Center for Science, Technology, and Society, News page

  •  Collegiate Entrepreneurs Conference

    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
  •  Whirlwind Wheelchair

    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.









  •  Teaching photography in rural Kenya

    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.


  •  Social entrepreneurs, not charities, will help the next billion out of poverty

    Friday, Nov. 4, 2011
    Andy Lieberman

    By Andy Lieberman
    Special to the Mercury News
    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.

  •  Nuggets of Wisdom from Successful Social Entrepreneurs

    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?


  •  First Ever GSBI Network Conference at SCU

    Friday, Oct. 21, 2011


    On October 19-21 the GSBI Network Partners convened at Santa Clara University for the very first GSBI Network Conference. Eight representatives from six Jesuit institutions were represented; Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines, the Center for Research and Peace Advocacy in the Ivory Coast, ESADE Business School in Spain, Fu Jen Catholic University in Taiwan, Pontifica Universidad Javieriana, Cali in Columbia, and XLRI Jamshedpur in India were all engaged in discussions based around leveraging the network of Jesuit Universities to promote social entrepreneurship as a means for addressing the world's most pressing problems. Included in the discussion was Fr. Michael Garanzini, the Secretary of Higher Education for the Society of Jesus, who traveled from his presidential duties at Loyola University, Chicago to participate.

    We kicked off the GSBI Network Conference with Wednesday's Nexus Conference, where our guests were able to see what CSTS does through their collaboration with The Tech Awards. Thursday began with a welcome by Fr. Engh, President of Santa Clara University, and was followed by presentations by the visiting GSBI Network Partners on their institution's social entrepreneur program, their key challenges, and what they want to get out of the GSBI Network. Fr. Engh hosted the group for lunch in the President's Dining Room in Adobe Lodge with a very special guest, Ann Bowers of the RNN 1999 Foundation and The Tech Museum's Board of Directors. Thursday night's agenda included attendance at The Tech Awards - presence at the gala was made possible by a generous table donation by Judy Swanson of the Swanson Foundation. Friday's agenda included presentations by GSBI staff and faculty on CSTS and the various components of GSBI (processes, operations, mentoring, and sector strategy). 

    We wrapped up the dialogue by discussing how the GSBI Network will collaborate in the coming months leading up to the next GSBI Network Conference, which will precede the July 2012 IAJBS Conference in Spain, and establishing specific action items. Included in the deliverables are translations of selected GSBI curriculum into Spanish and French, distribution of useful GSBI content and videos to Network members, and survey GSBI alumni and GSBI Network alumni, both as a means for data collection as well as establishing a framework for eventual case study creation.


  •  America's Special Sauce: Innovation and Entrepreneurship

    Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011

    In a recent article in the New York Times, Tom Friedman said, “If we want more jobs, we need to create more Steve Jobs.” What an amazing guy. Steve Jobs: an innovator, a risk taker, an entrepreneur, a problem solver, a design thinker. Steve Jobs took his knowledge of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, as the rock stars of science call it, and created a phenomenon that has impacted lives in ways we can’t even quantify.

    Bill Gates, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg – they have done the same thing. They have taken STEM, combined it with innovation and entrepreneurship, and created disruptive breakthroughs. And they were all in their 20s when they began their journey.

    America is rooted in innovation and entrepreneurship. This is America’s special sauce. That’s how we got to the moon, and that’s how companies like Apple, Facebook and Google were formed.

    If we are to really reinforce America’s economic stability by growing new jobs, new companies and new ideas, then we must inspire young minds and give them the ability and the resources to combine innovation, education and entrepreneurship.

    The Spirit of Innovation Challenge is rooted in these principals. Our year-round, online, incentivized program empowers teams of high school students to create products using STEM to solve real world problems: from aerospace and clean energy to health and nutrition. This program is focused on student-centered education. Our teams work together with their teachers and our community of mentors and experts with the goal of creating innovative solutions to global challenges.

    This year, our winning teams will travel to the Rio+20 conference, where they will serve as ambassadors of science and youth. This is where education can become diplomacy.

