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  •  When Operations = Value Creation

    Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015

    From 2003 to 2010, I worked closely with the World Bank Development Marketplace (WBDM) as a workshop presenter or judge of social enterprises for award recognition. Through these years, however, my primary purpose was to identify finalists who were a good potential fit for the Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) at Santa Clara University. One day, while tallying my notes on WBDM finalists, sorting through social entrepreneur grant applications, I had an epiphany.

    Here I was, a guy from Silicon Valley, and I realized less than ten percent of more than a hundred finalists represented organizations with innovations that had anything to do with technology. A few, like Smallholders Farmers Rural Radio in Nigeria, a GSBI 2009 alum, had localized technologies that were not leading edge—in this instance a combination of radio and internet for communicating indigenous and scientific knowledge, but what distinguished finalist candidates was for the most part process innovation. Less than thirty percent had developed what could be considered product or service innovations, while fully sixty percent of finalists represented ventures that were essentially selected on the basis of process innovations. In many instances their efforts involved bricolage or the use of locally available resources and low skill labor.

    One could posit that this involves making due by improvising within enormously constrained environments. In reality what we were witnessing then and in the example of a small number of enterprises like Smallholders Radio was just the beginning of new waves of innovation driven by constraints. Fast-forward to the GSBI Accelerator in 2014 and observe the work of organizations like Esoko, Medical Technology Transfer Services (MTTS), and iKure. What we see today is significantly greater levels of applied technology innovation through networks that combine global and local knowledge.

    For example, Esoko is making use of technology to significantly enhance African farmer incomes. MTTS is designing affordable medical technologies to drastically reduce infant mortality in Southeast Asia. iKure is integrating systems to connect the poor to quality health delivery systems in rural India. In each instance, process innovation in operations is the lynchpin in value creation.

    Business models are important, but in reality they are derived from bundles of value creating processes. Put succinctly, operations = value creation in each of these exemplary ventures. There are numerous and well documented voids that exist in Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) markets and their associated ecosystems—from the lack of established supplier networks or financing, to distribution, and the transaction capacity of one-to-one market exchange mechanisms in the informal economy. These voids require process innovation up and down value chains. They often require BoP ventures to become far more vertically integrated than their counterparts in developed markets.

    For instance, organizations like Grameen Shaktee and Iluméxico that provide solar home systems to individuals who are off the grid must develop processes for gathering primary market intelligence data, product definition, partner selection, component acquisition, assembly, distribution, social marketing, sales, micro-financing customers, and after-market service.

    The list of process innovations required for the delivery of affordable eye care is similarly long for providers like Aravind and Sankara.They must innovate across processes for: community and patient outreach; high volume screening, surgery, and recovery; the recruitment, training, and integration of para-skilled staff in radically re-engineered workflows; and, tiered pricing models that enable the delivery of world class surgery to a majority of patients for free.

    In addition, they must develop medical research partnerships, manufacturing and supplier alliances to reduce the costs of lenses, ophthalmology technology, and medical supplies, and university collaborations to develop information technology applications for increasing the reach of delivery systems through telemedicine. As in off-grid energy, sustainable and scalable business models in healthcare can only be derived from value creation in these and other operations.

    From the examination of numerous cases across other vertical sectors a similar story emerges. The DNA of successful BoP organizations can be found in innovative operating routines and their associated metrics and systems of accountability. These routines combine the efficiency and reliability of repeatable processes with the capacity for continuous improvement. They are executed by individuals who are carefully selected for fit with the organization’s mission—perhaps the most important value creating operating process of all.

    This leaves us with some fundamental questions for examining the degree to which operations contribute to the sustainability and scalability of an organization:

    • Does each operation add value for beneficiaries?

    • Does each operation contribute to declining costs with volume?

    • Do boundary spanning operations that involve partnerships or alliances create value or lower costs?

    • Can operating routines be replicated in different locations or by different personnel with the same or better price/performance results?

    If your organization can answer questions like these in the affirmative, then it’s likely your operations are creating value that can lead to sustainability at scale and perhaps long term competitive advantage as you chart a path that catalyzes markets where none existed before.

  •  Let There Be Light...Across Mexico

    Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014


    Flipping a light switch is something we probably take for granted. Many don’t realize that electricity is a privilege that so many communities don’t have. For rural families in Mexico without electricity, when the sun sets, their productive day comes to a standstill. Children who work in the fields from sunup to sundown are not able to study at night. Without electricity, their futures are dim.

