Category Archives: Social Enterprise

The Economist: missing the point, once again…

Shooting Pencils At Target @ JupiterImagesThe Economist reviews this week Forces for Good, a new book about exceptional NGOs, which according to the weekly are too few and rare to be worthy of the illustrious paper’s attention. The authors, Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant, surveyed thousands of (US) nonprofits, and finally concentrated their attention on a sample of 12, which they believe have achieved the highest levels of impact.

These included America’s Second Harvest, Habitat for Humanity and – much to the Economist’s delight – the notoriously right-wing Heritage Foundation, a proof that this was a “serious piece of research, not the usual sentimental tosh that gets written about left-leaning NGOs” [sic!].

The Economist once again shows its contempt towards the NGO sector and its lack of understanding of its internal diversity. Kicking off with a series of scathing (and unreferenced) remarks about social enterprises, which seem to reduce the debate to a pathetic comparison between the successes of Google and those of the Grameen Bank (apples and oranges, anyone?), it then sings the praises of the 12 selected nonprofits for their excellent achievements (data, anyone?). The fact that social enterprises and nonprofits might not actually be one and the same thing, or that being based (as the 12 selected organisations are) in the US as opposed to Bangladesh might offer considerable advantages to – for example – making the most of market forces does not seem to be a relevant piece of information for the illustrious weekly.

The Economist is not alone in displaying a lack of understanding towards the complexities of the third sector, and of social enterprises in particular. Roger L. Martin & Sally Osberg – echoing Muhammad Yunus – have already made a plea on the pages of the Stanford Social Innovation Review for strengthening the definition of social entrepreneurship [PDF], but definitions are not enough when we are facing the challenges of applying them to different cultural contexts. We might reach an agreement on what a social enterprise might be in the US (therefore what parameters we can adopt to evaluate its success), but this does not mean we can apply this model to the whole world.

Aside from these important theoretical considerations, “where is the social-entrepreneurial equivalent of a for-profit start-up like Google or Microsoft […]? where is the evidence of massive social change?” – asks an irritated Economist.

Kick Start Kenya - oilseed pressThe answer is Kick-Start, a Kenya-based organisation that develops and promotes technologies that can be used by dynamic entrepreneurs to establish and run profitable small scale enterprises. As reviewed by the MIT’s Innovations journal, Kick-Start has started 50,000 new businesses, generating $52 million a year in new profits and wages, and is directly responsible for a 0.6% increase of Kenya’s GDP. See a good video by the Schwab Foundation on Kick-Start’s successful water pump here.

Now, can someone at the Economist more interested in facts than in rhetorical preaching let me know if Google can be said to have had a comparatively similar impact on the US economy and on its social needs?

My heart’s with Ethan

 Chris Jordan, Cell Phones, 2007 (courtesy: http://www.chrisjordan.com/)

Ethan Zuckerman remains my No. 1 favourite blogger of all times, and given how much I struggle to update GlobaLab at least 2-3 times a week, while trying to work and retain a decent social life, I am in awe at his amazing prolificacy.

A quick browse at his last few entries would be enough to feed an average person’s brain for 6 months. Over the last few days, he’s been busy reporting from the PopTech conference, which he describes as “the annual three-day gathering of scientists, inventors, geeks, philosophers and thinkers in coastal Maine“. The event is a catwalk for amazing projects and ideas that are truly transforming the world. If you haven’t followed the event, you can read Ethan’s posts on some of the most interesting presentations, including (but there are more):

It took me good part of the day to read them all, and there are many more celebrity bloggers who reported from the event, including BoingBoing, Next Billion, and a few (but not many) non-English speaking bloggers.

If this isn’t enough for you, check out Ethan’s earlier post about a new initiative to fight counterfeit pharmaceuticals in Ghana (hopefully soon the whole of Africa), mPedigree, which will use mobile phones to track drugs from their original producers all the way to the pharmacy shelves, allowing each buyer in the chain to ensure that they’re dealing with a legitimate product. Or check out the entry in which he takes a good shot at unravelling the complex situation in Somalia, in response to the Onion’s eye-opening video Situation in Nigeria Seems Pretty Complex, a must see for all Africanists:

In The Know: Situation In Nigeria Seems Pretty Complex

What can I say? Ethan, you are my personal hero!!!

Enterprising answers to development

Tomato vendor, African market

A few good sources exploring the themes of social entrepreneurship and microcredit.

Beyond Good Intentions reproduces an article from the International Trade Forum on innovative approaches to reduce poverty through trade, which are bringing business, NGOs, government and aid agencies together. Examples include Bespoke Experience, a social enterprise creating high-end tourism lodges in Mozambique, and using its profits to enable communities to work their way out of poverty.

NOW and PBS review the debate on microcredit, and whether it’s really pro-poor or simply exploiting the most vulnerable, with a focus on Compartamos, the Mexican non-profit turned for-profit microfinance institution at the centre of a fierce debate. It contains an excellent interview on the subject with Muhammad Yunus, the world-renowned founder of the Grameen Bank and father of microcredit, who also wrote another good piece on Social Business Entrepreneurs here.

