Center for Science, Technology, and Society, News page

  •  Let There Be Light...Across Mexico

    Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014


    Flipping a light switch is something we probably take for granted. Many don’t realize that electricity is a privilege that so many communities don’t have. For rural families in Mexico without electricity, when the sun sets, their productive day comes to a standstill. Children who work in the fields from sunup to sundown are not able to study at night. Without electricity, their futures are dim.

    Manuel Wiechers, social entrepreneur and 2013 Global Social Benefit (GSBI®) alumnus, used to dream of lighting up Mexico with clean solar energy and giving Mexican families a shot at a better life. After attending the first International Student Energy Summit in Calgary in 2009, Manuel launched Iluméxico. Today, he has assembled a team and installed 2,000 solar panels in rural Mexico that have had a profound impact on over 3,300 families, close to 20,000 people.

    “The main thing that motivates me and my team is providing others with opportunities. Not just helping people in a philanthropic way, but putting the tools in place so people can lift themselves out of poverty. We try to provide basic services that are affordable and high that the user values. These basic services allow them to have better income, opportunities, and education.”

    “I don’t know how to describe the feeling of giving light to families who have never had electricity before. It’s different and new every time. Those are the moments when you realize: I love my job. Everything is worth it. There are only two soccer players that I would change my life with: Chicharito, the most famous Mexican soccer player, and Pique (because he is also dating Shakira).”

    The GSBI team had the pleasure of working with Manuel and Iluméxico in 2013. “We learned so much from our time at GSBI,” Manuel shared. “We built out our first financial models and we frequently use those models with investors. We learned a lot from the other GSBI participants in our class. In fact, we started our whole Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, a mobile data capture platform, based on what we learned from Nat Robinson of Juhudi Kilimo.”

    “When we went through GSBI we hadn’t even opened one center, now we’ve opened four centers and are in the process of opening the fifth. Next year, we plan to open ten more, depending on investment. We have coordinators at each center and local technicians. My role has shifted to supervising and starting new projects. I go to the field now because I want to go, not because I have to go.”

    Since Iluméxico’s time with the GSBI program has ended, they have hit the ground running and haven't stopped for a moment. Their successes have been numerous. “We recently received an ABC Foundation grant and the first investment from Banamex’s new impact investing fund, part of its corporate social responsibility program (Banamex is Mexico’s largest bank). So next year is a huge growth year for us. We hope to close with 14 branches in total. We will be able to set up the structure and operations to expand--hopefully to Latin America. In five years, we want 50 branches to reach 50,000 families.”

    All of this new business and milestones achieved have not impacted Manuel’s sense of humor. At the end of our interview, I asked Manuel a clarifying question, “You are the COO of Ilumexico, correct?”

    Manuel smiled and answered “Yes. Well, I’m COO and janitor at the same time.”