    Manuel Wiechers, social entrepreneur and 2013 Global Social Benefit (GSBI®) alumnus, used to dream of lighting up Mexico with clean solar energy and giving Mexican families a shot at a better life. After attending the first International Student Energy Summit in Calgary in 2009, Manuel launched Iluméxico. Today, he has assembled a team and installed 2,000 solar panels in rural Mexico that have had a profound impact on over 3,300 families, close to 20,000 people.

    “The main thing that motivates me and my team is providing others with opportunities. Not just helping people in a philanthropic way, but putting the tools in place so people can lift themselves out of poverty. We try to provide basic services that are affordable and high that the user values. These basic services allow them to have better income, opportunities, and education.”

    “I don’t know how to describe the feeling of giving light to families who have never had electricity before. It’s different and new every time. Those are the moments when you realize: I love my job. Everything is worth it. There are only two soccer players that I would change my life with: Chicharito, the most famous Mexican soccer player, and Pique (because he is also dating Shakira).”

    The GSBI team had the pleasure of working with Manuel and Iluméxico in 2013. “We learned so much from our time at GSBI,” Manuel shared. “We built out our first financial models and we frequently use those models with investors. We learned a lot from the other GSBI participants in our class. In fact, we started our whole Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, a mobile data capture platform, based on what we learned from Nat Robinson of Juhudi Kilimo.”

    “When we went through GSBI we hadn’t even opened one center, now we’ve opened four centers and are in the process of opening the fifth. Next year, we plan to open ten more, depending on investment. We have coordinators at each center and local technicians. My role has shifted to supervising and starting new projects. I go to the field now because I want to go, not because I have to go.”

    Since Iluméxico’s time with the GSBI program has ended, they have hit the ground running and haven't stopped for a moment. Their successes have been numerous. “We recently received an ABC Foundation grant and the first investment from Banamex’s new impact investing fund, part of its corporate social responsibility program (Banamex is Mexico’s largest bank). So next year is a huge growth year for us. We hope to close with 14 branches in total. We will be able to set up the structure and operations to expand--hopefully to Latin America. In five years, we want 50 branches to reach 50,000 families.”

    All of this new business and milestones achieved have not impacted Manuel’s sense of humor. At the end of our interview, I asked Manuel a clarifying question, “You are the COO of Ilumexico, correct?”

    Manuel smiled and answered “Yes. Well, I’m COO and janitor at the same time.”



  •  eBay Foundation and GSBI® Partner to Benefit Entrepreneurs in BRIC Countries & U.S

    Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014

    Since 2013, eBay Foundation and the Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) have partnered with a clear purpose-- to help social entrepreneurs build strong organizations and scale their impact. eBay and GSBI share a theory of change that worldwide poverty alleviation is best accomplished through social enterprise, especially through those organizations that integrate financially sustainable practices into operations and aim for massive scale. 

