and useful ways.”

    This year, meaning is one of the themes at SOCAP. The track will focus on “the intersection of money and meaning” in both spiritual and non-spiritual terms. We are convening a session entitled Impact Investing and Spiritual Belief:  Breaking the Persistent Cycle of Poverty. Panelists from different spiritual traditions will explore resonance between their faith and vocations in the broader social enterprise and impact investing ecosystem.

    From the Desk of Thane Kreiner
    Executive Director, Center for Science, Technology, and Society

  •  Social Enterprise Accelerators

    Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013

    Social Enterprise Accelerators

    Just as it takes a whole village to raise one child, it takes a global support network to help one social entrepreneur reach their vision.  That isn’t because social entrepreneurs are as needy and tender as children. Instead, it is because social entrepreneurs have such large visions of transformative change that they can’t achieve them single-handedly.  (Not to mention that their visions and passion are so exciting that many of us can’t help but want to be a part of the solutions they are working towards.)

    One of the best supports for social enterprises looking for a boost to get to the next level of their venture is participating in one or more of the growing number of social enterprise accelerator programs available.  As the field of social entrepreneurship has mushroomed over the last decade, so has the offering of accelerators.

    Today’s plugged-in social entrepreneur is bombarded by invitations to apply to accelerator programs, but each has its own timeline, format, and focus. Some accelerators such as the Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) – with which I’m affiliated – and The Unreasonable Institute source participants globally. Depending on their location, entrepreneurs can also apply to localized programs such as Villgro’s SEED program in India and Village Capital’s programs in places as diverse as Nairobi and Hawaii.  Accelerators like the GSBI have been around long enough to see some of our ventures go on to achieve dramatic success, like Kiva (’06) and VisionSpring (’06).  The next big success stories are surely among the hundreds of ventures participating in accelerator programs today, and it will be satisfying to see them break into the limelight.

    For those of us lucky enough to spend our days (and nights) thinking about how to help more social entrepreneurs help more people, the messiness of the impact accelerator landscape leads to a lot of questions.  How can we reach more entrepreneurs?  How we can guide the right entrepreneurs to the right program at the right time?  How can we maximize our impact on the enterprise?  Not to mention, how can we cover our costs of helping these enterprises? My work with the GSBI centers on answering these questions by strengthening and expanding our program offerings.

    These were among the questions we discussed more broadly at the Innovations in Capacity Development for Social Enterprise panel that I moderated at the SOCAP13 conference earlier this month.  The panelists were SEED’s PR “Guns” Ganapathy, Unreasonable Institute’s Teju Ravilochan, my GSBI colleague Cassandra Staff, Village Capital’s Victoria Fram, and the World Bank Development Marketplace’s Drew vonGlahn.

    Last year’s report, Bridging the “Pioneer Gap”:  The Role of Accelerators in Launching High-Impact Enterprises, looked at 52 impact-focused accelerators and found that 73 percent are less than five years old. Fortunately, the accelerators are evolving together and are collaborating.  In 2011, Halloran Philanthropies recognized the accelerators’ role in global social impact and began bringing us together for pre-SOCAP work sessions to foster collaboration. There are some tangible outcomes, like the creation of a common application questionnaire that is being used by Village Capital and GSBI among others to make it easier for busy entrepreneurs to apply to our programs.  To simplify further, these accelerators are also migrating to a common platform called F6S for the application process.

    With so many accelerators and competitive application processes, it can be hard for a social entrepreneur to choose the right program at the right time.  The entrepreneur has to prioritize between applying for an accelerator program over, say, applying for a grant or bidding on a project. Smart entrepreneurs will do their own diligence on an accelerator to see if what is provided will be right for them at their current stage.  Fortunately most accelerators give quite a bit of detail about their programs, mentors, and past participants, through which, prospective applicants can gauge the fit before applying. 

    Each accelerator targets a specific type of enterprise.  Villgro’s new SEED program focuses exclusively on helping for-profit Indian social enterprises raise their first outside investments. Unreasonable Institute provides mentorship, capital, and a global support network through a multi-week in-residence experience. GSBI takes an in-depth business model-centric approach and provides seasoned mentors with Silicon Valley start-up experience.  Village Capital’s program is built around peer-to-peer support and guaranteed investment for the best ventures from each cohort.

    The World Bank Development Marketplace brought another innovative model to the panel discussion.  After more than a decade of giving grants to promising enterprises, the Development Marketplace has made a commitment to providing capacity development services to their grantees. In order to avoid reinventing the wheel, they are partnering with existing accelerators in an interesting experiment. As part of their latest competition in India, on top of the cash grant, they have assigned an additional dollar amount for capacity development and will allow each entrepreneur to use those funds to retain the services of a vetted group of service providers.

    The Development Marketplace’s new model creates value and efficiency for all parties, and it points to a potential opportunity for overcoming a limitation that most accelerators face today.  Of the accelerators studied in the Bridging the Pioneer Gap report, 74 percent rely on philanthropy. This limits our own sustainability and scalability. Villgro is piloting another approach, which is to charge a success fee, in which entrepreneurs who successfully raise investments are required to pay the accelerator for the services they received.

    The upcoming Aspen Network for Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE)-funded study, Making the $-Value Added Business Case for Incubator/Accelerator Services, conducted by I-Dev International, will give more insight into these issues and surface ways for accelerators to strengthen their programs to keep up with the growing demand for their services.

    Given the flurry of research, collaboration and action, social entrepreneurs can expect a ‘smarter’ and more efficient accelerator space rising to meet them.

    From the Desk of Andrew Lieberman
    Director of New Program R&D

    Republished from


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