Friday, Nov. 4, 2011
By Andy Lieberman
Posted: 11/02/2011 08:00:00 PM PDT
This week the world hits 7 billion in population, just 12 years after we reached 6 billion.
Virtually all of these new billion live at the so-called Base of the Pyramid -- that segment of humanity that, by virtue of economic and political circumstance, struggles to meet basic food, water and energy needs on incomes of around $2 a day.
Here at the Center for Science, Technology, and Society, we are confronting this problem every day and have come to the conclusion that the old ways of meeting the needs of this new billion -- and the next and the next -- will not be met with methods that have attempted to serve the underserved in our old world of 6 billion. Instead, we believe that the needs will be met with something many consider counterintuitive: social entrepreneurs selling -- not giving away -- vital products and thriving on unusual business and financing models.
The 140 entrepreneurs we have trained over nine years demonstrate the range of problems that can be addressed through social entrepreneurship. One example, Solar Sister, is a nonprofit organization eradicating energy poverty in Africa by dispensing solar lamps and other clean-energy products using an Avon-style direct-sale distribution network of women entrepreneurs. This network takes advantage of the fact that African women control the family's kerosene budget and uses women-to-women social relationships to allow them to replace polluting, dangerous kerosene lamps with solar lamps.
The entrepreneurs admitted into our programs understand local needs and identify or develop appropriate solutions. A recent IFC and World Bank study, Lighting Africa, concluded that current solar lighting technologies can pay for themselves in as little as eight months. With technological improvements, increased production and the rising cost of kerosene, the payback period could go down to as little as two months by 2015.
We believe that the old ways of serving the Base of the Pyramid, international aid programs and charities, have not had the impact that was hoped for and will fall even further behind with rapid population growth and the increasing speed of innovation. Those mechanisms will continue to play an important role in addressing many issues in education, human rights and other areas that cannot be readily solved with market-based solutions. However, with $5 trillion of purchasing power, according to research done by the World Resources Institute, the Base of the Pyramid can indeed finance much of their own development.
Even with such compelling payoffs for the consumers upon switching from kerosene to solar lamps, there are numerous challenges to reaching all 1.5 billion people living off the grid. Solar Sister has 130 entrepreneurs in its network today and, through the training and mentoring we provided, has developed a plan to reach 2,500 entrepreneurs, providing clean energy to 2.5 million Africans by 2015.
It will take many more Solar Sisters to turn the tide on the energy problem. Yet, because the data show that it is a critical need that can be met with money people are already spending, the United Nations has declared 2012 as the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All, entrusting entities including ours to form a practitioner network and share what works.
Looking across the entrepreneurs we have trained and the 74 million people whose lives they have touched, we predict the next billion will buy clean water from a local kiosk instead of waiting for an aid agency to drill a well, they will use solar lamps and cellphone chargers instead of wondering when the electric grid will reach their village, and they will thank the local entrepreneurs who serve them.
ANDY LIEBERMAN is GSBI online program manager at Santa Clara University's Center for Science, Technology, and Society, which for the past decade has trained over 120 social entrepreneurs through the Global Social Benefit Incubator. He wrote this for the Mercury News.
Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011
The Tech Awards Nexus Conference brought together a diverse, passionate group from the social enterprise (SE) community. The annual conference is always uplifting, and this year’s theme of successful social entrepreneurship made it even more so. But, that doesn’t mean that we got a sugar-coated view of easy it is to build an organization that positively impacts the lives of thousands or millions of people. The rock stars of the SE world we heard from spoke from the heart and the brain, and they told us how messy it can be.
My current focus is on enabling CSTS to help more entrepreneurs help more people, so I was listening for insight on mentoring and capacity building that we can provide to help SEs scale their impact.