  •  It's Gone Viral

    Monday, Nov. 3, 2014
    At the celebration dinner for the 2014 GSBI Accelerator, Al Hammond came by my table and whispered, “It’s gone viral!”  The ”it” was the force of bottom-up social innovators rooted in communities around the world. They are more connected than ever to the collective intelligence of peers, to an expanding network of increasingly informed  impact investors, and to the tacit knowledge of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who are experienced in creating and scaling enterprises to serve new markets.  In this celebratory moment, all of us seemed bound together in common cause—in the words of John Gardner, “awake to possibilities brilliantly described as unsolvable problems.”
    What does it mean for the social progress hopes of a small network of people to “go viral”. . . for human agency to discover kindred spirits and engage in a process of co-creation with the collective capacity to imagine and spread solutions that can overcome seemingly intractable problems?  C. K. Prahalad, one of the foremost business thinkers of our time, had posited that leadership in addressing the unmet needs of the four billion people at the base of the economic pyramid would be driven by the enlightened self-interest of major companies that could leverage vast resources to create more inclusive markets.  Cost structures, mental models, and short-termism intervened. 
    In contrast, the view of the Center for Science, Technology, and Society (CSTS) stemmed from early experience with the Tech Awards and the World Bank Development Marketplace, where large company engagement was notably absent. It was reflected in CSTS Advisory Board member Bill Davidow’s 2003 rejoinder to Prahalad . . . to paraphrase, “I have a lot of confidence in that messy process of entrepreneurship. What is needed to address these heterogeneous markets is thousands of entrepreneurs.”  Viral processes are inherently chaotic and often laced with failure.  Yet, with failure comes learning, and in case after case entrepreneurial adaptation in social entrepreneurship is happening close to the ground and spreading across geographic boundaries.
    In 2007 Grameen Shakti was recognized as a Tech Laureate for its pioneering efforts to bring solar home systems to the rural poor in Bangladesh.  By 2012 Shakti had reached a million homes and was growing at 200,000 homes and businesses per year.  By then it had catalyzed an entire sector with dozens of new players in local value chains.  A similar bottom-up process was happening through the work of SELCO and Orb Energy in India. Shakti drew attention to renewable energy as an excellent area for a social business with a systems integration solution that combined technology and business model innovation with financing.
    This model has spread around the world.  It includes organizations like Grid Alternatives, based in Oakland, California. Diffusion happened because of learning curve effects along three continua: the declining unit costs of solar technology; the discovery of organizational mechanisms and business models for deploying technology to the poor in a sustainable and scalable manner; and the dissemination of knowledge through social innovator networks.
    In 2006, the year that Muhammed Yunus won the Nobel Prize, Matt Flannery, participant in that year’s GSBI, was faced with an “inventory crisis.”  Overnight, news of the Yunus Noble Prize and a Nightline feature on Kiva had overwhelmed the Kiva website with individuals seeking to make no interest “loans” of as little as $20 to enterprising poor people with viable ideas for improving their incomes.  His supply of vetted micro-entrepreneurs could not keep up with the demand of individuals seeking to “invest.”  Kiva’s peer-to-peer lending took a page from micro-finance, which aggregated savings of the poor to create a bank for the poor. Kiva was also an aggregator of funds to serve the poor, but its model depended on co-development with on-the-ground micro-finance partners.
    Being part of 2006 GSBI gave Flannery a timely opportunity to refine his partnering strategies and operating assumptions for a network that was going viral!  As this blog is written, in its most recent week Kiva has loaned $2,990,525 to fund 6,433 borrowers, with about 7 seconds between loans.  With current repayment rates of 98.8% it has added 3,167 new lenders this week alone.   Its peer-to-peer model has spread around the world and stimulated hundreds of related innovations like KickStarter, which took a page from Kiva and launched in 2009.  In its first five year years it raised it helped more than 50,000 projects raise $850 million.
    Grameen Bank, founded in 1976, took 17 years to reach cash-flow break even. Its micro lending model has been widely replicated.  Thanks to the learning curve effects, the time to cash-flow break-even for more recent adopters of the Grameen model can be as little as two years or even less.  Similarly, GSBI Accelerator participant Sankara replicated the Aravind high-volume eye care delivery model and adopted a charitable contributions revenue model to eclipse the growth rate of Aravind.  Sticking with its organic growth model, Aravind has now worked with more than 300 hospitals to diffuse its self-funded approach.
    This search for market based solutions to poverty that are based on bottom up innovation is partly in response to the subdued impact of top-down approaches involving governments, aid, and charity in addressing the poverty traps endemic in base of the pyramid communities (Easterly, 2006).  My multi-year study of Naandi Foundation and Drishtee with Geoff Desa identified locally-focused innovation, micro-provisioning for the consumption of minuscule quantities of goods and services, and socially-anchored distribution systems as key elements to developing markets in poor communities (Desa & Koch, 2014).  Both Naandi and Drishtee collaborated with locally-based non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) to tap into an alternative source of capital, social capital, as a means of gaining acceptance for new products and services. 
    BoP communities and the people who populate them are suspended in webs of values, norms, rules and meanings – local institutions that form the basis for social action as well as for market creation (Jain & Koch, 2014).  Without direct engagement the opaqueness of these markets makes them difficult to comprehend.  Heterogeneous communities require initiatives that can develop and operate within these contexts. These markets must be viewed on their terms and to the beat of their own logic, involving rhythms that are quite different from those that characterize markets in advanced economies. GSBI entrepreneurs who are successfully leading efforts in these contexts have migrated from a vision of “serving markets” to one of “developing markets,” a vision that entails a process of co-creation.  
    The GSBI Network holds great promise as an ecosystem that is both close to the ground and globally connected.  It is fostering the diffusion of new approaches to accessing capital and spreading knowledge about innovative business models for deploying technologies with declining unit costs to serve the poor.  It is also stimulating cross-learning in vertical sectors, as we have witnessed in the examples of micro-finance, peer-to-peer lending, affordable eye care, and distributed clean energy.
    In addition, the Network’s “Impact Capital” initiative is fostering the availability of capital across organizational life cycles.  It builds on the pioneering vision of bottom-up innovators like Charly and Lisa Kleissner (CSTS Advisory Board Member), who were modeling the way for “impact investing” more than a decade ago. They have also advocated for greater transparency in the sharing of impact performance as early adopters of the Impact Reporting and Investment Standards. In honor of their work Charly and Lisa were recently honored with the BNP Paribas Grand Prix award for Individual Philanthropy and will be honored with our own Global Changemakers award at the 2015 Magis dinner on April 30. 
    There are sure to be bumps in the road, but the premise of market-based solutions as a more empowering and economically viable alternative to the eradication of poverty than charity or welfare is creating a movement that is growing in its reach and potential for large-scale systemic change.  It is revolutionizing development.  Through that messy process of entrepreneurship and global networks, this movement has gone viral.
    Desa, G. & Koch, J. 2014. Scaling social impact: Building sustainable social ventures at the base of the pyramid. Journal of Social Entrepreneurship, 5(2): 146-174.
    Jain, S. & Koch, J. 2014. Conceptualizing markets for under-served communities: trajectories taken and the road ahead, forthcoming in, Guerber, A. & Markman, G. (eds.), Sustainability Society, Business Ethics, and Entrepreneurship, World Scientific Publishers. 
  •  Testarossa's Generosity

    Monday, Nov. 3, 2014

    The Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) was named by Testarossa Winery as its charity beneficiary for their first annual Testarossa Wine & Food epicurean event, sponsored by Tesla Motors.

    On September 28th, over 1400 guests enjoyed the delicacies of five  Michelin-starred chefs, paired with Testarossa’s world-class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. A silent auction raised over $16,000 to fund the Santa Clara University’s Center for Science, Technology, and Society, home of the GSBI. Moreover, Testarossa produced a specialty labeled GSBI Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with 100% of the proceeds sponsoring the social entrepreneurs of the GSBI.
    Rob and Diana Jensen, proprietors of Testarossa Winery, met while studying electrical engineering as undergraduates at Santa Clara University. Testarossa (Italian for “red head”) was the nickname given Rob Jensen when he studied abroad in Italy.
    After decades of working in high-tech, Rob and Diana founded Testarossa Winery in 1993 as a small weekend project. But as new grape sources were secured and the wines gained reputation, a daily presence was needed to develop the winery into a business. In 1994, Diana left the high tech world and started running Testarossa full time. Their technical background, love of the arts, and business experience made them a natural fit in the wine business, an industry that is equal parts science and art. Today the winery works closely with top winegrowers in the Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Rita Hills, Arroyo Grande Valley, Santa Maria Valley, Russian River Valley, Chalone and Santa Cruz Mountains appellations.
    Owners Rob and Diana Jensen bring the same entrepreneurial, risk-taking approach to winemaking that they learned in the high-tech world, and the results are terrific.” -Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate
    Rob and Diana discovered the Center for Science, Technology, and Society and its flagship platform the Global Social Benefit Institute, while serving on the University's Board of Fellows.
    After listening to the Center’s Executive Director, Dr. Thane Kreiner, speak of the Center’s ambitious vision to positively impact the lives of 1 billion people by 2020, they were floored.
    “It was compelling. With our engineering background, we thought the Center’s approach to creating lasting change by investing time and mentorship in social entrepreneurs was worthwhile,” remarked Diana Jensen.
    “When you watch the news, you see that there are so many problems. But the Center is working with a group of entrepreneurs who are solving those problems in sustainable ways. It’s making a difference in the world, and that was something we wanted to be a part of.”
    They generously offered to help in anyway possible and have become loyal supporters. In addition to making GSBI the beneficiary of the inaugural Testarossa Wine and Food event, Rob and Diana have hosted the welcome reception that kicks off the In-Residence portion of the GSBI Accelerator for the past 2 years. The gorgeous setting and delicious Testarossa wines make this a highlight of the social entrepreneurs’ visit to the Bay Area.
    If you are interested in paying a visit to the beautiful Testarossa Winery, click here or call (408) 354-6150 ext. 21 for more information about events and reservations. Click here if you would like to try some of their wines, including the special wine produced just for GSBI.


