Center for Science, Technology, and Society, News page
Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011
The travel was rough, but after a 5 hour overnight flight to Atlanta, a 5 hour layover, another 3.5 hour flight to Managua, and a 4 hour bus ride to Sabana Grande; we finally made it.
Friday, Dec. 9, 2011
Hilda Garcia, Kyle Magazu, Lizzie Mercado, Agustine Perez, and Lisa Yabusaki are senior civil engineering majors and Roelandts Fellows at SCU. Their senior design project will focus on designing a water distribution and sanitation system for the area of Sabana Grande in Nicaragua.
Clean, potable water is a privilege that many communities are currently lacking. In this day and age and with all the science and technology available to us, it is hard to believe that such a basic necessity is so difficult to come by. Although rain is abundant and the water table is high in the area, there is a high incidence of child mortality due to unsanitary water. In the past, various designs have been attempted and implemented in the region, but periodic flooding and difficulties coordinating the maintenance of systems make it difficult to find a sustainable solution to the lack of potable water.
We will be looking into designing a pump and well system which will implement a solar-powered pump, a reinforced concrete storage tank, a pipeline network for distribution, and looking into measures for water quality and sanitation including waste disposal and resource recovery. For our system, we will also look into alternative methods and designs to withstand the periodic flooding of the area and fit into the lifestyle of the community in which our design may be implemented. We will also look into technologies that have been attempted and implemented in the region to help guide our design, such as pump and well designs and alternative components like water catchment systems.
Coming from a small Jesuit university that prides itself on its service to the underprivileged, we feel that we have been equipped with the necessary tools and knowledge from our civil engineering curriculum at Santa Clara to go into the world to make a difference and serve those who are often forgotten.
Why We’re Doing It
Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America, but it is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. In rural areas, there is a major lack of access to potable water. Often, women and children have to walk long distances to wait in line for water from a contaminated source. This is a problem because having to spend so much time for something as simple as water keeps them from going to school and perpetuates a cycle of poverty.
Although Nicaragua has an abundant supply of water, it is prone to periodic flooding and most areas lack a sanitation system. The surface water that the impoverished communities do have access to are often contaminated with pesticides, runoff, and waste from humans and animals. This makes it unsafe as a primary water source.
In many areas, wells are dug and the groundwater sources are tapped into as they are somewhat protected from the surface contaminants. Conservation and sustainability is not a natural part of the culture, however, and it is especially lacking in the rural areas. Industrial deforestation coupled with individuals chopping down trees for use in their homes contributes to a growing problem with the water sources available to them. Deforestation increases the runoff experienced during the flood season and decreases the amount of recharge to the groundwater aquifers. In other words, it reduces the amount of water going back into the ground and is thus slowly depleting the groundwater supply.
Possibly the most disconcerting issue that we have come across is the lack of a sanitation system in many areas in Nicaragua. Without proper disposal of wastewater, providing clean water is pointless. Wastewater, if not treated or disposed of properly, has the potential to contaminate all water sources. This is why our project will encompass everything from retrieving water from a source to taking care of it after it is used.
What We Have Done So Far
After deciding to design a water distribution and sanitation system, we needed to find a specific site to design for. We had initially made contacts in the Lower Rio Coco area, who gave us some great insight into some of the general problems of rural Nicaragua. From there, we consulted our professors who had recently visited UCA (Universidad Centroamericana) this past summer. They were able to put us into contact with a UCA representative, who has been very supportive of our project.
Later, we got the opportunity to meet Susan Kinne of Grupo Fenix
. She was also extremely supportive of our project and proposed a community that would greatly benefit from our project, if it was ever implemented. One unique point about this community was that the people there were familiar with photovoltaic technologies as they manufacture their own solar panels and utilize solar cookers in their communities. Ultimately, this pointed us in the direction of Sabana Grande, Nicaragua, the site for which we are designing our project.
Where We Are Now
Because our Senior Design Project will be focusing on a design in an undeveloped area, we must conduct a great deal of research to create an efficient and feasible design. We have received a generous grant from CSTS (Willem P. Roelandts and Maria Constantino-Roelandts Grant) and funding from the Dean of the School of Engineering (Senior Design Project Fund) to do research for our Senior Design Project. On Sunday, December 11, Lizzie, Kyle, Hilda, and Agustine will be arriving in Managua, Nicaragua, where they will continue on to Sabana Grande. There, they will be staying with host families in the village and they will conduct the necessary research for the development of our design. We are hoping to share our experiences and design process with you through this blog.
Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011
On behalf of the Center, we wish happy and healthy holidays to all of our GSBI alums, Tech laureates, partners, mentors, advisory board members, supporters, and other friends.
Last year, we set an audacious goal to promote the use of science and technology to benefit the lives of 1 billion impoverished people around our planet by 2020. The Center sharpened its focus in 2011 on three social benefit programs that enable progress towards this vision: entrepreneurship, through our signature Global Social Benefit Incubator™; innovation, including the rapidly evolving frugal innovation initiative; and social capital. According to the United Nations, the global population reached 7 billion at the end of October this year. Fully 4 billion, or 57%, are living in poverty at the “base of the pyramid.” Andy Lieberman’s article in the San Jose Mercury News captures well the power and potential of social entrepreneurship and innovation to solve the pressing needs of the global poor.
Our sector focus on off-grid, sustainable energy continued, enabling a successful launch of our Energy Map
, which has won praise from numerous impact investors, foundations, and development agencies for its deep and thorough characterization of technology solutions and business models to meet the needs of the 1.5 billion people living without electricity and nearly 3 billion using wood fires or unsafe traditional stoves for cooking. Based on practical knowledge from GSBI applicants, we’ve started to explore “contextual” factors, such as government policies, that facilitate or inhibit adoption of appropriate technology solutions and business model innovations for off-grid, sustainable energy, including speaking at the OECD’s Better Innovation Policies for Better Lives
Forum. Because our knowledge continues to deepen, we plan to continue the energy sector focus, particularly relevant given the UN’s declaration of 2012 as the Year of Sustainable Energy for All.
Our amazing 2011 GSBI Class
included 11 social enterprises focused on off-grid energy, the highest number and percentage ever. We also made significant progress towards gender equality with 8 women entrepreneurs of 18 total, again the highest number and percentage. In concert with the rapid emergence of social entrepreneurship in Africa, 6 of this year’s class serve communities there, with the remainder including Cambodia, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Mexico, the Philippines, Slovakia, and Thailand.
With the enormous caveat that there are many forms of social benefit and no universal metric for assessing impact, analysis revealed that our 140 GSBI alums have collectively impacted the lives of 74 million people. Our strategy to positively impact the lives of 1 billion by 2020 is simple: help more social entrepreneurs help more people.
GSBI program extensions in development include GSBI Online and the GSBI Network. GSBI Online could potentially train hundreds or thousands of social entrepreneurs all over the world through proven core modules of our program. The GSBI Network leverages the International Association of Jesuit Business Schools to foster the development of GSBI-like programs that help social entrepreneurs build sustainable and scalable ventures. Towards this end, we have hosted a first working group at Santa Clara and have executed Memoranda of Understanding with Ateneo de Manila in the Philippines; the CK Prahalad Centre in Chennai, India; ESADE in Spain; and XLRI in Jamshedpur, India.
We also introduced substantial “capacity development” training for the 2011 Tech laureates
, helping them craft succinct elevator pitches, create 2-page innovation profiles useful for fundraising, and explore different sources of capital. We continue to manage the nominations, applications, and judging processes, and are pleased that the 2012 categories include Sustainable Energy and Young Innovators, the latter of particular interest given our blossoming partnership with The Spirit of Innovation Awards
A common need for all social entrepreneurs and innovators is access to appropriate forms of capital. Compared to the well-developed VC ecosystem, impact capital is poorly coordinated, creating higher costs for both investors and entrepreneurs. Under the leadership of John Kohler, we launched our Coordinating Impact Capital
report in July, and with an in-depth workshop hosted by World Bank in early November.
The newly funded Global Social Benefit Fellowship Program
will afford high potential juniors from all disciplines a comprehensive practical social justice experience conceived in memory of Fr. Paul Locatelli.
Together, these programs provide the Santa Clara community unique opportunities to create a more just, humane, and sustainable world in accord with our Jesuit tradition. In 2012, our signature Global Social Benefit Incubator
will enter its 10th
year. In many ways, it is the “center of the Center” and we hope that you’ll join us in celebrating the accomplishments of these incredible social entrepreneurs who are changing the world and creating significant impact. We invite you to consider a gift to the Center to help us accelerate progress towards positively impacting the lives of 1 billion by 2020.