    In just a few years, our young innovators have accomplished so much. Daniel and Isaac have two patents, have been interviewed by the BBC, were featured in Popular Science Magazine, and were archived into the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. Mikayla and Shannon have been interviewed by Elle Magazine, MTV, CNN, and Fox, and have been honored at the White House. Recently, their product was flown aboard STS-134. Madison has had his business plan published in a Chinese University textbook as an example of how to write a business plan. You might say we’ve turned geeks into rock stars.

    While our education system may be broken, our students are not.

    When given opportunities, they are amazing. Our students think outside the globe. They are innovative and brilliant. Steve Jobs was 21 when he founded Apple. Mark Zuckerberg was 20 when he started Facebook. Bill Gates was 20 when Microsoft was born. Sergey Brin and Larry Page were really old … they were 25.

    Most of the guys who worked in mission control when my late husband Pete walked on the moon were 26. Well if 60 is the new 40, then I say 13 is the new 20. This is the next generation of these amazing icons. They will be the next Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

    We all know it’s important to leave a great country for our children, but it’s even more important to leave great children for our country.


    Nancy Conrad is a highly accomplished teacher, author, publisher, entrepreneur, and public speaker, Nancy Conrad is perhaps best known globally for her tireless leadership and ardent advocacy for transformative education.

    Nancy attributes her steadfast commitment to education advancement to her life experiences ranging from a high school teaching position in Denver, Colorado, to developing educational products based on the legacy of America’s space explorers. In 2008, Nancy created The Conrad Foundation to energize and engage students in science and technology through unique entrepreneurial opportunities. The organization’s signature program, the Spirit of Innovation Awards, is a national competition that challenges high school students to combine education, innovation and entrepreneurship to create products that address the real-world challenges of the 21st century. By enabling young minds to connect education, innovation and entrepreneurship, the Conrad Foundation helps provide a bold platform for enriching the innovative workforce.


  •  SoCap, Clean Energy, and Mike Tyson

    Wednesday, Sep. 14, 2011

    I didn’t expect that my favorite quote at last week’s SoCap conference would be from Mike Tyson, but that is what makes SoCap so great… a gathering of people who are not afraid to bring in new ways of thinking from any sector, even professional boxing.  Tyson was not there in person, but Josh Suskewicz of Innosight quoted the infamous heavyweight to emphasize his point that ~90% of successful entrepreneurs have changed their strategy 4 times before settling on one that lets their venture succeed:  “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

    My second favorite quote came from Lisa Kleissner of KL Felicitas Foundation, who was in attendance and spoke on an uplifting and thoughtful panel entitled, From Crisis to Building Something New Together. When asked about the best way to have impact, she said that “the best way to have impact is to fail…. Because if you fail it means you took action.”

    I’ve had my fair share of figurative punches in the face, real failures, and sudden strategy shifts in my careers as a social entrepreneur and a supporter of social entrepreneurs.  I believe I have made a small or not-so-small difference in the lives of quite a few people, but it has never been easy, and it has seldom gone according to plan.  SoCap is refreshing because most of the attendees are also practitioners, and we talk openly about the gritty, messy reality of the space we work in.  Three days were not enough to have a thoughtful conversation with all 1500+ attendees (even though everybody tried their best), but it was enough time to invigorate me to keep moving forward with our Center’s plans to expand the Global Social Benefit Incubator program offerings to be able to help more social entrepreneurs become investor-ready.

    So, how does clean energy fit in to all this?  While there was no official clean energy track at SoCap, there was a large grouping of both clean energy entrepreneurs and other organizations working to tackle the problems of 1.5 billion people without reliable access to an energy grid and the 3 billion people cooking on dirty, inefficient stoves.  It is more evident than ever that these are problems that can be solved through market-based approaches because the new technologies and innovative business models being deployed give cleaner energy to BoP consumers for lower prices than what they are paying now for inferior solutions like kerosene lamps and disposable batteries.

    Last month, at our GSBI clean energy forum, we worked with 11 clean energy entrepreneurs and a variety of experts to discuss what it will take to accelerate the growth of the social enterprises serving this sector.  Our two-day session led us to envision an ecosystem accelerator that efficiently finds and deploys human and financial capital to enable new and existing social enterprises to be built for scale and to be brave enough to experiment with innovations in pricing, distribution, and legal structures to find successful models. 