  •  Action Research Abroad and Beyond

    Monday, Nov. 3, 2014

    2014 Fellows
    Over the last twelve years, we have worked with over 300 social entrepreneurs through our Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) programs. GSBI programs enable social entrepreneurs to benefit from the expertise and experience of Silicon Valley executive mentors as they refine their business models and identify opportunities for scaling impact.
    Through our Global Social Benefit Fellowship, we provide undergraduates the opportunity of a lifetime: to work in interdisciplinary teams with GSBI Alumni social enterprises around the world. This past summer, 15 students worked for 7 weeks with 6 social enterprises in Mexico, the Philippines, India, Indonesia, and Uganda.
    The Fellowship offers a unique experience abroad that cannot be compared to any other study abroad program that the University offers to students. In the GSB Fellows program , students work with social enterprises that are making a real impact today. As a Jesuit university, SCU educates students with the intent that they will utilize their education to improve the lives of others. As a Fellow for GSBI, students are able to begin this mission before they start their senior year.
    The Fellowship is a year-long program in which the students are able to utilize the skills they have acquired through their first three years at SCU to figure out how to help a social enterprise better their business. The program is not just traveling abroad, and the impact doesn’t begin and end with the trip itself. There is a significant amount of work that is done before and after the time spent abroad with the entrepreneurs, and the pre- and post-work is some of the most beneficial work that is done for the entrepreneurs and the Fellows. These classes that precede and follow the time abroad are research-heavy and time-consuming. However, they enable the students to deliver meaningful results that truly help the social entrepreneurs with their missions.
    Our current class of Fellows returned this past August with new outlooks on how closely the world is connected. Through each of their individual experiences, these Fellows were able to meet and learn from people who are overcoming real problems everyday. The time abroad really brings home the fact that the work that they are doing during the program is going to help real people. The issues are very prominent to many, but there are solutions. The Fellows are able to help figure out these solutions and actually meet some the people whose lives they have impacted.
    Caroline De Bie, who has been working with the social enterprise BanaPads, reflects on her time abroad:

     “Everyone who has ever traveled to the developing world comes back all starry-eyed, saying that the people they encountered on their journey were some of the most inspiring, innovative, hard-working and happy people they have ever met. And while it’s easy to silently be annoyed by their optimistic view of poverty, I know exactly what they’re talking about.

    One of the most memorable personal stories that we heard during our time getting to know our community in Uganda was the story of a woman named Grace. Grace was one of the first Champions hired by BanaPads in 2010. She was a young mother trying to care for her children and looking for ways to pay their school fees. Once she was hired by BanaPads, she started selling the pads to her neighbors and to local fisherman who would walk by her house. But then she started to save her earnings, eventually saving enough money to open her own store. Although she has no formal education in business, she has her own system of keeping track of inventory and is always thinking of new ways to take her business to the next level.

    When we asked her what her favorite part about being a Champion was, she replied, “I love waking up in the morning and knowing that I have my own business. It keeps me working and moving, and I live a better life because of it.” Simply feeling that she is in control of what happens to her and what path she will take in life is enough to keep her going.

    After this encounter with Grace, I started to notice this desire for personal autonomy in the other people we talked to. Almost every Champion we talked to said that they felt so much happier now that they could pay for their kids’ school fees. Several high school students we talked to had dreams of going to University to make a life for themselves. I saw signs at almost every school encouraging young people to stand up for themselves and not to fall prey to people who might take advantage of them. Everywhere, I saw small business owners and community efforts run by people who wanted to make a change in their own life and in others’ lives.
    To learn more about her experiences, read her blog.
    Alex Cabral spent her fellowship working in Mexico with Illumexico, which provides solar electric systems to rural communities. After her return to her “normal” life, she reflected on the differences between her own community and the communities that she was able to meet during her time abroad.
    Although the communities had similar characteristics (rural, low-income, houses made of wooden planks with woven palm-leaf or tin-planks roofs), each place was unique. Some communities were fairly spread out, with houses sprinkled throughout an open field. Some were buried in the hills, so that it took a 25-minute walk just to get to the front porch. People had talking parrots, motor scooters, hammocks, stereos, a random combination of everything. As I walked through each village, I tried to picture what my life would have been like if I had grown up in those areas. It was difficult. I had never been in that environment before, nor did I know many people who had.

    The lifestyles of those reading this blog cannot compare to those of the rural residents of Campeche or Oaxaca. Imagine your grandmother trekking up a rocky mountain for an hour, with bags full of groceries, only to arrive home and begin cooking dinner for a family of six. Imagine chopping reeds with a machete in the backyard for 5 hours in 100-degree weather and stifling humidity so that your family can keep warm when the temperature drops at night. Imagine life without the convenience of running water, electricity, large-scale grocery stores, food diversity, a cold beer on a hot day, ice cubes.

    Even with all of these differences, we are one and the same. When interviewing a mother of three children, she described to us how thankful she was that her children could now do their homework after the sun goes down. Now, they have the ability to learn more, have access to better jobs, and create a more comfortable life for themselves compared to previous generations. The success she wishes for her children is the same kind of hope that parents in the Bay Area have for their future toddler CEOs and entrepreneurs.

