Archive for the ‘ Opportunity funnel ’ Category

World Water Week: Negotiating the Non-Negotiable

During 2011, Circle of Blue has collaborated with the China Environment Forum at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars to report on energy demand and water supply in China. Their extensive coverage and reporting included over a dozen presentations of the results in China. The context for this coverage—called Choke Point: China—is positioned as follows:

“Over the last decade alone, 70 million new jobs emerged from an economy that this year, according to the World Bank and other authorities, generated the world’s largest markets for cars, steel, cement, glass, housing, energy, power plants, wind turbines, solar panels, highways, high-speed rail systems, airports and other basic supplies and civic equipment to support a modern economy.

Yet, like a tectonic fault line, underlying China’s new standing in the world is an increasingly fierce competition between energy and water that threatens to upend China’s progress.”

Last week in Stockholm, the 23rd World Water Week convened and could have featured the tag line, Choke Point: World. Over 2600 water professionals (and semi-pros) gathered to focus on Water in an Urbanising World. (For an overview themes and participation at the conference, read Céline Hervé-Bazin’s post.)

Many thought leaders including Paul Reiter, CEO of the International Water Association (IWA), lauded China as a potential source for ideas and innovations. Motivated by those 70 million jobs and terrible conditions in rural areas, China is the most rapidly urbanizing country in world history. The challenges facing China’s urban leaders and planners are extensive. (While not mentioned at a conference with an urban focus, another indication of the connectedness of everything through water is the amount China will spend on rural water, sanitation and healthcare: $125 Billion.)

Assessing which problem is more challenging may be less productive than thinking about how both challenges could share technology, innovation and social enterprise approaches to make progress. China so far has not acknowledged the need for outside social enterprise or technology models, and is betting on competition between the provinces for innovation.

A New Style of Urbanization

At the first day plenary session, both Dr. Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN Habitat, and Sheela Patel, head of Shack/Slum Dwellers international, made a strong case that this is one of the most complex development challenges facing the world. According to Clos, “Every year the number of people who live in cities and town grows by 67 million – 91% of this figure is being added to urban populations in developing countries.” Unlike the urbanization that accompanied 19th century industrialization, this new urbanization often lacks the job and revenue base to invest in public services. Sheela Patel challenged leaders to seek cooperative solutions agreed to and supported by beneficiaries: “Participation does not mean bringing in the poor to rubber stamp a predetermined solution.”

Essentially every rapidly urbanizing city must be viewed as a resource poor environment. These circumstances require a combination of innovation, ingenuity and people that is simply not required in most high- and middle-income countries. Innovation in the coming century must come from these exigent environments. In the case of water, cities and countries recognize the need for a combination of tariffs and taxes, but the challenge in poor countries flows from compressed finances. According to Greg Browder of the World Bank, water can garner 2-4% of individual income—$1000 per person per year in rich countries, $200 in middle-income settings and $40 per person in poor countries.

Challenges: Non-negotiable

The session on Integrated Urban Water Management Challenges was a microcosm of the overall conference. Here are a few of the @ReachScale tweets from that session:

Urban Water Mgt: 2-4% of income to water means: High income $1k/yr/person; mid=$200; low=$40; so mid 5x>low; high 5x>mid: Big Constraint

IWA Paul Reiter: Challenges in urban means urban must use 50% less as globally; 800k new urbanites added weekly!

IWA Paul Reiter: Challenges means new urban water systems in Asia & Africa must cost a fraction of current.

Urban must use 50% < water, as globally 800k new urbanites added weekly. If Ag water use 10% less; Amount for urban 2x. Paul Reiter Point: Realities of Water Challenge are non-negotiable; Glenn Oroz Counterpoint: Realities require much Negotiation. Global Water Intelligence through the Water Risk Index is one source for looking at the areas where challenges will be greatest:

Collaboration, Innovation and Investment to Succeed

In the case of water, we are all part of the potential solutions. Seeing the water fraternity hard at work to enhance collaboration provides the basic foundation for seeking solutions. Here are scenarios/suggestions for the kind of transformative changes IWA, SIWI, the World Bank and others insist are essential.

