Center for Science, Technology, and Society, News page

  •  Huffington Post: From There to Here: Social Enterprise and Reverse Innovation

    Wednesday, Jul. 25, 2012
    This article was originally posted in the Huffinton Post Blog. You can view the original article here.
    As its many supporters well know, the Grameen Bank's name bespeaks its Bangladeshi roots; Gram is a Bengali word meaning "rural" or "village," and ever since its founding in 1983 by the Bangladeshi banker, economist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Muhammad Yunus, the non-profit microfinance organization, an early pioneer of so-called "solidarity lending," has served the country's rural poor out of its headquarters in Dhaka. Lauded for lifting millions out of poverty, the Grameen Bank is one of the great successes of development, and its model of micro-lending has been replicated in dozens of countries around the world.
    One of those countries is the United States.
    In fact, Grameen itself began doing business in the U.S. in early 2008, when it opened the first outpost of Grameen America in Queens, New York. It now operates a total of seven branches -- in Indianapolis, Omaha and San Francisco, and three others in New York, including one in Manhattan. Indeed, just miles away from Wall Street, where billions of dollars change hands every day, a Bangladeshi social venture is providing the poor with access to credit free of the fraudulent terms they're typically forced to live with. And it has plans to expand.
    That growth is proof that the Grameen Bank's brand of group lending -- which relies on peer pressure rather than collateral to ensure that debts are repaid -- can work in America. But just as important is what it says about social enterprises across the board: while they typically target underserved communities in places very different from America -- places with no access to electricity, much less credit -- their work can teach us a great deal about solving the problems we face at home.
    After all, Grameen isn't the only social venture to successfully transition from the developing world to the developed. There's also the non-profit, which allows microfinance institutions from around the globe to post profiles of qualified local entrepreneurs on its site and invites would-be lenders to browse and fund those individuals over the Internet. Inspired by the Grameen Bank, Kiva's creators built one of the world's most successful social enterprises -- and one we're proud to have worked with through the GSBI -- by catering exclusively to entrepreneurs in the developing world.
    Then, in 2009, after lending more than $150 million in 53 countries, Kiva partnered with the Opportunity Fund and Acción USA to provide its services in America, where the economic downturn had created new demand for affordable loans. Despite initial skepticism that the model would work, new user sign-up went up dramatically in the days after Kiva's launch, and all loans solicited as part of that launch were completely funded within 18 days. Now, through its new Kiva City program, the organization aims to spur job growth in some of the country's most anemic local economies. Co-sponsored by Visa, Inc., Kiva City extends access to microloans in U.S. cities where microfinance institutions aren't operating at scale, providing small businesses with a rare source of capital -- and city officials across the country are getting on board.
    If Kiva and Grameen are making the case for microloans in America, Samasource is doing the same for so-called "microwork." That's the term founder Leila Janah coined in 2008 to describe her non-profit's novel approach to fighting poverty -- one that provides unskilled, albeit capable, workers in underserved communities with small tasks that pay a living wage and can be performed online.
    Headquartered in San Francisco, Samasource secures contracts to execute large data entry or digitization projects from leading U.S. tech companies like Google and LinkedIn. It then moves those projects to its proprietary online platform, the SamaHub, where the work is broken down and distributed to service partners in six different countries -- Haiti, India, Kenya, Pakistan, South Africa, and Uganda. To date, the award-winning social enterprise has created more than 2,000 jobs and paid out more than $1 million in wages.
    Now, like Kiva and Grameen, Samasource has turned its attention to the U.S. -- specifically the Bay Area, where it plans to pilot its first domestic program, SamaUSA, later this year with support from the California Endowment. If that effort proves effective in helping marginalized women in two low-income communities boost their incomes through online work, they'll seek funding to scale it up.
    For all their success overseas, social enterprises like Samasource, Kiva and Grameen are up against a far different challenge in the U.S., and it may be years before they make a dent in the nation's poverty rate, which continues to climb. Still, as we search for paths out of the economic crisis, we would do well to remember that across much of the developing world, financial hardship is a constant -- and that fact is the driving force behind the kinds of innovations that could one day help us fix what's broken in our own backyard. 