    I saw these connections in each community. In Balancax, Campeche, we approached a blue house with a tin roof and tarps on the windows to keep in the “cool” air. We were welcomed by 5 people, one of who reluctantly looked us over. Before we could explain ourselves, he knew us. He knew we were there to question, to “investigate.” He was the equivalent of the mayor of the community, and asked us at least 10 minutes worth of questions before we gained his trust, were given permission to survey his community, and later received a parting gift of frozen milk and coconut, the coldest food available in the village. Don’t we all wish public officials showed so much care for communities? That they would serve as protectors, then resources, and finally friends?
    To read more of her reflection, click here.
    If you are interested in learning more about these life-changing experiences, please join us at the Social Entrepreneurship Action Research Roundtables. Teams of Global Social Benefit Fellows will present on cross-cutting themes in social entrepreneurship, drawing from their unique experiences in India, Indonesia, Mexico, Uganda, and the Philippines.
    Those interested in applying for the fellowship, especially juniors, are encouraged to attend.
    November 3 - APPtitude: Harness Human Potential through Mobile Technology
    November 10 - Global Women Entrepreneurs #flawless
    November  12 - What Went Wrong With The Millennium Development Goals?
    November 17 - Cultural Understanding as a Path to Development
    All presentations will be held 4:15-5:15 pm in the Schott Admission Room next to the Enrollment Center.
    Click here to listen to the podcast from last year’s roundtables.
  •  5 Tips for Any Social Entrepreneur

    Friday, Oct. 31, 2014

    “Cut my veins and cookstoves will flow out”, Proscovia (Prossy) Sebunya, a Ugandan clean cookstove social entrepreneur told us recently during a GSBI Boost workshop in Kampala, Uganda.
    Prossy went to college and studied industrial ceramics.  After graduating she got a job but then received a YMCA scholarship, which took her to Crete to learn about the science and art of using ceramics for cooking, the technology used for many clean cookstoves today. She has been working with cookstoves ever since.  Prossy’s passion for clean cookstoves as a solution to helping marginalized communities save money by using less fuel (charcoal and wood), save the environment by reducing deforestation and receive health benefits from smokeless cooking is shared by many social entrepreneurs around the world.
    The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (GACC) recently funded the GSBI to create Boost, a training program for clean cookstove entrepreneurs that can be easily adapted to target any social entrepreneur (SE), no matter what sector they are focused on.  We have piloted it in Nairobi Kenya, Dhaka Bangladesh, Accra Ghana and Kampala Uganda and soon Beijing China.  The GACC has funds available to support clean cookstove entrepreneurs around the world and they see Boost as a way to strengthen the business models of these entrepreneurs so GACC can invest in them to meet their goal of having 100 million households adopt clean and efficient stoves and fuels by 2020.
    While the 3-day Boost workshop is targeted to earlier stage social enterprises what we have seen by training over 70 organizations in the last few months, all participants get value whether they are still in the planning stage or have been in business for many years.  GSBI has always taken a very practical, hands on approach in working with SEs.  In our world, the SEs are at the center, everything we do is to support them.  Therefore in our programs we focus on their businesses with them.  It isn’t about reading case studies of other businesses; it is about their business.  The GSBI mentors roll up their sleeves and dive deep into the businesses with the SEs.  Boost delivers that same experience and benefit in a workshop setting through short presentations and simple templates with ample work time during which the entrepreneurs apply what was just presented to their business with the facilitators providing one-on-one mentoring.   
    During the last 12 years of working with over 280 social entrepreneurs we have learned there are certain elements that every social entrepreneur needs to keep in mind in order to build a scalable and sustainable business.  Those learnings are reflected in the design of Boost, and can be expressed as 5 best practices for any social enterprise:
    Top 5 Lessons Learned:

    1.   Lead with your mission and impact model.  What differentiates a social entrepreneur from an entrepreneur is that the social entrepreneur leads with their impact model and supports it with a business model.  Entrepreneurs lead with a business model; social impact is an afterthought at best.  No matter what the impact that a social entrepreneur is passionate about--clean water, clean energy, education, access to health care, livelihoods, financial inclusion--that impact is the center of the SE’s focus. The business model is designed to achieve impact in the most cost-efficient and scalable manner possible.

    2.   Know your customers.  Most SEs target marginalized communities, and the most successful ones spend significant time truly understanding who their customers are, what they want, how they think, and their realities.  They know and live the on-the-ground realities of the poor and marginalized.  On our recent trip to Nairobi, we visited GSBI Online alum Keneth Ndua of STAMP Investments at his factory where he is producing the ECOS cookstove that has a built-in chamber to boil water (thereby killing bacteria) while it cooks. He showed us a series of prototypes refined over several years and explained his ongoing process of taking the stove to women’s groups in different regions of Kenya to see how it responds to their traditional ways of cooking.

    3.   Partner effectively to maximize your reach.  As entrepreneurs we want to do everything ourselves to keep control of our vision, but this is often to our detriment because it weakens our focus on the core activity that our enterprise does best. Developing and manufacturing a product, say a clean cookstove, is a totally different business than distributing and selling them.  As the field is evolving, we are now seeing social enterprises focusing on developing products and others focused on distributing them. Specialization is occurring within the distribution space too. For example, urban areas and rural area have different economics and require different marketing and sales strategies.  Livelyhoods, based in Nairobi, is working with slum youth training them to sell socially responsible products such as solar lighting, clean cookstoves and water filters back into their slum communities.  Solar Sister began working with women in rural Uganda teaching them to sell solar lights to their community.  Now it has included clean cookstoves into their product mix and have expanded to northern Nigeria and Tanzania.  UpEnergy is focused on providing access to clean energy solutions to Ugandans by selling direct and through micro-entrepreneurs. Having a specialized target market allows each organization to define the best product mix and develop the best salesforce for that market.
    4.   Understand the economics of your enterprise, and make sure they work for everyone in your value chain: customers, distributors, suppliers, and your enterprise.  This is an extremely important point and one many SEs don’t consider. Of course the economics have to work for your business. But the distributors, suppliers, and customers also have to be motivated too.  For example, if a product is too difficult to sell or the margin is too low, distributors will not actively promote it, meaning that it won’t reach the intended beneficiaries. Here is a comment from a survey of a recent Boost workshop, “What I found helpful was using the financial model, I was able to play around with figures to achieve my desired production/profits for my shareholders.  So I know how much I need to produce.” These are important considerations for SEs that can unlock their potential for scale by turning the entire value chain into promoters for the SE’s success.

