Social Enterprise

Why do you give?

Tibetan Buddhist monk in red robes handing out...

At a recent potluck, the conversation turned to the issue of homelessness and how we can address it, as individuals and as a society. Someone remarked that they feel good if they give a homeless woman a dollar, and then they continue on with their day. THEY feel good.

The issue of homelessness and giving to homeless and beggars is complex, and I struggle constantly with deciding how to view and approach the issue–especially after growing up in Santa Cruz, which has always had a large homeless population, and being approached by beggars nearly daily in India. As I thought more about this issue, it seemed that everywhere I looked and read there were articles and videos discussing generosity and homelessness. I think it boils down to two concepts: why do we give and how do we treat others?  (more…)

On Measuring Impact

Two recent articles on measuring impact of social enterprises deserve close attention.

One article was in the Guardian, co-authored by Dr. Pathik Pathak and Zoe Schlag. Citing research they conducted in India, the authors explain that:

“Conventional social impact frameworks emphasise the need to isolate impact (what have you changed that you can prove you did alone?) but fail to ask how social entrepreneurs might scale impact through partnership. The whole notion of attribution is irredeemably flawed when it comes to making sense of the social economy and needs to be ditched in favour of something more attune to the dynamics of collaboration, partnership and exchange.”

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Vipin Thek: Changing Mindsets on Failure to Help Everyone Become a Changemaker (SocialStory)

One of my last pieces for SocialStory’s Celebrating Failure Series. 

For the next edition of our series on lessons from failure, SocialStory spoke with Vipin Thek, who works for the Global Office at Ashoka. He previously led the Youth Venture program in India and co-founded an organization in Chennai that works to prevent child sexual abuse.

Here is his excellent advice for changemakers everywhere:

1. There is no failure, only growth

“I don’t follow the concept of failure,” says Vipin. “I believe that if you really look at life, there is no failure, only growth. When we do something that doesn’t go as planned, we need to learn from those experiences and grow from there, and not view it as a failure.”

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Nine Months of Learning and Failing in India

photo

When I moved to India in July 2012, I expected to come away having left a demonstrable, long-term impact at the affordable private school I would work with.

As soon as I settled down in my job, I realized that the work would be a lot more challenging, complicated, and slower than I could have ever imagined. Yet, I didn’t want to settle for what I thought were more unsustainable, easier, or smaller-scale projects. I have ideals about social enterprise work that is sustainable, well planned, and intentional, and that addresses the root causes of problems as opposed to just surface issues. Even though I was primarily responsible for work at just one school, I still wanted to think big.  (more…)

On Systemic Change

“I could talk about reducing the price of malaria nets,” she says, “but I think we need to get away from ‘$10 will save a life’ and other slogans that fit on a T-shirt. Instead, we need to build lasting solutions that fundamentally change the system, so that everyone can thrive without having to be dependent forever on charity.”

Jacqueline Novogratz quote in SSIR

Question of the Day: Exploitation in Social Enterprise?

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about exploitation. How do we end exploitation in the workforce? In society? How do we build social good models that don’t continue to exploit individuals in a new way? How do we advertise and raise awareness about social missions without creating “poverty porn?”  Is exploitation in some form or another inevitable?

I came across this blog post that encapsulates some of my many questions and concerns quite well.

“Though we didn’t reach an agreement, this conversation did bring up very important ethical issues for social entrepreneurs. When creating a sustainable organization for BoP populations, are we creating a social enterprise or have we created a way to legalize social exploitation? As Talent would ask, “when you employ people from impoverish communities are you simply utilizing your access to cheap labor?” When financing poor entrepreneurs are you simply exploiting debtors? When providing micro-insurance to underserved populations are you simply exploiting the poor?”

Perhaps this is over thinking the issue too much. But I have many questions and doubts, and no answers.

What do you think? 

What Affordable Private Schools Teach Us About Social Enterprise

The hype around social enterprises often trumps a deeper investigation and critique of the challenges facing those organizations.

After spending nine months exploring affordable private schools (APS) and social enterprise in India, I’ve noticed a number of challenges with APS that also apply to social enterprises more broadly. Below, I discuss three critiques and myths about affordable private schools, and offer some lessons that those working in the social enterprise ecosystem can take into consideration for their own work.