1. Agriculture is the center. New practices are needed to double agriculture production, protect natural systems and enhance global food security. As stated by the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food:

“There is an urgent need to rethink current strategies for intensifying agriculture, given that food production already accounts for 70 to 90 percent of withdrawals from available water resources in some areas. The report, An Ecosystem Services Approach to Water and Food Security, finds that in many breadbaskets, including the plains of northern China, India’s Punjab and the Western United States, water limits are close to being ‘reached or breached.’”

2. The World as a Scaling and Learning Laboratory. In meeting after meeting, I saw studies and decks that talked about pilots, prototypes and tests. While there were a few exceptions – the Asian Development Bank’s remarkable progress with the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System in Manila for one – too many projects were “learn now, scale later.” Mechanisms need to be developed to compare and promote the most scalable opportunities. This could include funding scaling learning labs and then funneling funding into the winners. Brookings along with the Shell Foundation and others funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency are developing thinking in this arena. Healthpoint Services with P&G have already embarked on scaling in India. Next year they will add scaling investors and journey to other countries.

Homi Kharas of Brookings pointed out in a call today that aid projects have actually been shrinking in scope in order to improve measurement. This runs smack against the non-negotiable realities of urban everything, including water. I spoke with country and DFI leaders at World Water Week that are concerned about the lack of scale. Turning this thinking and action around is critical.

3. Seeking social innovation and making it profitable. The only way to attract enough capital to fully address this problem is to identify the segments that are willing to pay and then deliver low-cost solutions that fund extensions further down the pyramid. In the early stages, focusing resources on getting profitable (or close to) is more important than studying impact.

Social enterprise models including for-profit, hybrid, leveraged and cross sector innovation models will be critical to attracting new capital sources. Social innovators often breach silos that an industry can’t see beyond. They also aggregate investments from multiple donor, DFI and profit-based sources to get to scale faster. In some cases these models will be superior; in others they can augment, so that less study is needed and more action can happen sooner. Both Water for People’s FLOW model and the Blue Planet Network are examples of these types of innovations.

Looking out to 2030, there is a shortage of innovators from inside water, as well as outside water. Not enough innovation is being crowd sourced, and not enough adjacent and non-adjacent innovators are engaged in the water challenges. Over the next decade, Millennials will create more social enterprises than those created to date. We need to make sure a significant share of those social innovators are working on scaling water and agriculture sustainably.

Note: A version of this post first appeared on CSRwire.

New Styles of Courage

All our connections are deeply interrelated (from a close up of a large scale woodcut by Paul Edmonds)

Sometimes I am overwhelmed with admiration for those who have faced danger and summoned the courage to step forward and act. It is easy to see them as different from the rest of us. But some recent experiences have shifted my focus to what we have in common with that class of courageous heroes. No matter where we work, there are opportunities to connect the dots, to create our own style of courage.

Good examples help reveal what this might look like. The Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship is the capstone event for an ecosystem built from the Ebay success of Jeff Skoll. It is a good place to hang out with courage counterparts. In addition to this global community of social entrepreneurs, there were about 20 corporate representatives in attendance this year. But what a boon it would have been if there had been over a hundred.

The Oxford Jam, a fringe conference happening alongside Skoll, offers more opportunities to connect. I met a former hedge fund executive there who is investing her own assets to address the obesity epidemic. Her courage will rally others to innovate while she is also able to turn a profit.

Both Skoll and Oxford Jam offer a panoply of ways for companies to connect with social enterprises. Corporate leaders who make the decision to get to Skoll next year a priority will find a uniquely rich set of courage leaders with which to interact.

Another opportunity for exploring new styles of courage is Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development. This Grand Challenge (issued by USAID, the Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, the Government of Norway and the World Bank) will fund efforts to combine technology, service delivery and/or demand innovations that can directly improve the lives of mothers and their newborns. Up to $15 million will be awarded in the next 6 months. This will include 25 awards of $250,000 that will test new innovations.

The collaborative conversations around Saving Lives at Birth has resulted in a broad range of proposals that reflect how multifaceted this sector is. One of the teams I am working with is led by the Royal College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians (RCOG) and also includes an Ashoka fellow and Movirtu, an ingenious company that enables low-end cell phones to be shared while still maintaining individual identity and custom information (funding will develop simple applications such as calculating gestation month and providing tailored advice).