    Follow Thane Kreiner on Twitter: 

  •  The Secret Sauce

    Friday, Jul. 6, 2012
    Veterans of Silicon Valley may differ in style and personality, but they tend to have in common a certain business DNA—the kind coded for fast growth and rapid scaling, for promoting innovation and bringing ambitious ideas to fruition.
    If that’s what made them successful in the corporate world, it’s also a big reason for the success we’ve had working with social enterprises  around the world through our signature program, the Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBITM). Indeed, ever since its inception in 2003, that program has been built around our network of volunteer mentors—currently some 60, mostly Silicon Valley executives, financiers, consultants and VCs who share their entrepreneurial expertise with each GSBI cohort.  In addition, they share their humanity, their ability to listen and coach, their humility and respect for others, and their admiration for fellow entrepreneurs attempting to create solutions for those who don’t have what we take for granted.
    Our GSBI alumni tell us that the unique qualities of these mentors are our “secret sauce.” And as we celebrate the GSBI’s 10th anniversary this year, it seems a fitting moment to talk about who they are, what they do and what’s in store for the future of the program.
    But first, some context.
    Launched in 2003, the GSBI came about just as many seasoned business people were reaching a stage in life when they were eager to give back. Having forged highly successful careers in software, electronics, and other fields, they were looking for an opportunity to share their experiences and insights and in so doing help make the world a better place.
    With its aim of empowering entrepreneurs with a social mission to build and scale up financially sustainable organizations, the GSBI offered the entrepreneurs experienced guides to help analyze and refine their business models.  And with this, gave them a chance to channel their passion for positive change in everything from education and healthcare to clean electricity and agriculture—and to do even more of it.
    It was a perfect match and, for both parties, it has had a palpable impact. Of the program’s 139-award winning alumni, 132 (nearly 95%) are still working in their social ventures.  More than half are expanding, growing revenues faster than expenses. And when asked to rank the various features of the program, nearly all of them put interaction with their mentors as the most significant element.
    So what makes GSBI mentors so good?
    For starters, they’re a supremely successful lot. They’ve founded NASDAQ companies, funded famous start-ups, and run major divisions of well-known Silicon Valley firms. They have, on average, more than 25 years of entrepreneurial experience, and many have been involved in multiple Silicon Valley start-ups. They are experienced in all the things we teach in the GSBI curriculum—value proposition, business models, operations, growth plans, presentations to potential impact investors--and they do them very well.
    But there’s more to it than their business bona fides. Mentors must also be great listeners-- people with the humility to acknowledge that there’s much they don’t know--people who care more about finding the best way forward than about asserting their own ideas.
    Indeed, as former mentor Hardika Shah puts, “the best tool you have may be that you don’t know anything.” That ignorance of the issue, she says—be it clean cookstoves in Haiti or refrigeration in rural India—“allows you to ask the questions everyone else forgot to ask along the way.”  
    Being a GSBI mentor also requires the ability to establish rapport and trust. “A lot of social entrepreneurs, when you have that initial conversation, they’re very wary of sharing information,” says Shah. “They’re thinking, Who are these people? Do they want to steal my ideas? Who are they sharing this with? They keep their cards to themselves.”
    But once that trust has been established, the information comes pouring out. “They realize it’s a risk-free relationship,” she says, “and they tell you about some of their deepest concerns, about their venture’s biggest weaknesses and problems—the kinds of things they would never tell a paid consultant—because they know that you’re someone they can trust, that you have no agenda but to help them.”
    Shah, herself a former consultant at Accenture, joined the GSBI in 2004, shortly after a trip to her native India. Having spent the previous ten years in the US, Shah was shocked to find a yawning gap between the country’s educated classes and “those who were being left behind.” Despite the liberalization of the Indian economy and its rapid growth over the previous decade, little seemed to have changed for the country’s poor.