    5.   Have a plan for getting to the next stage of growth, how much funding you need, the type of funding, how you will use the funding and the social impact it will create.  There are two things every SE is looking for, financial and human capital.  Unfortunately many SEs take whatever money they can get.  Not being strategic about the size and type of capital can be problematic for long-term growth.  We have seen SEs give too much of their company away in the first rounds of funding which means later stages can decimate them in terms of an ownership position.  This is a big problem for investors too because later they have less buy-in from the SEs: they have lost most of their ownership position so why should they “play”?  Investors aren’t going to run the company, so what happens?  This is a topic for another article.  The other issue we’ve seen with SEs is early on they end up taking small amounts of money from many different investors and their capitalization (cap) table becomes messy.  This is problematic for Series A investors, some walk away.  For non-profit social enterprises, well-intentioned grants can lead to mission drift by pushing the SE to projects that are within their mission, but not necessarily the most strategic for the SE.  A common pitfall is taking grants to expand to new geographies before the model is truly proven and the enterprise is prepared to scale in its current geography.  In all of our GSBI programs we work with SEs to develop a funding ask that is based on the enterprise’s strategic plan. The funding ask includes not only the amount of money required, but also the form of capital (grant, loan, equity, etc.), details of how the funding will be used, and the impact that will result.
    We don’t plan on cutting Prossy’s veins to verify that clean cookstoves will flow, but having experienced her passion and hearing her stories of dedication we believe her.  She represents all the clean cookstove and fuels social entrepreneurs we have worked with during the GSBI Boost pilots.  What a gift to us to see their eyes light up as they work through these 5 elements and see their businesses in a new light.  How through a small investment they can easily double production and by adding a few more distribution partners they can triple sales, providing access to 3 times the number of poor and marginalized people to clean energy.  Three billion women cook on three stone fires, exposing them and their children to horrible respiratory and eye issues.  The problem is huge.  We have experienced first hand that with a little support these passionate social entrepreneurs can make an even larger dent in the problems that face our world.  
  •  Women and Social Entrepreneurship

    Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014

    About 80% of the population lives on less than $10 a day. There are billions of people in developing countries living without basic necessities such as clean water, electricity, and a reliable supply of affordable food. The problems are complex and can seem insoluble. Fortunately there is a growing cadre of social entrepreneurs who are bringing innovative businesses models and technology to help alleviate some of the world’s most pressing issues. And many of these social entrepreneurs are women. 

    Why is that important? The World Food Program has found that when girls and women earn income, they reinvest 90% of it in their families. They buy books medicine, bed nets. For men, that figure is typically 30% to 40%. An investment in women becomes a direct investment in the improvement of places in need. In the words of Larry Summers when he was Chief Economist at the World Bank:

    "Investment in girls' education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world. As more cash and assets get into the hands of women, more of these earnings get into the mouths, medicine, and schoolbooks of their children, while at the same time increasing women’s bargaining position and power in the family and community; and their ability to act against violence in the home and in the world. There is no development strategy more beneficial to society as a whole - women and men alike - than the one which involves women as central players.”

    On October 10th, during SCU’s Alumni Grand Reunion, the Center for Science, Technology, and Society hosted a panel discussing women and social entrepreneurship. The members of the panel included: 

    • Cassandra Staff (Moderator), Director, Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI ®) Programs
    • Pamela Roussos, Senior Director of the Global Social Benefit Institute
    • Taia Ergueta, Business Consultant, Anti-Poverty Advocate and Executive Mentor for GSBI 
    • Lisa McMonagle, Student at SCU and 2014 Global Social Benefit Fellow

    During the discussion the panelists shared their personal experiences working with women social entrepreneurs from around the world. Taia noted that social enterprises start from an impact model. From the beginning, there is a true passion and clear goal for the company - whether it be affordable health care, clean water, or solar energy. They start with an end goal and create a business model around that. As Taia stated, “there is no question about purpose for social entrepreneurs.” 

    To illustrate the kind of problem that social entrepreneurs are trying to solve, Pamela shared a story about a personal experience in Myanmar a few years ago, “I was invited into this woman’s home. It was very small, made of steel. And I walked in and had to walk right back out because I couldn’t breathe. She was cooking in her home and all the fumes and smoke were trapped in there. I couldn’t breathe. She was living and breathing in that space with her children.” Social entrepreneurs are creating clean cookstoves to solve this problem.

    Taia recalled one of the social entrepreneurs that she worked with through GSBI. It was an eLearning company based in Jordan. “A self-taught young woman decided that she was going to address this opportunity of bringing online courses to the Middle East. There wasn’t any content in Arabic. There weren’t any people who knew how to design eLearning classes in Arabic. People were not used to the idea of online learning many  did not have access to the internet to take these classes. There were a myriad of problems. She had to create her own path and build it on her own. Most people would be flabbergasted at taking on an challenge like that. That’s the wonderful thing about the GSBI -  each year you see a whole new class of people that are not daunted by problems like these. They just do it, they figure it out and they are a tremendous inspiration for us that have the privilege to work with them.” 

    Women have become important catalysts for the social enterprises they have worked with. An issue that affects many social entrepreneurs working to improve the lives of those in developing countries is distribution. Pamela, Taia, and Lisa all shared examples of how women have helped social enterprises continue their mission.

    Lisa mentioned Nazava, which makes and sells affordable water filters in Indonesia. During her fellowship working with Nazava this past summer, Lisa spent time in different villages in Indonesia looking at how the water filters were being sold, and she found that in one village the wife of the head of the village was one of the company’s best salespeople because she had deep connections with the other villagers. In this particular village, almost every family had one of Nazava’s water filters. 