The proposal from SMILE (Saving Mothers and Infant Lives with Education) leverages relationships with governments, health systems and community health workers (CHW) that RCOG has been building for over a decade in Africa. Combining these relationships with Movirtu’s technology will enable low-resource environments to become high-touch environments where lives are saved through tailored advice and learning. When scaled, this program expects 30% or greater improvements in outcomes.

Forward-thinking companies who have women as primary customers can participate in these outcomes by finding programs that feature innovations where their expertise could add value.

The Skoll World Forum and Saving Lives at Birth are just two examples where courageous investors—of both time and money—are visible and can play a part in the innovation networks of a corporation. The learning and innovation that flow from these connections can be transformative, and begins with a simple sense of how you and your organization can find new styles of courage in your own innovation spheres.

Five Questions to Measure Commitment to CSR

In conversations with marketing, communications and CSR leaders at the 36 conferences in which ReachScale participated in 2010, an unusually high number of executives said they are doing a strategic review of their CSR commitments and strategies. One might assume that the goal is to be more impactful, to do less harm and do more good. Instead of assuming, a question needs to be asked: Is the purpose of our CSR review to increase impact? The answer is not simple, given the current economic climate.

World leaders are faced with the same challenge as CSR leaders. Every three years the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit assembles the global ecosystem that was built through a commitment to the 10 principles of the Global Compact. (Review the list here.) Much good has come from the Compact and yet at the same time, promises have fallen short. The global economic meltdown has created a kind of schizophrenia in those organizations that committed to goals that appeared reachable in 2007 but seem less so today.

Empowering an ecosystem of leaders to re-envision appropriate responses is a tough challenge. In these circumstances it is no surprise that the proceedings of most conferences on CSR are dominated by testimonials of good works completed, of new projects and collaborations being started. But these are being discussed without the goals and measures that Porter and Kramer suggested are essential.

Based on our advocacy efforts and the testimonials heard from many conference podiums, we have distilled some simple but core questions for companies who are viewing their commitment to “shared values and principles, which will give a human face to the global market” (the quote that appears on the cover of the Gobal Compact Annual Review.)

1. Can we identify and focus on a cause or problem whose solution creates shared value?

As you answer this question please consider the following quote from Porter and Kramer:

“No business can solve all of society’s problems or bear the cost of doing so. Instead, each company must select issues that intersect with its particular business. Other social agendas are best left to those companies in other industries, NGOs, or government institutions that are better positioned to address them. The essential test that should guide CSR is not whether a cause is worthy but whether it presents an opportunity to create shared value – that is, a meaningful benefit for society that is also valuable to the business.”

2. Are we taking on a problem that our stakeholders would immediately recognize as significant?

For example: No one will argue that global banks are reputationally challenged in this post financial crash world. If you are the leader of a global bank and your response to current circumstances is to do exactly what community reinvestment laws require (and only in those countries that currently regulate you,) then you are working at zero base. On the other hand, you could make a commitment to address the global migration to cities problem, actively build community reinvestment principles and seek innovative partners to address the global slum problem in every country that delivers profit to you. That is an effort that would be clearly recognized as a commitment to a highly significant problem.

3. Is the problem we have chosen core enough to our business that we can ask our experts to apply their knowledge to the problem across multiple functions?

Using global banks as an example once again: Virtually every functional group within the organization has talent that can be applied with the appropriate innovation partners to solving this problem in every major city in the developing world in which that bank operates.

4. Is the problem we have chosen important enough that each member of the executive committee could justify spending 2 days a month (10% of work time) leading the organization and the ecosystem in seeking a solution?

The Global Compact is all about commitment. One could argue that for some companies, implementing the 10 principles will take at least that much time from executives at the beginning. As leaders drive the principles deep into the organization’s collective psyche, the muscle strength needed to take on larger opportunities will develop.

5. Is our wisdom, work and investment focused on attracting participants across the value chain?

The behavior of all players must change to achieve real results. Looking to engage multiple innovation sources encourages not just one corporation’s investment but also the commitment of many other companies as well.