     “And I thought to myself, What have I done to help?” That question led Shah to the Tech Awards that Santa Clara University judges and, later, to the Center for Science, Technology and Society, where she met GSBI founding director Jim Koch. “I asked him how I could help, and he told me about the mentor program.” Over the next seven years, Shah served as mentor to 12 social enterprises before quitting her job at Accenture to start Kinara Capital, a for-profit venture that provides capital access solutions to small businesses across India.
    Shah credits that move to her experiences as a mentor. “That gave me the opportunity to learn along with the entrepreneurs, but it also gave me the confidence to go out and do this,” she says. “You know, we go to business school and talk about being an entrepreneur, but to see folks with so much stacked against them and yet doing amazing things—it’s so inspiring.”
    Indeed, GSBI mentors routinely remark that they learn more from the social entrepreneurs than the social entrepreneurs could possibly learn from them. That was the case as well for Steven White, CEO of Svaya Nanotechnologies, who began volunteering last year as a GSBI mentor to a social entrepreneur working in Haiti.
    “I probably learned a lot more than I could teach him,” White says of his work with Sebastian Africano, the international director of Trees, Water and People, a social enterprise that designs and builds fuel-efficient cookstoves and delivers them to poor communities throughout Central America.
    “Sebastian is a very capable guy. He already had a design he’d developed, and he had a very clear value proposition: if you could produce a more efficient cookstove, you could reduce the consumption of charcoal, saving people money, helping them live healthier lives, and potentially reducing deforestation.”
    The challenge, White recalls, was finding the cost point that would incentivize people living in poverty to invest a bit of money in the product. “We came up with a workable model to use carbon credits to offset the cost of manufacturing, which meant that they could effectively give these things away. So we did some research and helped him figure out how that would work from a cash flow perspective. And it all came out very nicely,” he says. “By the end, there was a really clear path to success, and now Sebastian is off doing it.”
    In short, mentoring has worked. The ingredients, the personal and professional characteristics of the individuals selected for the job, have been the same since day one. And we believe that consistency has generated a kind of brand-name appeal; to social entrepreneurs around the world, the name GSBI stands for quality.
    At least that’s the message we get from the hundreds of applications we receive from social entrepreneurs every year for just 20 open slots in our Silicon Valley program. Now, with the plan and funding to scale the program to serve potentially hundreds per year through GSBI Online, a completely virtual version of the classic GSBI program, the mentor’s role becomes even more important. And several changes are on the horizon.
    For one, enrolling more social entrepreneurs means bringing on more mentors. Many of those new mentors will come from outside Silicon Valley and even outside the US, and some will begin to advise social entrepreneurs on the ground in the places they operate. We hope that these in-country mentors will provide greater local insight, much needed networking to partners, and ongoing support after the formal GSBI program has ended.
    Of course, even as we expand our mentor ranks—our current cadre of 60 represents a ten-fold increase over the last ten years--we have a mandate to maintain our rigorous standards for involvement in the program. We continue to seek exceptional individuals with that uncommon blend of leadership experience in fast-growth businesses and the human qualities critical to a genuine two-way exchange.
    Looking ahead, we know that with the new changes come significant challenges. And while we are firm believers in the power of personal, face-to-face interaction, we’re confident that GSBI Online mentors will be every bit as helpful to, and inspired by, the SEs with whom they work.  
    For all of us who have had the privilege to serve as mentors, the last ten years have been full of wonderful experiences. We hope that the next ten years will be no less rewarding. And as we go forward, we’d like to hear from you. If you have ideas about how our mentors can amplify their impact on social ventures around the world, don’t hesitate to let us know. 