    The women are key collaborators for these social entrepreneurs. The social enterprises also help the women of these countries become more independent. The women become salespeople and representatives, which not only provides them with their own income but also sets an example for their daughters. Young women in these villages have become more motivated to provide for themselves. This model is creating a new social norm, which women are becoming more influential. 

    If you are interested in hearing more, click here to watch the video or click here to listen to the panel.

    If you are interested in supporting women entrepreneurs – as a mentor, as a donor to the Center, or by making microloans to women entrepreneurs at sites like, a GSBI alumnus-  please remember, you too can help empower women.

    Contact: Pamela Roussos, Senior Director of the Global Social Benefit Institute,

  •  eBay Foundation and GSBI® Partner to Benefit Entrepreneurs in BRIC Countries & U.S

    Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014

    Since 2013, eBay Foundation and the Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) have partnered with a clear purpose-- to help social entrepreneurs build strong organizations and scale their impact. eBay and GSBI share a theory of change that worldwide poverty alleviation is best accomplished through social enterprise, especially through those organizations that integrate financially sustainable practices into operations and aim for massive scale. 

    Over the past two years, eBay Foundation has sponsored the participation of six social enterprises in the GSBI Accelerator. The program pairs late stage social entrepreneurs with Silicon Valley mentors to prepare them to scale already successful businesses. The businesses sponsored by eBay Foundation range from the Kenya-based smallholder farmer micro asset financing organization, Juhudi Kilimo to Prospera, a Mexican company which helps women build sustainable businesses by providing training and access to markets.  Each participant came away from the program with a vision for growth as well as connections to potential funders to support their organizations’ development. 
    This fall, eBay Foundation and GSBI are launching their largest joint project to date, a program for entrepreneurs at an earlier stage in their organizational life cycle.   October 7th marked the launch of this custom cohort of the GSBI Online program. The program aims to develop livelihoods in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and the United States. eBay Foundation is sponsoring this initiative as part of a commitment to job creation, small business support, and economic development in these geographic regions. 
    The 6-month program pairs each social entrepreneur with a savvy Silicon Valley executive mentor. They work as a team to clarify the social entrepreneurs’ business models, hone their financials, and plan for scale. This year, for the first time, volunteers from eBay are joining the experienced GSBI mentors to provide technical expertise to many of the companies in the cohort.  
    The organizations in this cohort enter the program with a diverse array of mission-driven businesses, such as generating income for sex-trafficking survivors in Russia, helping smallholder farmers gain access to the best equipment in China, and providing data collection jobs for marginalized youth in the slums of Brazil.  The 18 ventures participating in the program employ different strategies to build economies including:
    Fostering Job Creation 
    DDD Peru provides high-quality IT services by employing low-income youth and providing them with opportunities for professional development and substantially higher incomes.
    DialJob is building a Blue-Collared Job Exchange Platform using mobile & cloud telephony technologies and is also launching a mobile-friendly website with content in local languages. It will give visibility and branding services to skill-development institutes and offer partnership opportunities to placement consultants, mobile-recharge outlets and grocery stores.
    Fabric Plus creates livelihoods in rural Assam and Northeast India by supporting the production of high-quality silk yarn and Assam silk products.
    RuralShores Business Services is India’s largest Business Process Outsourcing provider with more than 20 delivery centers in rural areas of India. RuralShores provides employment to youth at their doorstep, leading to sustained employment and curbing urban migration.
    Safehouse Foundation provides victims of trafficking with rehabilitation, including an art therapy program where participants create jewelry that is sold to sustain the organization and provide an income to participants.
    Ponto Solidário displays disseminates and increases sales of artistic products made by Brazilian craftsman all over the country, including Amazonian locals and other artisans in rural areas.
    ReliaTech collects and refurbishes computers and provides them at little or no cost to low-income individuals, disadvantaged entrepreneurs, schools, churches, senior centers, and other nonprofit organizations. Employees and interns are students and graduates of The Stride Center which trains low income individuals for ITC careers.
    Mobile Metrix is pioneering market research in low-income communities. Young local adults collect information door-to-door using handheld technology. The data and insights thus gathered empower companies and governments to more effectively distribute their critical products and services.
    Microenterprise Support 
    Custom Clouds (Kolabo), helps micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in growing economies get online. They also leverage the Internet to fuel economic growth and create jobs in their communities.
    Social Synergy is a management consulting firm catering to social enterprises and impact investors. Social Synergy catalyzes the strategic transformation of the culture and method of decision-making. It works across all levels and functions of a social enterprise to help them realize their stated impact potential---a "last-mile" effort of critical importance in the impact investment value-chain,that remains unaddressed.
    Improving Health, Water and Sanitation 
    Healing Fields is developing a health-related sustainable livelihood model for its community workers, which will help to keep them motivated to engage in creating awareness about hygiene and disease prevention.
    JSV aims to create jobs and foster entrepreneurship by training economically disadvantaged students from rural backgrounds with limited formal education in various paramedical streams at a low cost. JSV is also piloting a program to improve access to primary care and public health for the rural population by empowering local women trained in innovative low-cost diagnostic technology.
    Drinkwell uses a micro franchise model to establish local water businesses in arsenic and fluoride-affected areas. By providing affected villagers with water filtration technology and business tools, Drinkwell taps into the entrepreneurial spirit within these communities to create jobs, generate income, and improve health outcomes.