Increasingly the ability to create value depends on market mechanisms that attract multiple value chain and investment participants. The social innovation to attract the participants will often come from outside the companies championing the changes. Finding and cultivating these innovations often depends on a problem solving commitment that goes beyond simply serving one company’s goals. The commitment must flow from an understanding that the problem goes beyond what any single company can do; the real work is assembling an ecosystem to solve a problem which requires a committed company’s best and brightest wisdom and work.

At Sustainable Brands 2010, Jason Saul of Mission Measurement stated that the CSR practice of reporting on the checks written and the volunteer hours logged will not be an adequate measure going forward. Ben Packard of Starbucks stated very openly that Starbucks knows they have not made enough progress in addressing the most significant impact they create as a business — the cup. Jason Saul and Ben Packard are two examples of leaders asking the right questions about real CSR impact.

Note: A version of this article first appeared on CSR Wire in February.

New York Stories

Manhattan is a city filled with ten million stories, and I particularly felt that vibrancy last week. The UN was in session and the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) was also under way. Together these two organizations represent significant horsepower on behalf of the disadvantaged of the world.

At the UN’s Inclusive Finance: A Path to the MDGs luncheon, Hilary Clinton and the President of Honduras announced a program which, if adopted globally, could create a new source of pro-poor loans for everything from education to housing improvements in slums. The previous day at the CGI, Hilary led the charge with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves along with a bevy of partners. (That alliance requires a separate discussion which I hope to write about at a later point in time.)

Both of these efforts represent improved ways of solving social challenges. They incorporate government, NGOs and the private sector. They utilize disruptive innovations that have surfaced from a variety of sources but especially from social entrepreneurs and/or social innovations that have been created by combining private sector models with Global South entrepreneurship. Many of these ventures are using income derived from the Global North to help those less fortunate in the Global South. More examples will continue to appear as Global North companies and governments seek to achieve disruptive innovation in the Global South.

U. S. Under Secretary of State Maria Otero outlined the components needed to support more rapid deployment of these efforts:

1- Seek Investments from Multiple Sources. On display at SOCAP in San Francisco next week will be an entire ecosystem building around profitable problem solving. This ecosystem includes philanthropists and foundations joining forces with for profit social entrepreneurs.

2- Innovation Sourcing (as outlined above.)

3- Scaling Platforms. The platforms needed are technological as well as new models built on existing assets. These include combinations of banking, remittance and microfinance assets and can be used to create a pro-poor engine to attack poverty. Affordable Housing Institute is a good example of that approach, embedding slum upgrading banks into innovative microfinance institutions (MFIs) to convert informal housing to formal housing throughout the Global South.

4- Policy Initiatives. Identify what policy changes are needed to remove road blocks and/or leverage incentives that relocate talent and capital into sectors that have demonstrated platform innovation potential. The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is in the process of doing that now.

5- Rigorous Analysis and Measurement.

6- Leadership. The kind of leadership needed is open to innovation from any partner, at any moment, and is obsessive about migrating innovation to everyone and every life, globally.

These guidelines are already informing new innovations that have surfaced in countless conversations we have had recently. We will have more to say about many of these ideas in the future.

The #Promise Conference

GUEST POST by Deborah Barlow*

“Amazing New Yoga Poses,” with Rhett and Link in a “Get Healthy Challenge” video created through Howcast and GE.

Last Thursday I attended The #Promise kickoff conference held at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York. From the event website:

The #Promise kickoff conference will explore how the rise of social and mobile media is catalyzing innovation in corporate social responsibility from companies and consumers.

Recent events have moved corporate social responsibility to the center of the public discussion. And, the shifts in media are causing marketers to place a premium on strategies that encourage people to participate in marketing and to work together on social and environmental causes.

The #Promise will feature (1) original “promise” presentations from some of the most innovative global leaders in business and corporate social responsibility PepsiCo, GE, Nokia, MTV and Timberland; (2) panels curated by the leading media platforms for social innovation TED, Fast Company, and GOOD; and (3) formal and informal participation from leaders in business, technology and the public and nonprofit sectors.

All in all, a day well spent. Lots of highs, a few lows of course, but here are a few of my favorite moments.