Thane Kreiner is the Executive Director of the Center for Science, Technology, and Society at Santa Clara University
Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011
Whirlwind Wheelchair International has been awarded a $1.7 million grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for a 2 1/2-year project to set up 7 sustainable Wheelchair Provision and Assembly Centers (WPAC) in developing countries around the world. Whirlwind is a non-profit social business based at San Francisco State University. Whirlwind was a Tech Museum Laureate in 2004 and Whirlwind’s Executive Director Marc Krizack was a member of the 2006 Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI) class.
The USAID award is significant in two respects. First, it gives Whirlwind the capital to expand its franchise network of wheelchair manufacturers to include distributors. By combining the benefits of large scale manufacturing with local provision, Whirlwind ensures high volumes of high quality, low cost wheelchairs that can be properly provided to the beneficiaries in accordance with World Health Organization guidelines. In many locations, the WPACs are expected to become the nucleus of a permanent rehabilitation infrastructure around which other services and programs can be built and monitored.
Second, the grant represents a milestone in Whirlwind’s own organizational development. Most non-profits are forced to shape their activities in accordance with the funder’s goals. Given the limited funding for international disability projects, for example, many organizations have to shoehorn disability projects into programs that have other goals such as development of civil society, promotion of democracy, rule of law, and conflict resolution, to name just a few. Since adopting a social entrepreneurial model in 2006, this is the first grant that Whirlwind has sought in which what Whirlwind proposed to do was exactly what Whirlwind wanted to do and had already started to do. As such, it represents a significant maturation in the organization’s journey from traditional non-profit to innovative social business.
The WPACs will result in increased sales and income for Whirlwind as well as extending the benefits of Whirlwind’s unique and in-demand active use RoughRider® wheelchair to many more people around the world. Each WPAC will make it possible to fill orders of less than a full container of wheelchairs, which is too expensive when fully assembled chairs are shipped from a distant factory. Each WPAC will be able to develop its own local market, especially in advocating for and competing for government tender offers. And many WPACs will have their own international donors and supporters who Whirlwind could not approach but from whom they can request funding to purchase the Whirlwind chairs they assemble and provide.
The USAID award dovetails nicely with Whirlwind’s other income generation effort to sell its flagship product, the RoughRider® wheelchair, in the United States, for which Whirlwind received FDA approval this past January. The wheelchairs will be sold as part of a Buy One/Give One program. For each wheelchair purchased for $800, Whirlwind will donate an identical chair to someone in the developing world. Through this program, Whirlwind hopes to attract and recruit brand advocates among wheelchair riders in the U.S. and Canada who can extend Whirlwind’s reach into every state and province, raising awareness of Whirlwind’s program. All funds generated from the sale of wheelchairs will be used to promote Whirlwind’s non-profit mission in the developing world.
The USAID grant will also allow Whirlwind to set up a U.S. Distribution Center in the San Francisco Bay Area, which will start by providing 3 jobs. The Center will serve U.S. purchasers and provide a reshipment point for nonprofits that ship chairs directly from the U.S. to other countries, and for individual travelers from the U.S. wishing to take a wheelchair to someone in the developing world.
Whirlwind is setting up a business advisory committee (BAC) to help review business plans submitted by applicants seeking to host a WPAC. Anyone interested in volunteering to sit on the BAC should contact Whirlwind Marketing Director Keoke King at email@example.com.
Marc Krizack is the Executive Director of Whirlwind Wheelchair, a non-profit social enterprise dedicated to improving the lives of people with disabilities in the developing world while also promoting sustainable local development.
Posted by Guest Blog: Marc Krizack |
Monday, Dec. 5, 2011
Your social enterprises are doing great work all over the world and more than likely you could use a little help reaching more people. The Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI) at Santa Clara University provides that support to anybody who submits an application. That’s right. Come one, come all (social entrepreneurs) to apply to the GSBI and your organization will benefit. Even better, it is free of charge!
What is the one thing you are wishing for your social business this year? Let me guess, funding. Well, the GSBI won’t fund you (sorry), but we will tell you what funders want to know and how to give them the answers they are looking for.
To apply for the GSBI, you must complete three exercises about your venture and plans to scale. Don’t be scared! While this resembles homework in almost every way, trust me, it is good for you, and more importantly, it’s good for your social business. The exercises are designed to cut through the “fluff” and get to the meat of your organization. Every applicant will receive feedback and mentoring from a graduate business student at Santa Clara University who has studied critical success factors for social enterprises.
