Archive for the ‘ World changers ’ Category

UN Opening Week: Facing the Non-Communicable Disease Epidemic

“Where you live shouldn’t determine whether you live.” With that simple statement Nancy G. Brinker, CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, focused attention on the non-communicable disease burden the big four (cardiovascular and chronic respiratory disease along with cancer and diabetes, commonly referred to as NCDs) place on countries and citizens as the UN convened for the second time around global health issues.

UN Opening Week, among other things, presents an opportunity for a myriad of initiatives and global challenges to take the stage. And while frustrating politics from the General Assembly can be discouraging, there are also moments of hope. Despite the difficult challenges facing the world due to the NCD epidemic, the week’s events could also be viewed through the lens of confidence flowing from the progress that has been made with HIV, tuberculosis and malaria over the last decade. Further positivity flows from infrastructure and platforms supporting that progress.

An example of such a platform is the U.S. Global Health Initiative. Their mission is clear: “The U.S. will promote country ownership and align our investments with country-owned plans, including improved coordination across U.S. agencies and with other donors, with the aim of making programs sustainable.”

The Global Health Council along with Management Sciences for Health (MSH), one of USAID’s significant partners, convened a session called “Tackling NCDs: How Can Existing Platforms be Leveraged?” to showcase leaders from USAID, NGOs (Path and psi), corporations (Medtronic and Novo Nordisk), universities and others to discuss possible pathways to multi-disease platform capabilities.

How would the jockeying for position affect each organization’s advocacy? For the most part it did not. Leaders from each cause seemed to get this was an opportunity to lift all boats and avoided putting their own concerns ahead of the overall effort.

This cooperation also may have been driven by the recognition that in the current global crisis, no amount of leadership will result in a new global fund for NCDs. Flowing from this reality, a second theme emerged: countries, NGOs, companies and innovators of all stripes will need coordinated and aggressive innovation, behavior change, policy commitments and funding to minimize loss of life and costs. Without all of the above, the world will face significant trade-offs, especially in low-income countries.

Many of the challenges were openly discussed. The list below is only a partial one. If you have others, feel free to add them in the comment section below.

Spend now or pay later

“The World Health Organization identified strategies to prevent and treat cancer, heart disease and lung disease that would cost $11.4 billion a year to implement in low- and middle- income countries, the UN agency said in a separate report today. Without action, those nations could suffer $7 trillion in losses, the World Economic Forum and Harvard study said.”

These are the diseases that break the bank. Left unchecked, these diseases have the capacity to devour the benefits of economic gain. According to Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO Director General, treatment of diabetes in some countries already consumes as much as 15% of the national health care budget.

Government intervention or lifestyle freedom?

According to Her Royal Highness Dina Mired, “In poor countries a lifestyle choice will instead become a life sentence.”

Why must this responsibility fall on heads of state? According to Dr. Chan, the problem is too big and too broadly based to be addressed by any single government ministry.

The rise of these diseases is being driven by powerful, borderless forces that affect everyone—in particular rapid urbanization and a globalization of unhealthy lifestyles. These trends require top-level attention to command protective policies across all sectors of government.

For example, full implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control could bring the single biggest blow to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and respiratory disease.

“I call on heads of state and heads of government to stand rock-hard against the despicable efforts of the tobacco industry to subvert this treaty,” said Chan. “Increases in tobacco taxes and prices are the most effective measure. They not only protect health. They bring in considerable revenue. The same is true for taxes on alcohol.”

Corporations as partners, innovators or pariahs?

Whether Dr. Chan’s comment above could – and should – also be applied to the food and beverage industries was central to the debate which lead the UN to unanimously adopt a 13-page document on Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases. More of the behavior change innovation in this fight must come from corporate leadership and through offering healthier products to all populations. Changes in both behavior and products will require companies to be more open in sourcing ideas, products, marketing innovations and business models. Continued partner recognition will depend to a great extent on corporate success in these reinvention efforts.

A commitment to know the truth

As Dr. Chan, HRH Dina Mired, Dr. Jonathan Quick and many others pointed out, meeting these challenges requires coordinated and aggressive collaboration, innovation and policy to envision positive outcomes and bring them to pass.

As important as this set of meetings are in launching and enabling that effort, their greater importance may lie in an increased obsession to understand how bad things really are today and communicating that reality to and with the government, NGO, corporate and social enterprise leaders who must respond.

A lesson for what is needed can be learned from a contagious disease containment success story. William Foege, author of House on Fire and leading expert in the eradication of smallpox, spoke at the International Conference on Global Health recently. Foege embodies the self-effacing and yet tenacious approach needed to deal with complex global problems. Referring to his long battle to eliminate smallpox, his advice is wise counsel for any and all health initiatives: “You have to be able to consistently envision the end result while aggressively seeking the actual data, no matter how bad it is.”

From his book, House on Fire:

“One had to be an optimist with a feel for numbers to be ecstatic at the same time that Bihar had over 5,000 known smallpox outbreaks and had just reported over 11,600 new cases of smallpox in a single week.”

While small pox spreads like fire, country after country has been lulled into inaction by the “slow-motion disaster” represented by the big four’s building cumulative impact. Unhealthy lifestyles that fuel these diseases are spreading with stunning speed and sweep.

During several meetings last week, the case was made that new efforts in primary care and research are needed for early detection and lifestyle education. Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Advisor for New Zealand and Programme Director for Growth, Development and Metabolism at the Singapore Institute of Clinical Sciences brought research to the table emphasizing the importance of early interventions—particularly for pregnant women and their newborns. The Singapore Institute’s advances in understanding the propensities of different Asian populations around NCDs is also an important example of knowing the risks.