In the corporate corner
Hearing Andrew Katz and Jeremy Cage of PepsiCo candidly describe the organic, learn as you go approach that Pepsi has taken in giving their now-legendary Pepsi Refresh Project the legs it needs to succeed. (For anyone who doesn’t know about this initiative, Pepsi took their Superbowl advertising budget of $20 million and redirected it to fund social enterprises based on consumer voting.) The initial response they received surprised everyone—6,000 proposals submitted, with 25 million votes cast. Now, says Katz, the challenge is how to tell the stories of the recipients. “Giving away money is the easy part, It is the ability to report back on the impact of that money that is hard.”

Hats off to PepsiCo. No, they aren’t currently a paragon of sustainability or an eco-friendly, healthy products company. But they get that they need to be a leader in rethinking business goals, practices and intentions going forward.

GE‘s Healthymagination campaign partnered with Howcast (how-to videos…with a twist) to create fresh, funny and engaging videos around general health themes. Amazing New Yoga Poses, a short video performance shown by Linda Boff from Global Marketing, was laugh out loud funny. This isn’t just a light bulb company anymore.

Margaret Morey-Reuner of Timberland is the paragon of sincerity and authenticity. She stated up front that being a bootmaker is not eco-conscious. But her candor was combined with a powerful story of Timberland’s efforts to make a difference.

Morey-Reuner told an interesting anecdote about an earlier Timberland campaign, “Stamp Out Genocide” which featured a boot with a map of Africa printed on it. Nobody bought the boot, and the campaign and product line were a failure. Timberland’s realization about the relationship between causes and products is a good one: “People come to a store to be delighted, not brought down. So we learned how important it is to properly contextualize our good works.”

Another anecdote she shared was spot on. A few years ago Timberland was involved in a number of initiatives. When the company’s CEO met with Bill Clinton (Clinton Global Initiative), the former President’s assessment was frank: “You have too many messages going. Pick one thing and focus on that.” With a tree in their logo and its suggestion in the company name itself, trees have become THE Timberland cause.

Other corporate-related insights
Great example of how brand advocacy can pay off: A few years back both Dell and Apple had problems with exploding computers. The Apple problem was actually much worse than Dell’s, but the media and consumers focused on Dell. “It’s like people wanted to hate Dell.” Apple had insurance against this sort of unexpected occurrence, building a strong tribe of brand advocates over time. That investment paid them back in spades. Apple got out of this bad news episode with virtually no dip in sales. Meanwhile Dell’s sales were very hard hit by the incident.

Heard in the social enterprise corner
From Rod Arnold, CCO of Charity Water:
Nearly one billion people on the planet don’t have access to clean drinking water.
80% of health problems around the world are the result of dirty water.

From June Cohen, Director, TED Media:
In talking about the very risky but ultimately brilliant decision made by Chris Anderson to open up web access to TED talks, June positioned their dilemma in one phrase: “ideas are free, bandwidth isn’t.”

From Jamie Daves, Executive Director of Think Social:
“The good companies go to school off of each other, learning from each other’s mistakes.”

* * *
Tomorrow: More nuggets from the best and the brightest at The #Promise…

*Deborah Barlow is a communications consultant with ReachScale whose other life is painting, writing and observing life online and off. She shares her personal point of view on her blog, Slow Muse, and her artwork on her website.

Aspirations and Ecosystems

Rethinking what is small but has the capacity to grow (From the series, “Child’s Play”, intaglio print by Sally Reed)

This post is a response to an excellent blog post by Nathaniel Whittemore entitled The Leading Edge of a Generation’s Aspiration. Whittemore is an eloquent writer and leading advocate for social entrepreneurship at, a favorite site that all should join and/or support.

His post leads off with this point:

Recently, social venture capitalist Josh Cohen and Taproot Foundation founder Aaron Hurst (two guys who I deeply respect) advanced the argument that the framework of social entrepreneurship is inadequate to help the Millennial generation achieve their aspirations of careers of meaning and purpose. While there is a lot they’re right about, I believe they fail to recognize the full potential of social entrepreneurship as the leading edge of this generation’s aspiration.