The first exercise asks you to articulate your value proposition and provide evidence of that value proposition. The question aims to allow the reader to understand what your enterprise is all about, whom you are serving, how far along you are in achieving your mission, and your unique advantages. It can be difficult to succinctly capture why your target customer would choose to buy or use your product or service over the alternatives; however, it is important to be able to do so for many reasons. One reason is funding! Your potential investor will use this as a first filter when deciding whether your venture is of interest.
The purpose of the second exercise is to help the reader understand who your target market is and what your potential impact could be. Understanding your customers is critical to any business, social or not, and identifying the attributes of your beneficiaries will help you understand your enterprise better. The characteristics of your target market also indicate how scalable or replicable your business is, and seeing the potential for growth is critical to any investor.
Exercise three asks you to elaborate on your business model. Investors look for firms that are sustainable, meaning they have positive cash flow, with the potential to be scalable (income growing faster than expenses). Whether your organization is for-profit, non-profit, or a hybrid, a scalable business model will show a credible income model. In social ventures, income can be earned or contributed. Showing at least partial earned income model reveals some dependence from contributed income (donations and grants), which means that a funder has a much better chance of recovering their investment. It also shows that there is actual demand for your product or service.
Your potential investors and partners are looking for insights into your value proposition, target market and business model, and our ten years of experience has taught us how to help you think through these issues. Skills are built through repetition, and if anything, applying for the GSBI is good practice in answering tough questions that aim to get to the root of what your business is all about. By dedicating some of your time and brainpower this winter to completing all three exercises (heck, even if you only complete one) at the very least you will get honest, constructive feedback from an MBA student or graduate with practical business knowledge, and you will have refined your understanding of and pitch for your own organization. At best, you will be selected as a part of the GSBI Class of 2012 and join the ranks of the 139 alumni who have come through the GSBI since it’s inception in 2003 and who have collectively impacted more than 70 million people.
Learn more about the GSBI by visiting our website, download the application beginning December 6th, and be sure to apply starting January 3, 2012.
Cassandra Thomassin is the Manager of the Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI) at Santa Clara University’s Center for Science, Technology, and Society (CSTS). She graduated from Menlo College magna cum laude with a degree in business management and from Santa Clara University's MBA program with concentrations in Entrepreneurship and Leading People and Organizations. Prior to becoming the program manager, Cassandra worked as as a research analyst for CSTS while pursuing her graduate studies.
Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011
Our featured guest blogger is Eliza Gonzalez, a sophomore in the Leavey school of business at Santa Clara University and student assistant for CSTS.
In late October the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship was generous enough to sponsor Santa Clara University’s Entrepreneur Organization to attend the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Conference in Ft. Worth Texas. The conference consisted of several days of motivational speakers and amazing networking opportunities.
On the first day of the conference there I heard keynote speaker Dr. Gene Landrum, the originator of the concept of Chuck E. Cheese’s. He was the most motivational speaker I have ever heard. So much about his speech has resonated with me. This is an event I will never forget. His main point was: we need to chase our dreams and make them a reality. Clearly we must use our intelligence to guide our journey, but there is nothing that should be holding us back from pursuing exactly what we want to do in life. His speech sparked some ideas that have been brewing in the back of my head for sometime. I want to explore and pursue these ideas because, if anything, I will gain experience. In order for me to take on the risks of starting a company, I need to start in a safe environment, like here at Santa Clara. My goal is to do an independent study with faculty guiding me through starting my own business in my senior year. I want to conduct research about the market and what is feasibly possible to start in this economy. My interest in sustainability is sparking many business ideas that I want to go after.
The conference provided amazing mentors that I am still in contact with and who will hopefully help me down the road when I start moving forward with my ideas. I also heard about other students’ business ideas and how they have developed their dreams into realities. For example, I met Daniel Gomez Iniguez
one of the founders Solben
of a biodiesel company that serves Mexico, South America, and now India. He is only 21 years old and already owns a multi-national company! Overall, this was one of the most stimulating days of my life, and one that I will never forget.
I also met Salah Boukadoum
, the founder of SoapHope
, a new microfinance company, similar to KIVA
that is fighting to end poverty around the world. The company is giving women around the world opportunities they never thought were possible without putting lenders at financial risk. I talked to Mr. Boukadoum about The Tech Awards
and he knew all about the program. He thought that it was a great program and he hopes to participate in it in the near future. I feel honored to work at the Center of Science, Technology, and Society
because I think the mission of the Center is on that more places should promote.