    Michael Looney, Ph.D. is the GSBI Mentor Network Director at the Center for Science, Technology, and Society. 

  •  Laureate Feature: Whiz Kids Workshop

    Friday, May. 11, 2012

    2010 Young Laureates Programme. The team of Whiz kids workshop, at their office, Gerji district. From the left to the right: Ajaeb Ahmed, Tewodros Ambaye, Shane (Bruktawit's husband) Etzenhouser, Bruktawit Tigabu, Hanna Belayneh, Marcos Tesfaye, Biniyam Mulugeta, Amina Abdella. | Want to see more photos? Visit our Facebook Page! 

    Who: Shane Etzenhouser & Bruktawit Tigabu, Co-Founders

    What: Whiz Kids Workshop:

    Where: Ethiopia

    When: The Tech Awards 2011 Microsoft Education Award Laureate:

    How: Whiz Kids Workshop provides education through children’s television and mass-media programs reaching millions. Their programs are built on research, culturally relevant, available in local languages, and are internationally recognized for quality and educational value. 78% of Ethiopian children enroll in grade 1, but only 45% of those who enroll are still in attendance by the end of the first year. Of those who remain in school, half will have a zero reading comprehension level by the end of grade 2.

  •  Laureate Feature: The Kommunity Desk Company

    Friday, May. 4, 2012

    Want to see more photos? Visit our Facebook Page!


    Who: Shane Immelman, Founder

    What: The Kommunity Desk Company:

    Where: Africa

    When: The Tech Awards 2011 Katherine M. Swanson Equality Award Laureate:

    How: The Kommunity Desk is a robust, lightweight and ergonomically designed portable desk that offers a proven solution to the prevailing challenge of classroom desk shortages in African classrooms. There were 95 million children in Sub-Saharan Africa who attend school without the benefit of a classroom desk.

  •  Laureate Feature: Universal Subtitles

    Friday, Apr. 27, 2012

    Want to see more photos? Visit our Facebook Page!

    Who: Dean Jansen, Director of Outreach and Business development

    What: Universal Subtitles:

    Where: Headquarters in Boston, MA, USA. Impacting: Globally

    When: The Tech Awards 2011 Katherine M. Swanson Equality Award Laureate:

    How: Universal Subtitles is a powerful, open source software platform that allows any organization or volunteer to add captions and translations to any web video. It empowers hundreds of millions of people around the world to watch subtitled videos.

  •  Laureate Feature: Awaaz.De

    Friday, Apr. 20, 2012

    Want to see more photos? Visit our Facebook Page!

    Who: Neil Patel, Co-Founder & CEO

    What: Awaaz.De:

    Where: Headquarters in Gujarat, India, and Berkeley, CA, Impacting: India

    When: The Tech Awards 2011: Katherine M. Swanson Equality Award Laureate

    How: Awaaz.De makes knowledge creation, access, and sharing available to everyone in any language through a social media platform that leverages the ubiquity of mobile phones and the expressivity of voice. Awaaz.De reaches the 3 billion of the world population currently disconnected from the Internet with mobile phones.

  •  Framing Dignity

    Monday, Apr. 16, 2012

    Whirlwind Wheelchair International designs sturdy, low cost wheelchairs that are built and used in developing countries. Whirlwind has trained wheelchair users and community members for 25 years on how to build and repair these wheelchairs in local workshops using locally available materials. Unlike the traditional wheelchairs designed for a hospital, the Roughrider is tough enough to negotiate the bumpy surfaces of rural and slum environments, where typical chairs tip over. They apply technologies from US mountain bikes to help people who are socially excluded in the developing world. Whirlwind extends its innovations through a network of social enterprises and local organizations. Whirlwind Wheelchair International graduated from the GSBI in 2006.

     Our GSBI alumni are restless. They are not content with the innovations they brought to GSBI. They continue to improve, invent, and imagine. To match that spirit, the Center has just launched the Global Social Benefit Fellowship. Santa Clara University undergraduates work with GSBI alumni to learn from them and to support them with research. In early April, two Global Social Benefit Fellows visited Whirlwind Wheelchair’s headquarters in San Francisco to discover how they might help this international organization.

     Whirlwind is expanding its mission from providing a service to those excluded by society, to providing an entrepreneurial framework for those same people to start their own microbusiness. To do this, they are applying what they have learned about rugged wheelchairs to the creation of adult-sized tricycles that can carry small goods for sale, such as stamps, snacks, drinks, or lottery tickets. Push-cart vending is ubiquitous in the developing world. A trike opens up this economic niche for those unable to walk. This reframes Whirlwind’s strategy: from designing a mobility device --> to creating a microenterprise platform so that the socially excluded can earn an income.
    Keoke King, director of marketing at Whirlwind, demonstrates where micro-entrepreneurs will carry their goods for sale on a very early prototype of the tricycle
    Aaron Wieler, director of R&D at Whirlwind, explains the research opportunities
    This is where our fellows, Nate Funkhouser and Stella Tran, can help. Microfinance institutions usually make smaller loans than the price of a tricycle, but if Whirlwind can make the case for extending credit to potential buyers, then this innovation could really take off. Microcredit is extended to those who want to buy push-carts, so why not for a mobility device plus microenterprise platform? Nate and Stella will investigate the economic landscape of push-carts, trikes, and microfinance, and research the best ways to make a business case for these kinds of loans.