My main takeaway from the day was a reaffirmation that the social entrepreneurship movement is reaching a certain level of maturity and credibility, and that we have enough collective experience to learn from each other. Most of us in this space learn the most from practical examples and guidelines, which was the hallmark of the day. The quotes that resonated the most with me were:
- If your users are not your customers, then your users are part of your products and you are selling them to your customers. -- Joel Selanikio, DataDyne
- Our disruptive technology is communication—listening first, giving voice to others, letting people take action. We come in to each country with a beginner’s mind and give people the chance to take action. -- Ronni Goldfarb, EqualAccess
- Don’t underestimate the power of unleashing youth to work on real-life problems – Lisa Jobson, iEARN
- People make incredibly important decisions based on guesses if they don’t have access to information. – Kristine Pearson, Lifeline Energy
- Corporations aren’t yet organized to work with the social enterprise space, so you end up going around with the corporate social responsibility division to the emerging markets to the foundation to who knows where else. – Al Hammond, Ashoka
And, as in any good conversation about social entrepreneurship these days, the speakers proudly discussed their failures as an indispensable element of their success. Joel told this story:
We started charging our users for Episurveyor out of financial necessity, but once we did, it aligned us with our customers’ needs, which made us stronger. The failure is that it took us seven years to figure that out.
Radha Basu from Anudip summed up the discussion on failure with her usual exuberance by stating simply that “bruises and scars build character. You pick yourself up and go forward.”
To do this requires mental flexibility, accompanied by the willingness and ability to adapt. On this point, Joel Selanikio popped open his laptop and quoted Marie Curie: “Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Tech Awards Nexus conference without this year’s laureates sharing their innovations to benefit humanity. At every break, the laureates positioned themselves at their showcase booths and passionately described and demoed their work. We see the tremendous potential in each of these 15 innovators and hope that the Tech Awards can be as pivotal for their organizations as it was for Kristine, who told us that, “without The Tech Awards, we would have gone under. Instead, we brought in Vodaphone and other new donors, and we went on to distribute 215,000 radios and touch the lives of 12 million people.”
The problems we are working to solve are daunting, and we have a long way to go. But, in the words of John Kohler, “everyone in the room has their heart in the right place. That will let us go more quickly.”
After spending the day with such a thoughtful, committed, and sincere group of people, I am more committed than ever to going the distance. Are you?
Friday, Oct. 21, 2011
On October 19-21 the GSBI Network Partners convened at Santa Clara University for the very first GSBI Network Conference. Eight representatives from six Jesuit institutions were represented; Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines, the Center for Research and Peace Advocacy in the Ivory Coast, ESADE Business School in Spain, Fu Jen Catholic University in Taiwan, Pontifica Universidad Javieriana, Cali in Columbia, and XLRI Jamshedpur in India were all engaged in discussions based around leveraging the network of Jesuit Universities to promote social entrepreneurship as a means for addressing the world's most pressing problems. Included in the discussion was Fr. Michael Garanzini, the Secretary of Higher Education for the Society of Jesus, who traveled from his presidential duties at Loyola University, Chicago to participate.
We kicked off the GSBI Network Conference with Wednesday's Nexus Conference, where our guests were able to see what CSTS does through their collaboration with The Tech Awards. Thursday began with a welcome by Fr. Engh, President of Santa Clara University, and was followed by presentations by the visiting GSBI Network Partners on their institution's social entrepreneur program, their key challenges, and what they want to get out of the GSBI Network. Fr. Engh hosted the group for lunch in the President's Dining Room in Adobe Lodge with a very special guest, Ann Bowers of the RNN 1999 Foundation and The Tech Museum's Board of Directors. Thursday night's agenda included attendance at The Tech Awards - presence at the gala was made possible by a generous table donation by Judy Swanson of the Swanson Foundation. Friday's agenda included presentations by GSBI staff and faculty on CSTS and the various components of GSBI (processes, operations, mentoring, and sector strategy).
We wrapped up the dialogue by discussing how the GSBI Network will collaborate in the coming months leading up to the next GSBI Network Conference, which will precede the July 2012 IAJBS Conference in Spain, and establishing specific action items. Included in the deliverables are translations of selected GSBI curriculum into Spanish and French, distribution of useful GSBI content and videos to Network members, and survey GSBI alumni and GSBI Network alumni, both as a means for data collection as well as establishing a framework for eventual case study creation.
Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011
In a recent article in the New York Times, Tom Friedman said, “If we want more jobs, we need to create more Steve Jobs.” What an amazing guy. Steve Jobs: an innovator, a risk taker, an entrepreneur, a problem solver, a design thinker. Steve Jobs took his knowledge of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, as the rock stars of science call it, and created a phenomenon that has impacted lives in ways we can’t even quantify.