Conclusively, the workshops were all very helpful and fun to attend, and the networking was amazing. I hope to participate again next year, and I felt that I was able to see the conference through a different lens because of all the exposure I have received through CSTS
and The Tech Awards
Monday, Nov. 21, 2011
Two former American presidents, Bill Clinton and Martin Sheen (President Josiah Bartlett in the television series “The West Wing”), were featured at an October 5, 2011 fund raiser in New York City to benefit the Walkabout Foundation. The Walkabout Foundation purchases Whirlwind RoughRider® wheelchairs for distribution in developing countries around the world.
The Fundraising event was the New York City premier of the new Emilio Estevez film “The Way,” starring Estevez’s father, Martin Sheen. The cost of admission was the purchase of one Whirlwind RoughRider® wheelchair. The event raised enough money to purchase about 1400 RoughRiders.
Whirlwind’s executive director, Marc Krizack, is a 2006 graduate of the Global Social Benefit Incubator. Although bringing your mission to scale takes a lot of planning, luck can also play a big part and explains how it is that President Clinton, Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez came to associate themselves with the RoughRider®, as can be seen in the accompanying photos. This is the story of how it happened.
The Walkabout Foundation raises money for research into a cure for paralysis and to purchase and properly distribute wheelchairs to people in developing countries. Walkabout was founded in 2009 by sister and brother Carolina and Luis Gonzalez-Bunster. Luis is a paraplegic from an auto accident. Their first fundraiser was a hundreds of kilometers walk on the El Camino de Santiago, or Way of St. James. The Way of St. James has been a much travelled Catholic pilgrimage route from southern France through the French Pyrenees and across northwest Spain since the Middle Ages.
After the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Walkabout sprang into action and purchased a few hundred standard wheelchairs. A Whirlwind colleague in another organization saw a video about Walkabout in Haiti, sent them a link to a video of the RoughRider® in action, and said that the RoughRider was the chair to buy. Since Luis is a wheelchair rider himself, he immediately recognized the RoughRider’s superiority over standard chairs. That was how Walkabout found Whirlwind. You can see a video of the Whirlwind-Walkabout collaboration in Haiti here.
In late Spring 2011, father Rolando Gonzalez-Bunster had a serendipitous meeting with actor and director Emilio Estevez on a flight between London and New York. Emilio told Rolando about a nearly completed movie he had written and directed about a father walking the Camino de Santiago and spreading his son’s ashes along the way. Rolando told Emilio about the Walkabout Foundation and its first fundraiser on the Camino, and they agreed to make the New York City premier of “The Way” a benefit for the Walkabout Foundation.
It was also fortuitous that Rolando and Bill Clinton had been good friends since 1965, and so when Rolando asked President Clinton to appear at the event, he agreed to do so without hesitation. President Clinton described to the attendees the importance of providing RoughRiders: “Until you have seen somebody hauled around in a wheel barrel, until you have see a person, a human being like you stuck in a shopping cart, until you have seen someone trying to maintain dignity crawling along on the ground by his or her knuckles, you can’t imagine what this little chair will do,” Clinton said.
“For $300, it’s very sturdy, and I think of practical things. In a poor place without a lot of sophisticated repair shops you need something that will last and that can be easily repaired. This is the best bargain you will ever have if you help one or more people to get one of these,” Clinton added.
See the full 7-minute video of President Clinton’s speech.
Also at the event were celebrities Chelsea Clinton, fashion designer Donna Karan, and Haitian musician Wyclef Jean, among others.
Good planning and hard work are essential to successfully going to scale, but a little luck never hurts.
Posted by Guest Blog: Marc Krizack |
Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011
In spring 2011 I designed and conducted a short “auto-ethnography” project in rural Kenya. I put digital cameras in the hands of six high-school students, and taught them the basics of photography and cultural anthropology. I wondered; if we could place ethnography in the hands of those being studied, would we get a different representation of their culture? It is clear that anthropologists travelling to different parts of the world bring with them practices, behaviors, and expectations that may alter their interpretation and subsequent presentation of a culture. Perhaps the students’ auto-ethnography research, their photos, interviews, and notes could create a representation of their culture that is less influenced by outsiders.