    Over the past two years, eBay Foundation has sponsored the participation of six social enterprises in the GSBI Accelerator. The program pairs late stage social entrepreneurs with Silicon Valley mentors to prepare them to scale already successful businesses. The businesses sponsored by eBay Foundation range from the Kenya-based smallholder farmer micro asset financing organization, Juhudi Kilimo to Prospera, a Mexican company which helps women build sustainable businesses by providing training and access to markets.  Each participant came away from the program with a vision for growth as well as connections to potential funders to support their organizations’ development. 
    This fall, eBay Foundation and GSBI are launching their largest joint project to date, a program for entrepreneurs at an earlier stage in their organizational life cycle.   October 7th marked the launch of this custom cohort of the GSBI Online program. The program aims to develop livelihoods in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and the United States. eBay Foundation is sponsoring this initiative as part of a commitment to job creation, small business support, and economic development in these geographic regions. 
    The 6-month program pairs each social entrepreneur with a savvy Silicon Valley executive mentor. They work as a team to clarify the social entrepreneurs’ business models, hone their financials, and plan for scale. This year, for the first time, volunteers from eBay are joining the experienced GSBI mentors to provide technical expertise to many of the companies in the cohort.  
    The organizations in this cohort enter the program with a diverse array of mission-driven businesses, such as generating income for sex-trafficking survivors in Russia, helping smallholder farmers gain access to the best equipment in China, and providing data collection jobs for marginalized youth in the slums of Brazil.  The 18 ventures participating in the program employ different strategies to build economies including:
    Fostering Job Creation 
    DDD Peru provides high-quality IT services by employing low-income youth and providing them with opportunities for professional development and substantially higher incomes.
    DialJob is building a Blue-Collared Job Exchange Platform using mobile & cloud telephony technologies and is also launching a mobile-friendly website with content in local languages. It will give visibility and branding services to skill-development institutes and offer partnership opportunities to placement consultants, mobile-recharge outlets and grocery stores.
    Fabric Plus creates livelihoods in rural Assam and Northeast India by supporting the production of high-quality silk yarn and Assam silk products.
    RuralShores Business Services is India’s largest Business Process Outsourcing provider with more than 20 delivery centers in rural areas of India. RuralShores provides employment to youth at their doorstep, leading to sustained employment and curbing urban migration.
    Safehouse Foundation provides victims of trafficking with rehabilitation, including an art therapy program where participants create jewelry that is sold to sustain the organization and provide an income to participants.
    Ponto Solidário displays disseminates and increases sales of artistic products made by Brazilian craftsman all over the country, including Amazonian locals and other artisans in rural areas.
    ReliaTech collects and refurbishes computers and provides them at little or no cost to low-income individuals, disadvantaged entrepreneurs, schools, churches, senior centers, and other nonprofit organizations. Employees and interns are students and graduates of The Stride Center which trains low income individuals for ITC careers.
    Mobile Metrix is pioneering market research in low-income communities. Young local adults collect information door-to-door using handheld technology. The data and insights thus gathered empower companies and governments to more effectively distribute their critical products and services.
    Microenterprise Support 
    Custom Clouds (Kolabo), helps micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in growing economies get online. They also leverage the Internet to fuel economic growth and create jobs in their communities.
    Social Synergy is a management consulting firm catering to social enterprises and impact investors. Social Synergy catalyzes the strategic transformation of the culture and method of decision-making. It works across all levels and functions of a social enterprise to help them realize their stated impact potential---a "last-mile" effort of critical importance in the impact investment value-chain,that remains unaddressed.
    Improving Health, Water and Sanitation 
    Healing Fields is developing a health-related sustainable livelihood model for its community workers, which will help to keep them motivated to engage in creating awareness about hygiene and disease prevention.
    JSV aims to create jobs and foster entrepreneurship by training economically disadvantaged students from rural backgrounds with limited formal education in various paramedical streams at a low cost. JSV is also piloting a program to improve access to primary care and public health for the rural population by empowering local women trained in innovative low-cost diagnostic technology.
    Drinkwell uses a micro franchise model to establish local water businesses in arsenic and fluoride-affected areas. By providing affected villagers with water filtration technology and business tools, Drinkwell taps into the entrepreneurial spirit within these communities to create jobs, generate income, and improve health outcomes.

    Green Agrevolution provides end-to-end agriculture services, ICT advisory, input and output collection) to small farmers through DeHaat kiosks run by micro entrepreneurs. 
    Shree Kamdhenu Electronics develops simple information technology tools that help rural base-of-pyramid dairy farmers raise their income through transparency in milk collection operations.
    Smart Agriculture Analytics (SAA) is an information service that provides business intelligence on agricultural technology (agritech) needs in China; this will enable world-class suppliers and investors to provide the most sustainable solutions to Chinese farmers.
    Increasing Financial Access 
    MPOWER Financing removes financial barriers to higher education in the US. It works with investors and universities to lend to students who are not served by traditional banks because of lack of credit history or cosigner. 
    NuBnk/Village Ventures is an online lending platform that links impact lenders in advanced economies with rural community financial organizations which in turn support micro entrepreneurs in India and Sri Lanka. 
    The Global Social Benefit Institute has worked with over 300 social enterprises to build sustainable, scalable business models to benefit the lives of 107 million people worldwide. Based in the heart of Silicon Valley at Santa Clara University, GSBI combines Silicon Valley acumen and a drive to eradicate poverty by supporting social entrepreneurs around the world through their entire lifecycle.
    Program Inquires: Hallie Noble,
    Media: Jaime Gusching,


  •  Sixteen Global Social Entrepreneurs Selected for Pioneering GSBI Accelerator

    Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014

    Sixteen Global Social Entrepreneurs Selected for Santa Clara University’s Pioneering GSBI® Accelerator

    10-month program to advance social enterprises includes August 14-22 in-residence in the heart of Silicon Valley.

    SANTA CLARA, Calif., Jan. 14, 2014— Sankara Eye Care Institutions aims to eradicate preventable and curable blindness in India by providing free high quality eye care to millions of rural poor. Eco-fuel Africa converts locally sourced farm and municipal waste into clean cooking fuel and organic fertilizers.  Medical Technology Transfer and Services (MTTS) develops, manufactures, and distributes durable devices for intensive newborn care for poor communities in Vietnam. 