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Five Lessons From a Retail Failure (SocialStory)

Another Celebrating Failure piece

This edition of SocialStory’s Celebrate Failure Series is a story of a retail store that achieved early success but eventual failure. Though it wasn’t an organization with an outright social mission, it’s important to remember that businesses such as retail stores also have a social impact by creating jobs and impacting the local economy. And any lessons about failure can apply to both the social and private sector.

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Why hasn’t TOMS Shoes changed?

A few weeks ago, I posted a (rather harsh) article on my Facebook wall about “the worst” international aid ideas. It sparked a lively debate among my friends about good intentions vs. bad ideas in aid, preventing and discouraging failure, and social good business models.

TOMS: Shoes For Tomorrow.

TOMS: Shoes For Tomorrow. (Photo credit: anita.marie)

TOMS Shoes is the most well-known example of bad aid with good intentions. I don’t have to go into the details about why because so many others have already raised great points. (If you are unfamiliar with the arguments, read those articles, then continue here.)

I want everyone to always be thinking about how to make the world a better place. So it’s great when someone comes up with a new social good initiative. But when you explore that idea, or maybe even pilot it, and learn that your idea isn’t having the kind of impact you were hoping for, it’s time to rethink the concept and pivot. As Sasha Dichter of Acumen Fund explains, the social sector should learn from Eric Ries–The Lean Startup author–and create a Build-Measure-Learn cycle to identify failures and pivot.

My main criticism of  TOMS and organizations like TOMS, beyond the negative consequences of their business model, is that after all of the public criticisms of TOMS, it has made no effort to change or pivot. TOMS could be more transparent about its opaque supply chain or even move its operations to local communities, or shift its model away from giving shoes for free to using profits to support local jobs, training, or schools. TOMS has a strong brand name with a large customer base. Imagine if they used their name recognition and community to raise awareness and serve as an example for how similar organizations can also improve.

Ultimately, TOMS is not an example of bad aid for its faults, but because it hasn’t attempted to change its ways. Public criticism of social good organizations like TOMS aren’t discouraging social entrepreneurship or preventing people from trying a risky new approach to make the world a better place; rather, it’s encouraging more thoughtful, intentional aid initiatives that revisit their model when they aren’t achieving impact or are potentially doing more harm than good.

I really enjoyed the debate on my Facebook wall and I believe this is a very important discussion that needs a lot of voices and opinions involved, so feel free to share your thoughts here! 

Together We Stand, Divided We Fail: Hemant Nitturkar and CARMa Venture Solutions (SocialStory)

Talking about co-founder and start-up issues in our Failure series

Social entrepreneur Hemant Nitturkar learned several important lessons about how to run a social enterprise after one of his ventures failed, in part due to team disunity. Here is what Hemant shared with SocialStory about his failure experience.

SocialStory: Tell us about the social enterprise you founded.

Hemant: First generation entrepreneurship is on the rise in India, but these entrepreneurs lack access to mentors and early-stage funding. While I saw a lot of good things happening in the entrepreneurship space, I felt they were all happening in silos. I had conceived an end-to-end service for early-stage entrepreneurs, which ultimately took shape as CARMa Venture Services Private Limited. I had planned a spectrum of services such as mentoring, early-stage capital raising, post-capital raising interventions, and developing entrepreneurship hubs in Tier II towns and many other support services. To pull off such a complex operation, I scouted for and eventually identified several people to join my team, who brought with them skills and experiences to complement my own. I served as the Co-Founder, CEO, Chairman, and majority (over 65%) shareholder of the private limited company.

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Kevin F. Adler’s Baby Steps To Success With alumn.us (SocialStory)

Kevin F. Adler’s Baby Steps To Success With alumn.us (SocialStory)

The latest piece in my Celebrating Failure series for SocialStory. 

SocialStory continues its Celebrate Failure series with a contribution from Kevin F. Adler, an entrepreneur and applied sociologist. He is the founder and CEO of inthis, a social invite platform for connecting people around their shared experiences. His first book, The Great Catalyst: How Disasters Can Bring Us Together or Tear Us Apart, will be published by UPA later this year.

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Addressing “The F Word” With Shabnam Aggarwal (SocialStory)

My first piece in SocialStory’s Celebrating Failure series

If failures are stepping stones to success, the need to sometimes move on is equally important. As we launch SocialStory’s failure series, our first interview is with Shabnam Aggarwal, a social entrepreneur currently living in Delhi, India, where she works as the Head of Strategic Partnerships for Pearson India. She advises Pearson on ed-tech products and develops partnerships with entrepreneurs and start-ups to build ed-tech solutions for Indian students and parents.