    Green Agrevolution provides end-to-end agriculture services, ICT advisory, input and output collection) to small farmers through DeHaat kiosks run by micro entrepreneurs. 
    Shree Kamdhenu Electronics develops simple information technology tools that help rural base-of-pyramid dairy farmers raise their income through transparency in milk collection operations.
    Smart Agriculture Analytics (SAA) is an information service that provides business intelligence on agricultural technology (agritech) needs in China; this will enable world-class suppliers and investors to provide the most sustainable solutions to Chinese farmers.
    Increasing Financial Access 
    MPOWER Financing removes financial barriers to higher education in the US. It works with investors and universities to lend to students who are not served by traditional banks because of lack of credit history or cosigner. 
    NuBnk/Village Ventures is an online lending platform that links impact lenders in advanced economies with rural community financial organizations which in turn support micro entrepreneurs in India and Sri Lanka. 
    The Global Social Benefit Institute has worked with over 300 social enterprises to build sustainable, scalable business models to benefit the lives of 107 million people worldwide. Based in the heart of Silicon Valley at Santa Clara University, GSBI combines Silicon Valley acumen and a drive to eradicate poverty by supporting social entrepreneurs around the world through their entire lifecycle.
    Program Inquires: Hallie Noble,
    Media: Jaime Gusching,


  •  SOCAP14: Money and Meaning

    Monday, Sep. 8, 2014

    The GSBI® Team took Social Capital Markets (SOCAP) conference by storm this past week! The SOCAP conference brings together global innovators, investors, foundations, governments, institutions, and social entrepreneurs to build the world we want to leave to future generations. The attendees of this event are committed to increasing the flow of capital toward social good. During SOCAP, participants discuss the ways to utilize tools practiced in the private sector in order to create a better world. The Center’s presence was prominent throughout the conference.

    We were able to convene with our peer accelerators, other organizations working on behalf of social entrepreneurs, in a day-long Accelerating the Accelerators event. We are pioneering a new industry and therefore engaging in a robust discussion about key terminology, the landscape, metrics, niche markets, and best practices. This was a great opportunity to connect and discuss the future of our sector and the best ways we can move forward in helping social entrepreneurs make their greatest impact.
    We joined forces with the Lemelson Foundation, Opportunity Collaboration, the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs, and Toniic to host a SOCAP kick-off party at the General’s Residence in Fort Mason, San Francisco. Over 800 people RSVP’d to the event and the turn-out was incredible. Entrepreneurs, impact investors, sector leaders and conference attendees mixed and mingled late into the evening to the background of sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay. We ended the night with a positive feeling about which direction our industry is heading.
    We lead three different panels at SOCAP on the subject of scaling impact, investment ready, and the reinvention of mentoring. Each of the panels presented valuable content to overflowing rooms. Here’s some more information on the following panels:
    I. What’s Actually Involved in Scaling Impact?
    Panel members included our own executive director Thane Kreiner, Greg Coussa from the International Centre for Social Franchising, Julie McBride of Population Services International (PSI), and Kevin Starr of the Mulago Foundation. Those who attended were able to learn how we can improve positive social impact. During this discussion, the panelists: defined scaling in practical terms, explain scale-readiness, and discuss specific and practical scale strategies, models, and examples of organizations that have succeeded.
    II. What Does It Mean to Be “Investment Ready”?
    Members of this panel included our own Thane Kreiner, Andrew Lieberman, Director of New Programs, GSBI Accelerator participant Tevis Howard from Komaza, Lisa Kleissner of KL Felicitas Foundation, and Vineet Rai of Intellecap/Aavishkar. This panel discussed how investment readiness can be measured and understood by both entrepreneurs and investors. Tevis Howard made an excellent point during the panel, “Social entrepreneurs are always ready for investment, but the important part is figuring out what type of investment is needed.”
    III. The Reinvention of Mentoring
    This panel consisted of our own Pamela Roussos, Penelope Douglas of Mission Hub, Ian Fisk of Mentor Capital Network, Peter Gardner of Startgrid, Allison Kelly of Pacific Community Ventures, and Anita Ramachandran of MicroMentor. The room was filled with people seeking advice and industry expertise to help scale their companies. The panelists were able to share their wisdom about fueling the growth of world changing entrepreneurs in order to accelerate impact.
    The entire week was filled with important events and we were able to meet various people and companies that are true leaders in our sector. We are excited about potential future partners and participants in our programs.



  •  Need a Boost?

    Wednesday, Sep. 3, 2014

    The GSBI® team recently piloted its newest program, Boost, in Nairobi, Kenya and Dhaka, Bangladesh.  Boost is a three-day workshop that helps early-stage social enterprises sharpen their business model and strategy for growth. The focus of these pilots is on clean cookstove entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs in the clean cookstove value chain.   In each country, there were approximately 20 social entrepreneurs representing 16 social enterprises.  One would think that since both groups are in the clean cookstove sector, they would be virtually the same in terms of approach and type of businesses, but there were very noticeable differences.

    At the GSBI we have seen a fair number of clean cookstove entrepreneurs, both those that are designing and manufacturing cookstoves and those that are distributing cookstoves.  In the Nairobi pilot approximately one-third of the enterprises were designing and manufacturing cookstoves, one-third were distributing clean cookstoves, among other things like solar lighting solutions, one-third were a type of clean cookstove entrepreneur we haven’t seen among the 250+ social entrepreneurs who have gone through GSBI.  These entrepreneurs are installing clean cookstove solutions into institutions e.g. schools and into homes.  They work through people they call artisans, in the US we’d call them contractors.   When we dug into the economics of their businesses with them, we saw they are very profitable and they scale affordably.  The social impact they create is substantial, particularly when they are installing the cookstoves into institutions.

    In Bangladesh the story is different.  Unlike in Kenya, where there are many different types of cookstoves, with each enterprise struggling to get breadth in distribution, in Bangladesh there are only three models of clean cookstoves being distributed and installed, however they have NGOs that have the ability to distribute in very large quantities.  Currently there have been 3 million clean cookstoves distributed with a goal to reach 30 million by 2030.  The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (GACC) has a goal to reach 100 million by 2020, therefore, Bangladesh will be a large percentage of those.  One of the prime reasons for the limited number of clean cookstove choices is the import tariffs, which are at 65%.  We were told that the government is considering lowering this for clean energy solutions and changing the laws such that companies manufacturing and selling clean energy solutions would be exempt from corporate taxes for 15 years.  Hopefully that will be the case soon. It will certainly go a long way in helping reach the goal of 30 million clean cookstoves.  

    The fact that Bangladesh is such a poor country has led to many NGOs that have reach across the country to the 160 million inhabitants.  Many of the organizations that participated in the Boost pilot were these NGOs.  When we sat down with them to look at the economics of their business, it was clear that they have already mobilized thousands of women micro-entrepreneurs selling clean cookstoves into their communities and have the reach to mobilize tens of thousands more.  In Kenya, this distribution “infrastructure” doesn’t exist.  