The same day Whittemore’s post crossed my desk, the following statistic from Harvard Business Review’s The Daily Stat also came through on my Twitter feed:

17% of Harvard’s Class of 2010 applied to Teach for America, the highest percentage of any graduating college class in the United States this year. Harvard also accounted for the largest percentage of last year’s hires by the 19-year-old nonprofit network, which places graduates in troubled schools. 16% of Yale’s grads and 13% of Brown’s applied to TFA this year, according to the The Harvard Crimson.

While this statistic is a remarkably succinct measure of Millennial aspirations, it also reinforces the inadequacy of social entrepreneurship. In an earlier post I argued that the global companies that failed to scale Teach for America each made the largest strategic branding error in their company’s history. I believe it is reasonable to make the argument that if just a few of those corporations had stepped up at the beginning, Teach for America would now be able to absorb 2-3 times as many candidates from the Class of 2010.

In other words, adequacy of the sector going forward may depend on the willingness of companies to scale social enterprises. ReachScale’s founding advocacy has been that social enterprise scaling should be a significant part of a corporation’s marketing and philanthropy budgets, the former being orders of magnitude more important (and more robust) than the latter. Currently the corporate marketing component has not been a player with the exception of Pepsi’s recent $20 million Superbowl Pepsi Refresh throw down. (Earlier posts discussing the Pepsi Refresh Project here and here.)

My remaining comments overlay the numbered points laid out in Whittemore’s post. (This will be more meaningful if you have read The Leading Edge of a Generation’s Aspiration before continuing, although the points make sense on their own. The numbered items are from Whittemore’s post, but the comments that follow are mine.)

1. Social Entrepreneurship is not the dominant paradigm for thinking about social change among Millennials…. most people have their gateway experiences with social change through volunteerism and civic engagement.

A social enterprise that is ready to scale and capable of being a big aspiration absorber will start with a proven impact model and then add value platforms like attractive volunteerism, advocacy/civic engagement and ecosystem growth models. Gateway experiences are nice, but to employ significant numbers you need to look like a Habitat for Humanity rather than the local homeless shelter. In the social enterprise start-up inventory right now, there are future Habitat for Humanity and Teach for America type opportunities. Capacity growth will depend on innovative scaling of multiple multi-platform organizations in each cause sector.

2. Even at business schools, social entrepreneurship isn’t the only game in town for the world-changers.
3. Social entrepreneurship isn’t just for the entrepreneurs.

True. But the more critical issue here is not whether enough social entrepreneurs surface from universities and business schools but how SE ecosystem will be able to identify and market the real innovators (in many cases the drop-outs, not the grads) and match them with scaling partners/funders.

Each year tens of thousands of impact models are tested by foundations and donors. The challenge is picking the best of the best and funneling resources to them while the rest plod forward doing good on a small scale. These critical mass, for-profit, breakeven and nonprofit continuous growth enterprises are where the being-paid-what-you-are-worth, non-entrepreneur social impact jobs will be.

4. Social entrepreneurship hasn’t nearly achieved a critical mass where we should talk about scaling back the excitement…..That means that we still have tons of experimenting to do with creative new business models and approaches to social change, and the biggest barriers there are constraints on resources for support.

Totally agree. However the “tons of experimenting” needs to add significant new classes of experiments.

Here are two examples:

– Non-profit SEs need to bring innovations and talent together to invest and create offerings that can achieve break-even or profitability. The goal is to become sustainable with little or no donor dollars at some point in the near future.

– Companies need to apply their business analysis and growth skills to pick the best of the best SEs that are aligned with their business interests, and then scale them. Ten years from now, companies will have social enterprise investment groups that look like their M&A groups look today.

5. The implications of “social entrepreneurship” go way beyond our cute little field.

Companies are investing billions in innovation. Corporate leaders are realizing that their innovation scope is way too narrow. The majority of real innovation activity is happening outside their purview and being led by the people they should have hired, the ones who went to work for Teach for America and never came back. Corporations should go where the talent and innovation are most active, significantly transforming this trillion dollar “cute little field”.