    Whirlwind challenges us to recognize that those who cannot walk can still live a life of dignity. They often cannot do this on their own, but technology can help. The physical framework of the trike provides a platform for the disabled to participate in the economic life of their society. Our task now is to reframe the thinking of economic institutions so that they can fulfill the potential of this technology to extend dignity to aspiring entrepreneurs.

    For a great video on Whirlwind Wheelchair International watch: 

    Keith Douglass Warner OFM is a San Francisco native, a Franciscan Friar, and the   director of Education in the Center. 



    Nate and Stella investigate the functionality of the roughrider
  •  Laureate Feature: E HealthPoint

    Friday, Apr. 13, 2012

    Want to see more photos? Visit our Facebook Page!

    Who: Amit Jain, Co-Founder & President

    What: E HealthPoint:

    Where: India

    When: The Tech Awards 2011 Nokia Health Award Laureate:

    How: E HealthPoint’s clinics deliver improved health and productivity to low income populations in India using broadband wireless to provide affordable point-of-care medical services and clean drinking water facilities. This innovation is estimated to benefit more that 200 million people.

  •  Careers in Social Entrepreneurship

    Tuesday, Apr. 10, 2012
    This post is a preview of tonight's panel discussion co-sponsored with the SCU Alumni Association and Career Center. You can find event information here.
    Social Entrepreneurs apply the principles of entrepreneurship to create social change. They think innovatively about how to improve health, increase access to technology and education, refine agricultural or building practices, or utilize sustainable energy.
    Tonight’s panelists offer a diverse range of perspectives on the world of social entrepreneurship. The groups operate in different sectors, different countries and with different business models. The speakers themselves hold different positions within these groups, and come from very different backgrounds, including finance, engineering, and program development.

    Andy Lieberman- CSTS: Online Program Director
    The mission of the Center for Science, Technology, and Society (CSTS) is to promote the use of science and technology to benefit underserved communities worldwide, primarily by working with socially-minded entrepreneurs. The Center implements its mission through its signature program, the Global Social Benefit Incubator, the Frugal Innovation Lab, and its numerous educational and public engagement activities.
    Andy Lieberman manages the GSBI Online program, the Clean Energy Sector program, the Tech Awards laureate programming, and the CSTS social enterprise metrics database. He uses his background in technology, education and international development to help social enterprises increase their reach and impact. He has received awards from the United Nation’s World Summit on Information and Society and The Tech Awards, and also participated in the Global Social Benefit Incubator.

    Ellen Metzger - Village Enterprise: Operations Supervisor
    Village Enterprise helps equip those in a cycle of poverty with the tools they need to start an income generating business. Their programming focuses on helping these entrepreneurs throughout the whole process to build long-lasting businesses: they provide a start-up grant, ongoing training and mentoring, and a business savings program.
    Ellen Metzger is the Operations Supervisor at Village Enterprise. She comes from a background in Finance and Accounting, with a particular interest in development and micro-finance

    Gemma Bulos - Global Woman’s Water Initiative: Director
    GWWI trains women in Africa to become community leaders for safe, clean water.  They provide technical training on how to build simple water harvesting, treatment and toilet technologies, as well as the tools to educate their communities about safe water practices.
    Gemma Bulos is one of the co-founders of GWWI.  Her background includes developing innovative programming for income generating projects, participating in the creation of several successful NGOs, and extensive travel. Before becoming Director at GWWI, Gemma was the Founder/Executive Directer of A Single Drop (USA) and Founding Director of a Single Drop for Safe water in the Philippines. She has been recognized nationally and internationally for her social entrepreneurship work, and her integration of technology in social change.

    Jacob Schultz - Kiva: Fellows Program Manager
    Kiva believes that everyone--even those in most remote locations--should have the power to create opportunity for themselves and others. Kiva uses the internet and their network of micro-finance institution partners to connect lenders and entrepreneurs worldwide. The Kiva Fellows are the volunteers who collect the stories, photos, and updates from the entrepreneurs, bringing their stories to life for lenders, while simultaneously providing invaluable information to the local micro-finance institutions.
    Jacob Schultz is the Fellows Program Manager.
    whirlwind wheelchair

    Marc Krizack - Whirlwind Wheelchair International
    Whirlwind Wheelchair International is a non-profit social enterprise dedicated to improving the lives of people with disabilities in the developing world while also promoting sustainable local economic development in the process. They are committed to building all-purpose wheelchairs that are durable and locally repairable, making them truly useful to riders in the developing-world.
    Marc Krizack, Director of Operations, helped establish Russia’s first independent living center, first university level disabled students program and first university level orientation and mobility (for blind people) teacher preparation program.