    This is an ideal sector for the SoCap community to get excited about because it provides the impact investing community with real opportunities for making a difference while making a profit.  Impact investors are often criticized for being too risk averse or for favoring profits over social impact.  Successful ventures such as Toughstuff are showing that in the BoP energy market, there are investment opportunities with lower risk and profits that correlate directly to positive social and environmental impact. 

    Lesley Silverthorn of Angaza Design was one of at least 10 GSBI alumni I saw at SoCap looking to connect with funders and other entrepreneurs.  Her company’s solar LED room light is far brighter than other comparably-priced lights on the market and was designed to illuminate an entire room for multiple members in a family to use effectively at the same time.  At $60, it is not an entry-level product for East Africans, but something that they aspire to own once they see the pros and cons of the lower-cost products. She commented, "I actually got so much more out of SoCap by meeting fellow energy entrepreneurs, thought leaders, and investors than I got from just attending the organized panels and speakers. Now there is a large group of energy companies forming a 'SoCap Energy Alliance' to further our collaboration to achieve our goals of a world with access to clean, bright light and the ability to power small electronics."  (Contact Lesley at for more information on the Energy Alliance.)

    An ongoing concern for everyone involved in the sector is how to make even the lowest cost products affordable for people living on a few dollars a day, who have limited savings and little access to credit.  A recurring notion has been posited that BoP products need to pay for themselves within a year to be able to gain widespread adoption.  Many of the clean energy products we see meet this requirement, especially if other benefits like increased productivity are factored in.  The most obvious solution to getting these products out is microloans, but that has been challenging because it puts all the risk on the consumer.  Even if the lamp breaks, is stolen, or otherwise fails to meet their needs, borrowers are still liable for the costs of the product plus interest. In response, entrepreneurs are coming up with a plethora of new models to overcome this obstacle.  Typically these models are based on a rent-to-own or other pay-as-you go scheme.  This greatly reduces the risk for the consumers, and with the right mixture of technological and social mechanisms in place, entrepreneurs can mitigate their own risks.  Husk Power Systems is succeeding with such a model by operating community power plants in remote regions of India.  It is still too early to point out a company that has made this work at scale for household products, although Sunlabob is having good success in Laos with its solar lantern rental system.  These and other learnings about affordability have been documented on the Energy Map, which we will continue to expand to incorporate best practices from new companies.

    I was pleased to see several noteworthy organizations especially engaged in clean energy at SoCap.  The UN Foundation deserves accolades for its proactive role, moderating three clean energy sessions which helped the entrepreneurs connect with each other and the broader ecosystem. Other big names that were notably present at the clean energy sessions include the World Bank Development Marketplace, National Geographic, and E+Co. 

    Where does this leave us? As I reflect on the GSBI Clean Energy forum and my take-aways from SoCap, I am confident that we are moving in the right direction, but we have a long road ahead and we should expect as many punches in the face as inspiring stories of success in enabling millions more people to benefit from clean energy.


  •  Students work with GSBI Alums to Solve their Engineering Challenges

    Tuesday, Sep. 13, 2011

    During this year’s GSBI, students from Radha Basu’s Engineering for the Developing World course engaged with the clean energy sector cohort social entrepreneurs to help solve their engineering challenges.

    Students combined their knowledge of design principles for the developing world with the parameters set out by the entrepreneurs during a working group session, and solved problems ranging from designing system architecture and technical implementation of water telemetry tools for e-Health point water points in rural India, to determining the best solar heating system for a chicken hatchery in Haiti.

    Whether the student teams addressed a problem set out by a GSBI entrepreneur, or created new products and distribution models for emerging markets, each team produced professional quality reports that displayed mastery of the factors germane to effective engineering in developing world contexts.

    Team Hatchery designed a solar-powered heating system for a new chicken hatchery for Guirlaine Celius of Haiti Community Development. The new system will allow for simplified operation, minimal maintenance, high efficiency, and precise temperature control, which are all vital features to scaling Haiti Community Development’s impact on Haiti’s agricultural economy.

    Team BGET created an analysis tool for water purification technologies designed for Salinee Tavaranan of Border Green Energy Team (BGET), to allow them to evaluate technologies based on cost, maintenance, simplicity, level of purification, etc. and choose the appropriate solution for the breadth of unique environments in which they works.