Road Work: Be Aware, or Fall Behind

The Shape of Space, by Alyson Shotz, at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Made from plastic Fresnel lenses and staples, Shotz’s wall of light reflects some aspect of everything around it, including Frank Lloyd Wright’s extraordinary interior space. In other words, “everything is illuminated.”

I just returned from two weeks of road work (AKA conferences) that has simultaneously reinforced my faith in the future and also caused me to wonder just how we will all get to that faith-filled future. The next few posts will highlight some of the dichotomies that I found particularly vexing. I write this with the hope that the collective mind can rethink these challenges and improve the outcomes that are possible.

Attending the Ashoka Future Forum was very faith reinforcing even though it was generously spiked with “how to get there” dichotomies. The meeting was held in DC at the spectacularly dramatic Newseum (the Knight Foundation is a smart and significant Ashoka funder,) and I split time between the “Cities” and “Hybrid Value Chains” discussions. Participating in discussions with a room full of Ashoka Fellows and friends as they deconstruct current situations and future options was highly rewarding. But there is a fair question that must be asked: Who exactly was rewarded?

Once again I was struck with that pervasive and frustrated theme of lost opportunities. Of the 90+ conversations I participated in, only six included representatives of global companies. Manpower, a company I respect, was there as a sponsor and I can assure you that their competitors will be at a disadvantage because of what Manpower learned. I would suggest that the fact that Manpower was headed to Capitol Hill the next day to discuss true job creation innovations is partially driven by their open and social innovation-centric attitudes and actions.

Each of the other five companies in attendance is at least a year ahead of their competitors in both thinking and the contacts needed to bring the shifts we need within those organizations and their customers. The global consumer products player that was active in the hybrid value chains discussion heard and met 20+ Ashoka innovators working in the health and healthcare sectors. The cumulative innovation power of these social enterprises can provide access to learning and innovation levers that big global companies would and/or could never pull. Just as GAVI has demonstrated with its vaccine delivery program, each innovator is pursuing hybrid innovations that global corporations cannot duplicate on their own.

To my corporate readers, I pose this question: If your biggest competitor is in contact with hundreds of social innovators, being introduced regularly to a range of rich innovations, and moving to partner and implement the best of the best—while you meanwhile have never even heard of the leading sponsor of that ecosystem, Ashoka*—JUST HOW FAR BEHIND ARE YOU?

More to come.

*Note: To confirm this lack of awareness, I met many global company representatives at the next two conferences I attended that had never heard of Ashoka, including most of the speakers at the Investing in the Millennium Development Goals meeting cosponsored by the UN and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Opportunity Knocks

Thesis: Five years from now, forward thinking companies will focus both philanthropy and marketing investments on high impact social enterprises whose models and accomplishments will drive both innovation and reputation.

The social ecosystem is growing and critical to our futures. Each year social funding investments are determined by a variety of methods. Foundations and grants organizations spend time surfacing and evaluating the organizations that are deserving of support and then funding testing and proving their impact models. The foundation investment process is big and invariably demonstrates substantial opportunities for expanded impact and scaling. But then the foundations move on to the next round of grants and tests. They are not focused on how to scale.

Another method for surfacing scalable enterprises comes through the infrastructure that exists within the social enterprise space itself. Leading organizations such as Ashoka, Schwab Foundation and the Skoll Foundation do their own evaluations which result in awards, education and many annual “best of the best” lists.

We refer to these evaluation feeder systems as an opportunity funnel. An enormous amount of work is conducted yearly by a variety of organizations to gauge, assess and evaluate the best social enterprise candidates for growth. And that carefully culled information is an asset of significant value that is currently overlooked.

Some forward thinking corporations have developed a heightened interest in seeking partnerships with nonprofit organizations that operate in an area that is of particular interest to that enterprise. (A good example of this is the focus on support for after school programs by J. C. Penny.) Combining the talent ecosystem of a large corporation–which includes a robust network of well trained personnel, leadership projects, sabbaticals and retirees–with the hands on, feet on the street expertise of a well-targeted social enterprise can and will result in significant increases in impact and success.

It is that upside potential that is of particular interest to us at ReachScale, and it will be the subject of much of the content we will be featuring here.

The distant horizon: A reminder that things can be done differently—and more effectively—in the future (Santa Fe NM)