Bill Gates, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg – they have done the same thing. They have taken STEM, combined it with innovation and entrepreneurship, and created disruptive breakthroughs. And they were all in their 20s when they began their journey.
America is rooted in innovation and entrepreneurship. This is America’s special sauce. That’s how we got to the moon, and that’s how companies like Apple, Facebook and Google were formed.
If we are to really reinforce America’s economic stability by growing new jobs, new companies and new ideas, then we must inspire young minds and give them the ability and the resources to combine innovation, education and entrepreneurship.
The Spirit of Innovation Challenge is rooted in these principals. Our year-round, online, incentivized program empowers teams of high school students to create products using STEM to solve real world problems: from aerospace and clean energy to health and nutrition. This program is focused on student-centered education. Our teams work together with their teachers and our community of mentors and experts with the goal of creating innovative solutions to global challenges.
This year, our winning teams will travel to the Rio+20 conference, where they will serve as ambassadors of science and youth. This is where education can become diplomacy.
In just a few years, our young innovators have accomplished so much. Daniel and Isaac have two patents, have been interviewed by the BBC, were featured in Popular Science Magazine, and were archived into the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. Mikayla and Shannon have been interviewed by Elle Magazine, MTV, CNN, and Fox, and have been honored at the White House. Recently, their product was flown aboard STS-134. Madison has had his business plan published in a Chinese University textbook as an example of how to write a business plan. You might say we’ve turned geeks into rock stars.
While our education system may be broken, our students are not.
When given opportunities, they are amazing. Our students think outside the globe. They are innovative and brilliant. Steve Jobs was 21 when he founded Apple. Mark Zuckerberg was 20 when he started Facebook. Bill Gates was 20 when Microsoft was born. Sergey Brin and Larry Page were really old … they were 25.
Most of the guys who worked in mission control when my late husband Pete walked on the moon were 26. Well if 60 is the new 40, then I say 13 is the new 20. This is the next generation of these amazing icons. They will be the next Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
We all know it’s important to leave a great country for our children, but it’s even more important to leave great children for our country.
Nancy Conrad is a highly accomplished teacher, author, publisher, entrepreneur, and public speaker, Nancy Conrad is perhaps best known globally for her tireless leadership and ardent advocacy for transformative education.
Nancy attributes her steadfast commitment to education advancement to her life experiences ranging from a high school teaching position in Denver, Colorado, to developing educational products based on the legacy of America’s space explorers. In 2008, Nancy created The Conrad Foundation to energize and engage students in science and technology through unique entrepreneurial opportunities. The organization’s signature program, the Spirit of Innovation Awards, is a national competition that challenges high school students to combine education, innovation and entrepreneurship to create products that address the real-world challenges of the 21st century. By enabling young minds to connect education, innovation and entrepreneurship, the Conrad Foundation helps provide a bold platform for enriching the innovative workforce.
Posted by Guest Blog: Nancy Conrad, Conrad Foundation |
Wednesday, Sep. 14, 2011
I didn’t expect that my favorite quote at last week’s SoCap conference would be from Mike Tyson, but that is what makes SoCap so great… a gathering of people who are not afraid to bring in new ways of thinking from any sector, even professional boxing. Tyson was not there in person, but Josh Suskewicz of Innosight quoted the infamous heavyweight to emphasize his point that ~90% of successful entrepreneurs have changed their strategy 4 times before settling on one that lets their venture succeed: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
My second favorite quote came from Lisa Kleissner of KL Felicitas Foundation, who was in attendance and spoke on an uplifting and thoughtful panel entitled, From Crisis to Building Something New Together. When asked about the best way to have impact, she said that “the best way to have impact is to fail…. Because if you fail it means you took action.”