The students I interacted with lived in Ganze, one of the poorest rural districts in Kenya. The majority of the population are subsistence farmers, however the land is dry and hard to farm. The district is a member of a large ‘drylands’ agro-ecological zone- 1.2 billion people around the world live on lands like Ganze. People living in these zones have the lowest personal GDP, highest birth rate, and highest infant mortality rate of any area. The Giriama tribe comprises most of Ganze’s population. Giriama is one of 24 major Kenyan tribal groups, and while it represents a rather small percentage of the entire Kenyan population, the group is common throughout coastal southeast Kenya, especially in inland districts like Ganze. Today, this region is more and more connected by dirt one road leading from Ganze to the town of Kilifi, and eventually to Mombasa, the 2nd largest city in Kenya. Many of the younger generations are attending school, learning Swahili and English, and less Giriama language. They speak English all day in large concrete buildings and pressed school uniforms, and return at night to mud huts and firelight to speak Giriama with their parents.
I taught and learned from six of these students from Ganze Secondary School, four young men and two young women between the ages of 16-20. They spoke good English, were very well educated, and camera use came quickly to them. Besides teaching photography, I tried to communicate to them the goals of ethnography and cultural anthropology- that is, how they should guide their own thinking about the project. Instead of telling them what photos to take, I would brainstorm with them, asking questions like, “what would you show an outsider to explain your culture?” and “what would you most like to remember in photos?” I gave the students entry and exit interviews, and suggested that they interview their families in a similar fashion. They were given two weeks off school to work with me, and I asked them to each take at least 50 photos per day of anything they liked, and to write in the journals I gave them to describe their photos and experiences.
I came away from Kenya with over 3,000 photos taken by the students, several hours of interview footage, and the students’ photo descriptions and notes. I received photos that I could not have taken, photos of loving family members, of private events, etc. I collected so many interesting and informative experiences over the mere 2 weeks I had to execute the project- many thought it would be difficult for me to do much of anything in this time. Analyzing and presenting the photos has been time-consuming, but I have started a photo-journal describing our work.
In my next posts, I plan to share more photos with students’ descriptions and comments to present the Giriama people from Ganze, Kenya. For now, here are some photos that might give a good idea of what went on. All are photos taken by the students, and each has a story.
Kieran Howard is a recent graduate of University of California, Berkeley, with an interdisciplinary BA in anthropology. Since high school, Kieran has lived in Spain, Kenya, and Brazil, to study language, literature, and guitar. In Kenya, 2005, Kieran worked for the NGO Komaza exploring and developing an inexpensive home water purifier made of clay painted with colloidal silver. He has recently conducted a short ethnography project in rural Kenya teaching high school students digital photography.
Posted by Guest Blog: Kieran Howard |
Friday, Nov. 4, 2011
By Andy Lieberman
Posted: 11/02/2011 08:00:00 PM PDT
This week the world hits 7 billion in population, just 12 years after we reached 6 billion.
Virtually all of these new billion live at the so-called Base of the Pyramid -- that segment of humanity that, by virtue of economic and political circumstance, struggles to meet basic food, water and energy needs on incomes of around $2 a day.
Here at the Center for Science, Technology, and Society, we are confronting this problem every day and have come to the conclusion that the old ways of meeting the needs of this new billion -- and the next and the next -- will not be met with methods that have attempted to serve the underserved in our old world of 6 billion. Instead, we believe that the needs will be met with something many consider counterintuitive: social entrepreneurs selling -- not giving away -- vital products and thriving on unusual business and financing models.
The 140 entrepreneurs we have trained over nine years demonstrate the range of problems that can be addressed through social entrepreneurship. One example, Solar Sister, is a nonprofit organization eradicating energy poverty in Africa by dispensing solar lamps and other clean-energy products using an Avon-style direct-sale distribution network of women entrepreneurs. This network takes advantage of the fact that African women control the family's kerosene budget and uses women-to-women social relationships to allow them to replace polluting, dangerous kerosene lamps with solar lamps.
The entrepreneurs admitted into our programs understand local needs and identify or develop appropriate solutions. A recent IFC and World Bank study, Lighting Africa, concluded that current solar lighting technologies can pay for themselves in as little as eight months. With technological improvements, increased production and the rising cost of kerosene, the payback period could go down to as little as two months by 2015.
