For two weeks, we spent early mornings and late evenings interviewing them: the 43 GSBI 2011 finalists, chosen from a pool of more than 162 qualified applicants, all of whom spent three months completing mentored learning exercises as part of the GSBI application process. Going through this for the first time, I was intimidated by the sheer volume of time required to prepare for and conduct the interviews in addition to my “day job”, requiring 16-hour works days. But all of that was nothing compared to the compelling stories we heard from these amazing 43 social entrepreneurs, connecting by Skype from five continents.
I love the definition of ‘social entrepreneur’ used in the awards ceremony program at this year’s Skoll World Forum: 1) society’s change agents; 2) creators of innovations that disrupt the status quo and transform our world for the better. By the way, the Skoll World Forum was amazing in many dimensions: intellectual, emotional, spiritual; check out the videos of the sessions. Each of the women and men we interviewed—and there were more women than ever this year, an encouraging indicator of change in and of itself, but more on that later—each of these agents had a palpable passion for effecting social change by disrupting one of the wrongs afflicting the poor people of our planet with an innovation. Whether an innovation in technology, business model, or ecosystem, or some permutation of thereof, we had the honor of listening to each of them explain her or his vision for changing the world.
For this alone, each deserved to of win one of our 20 positions for the remaining five months of the 2011 GSBI program. Our collective task was to choose those who would benefit most by participating in the next three months of virtual learning, each individually matched with two Silicon Valley executives, then a two-week intensive in-residence program in August.
This year’s GSBI class was announced on April 13, 2011. Eight are women, the highest number and percentage ever. Eight are working in Africa, again the highest number and percentage ever, and also an encouraging trend. Six are from Asia, including India; two each are from Latin America and Haiti; and one each is from Europe or working globally. Twelve are working to provide clean energy to some of the 1.4B “off the grid” people, once more the highest number and percentage ever 45% offer a product, 40% offer a service, and 15% offer both to the poor communities they intend to transform for the better.
All of the 2011 GSBI class will present their business plans on August 18, the culmination of their work during the in-residence portion of the program. The presentations will be here on the Santa Clara University campus, with immediate feedback from a panel. Imagine a live, ‘best-of’ version of The Planet’s got Talent for helping the poor (but with genuinely helpful feedback), mark your calendars, and come hear how this amazing class will change the world.