    Team Soochak tackled the challenge posed by Al Hammond to provide water telemetry tools to e-Health Points' Water Points in rural India. They created concrete project parameters, conducted technology feasibility research for each functionality, provided three engineering solutions for automating water distribution, and proposed a phased implementation strategy to allow for upgrading as the facilities scale.

    Team Vidya Vikas expanded from Al Hammond's guest lecture about e-Health Points, to create an education model to be co-located with e-Health Point facilities. Their solution utilized affordable mobile technology and existing educational content to provide low cost technical training for the most prevalent jobs in a given region.

    Team Soladapt designed a portfolio of lighting products for off grid communities based on the recommendations and knowledge of Kamworks (GSBI’11) and Angaza Design (GSBI’11). They created product modules focused around a solar adaptor that allows customers to expand their lighting portfolios based on specific needs and income level.

    Team Anna Sanchay created an innovative design for grain silos in rural Indian villages that reduce wasted grain, and thereby increase farmer income throughout the year, and provide greater food reliability for the community. Their design used local materials typically put in landfills, and created options for both small and large village needs.

    Team Garbage to Harvest created a closed loop distribution solution for the bi-products of organic waste disposal. Their solution utilized the vermicompost and bio gas that are produced from organic waste decomposition, through a strategic distribution location they simultaneously improve farmers' crop yield, and encourage households to use bio-gas instead of hazardous kerosene.

  •  Reflections on the 9th Annual GSBI Business Plan Presentations

    Wednesday, Sep. 7, 2011

    The in-residence component of our signature Global Social Benefit Incubator concluded last week, with 18 field-based social entrepreneurs returning to their 9 countries to implement the business plans they developed while at Santa Clara University. The culmination of their two weeks on campus is always the business plan presentations, attracting a diverse and high-level audience of over 350.

    Each of the social entrepreneurs has 15 minutes to present their business plan to a panel of Silicon Valley leaders, after which they receive feedback and have only a moment to respond. The Center videotapes the presentations so that the social entrepreneurs can continue learning from the experience. Our goal is to help more social entrepreneurs help more of the global poor, with a “big hairy audacious goal” of positively impacting the lives of 1B by 2020 – 25% of the current global poor. The UN projects an additional 2 B people on the planet by 2050, with all but 50 M in the developing world. Successful and sustainable social enterprises act as nuclei for economic growth in the communities they serve. By doing so, they essentially create emerging markets.

    The GSBI exemplifies what I call “practical social justice.” The 18 social entrepreneurs we heard from last Thursday did not offer theories about how to change the world: they showed us how it’s done.                       

    Imagine a world where the 1.5 B people 'off the grid' – in Africa, Latin America, Asia, India – have light for children to read and parents to work after night falls; where people can charge their mobile phones without traveling all day; where sustainably generated power can be sustainably stored; where smallholder dairy farmers can keep their cows’ milk cold long enough to sell it; where the very poor in Haiti can cook using 40% less fuel, reducing deforestation at the same time. Imagine a world without energy poverty.                               

    Imagine a world where Filipino women living near garbage dumps; or Roma, also known as Gypsies, in Slovakia; or African slum youth; can all earn a living wage and be proud of their work.

    Imagine a world where West Africans earn a living growing biofuels for their own communities; where solar lanterns light up East African villages through an Avon-style model, employing local women.  

    Imagine a world where the voiceless, poorest of the poor in India can tell their stories to the world, and effect change in their own communities.                     

    Imagine a world where even, or especially, the unbanked can use their mobile phones for secure financial transactions with any merchant; where Filipino microenterprise owners can scale their businesses to a living income while providing essential goods and services.

    Imagine a world where rural Haitians can sustainably grow their own protein-rich food; where poor Mexican children have enough micronutrients for their brains to develop. Imagine a world of healthy people.

    If you can imagine all of the above, thank you for joining us; if you cannot, you missed a unique opportunity to see how these dreams are becoming reality through the vision and very hard work of the 2011 cohort of GSBI social entrepreneurs.

    I was honored, and humbled, to be in their company. Each of them is an amazing human. Collectively, they are the promise of a more just, humane, and sustainable world.

    Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of the GSBI. Mark your calendars for the August 23, 2012 business plan presentations, a window into how to change the world for the better. 

    List of this year's GSBI social entrepreneurs


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