We believe that the old ways of serving the Base of the Pyramid, international aid programs and charities, have not had the impact that was hoped for and will fall even further behind with rapid population growth and the increasing speed of innovation. Those mechanisms will continue to play an important role in addressing many issues in education, human rights and other areas that cannot be readily solved with market-based solutions. However, with $5 trillion of purchasing power, according to research done by the World Resources Institute, the Base of the Pyramid can indeed finance much of their own development.
Even with such compelling payoffs for the consumers upon switching from kerosene to solar lamps, there are numerous challenges to reaching all 1.5 billion people living off the grid. Solar Sister has 130 entrepreneurs in its network today and, through the training and mentoring we provided, has developed a plan to reach 2,500 entrepreneurs, providing clean energy to 2.5 million Africans by 2015.
It will take many more Solar Sisters to turn the tide on the energy problem. Yet, because the data show that it is a critical need that can be met with money people are already spending, the United Nations has declared 2012 as the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All, entrusting entities including ours to form a practitioner network and share what works.
Looking across the entrepreneurs we have trained and the 74 million people whose lives they have touched, we predict the next billion will buy clean water from a local kiosk instead of waiting for an aid agency to drill a well, they will use solar lamps and cellphone chargers instead of wondering when the electric grid will reach their village, and they will thank the local entrepreneurs who serve them.
ANDY LIEBERMAN is GSBI online program manager at Santa Clara University's Center for Science, Technology, and Society, which for the past decade has trained over 120 social entrepreneurs through the Global Social Benefit Incubator. He wrote this for the Mercury News.
Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011
The Tech Awards Nexus Conference brought together a diverse, passionate group from the social enterprise (SE) community. The annual conference is always uplifting, and this year’s theme of successful social entrepreneurship made it even more so. But, that doesn’t mean that we got a sugar-coated view of easy it is to build an organization that positively impacts the lives of thousands or millions of people. The rock stars of the SE world we heard from spoke from the heart and the brain, and they told us how messy it can be.
My current focus is on enabling CSTS to help more entrepreneurs help more people, so I was listening for insight on mentoring and capacity building that we can provide to help SEs scale their impact.
My main takeaway from the day was a reaffirmation that the social entrepreneurship movement is reaching a certain level of maturity and credibility, and that we have enough collective experience to learn from each other. Most of us in this space learn the most from practical examples and guidelines, which was the hallmark of the day. The quotes that resonated the most with me were:
- If your users are not your customers, then your users are part of your products and you are selling them to your customers. -- Joel Selanikio, DataDyne
- Our disruptive technology is communication—listening first, giving voice to others, letting people take action. We come in to each country with a beginner’s mind and give people the chance to take action. -- Ronni Goldfarb, EqualAccess
- Don’t underestimate the power of unleashing youth to work on real-life problems – Lisa Jobson, iEARN
- People make incredibly important decisions based on guesses if they don’t have access to information. – Kristine Pearson, Lifeline Energy
- Corporations aren’t yet organized to work with the social enterprise space, so you end up going around with the corporate social responsibility division to the emerging markets to the foundation to who knows where else. – Al Hammond, Ashoka
And, as in any good conversation about social entrepreneurship these days, the speakers proudly discussed their failures as an indispensable element of their success. Joel told this story:
We started charging our users for Episurveyor out of financial necessity, but once we did, it aligned us with our customers’ needs, which made us stronger. The failure is that it took us seven years to figure that out.
Radha Basu from Anudip summed up the discussion on failure with her usual exuberance by stating simply that “bruises and scars build character. You pick yourself up and go forward.”
To do this requires mental flexibility, accompanied by the willingness and ability to adapt. On this point, Joel Selanikio popped open his laptop and quoted Marie Curie: “Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Tech Awards Nexus conference without this year’s laureates sharing their innovations to benefit humanity. At every break, the laureates positioned themselves at their showcase booths and passionately described and demoed their work. We see the tremendous potential in each of these 15 innovators and hope that the Tech Awards can be as pivotal for their organizations as it was for Kristine, who told us that, “without The Tech Awards, we would have gone under. Instead, we brought in Vodaphone and other new donors, and we went on to distribute 215,000 radios and touch the lives of 12 million people.”
The problems we are working to solve are daunting, and we have a long way to go. But, in the words of John Kohler, “everyone in the room has their heart in the right place. That will let us go more quickly.”
After spending the day with such a thoughtful, committed, and sincere group of people, I am more committed than ever to going the distance. Are you?