    These three well-established “social enterprises”— non-profit organizations or for-profit businesses that seek to address social and environmental problems—are among the 16 chosen for the 12th annual Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) Accelerator program at Santa Clara University. 

    The acclaimed 10-month program pairs one leader from each social enterprise with two experienced, start-up savvy Silicon Valley executives as advisers. The aim is to help the entrepreneurs focus on and solve the largest obstacles keeping their businesses from “scaling,” or reaching more beneficiaries in their home countries or new ones. 

    “This year we received the strongest applicant pool of leading social entrepreneurs to date,” said Cassandra Staff, GSBI’s program director. “This speaks to the value of the GSBI Accelerator program and the impact the program has on preparing mature entrepreneurs for additional investment capital and growth.” 

    Sponsors of the GSBI Accelerator program include: eBay Inc. Foundation, Applied Materials, Skoll Foundation, the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, and the GSBI Endowment Fund supported by Jeff and Karen Miller and Howard and Alida Charney. 

    After six months of online work with GSBI staff and two Silicon Valley mentors apiece, the cohort will come to Santa Clara University’s campus Aug. 14 for nine days of intensive training that culminates in an “Investor Showcase” Aug. 21. The showcase has become an inspiring event attended by hundreds of impact investors and others interested in accelerating the work of social entrepreneurs. 

    The 16 organizations in this year’s GSBI class operate in countries across the world including Mexico, South Africa, Jordan, and Vietnam. Among the other members of the GSBI Class of 2014 are: a company that makes biodigesters for small scale farmers in Mexico; a Peruvian employer of unskilled labor, whose workers are delivering data services to international clients; a South African company that teaches disadvantaged youth to be self-directed learners and chart careers; and a Chinese provider of renewable solar energy.

    The list of GSBI mentors can be found at

    Reporters interested in interviewing any of the entrepreneurs while they are in town or Silicon Valley mentors may contact Deborah Lohse of SCU Media Relations, or 408-554-5121. 

    GSBI® Online is a similar program, tailored to early-stage social enterprises, that leverages Silicon Valley acumen and features online modules on business strategy, operational planning, metrics, and financials. Applications are open through Feb. 21 for the next cohort:

    The follow is a list of 2014 GSBI Accelerator organizations:

    · Buen Manejo del Campo, dba Sistema Biobolsa 

    Sistema Biobolsa revolutionizes small scale agricultural by empowering farmers with high quality, patented biodigester technology, which allows them to convert animal and organic wastes into natural gas and organic fertilizer. 

    · Digital Divide Data 

    Digital Divide Data (DDD) is a social enterprise that delivers solutions with impact to meet the data services needs of businesses and institutions worldwide.  DDD pioneered a new model called Impact Sourcing in Cambodia from 2001.

    · Eco-fuel Africa Limited 

    Eco-fuel Africa empowers communities in Africa to use tailor-made technology to convert locally sourced farm and municipal waste into clean cooking fuel (green charcoal) and organic fertilizers (biochar). This slows the rate of deforestation, reduces indoor air pollution, improves educational opportunities among girls and women by eliminating the need to search for wood, and reduces malnutrition by providing farmers with organic fertilizers.

    · Ecofogão Ltda

    Ecofogão is a woodstove manufacturer, which introduced the innovative concept of ecological clean and efficient stoves to the Brazilian market in 2004. Ecofogão was mainly created to serve low income market that depends on woodstoves for daily cooking, but also has taken advantage of the middle class market that uses woodstoves for recreation purposes.  Ecofogão now wants to scale up toward the larger low income market of the northeastern Brazil.

    · Esoko

    Esoko is Africa’s leading communication platform for the agriculture sector, with a range of mobile based solutions, and serving a diverse array of partners in 10 countries.

    · IkamvaYouth 

    IkamvaYouth enables disadvantaged South African youth to pull themselves and each other out of poverty through education. The core program is the provision of after-school tutoring support to self-selected learners in grades 8 to 12 three times a week. This results in an actively engaged self-directed learner.

    · iKure Techsoft Private Limited 

    iKure is establishing a chain of Rural Health Centers using innovative technology. Patients receive quality primary healthcare in their community, including doctor consultation, medicine, and basic check-ups. In case of any secondary or tertiary care, the patients are connected seamlessly to hub hospitals using proprietary software.

    · JITA Social Business Bangladesh Limited 

    JITA Bangladesh is a joint venture of CARE International & Danone Communities dedicated to empowering women through a network of enterprises to create employment opportunities and improve access to markets for BOP consumers.