I’ve had my fair share of figurative punches in the face, real failures, and sudden strategy shifts in my careers as a social entrepreneur and a supporter of social entrepreneurs. I believe I have made a small or not-so-small difference in the lives of quite a few people, but it has never been easy, and it has seldom gone according to plan. SoCap is refreshing because most of the attendees are also practitioners, and we talk openly about the gritty, messy reality of the space we work in. Three days were not enough to have a thoughtful conversation with all 1500+ attendees (even though everybody tried their best), but it was enough time to invigorate me to keep moving forward with our Center’s plans to expand the Global Social Benefit Incubator program offerings to be able to help more social entrepreneurs become investor-ready.
So, how does clean energy fit in to all this? While there was no official clean energy track at SoCap, there was a large grouping of both clean energy entrepreneurs and other organizations working to tackle the problems of 1.5 billion people without reliable access to an energy grid and the 3 billion people cooking on dirty, inefficient stoves. It is more evident than ever that these are problems that can be solved through market-based approaches because the new technologies and innovative business models being deployed give cleaner energy to BoP consumers for lower prices than what they are paying now for inferior solutions like kerosene lamps and disposable batteries.
Last month, at our GSBI clean energy forum, we worked with 11 clean energy entrepreneurs and a variety of experts to discuss what it will take to accelerate the growth of the social enterprises serving this sector. Our two-day session led us to envision an ecosystem accelerator that efficiently finds and deploys human and financial capital to enable new and existing social enterprises to be built for scale and to be brave enough to experiment with innovations in pricing, distribution, and legal structures to find successful models.
This is an ideal sector for the SoCap community to get excited about because it provides the impact investing community with real opportunities for making a difference while making a profit. Impact investors are often criticized for being too risk averse or for favoring profits over social impact. Successful ventures such as Toughstuff are showing that in the BoP energy market, there are investment opportunities with lower risk and profits that correlate directly to positive social and environmental impact.
Lesley Silverthorn of Angaza Design was one of at least 10 GSBI alumni I saw at SoCap looking to connect with funders and other entrepreneurs. Her company’s solar LED room light is far brighter than other comparably-priced lights on the market and was designed to illuminate an entire room for multiple members in a family to use effectively at the same time. At $60, it is not an entry-level product for East Africans, but something that they aspire to own once they see the pros and cons of the lower-cost products. She commented, "I actually got so much more out of SoCap by meeting fellow energy entrepreneurs, thought leaders, and investors than I got from just attending the organized panels and speakers. Now there is a large group of energy companies forming a 'SoCap Energy Alliance' to further our collaboration to achieve our goals of a world with access to clean, bright light and the ability to power small electronics." (Contact Lesley at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on the Energy Alliance.)
An ongoing concern for everyone involved in the sector is how to make even the lowest cost products affordable for people living on a few dollars a day, who have limited savings and little access to credit. A recurring notion has been posited that BoP products need to pay for themselves within a year to be able to gain widespread adoption. Many of the clean energy products we see meet this requirement, especially if other benefits like increased productivity are factored in. The most obvious solution to getting these products out is microloans, but that has been challenging because it puts all the risk on the consumer. Even if the lamp breaks, is stolen, or otherwise fails to meet their needs, borrowers are still liable for the costs of the product plus interest. In response, entrepreneurs are coming up with a plethora of new models to overcome this obstacle. Typically these models are based on a rent-to-own or other pay-as-you go scheme. This greatly reduces the risk for the consumers, and with the right mixture of technological and social mechanisms in place, entrepreneurs can mitigate their own risks. Husk Power Systems is succeeding with such a model by operating community power plants in remote regions of India. It is still too early to point out a company that has made this work at scale for household products, although Sunlabob is having good success in Laos with its solar lantern rental system. These and other learnings about affordability have been documented on the Energy Map, which we will continue to expand to incorporate best practices from new companies.
I was pleased to see several noteworthy organizations especially engaged in clean energy at SoCap. The UN Foundation deserves accolades for its proactive role, moderating three clean energy sessions which helped the entrepreneurs connect with each other and the broader ecosystem. Other big names that were notably present at the clean energy sessions include the World Bank Development Marketplace, National Geographic, and E+Co.
Where does this leave us? As I reflect on the GSBI Clean Energy forum and my take-aways from SoCap, I am confident that we are moving in the right direction, but we have a long road ahead and we should expect as many punches in the face as inspiring stories of success in enabling millions more people to benefit from clean energy.