Shabnam was the founder of HobNob, a mobile ed-tech solution she developed to solicit feedback from students on their engagement levels through text messages. Shabnam spoke to SocialStory about what she learned after experiencing failure with HobNob.

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Attempting Sustainability (SocialStory)

Attempting Sustainability (SocialStory)

My article for SocialStory

You’ve heard the term “sustainability,” but have you thought about it outside of the environmental context? There are many ways in which social change programs can be unsustainable. Programs can be designed without a community’s real capacity, interest, or needs in mind. They can provide expensive and unfamiliar tools that community members don’t know how to use or fix on their own. Programs can give away resources for free without consideration for the potential long-term negative effects. They can be carried out without the proper processes or documentation in place that would ensure continuity in the event of staff or user turnover. Programs can also be managed without a financially sustainable model.

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Mid-Year Update

Field Trip

It has been nearly six months since I moved to India for the IDEX Fellowship in Social Enterprise. Since then, I’ve been serving in a consulting role to an affordable private school (APS). My foremost goals have been to design and implement sustainable programs for the school, and to gain a better overall understanding of the challenges in low-income communities and the social enterprise market in India. So, what have I been working on here?

India's Independence Day

I’ve spent significant time just settling in to India and observing how my school works. I wrote this post on my first impressions of APS. I sat in on classes, spoke with teachers, students, parents, and administration. And I read a lot about innovations in education, low-income education, and social enterprise in India. My fellowship provided us with speaker sessions about social enterprise and trainings from organizations like J-PAL on impact assessment and theory of change.

One major challenge I’ve faced is that I’ve jumped a bit from project idea to project idea. Some of my initial concepts for projects–such as a school expansion for a playground and an assessment of APS through surveying alumni–weren’t feasible given financial, time, and resource constraints. Other ideas either didn’t make sense for the school or for my goals here, or partnerships fell through. The initial observation phase was vital in coming up with project ideas, but I continue to learn new things about how my school and the local community functions all the time which changes the feasibility of projects or what projects I want to focus on. And many hurdles weren’t realized until plans for implementation were put in place.

Career TrainingI did implement a number of small-scale projects, such as Design for Change and coordinating a health camp and a career training. As a secondary assignment for my Fellowship, I’ve also become a contributing writer for the great team at YourStory.in.

Right now, I’m focusing on several priority projects for the remainder of my fellowship.

One project is a very exciting mobile phones pilot with two major education and education technology companies in India. The pilot will test students on a subject weekly and provide performance feedback to parents and teachers. But the novel component is that the program will be used on mobile phones that the families already own for a very minimal cost (no hand-outs of expensive new technology), and it’s a brand new pilot. We’ve held initial meetings with the two pilot schools, parents, and students, and plan to launch at the end of January.

Previously, I wrote about my interest in learning more about India’s unbanked, and how that might improve school fees payment. I’m still very interested in this concept, but have found it difficult to identify and secure partner organizations for a savings and/or financial education program, with school resource constraints and lack of local partners being major impediments. With my fellowship working group, we’re still in the process of trying to build a partnership between a financial education program and APS in Hyderabad.

Another major focus is my work for a forthcoming report on educational tablets and technology in low-income schools in India. This report is based on a tablets pilot at APS in Hyderabad and field research we conducted. The report will provide a lot of new insights into the market of low-income educational technology users in India.

I’m also hoping to help my school purchase and install internet access for their computer lab, after which I will train teachers and students on how to use and take advantage of the endless resources for education on the internet. I’ve also worked on a test-taking and study skills lesson plan for teachers and students, since such skills as multiple choice strategy aren’t taught at these schools, yet passing 10th class state exams is vital for every student.

IDEX Fellowship

This doesn’t nearly encompass the many things I’ve learned, tried, implemented, or thought about during my first six months here, but it’s an overview of my work thus far. I have three more months to implement and wrap up my key projects before the end of my fellowship. Overall, this experience has been invaluable in allowing me to have an entrepreneurial experience in a developing economy, to spend significant time researching and learning, and to better understand the roadblocks in designing and implementing social enterprise projects in India.

My thoughts on the affordable private schools model are being reserved for a future post.