A fourth sector?

 The Fourth Sector Network (courtesy: http://www.fourthsector.net)

While we’re still struggling to get the third sector officially recognised in most policy circles (the European Commission, for one, has no Directorate General dealing directly with this ever-expanding sector), there are some who are already envisaging the rise of a fourth one:

Over the past few decades, the boundaries between the public (government), private (business), and social (non-profit/non-governmental) sectors have been blurring, while a Fourth Sector of organization has been emerging. The archetypal Fourth Sector model is sometimes referred to as a For-Benefit organization, and the sector itself is also referred to as the For-Benefit Sector. There are a wide variety of other Fourth Sector models and approaches, bearing different names and emphasizing or embodying different aspects of the For-Benefit model.

Here‘s a comprehensive list of what typology of organisation is included in the sympathetic patterns of the fourth sector. The idea has triggered over-excited reviews in the American press, interest from educational circles, and of course the odd glance from the donor community.

Personally, I like the term and its ideal mash-up of exciting initiatives (triple bottom line, Open Source, sustainability, social enterprises, etc.) that are transforming the way the third sector operates. Yet, it is not very clear why an entire new classification is needed, especially for organisations like cooperatives and social enterprises, which have been around for ages.

Are we witnessing the rise of an entirely new sector, or the slow and painful transformation of the old third sector? And if a fourth sector were to emerge, shouldn’t we be more clear about which parts of the third sector are excluded, and why?

Beyond Good Intentions

Via Natasha Hanshaw’s blog, Exploring Development, I found out about Tori and Eric’s project ‘Beyond Good Intentions‘, a documentary film about inspiring stories of international aid. Here’s the trailer.

And from their website, an outline of their project:

We are currently living in an age where endemic poverty, natural disasters, and war are defining factors in the lives of much of the world’s population. However, we are also living in an age of extreme generosity in which the desire to help others who are less fortunate is quite strong. Perhaps even you have been compelled to donate your time or money to help people in remote parts of the globe. But have your good intentions been enough to produce effective changes for those who need it most?

We are two filmmakers who are embarking on the journey of a lifetime to look beyond good intentions to discover what really works in international aid.

Our documentary film is taking us around the world to ten different countries over the course of a year including Colombia, Peru, Argentina, India, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Madagascar, Mozambique, and South Africa. We are actively seeking out effective examples of international aid and inspirational humanitarians who are making the world a better place through their work.

Our film will document a remarkable journey of discovery as we attempt to answer the question, “What really works in international aid?” We are ready to be inspired. Are you?

Tori Hogan, co-founder of Beyond Good Intentions, spent the last three months of 2006 filming and interviewing aid organizations and inspirational individuals in Colombia, Peru and Argentina. The trailer is a rough cut of this filming and an introduction to the documentary.”

N2Y2: Web 2.0 projects for social change

Net2 logos

Last post of the day and of the month, since I am going back home tomorrow and won’t have Internet access (gasp! horror!) from our Tuscan retreat

In May 2007, over 300 participants gathered to discuss the 21 Projects that had been selected by the NetSquared community as having the greatest potential to leverage the social web to create social change.

This was a real talent contest between several innovative ideas, from Kabissa‘s proposal to strengthen Web 2.0 applications across the African continent through their network of over 950 local organisations, to Yankana‘s idea to help non profits located in developing countries adopt and benefit from social web tools, without advanced technical skills, financial resources for infrastructure or english language knowledge.

Only 3 made it to the final stage:

  • MAPLight.org, a project aiming to illuminate the connection between money and politics, connecting campaign contributions and votes for U.S. Congress, while providing groundbreaking transparency so that bloggers, journalists, and citizens can hold legislators accountable.
  • Miro, an open source, open standards video. Their pitch: “We are to Google, AOL and YouTube what public television is to the big networks. We are a nonprofit, fully open source and open standards, dedicated to creating the next Firefox of web video.”
  • Freecycle.org, an initiative that has empowered globally local social networking, with the purpose of creating a gift economy/community: “The magic: it’s easier to give something away than throw it away & keeps it out of landfills; a cyber-curbside; a digital segue from commodity to community“.

Although these are all really good projects, it’s a shame that none seems to address directly the needs of communities in developing countries, which some of the other proposed projects did.

The Village – Saving the World through MMOG

The Village - Homepage image 

Via the Charity Blog I came across the Village, an online massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) that immerses the player into the role of an entrepreneur building companies to bring prosperity to the villages of the Third World.

Inspired by the logic of Kiva – the micro-credit organisation that allows people to select projects they want to fund through an online database of micro-entrepreneurs – the Village aims to bring the real world of social entrepreneurship and the virtual world of online gaming closer together.

This is a good idea, but still doesn’t answer the question that has been bugging me for the last 6 months: could these two worlds – the real and the virtual – be brought even closer together, and integrated with the increasing universe of mapping tools that are being developed for non-profit organisations and NGOs?