    Mathias Craig - blueEnergy Group: Executive Director
    blueEnergy Group uses four distinct but complementary programs that aim to provide access to power, water, and other services in the most challenging contexts. Their Holistic Community Development Program coordinates partnerships between communities, the government, education and the public and private sectors to identify and address needs in individual areas; the Global Leadership Program gives individuals the tools they need to implement their own social entrepreneurship goals; the Renovables Program is working on developing Nicaragua’s abundant renewable energy potential; and their WindEmpowerment program is a global association working for locally built wind turbines.
    Mathias Craig is the Executive Director of blueEnergy. He founded the group in 2003 and has a background of over seven years of experience working with wind energy. He has also spent time living in Latin America, and obtained degrees in both Civil and Environmental Engineering. At blueEnergy he contributes administrative, programmatic and fundraising leadership.
    digital divide data

    Michael Chertock - Digital Divide Data: Chief Development Officer
    Digital Divide Data increases the value of data by making it more easily available to all by transferring it online, on mobile devices, and in information systems. Moreover, DDD recruits highschool students trapped in a cycle of poverty, providing opportunity through training, employment, and schooling. By doing so, they simultaneously build human resources and management capacities, fueling the economy in the communities that DDD serves.
    A co-founder and former Board Chair, Michael is Chief Development Officer for DDD. He has an extensive background in both development and philanthropy, serving as the Program Officer in the Global Development in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; as a consultant in philanthropy and international development for private foundations and donors; acting as the co-founder and Managing Director of Global Catalyst Foundation; managing the philanthropy arm of a Silicon Valley venture capital firm; and helping to start Schools Online.

    Sam Baker -Not For Sale: Business Development
    Not for Sale combines technology, intellectual capital, abolitionist groups, and a growing network of individuals to create a comprehensive response to human trafficking and slavery. Not For Sale spreads knowledge and inspires action by creating tools that can be used by a wide variety of groups--students, businesses, individuals--to donate their skills to the cause.
    Sam guides the expansion of Not For Sale's social enterprise initiatives, which focus on empowering survivors of trafficking and at-risk communities. With a business education and experience as an entrepreneur in Central America, Sam enjoys working through the daily challenges of integrating social impact and business. Whether in the garment industry in Cambodia or indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon, Not For Sale's business team is dedicated to modeling businesses that encourage economic freedom over dependence.

    Whitfeild Fowler - Driptech Inc.: Director of Engineering
    Driptech is an international water technologies company. Their mission is to alleviate poverty by creating affordable, water efficient irrigation solutions for small-plot farmers in developing nations. With this technology, priced 50% lower that the nearest competition,  the small-plot farmers can increase their yields 20-50%, with while decreasing labor and expenditures.
    As the Engineering Manager at Driptech, Whit leads the engineering and product development efforts there.  In addition, he is a visiting lecturer in the subject of Design For Manufacturability for Stanford University's Mechanical Engineering department and for Keio University's Graduate School of System Design and Management (in Japan). Prior to his present positions, Whit worked in jobs involving mechanical engineering or reliability for several other organizations on the west coast and in the midwest including Velkess, SunPower, Bloom Energy, GE Infrastructure - Aviation, GE Healthcare, and Logic Product Development.  He completed a Ph.D. (2009) and  M.S. (2005) in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford. 

  •  Laureate Feature: Sarvajal

    Friday, Apr. 6, 2012

    Want to see more photos? Visit our Facebook Page!

    Who: Anand Shah, Co-Founder & CEO

    What: Sarvajal:

    Where: India

    When: The Tech Awards 2011 Nokia Health Award Laureate:

    How: Sarvajal enlists local entrepreneurs as Sarvakal Franchisees to operate and distribute water locally through delivery or through “water ATMs” in their villages from company-owned filtration units. They support franchisees centrally by providing maintenance, marketing and back-end operations support. This model allows them to grow quickly and innovate locally.


twitter facebook email youtube Nexus_blog google_plus sts-give-btn