Social entrepreneurship

Getting Social Impact Advertising Right

You’ve seen this type of advertising so many times now that you’re desensitized to it. There’s a sad song playing in the background as you watch a slideshow of dehumanizing photos, while the narrator simplifies the issues and urges you to “make a difference.” You see it for charities supporting public health, orphanages, and even pets. You saw it in campaigns like KONY 2012. It’s known as “poverty porn.” There have been a number of clever video campaigns mimicking or combatting poverty porn.

But I haven’t come across anything as effective, funny, clever, or powerful as this 2012 ad from the Rainforest Alliance. It’s entertaining and relatable. What I love most though is that it has a strong and easy call to action at the end.

To learn more about storytelling for social impact that is not poverty porn, check out the work of the great team at Regarding Humanity.

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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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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? 

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! 

“Much of what we call social entrepreneurship or intrapreneurship is really just people approaching their work with a proactive outlook and in a socially responsible and engaged manner. If that’s the case, and we all think about how our work effects the world, we can all be “social entrepreneurs” and solve the small and big problems, evolve the industries we acknowledge are hurting the world and our people, and all live a more happy lifestyle. And so much of this comes back to the empowered individual- we need them everywhere.”

Via Samantha Smith

Forget Poverty – Let’s Talk About Business

This profile on Paul Polak by Cheryl Heller has some excellent advice. I highly recommend the whole article but I think this tip is especially important. 

“5. Think huge, and don’t be a victim of your emotions

Paul’s rule is that a business has to have the potential to reach 100 million people and generate at least $10 billion in sales in order to be worthwhile. Seeing that potential will make it real.

While passion and empathy draw people to help others they are anything but the secret to success. Hard-headed business strategy will go much further to change lives. Caring deeply about helping people should spur pragmatism, not romanticism.

There are practical lessons here for all involved: Don’t fall in love with your altruism when you don’t have a sustainable solution to poverty, and don’t fall in love with your new business idea unless it can really impact the world.”

Forget Poverty – Let’s Talk About Business