    The market dynamics weren’t something we had thought about before delivering the pilots.  We look forward to the upcoming Boost pilots in Ghana, Uganda, and China to learn more.  

    We are very grateful to the Global Alliance of Clean Cookstoves (GACC) for funding GSBI Boost.  We also extend our thanks to the Clean Cookstove Alliance of Kenya (CCAK) for their on-the-ground support in Nairobi and the Bangladesh Solar and Renewable Energy Association (BSREA) for their kind and generous support in Dhaka.   

    We are piloting Boost with clean cookstove entrepreneurs, but the methodology is being designed so that Boost is readily adaptable to early-stage social enterprises in any sector or geography.  
    If you would like to bring the Boost workshop to a group of social enterprises that you support, please contact Pamela Roussos at
  •  GSBI Accelerator In-Residence Wrap Up

    Tuesday, Sep. 2, 2014

     The Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) Accelerator program is the flagship program at the Center for Science,
    Technology, and Society at Santa Clara University. 
    The GSBI Accelerator program magnifies the impact of social enterprises by providing entrepreneurs with Silicon Valley mentors, investor connections, and the GSBI alumni network. In the pursuit to become investment-ready, social entrepreneurs complete preparatory course work to assess the "gaps" or areas of improvement in their businesses. Then they work alongside their committed, smart mentors to fill those gaps.
    The program culminates in the In-Residence, which occurs over a nine day period on campus at Santa Clara University. The GSBI Accelerator strengthens the business model of social entrepreneurs, identifies the best type of investment --grant, equity, etc.-- and refines their ask in order to secure appropriate capital for them. GSBI is the bridge between Silicon Valley start-up accumen and the rest of the world.
    From August 14th to August 23rd, we welcomed fourteen of the social entrepreneurs on campus for the In-Residence. Throughout these days, the social entrepreneurs met with their mentors and determined what is needed to be done in order to best scale and improve their business plan.
    Read on to learn more about three of our social entrepreneurs that participated in GSBI Accelerator this year and how the program was able to help.
    "We can connect children to their world through hearing."
    World Wide Hearing, Montreal, Canada
    When we think of hearing loss, we may think of it as a problem that affects only the aging population. However, over 180 million children worldwide are born with hearing loss and have few resources to better their condition.
    Audra Reyni, Executive Director of World Wide Hearing, explains that, “When children are born with hearing loss, they are born into silence. Hearing can be the difference of having a chance at life, or having missed opportunities.”
    World Wide Hearing provides access to affordable, high quality hearing aids for low-income children with hearing loss in developing countries. They do this by training local female entrepreneurs to provide the hearing aids and services. They are currently active in Jordan and are optimistic of where the future can take them.
    Audra views participating in the GSBI Accelerator program as a huge push at a crucial time. GSBI has provided strategic advice at a time when World Wide Hearing has the capability to scale in a big way.
    "The program made us think through business and strategic problems that we need to solve in order to maximize our social impact," Audra explained. “What we really had to think about was marketing in developing countries at the last mile distribution level, really thinking about the strategies we could use, considering the end users. It can be very different from developed countries, which requires a different lens.”
    For Audra, the time with her mentors was invaluable. “It’s been intense and required a lot of learning, but it was a wonderful group of people, so it’s been fantastic.”


    "We can solve dryland poverty and deforestation at the same time."
    Komaza, Kenya
    Tevis Howard, a Bay Area native, took a gap year and went to Kenya to do Malaria research.  During about a year and a half of living there, he saw quite a bit of poverty and transitioned from science to social entrepreneurship. Tevis had the unique idea of planting trees in order to help dryland farmers out of extreme poverty. This sparked the beginnings of Komaza.
    Komaza offers a partnership that motivates farmers to plant trees and short-term crops that, in turn, provide decades of life-changing income. Dryland farmers are the poorest people on earth, and they are struggling to grow crops on bad soil with no rain. East Africa is currently facing a multibillion dollar wood market failure, there are tens of millions of families on dry lands living in extreme poverty.
    “Deforestation is intrinsically linked with poverty,” Tevis shared. “We’re trying to break that cycle by doing the obvious thing: by planting trees.”
    GSBI was able to help Tevis learn how to best communicate his story. His mentors were able to spend time with him and provide a fresh set of eyes to figure out who he is targeting and the best way to reach them.
    “It’s really important to tell your story well so that you can get the support needed to make your vision become real. It’s about getting people and money pointed in the right direction,” He said. Tevis was able to share his story recently on NBC Bay Area News, click here to check out the TV spot that featured Komaza.
    "We can eradicate curable blindness in India."
    “When someone is in darkness, they aren’t able to move, they aren’t able to do their daily chores, they become dependent.” One-fourth of the world’s blind population is in India and 80% of this blindness is curable. Bharath Balasubramaniam, President of Community Outreach at Sankara Eye Care, explained what Sankara Eye Care is doing to try to end curable blindness.
    They have outreach camps and bring eye care services to those in the rural areas. If necessary, they will bring the patients back to their full hospitals and the patients receive everything–surgery, food, room– completely free of charge, and then are taken back into their village. When they are back in their village, Sankara also goes back for post-op care. There is no cutting corners or skimping on quality in order to keep the services free.
    Sankara Eye Care’s mission is to eliminate curable blindness across India by scaling to 20 Sankara Community Eye Hospitals, serving over a million rural poor every year. GSBI has been able to aid in this mission by providing Silicon Valley executives as mentors for Bharath. His mentors have helped him understand the variable options that are available for funding and identify which opportunities are plausible. Another way the program helped Bharath was distinguishing the differences between marketing and sales.
    “It was a little confusing for us. We were blending and mixing the two, so now I have better clarity of which is which and what I need to look at once I get back,” He said. The program was very educational and now he has a better idea of what needs to be done in order for his vision to become a reality.
    We are very pleased with the success of the GSBI Accelerator and all the social enterprises that are part of our 2014 class. We would like thank the donors for their generous contributions, so that we are able to continue to help entrepreneurs such as Audra, Tevis, and Bharath.




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