    · Komaza 

    Komaza is an agro-forestry company working to provide African dry land farmers with planting inputs, training and maintenance services, and processing-sales support. The goals are to cultivate a life-changing income for farmers, curb rampant deforestation, and earn investor returns.

    · Mali Biocarburant SA (MBSA) 

    Biofuel Mali SA (MBSA) is the first company producing biodiesel in West Africa. It is a private company that makes farmers shareholders in the company. By producing, processing and marketing biodiesel locally, Mali Biofuel SA contributes to the development of the local economy.

    · Medical Technology Transfer and Services (MTTS) 

    MTTS is a social enterprise that develops, manufactures, and distributes intensive newborn care medical devices, specifically designed for the needs of low-resource countries. They exist to ensure that all children, irrespectively of the place of birth, have the chance of a healthy upbringing.

    · One Earth Group Ltd. (Brand Name: One Earth Designs) 

    One Earth Designs creates clean, sharable energy. They began by working alongside nomads in the Himalayas, where they developed 54 solar cooker designs to combat fuel scarcity and household air pollution. Now, their R&D portfolio includes collaborations with governments and corporations to develop renewable energy solutions with the potential to improve living standards. 

    · Prospera 

    Prospera empowers female-led micro businesses and connects them to conscious citizens and consumers looking to create a more equal and engaged society.

    · Sankara Eye Care Institutions 

    Sankara Eye Care Institutions through its network of hospitals across India is one of the largest communities of eye care providers in the country. Sankara’s mission is to eradicate preventable and curable blindness in India by providing free high quality eye care to the millions of rural poor through a strong service oriented team.

    · SMEFunds 

    SMEFunds produces a proven, cleaner, and lower-cost alternative to dangerous cooking fuels in Africa that can also be sold as transport fuel at economies of scale.

    · World Wide Hearing 

    World Wide Hearing Foundation International is a non-profit organization that provides access to affordable, high quality hearing aids to children and youth with hearing loss in developing countries. Their goal is to empower people with hearing loss so that they can realize their full potential.

    The GSBI program is unique for several reasons: 

    *The program has built up a strong group of nearly 70 Silicon Valley mentors who are CEOs, venture capitalists, marketing experts, experts in solar or other forms of alternative energy, and other seasoned executives who find it rewarding to work with social entrepreneurs free of charge, as a way of paying it forward.  Some of them have volunteered at the GSBI for 10 years or more. 

    *While many university-based social entrepreneurship programs seek to help their own students become social entrepreneurs, the GSBI Accelerator helps entrepreneurs who are on the ground around the world helping communities. 

    *Undergraduate students leverage the relationships with the social entrepreneurs through research fellowships in countries like Brazil, India, Nepal, Uganda, and Paraguay. 

    *The GSBI has spawned the GSBI Network, composed of mission-aligned universities and programs around the globe that work directly with on-the-ground social enterprises.

    *Earlier stage social enterprises learn the tenets of the GSBI methodology through an online-only version, GSBI Online. Through web modules and video conferencing, participants receive guidance from their Silicon Valley mentors, as well as mentors in their home regions. 

    A Billion Lives 

    It is the ambitious goal of Santa Clara University’s Center for Science, Technology, and Society — home to GSBI— to positively impact the lives of a billion people by 2020, by catalyzing the growth of social enterprises who provide the poor with affordable life-saving or life-enhancing products; new jobs or livelihoods; or information and tools to help themselves. 

    “Our GSBI Accelerator, Online, and Network programs could enable social entrepreneurs to collectively improve the lives of up to one-fourth of the global poor,” said Thane Kreiner, Ph.D., executive director of the Center. “Our Global Social Benefit Fellows program is creating the next generation of ‘changemakers’: it provides SCU undergraduates transformative social justice learning experiences through practical action research projects with GSBI Alumni social entrepreneurs.” 

    About Santa Clara University

    Santa Clara University, a comprehensive Jesuit, Catholic university located 40 miles south of San Francisco in California’s Silicon Valley, offers its more than 8,800 students rigorous undergraduate curricula in arts and sciences, business, theology, and engineering, plus master’s and law degrees and engineering Ph.D.s. Distinguished nationally by one of the highest graduation rates among all U.S. master’s universities, California’s oldest operating higher-education institution demonstrates faith-inspired values of ethics and social justice. For more information, see

    Media Contacts: 

    Deborah Lohse, SCU Media Relations,, 408-554-5121

    Jaime Gusching, CSTS Marketing Manager,, 408-551-6048


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