Communicating the non-communicable

Ten years ago the UN convened its focus on HIV. It was a critical juncture for garnering support and moving forward in a cohesive way and resulted in a global fund and a 10-fold increase in funding to tackle HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. Of those three diseases, only AIDS was a killer in the developed world at the time.

NCDs are different. The big four are indiscriminant killers globally. And while drugs play a critical part in every circumstance, their role with the big four can be deceptive. Drugs that reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol and improve glucose metabolism only bring a progressive problem under control: they do not return a person to full health. Unfortunately the big four are lifestyle choices before they are diseases. New approaches must be taken regarding prevention, policy, harmful behaviour, corporate malfeasance and government failure.

Action requires more than advocacy. Some next steps are straightforward. Dr. Chan spoke powerfully about increasing taxes and the price of tobacco and alcohol, and methods for reducing salt intake. Low-cost regimens for cardiovascular disease, cancer screening, drug therapy and vaccination against hepatitis B were also brought forward.

As each organization seeks funding and directs its investments into innovation, platform development, education, behaviour change and policy prescriptions, better mechanisms are needed to find the best ideas and scale them. As an advocate for social innovation, I would argue the other players – NGOs, corporations and governments – need to be much more aggressive in seeking ideas from outside their silos and in moving resources so that research, idea testing and data collection are accomplished as part of integrated programs.

In the “How Can Existing Platforms be Leveraged?” session mentioned earlier, there were examples of this type of integrated capacity building. One is MSH and the Gates Foundation’s efforts in Tanzania to enhance how informal village drug sellers support community health workers and provide safe prescriptions for some diseases. Healthpoint Services in Punjab, India is building clean water and village clinics that provide telemedicine, diagnostics and generics at base of the pyramid prices. They plan to start offering chronic disease packages next year, which can be subscribed to and the costs shared between individuals, insurers and governments. Most importantly, both these sustainable efforts will improve early detection and lower the overall cost.

Many more examples are needed. The success of these approaches will depend greatly on funds flowing to the most innovative participants no matter their size and then scaling the successes to achieve more innovative and sustainable models and systems.

Note: This article first appeared on CSRWire.

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.

Summer Reading: The Holy Grail and the Greatest Bargain

One advantage of actively attending conferences is the opportunity to hear brilliant people argue their ideas, and often those ideas run counter to the conventional thinking. These leaders – in their thinking and doing – help us see how we can work together to do both.

In the spirit of the proverbial summer reading list, here are two books I recommend for bringing some of that nonconventional thinking to a beach or pool near you.

House on Fire: The Fight to Eradicate Smallpox, by William Foege.

“I don’t know much but when there is a house on fire in our village; we don’t poor water on all the houses.”

This simple statement was made by a village leader in India at a pivotal point in adoption of an innovative containment program for smallpox. Rather than trying to vaccinate everyone, this program used targeting of just six percent of the population to eradicate smallpox.

Author Mark Rosenberg wrote about William Foege, “The eradication of a disease has long been the holy grail of global health and Bill Foege found it: more than any other person, he was responsible for the eradication of smallpox from the face of the earth. This is a story told by a remarkably humble man, about the extraordinary coalition that he helped to build, and the most impressive global health accomplishment the world has ever seen.”

Listening to William Foege speak at the International Conference on Global Health recently, I was struck by his self-effacing tenacity. In response to the classic “what did you learn?” query, he responded with this wise advice: “You have to be able to consistently envision the end result while aggressively seeking the actual data, no matter how bad it is.”

From House on Fire: “One had to be an optimist with a feel for numbers to be ecstatic at the same time that Bihar had over 5,000 known smallpox outbreaks and had just reported over 11,600 new cases of smallpox in a single week.”

William Foege underlined this steady optimism by saying he held back from celebrating the triumph over smallpox in any individual country because he thought that would demonstrate surprise at the result which, at the beginning, he had so clearly envisioned.

Poverty Capital: Microfinance and the Making of Development, by Ananya Roy.

In the past year I have participated in a number of conferences focused on social enterprise, poverty alleviation and microfinance. The Skoll World Forum at Oxford and the MicrofinanceUSA Conference in NYC both featured distinguished moderators and microfinance leaders discussing the crisis in the microfinance sector. (This usually shows up as a critique of Comportamos or other successfully profitable MFIs.)

While Professor Yunus is a leading advocate for not profiting from serving the poor, a few realities are sometimes overlooked in this argument. Here’s my list of reasons why a more open view of this sector, including the option for profitability, is necessary at this point in time:

1. The microfinance sector would never have attracted $30 billion dollars without the option of profitability.

2. Microfinance grew out of pent up demand for access to loans that was immense. Servicing that demand has required infrastructure, trained personnel and distribution, all costs that are not trivial.

3. A bell curve of strategies – falling between the two poles of social impact and loan pricing/profitability – have been developed that include a variety of trade-offs. This has resulted in more variety and better choices for borrowers.

4. It is noteworthy that microfinance grew as long as it did before abuses (which would inevitability be encountered) became visible. While the lack of regulation aided the absence of visibility, it is still remarkable events of misuse in India are happening over 25 years of microfinance’s time span.

One of the best summarizing comments made at MicrofinanceUSA came from Ananya Roy, author of Poverty Capital and a professor at UC Berkeley. After extensive study of the specific trade-offs within microfinance, and the equally important trade-offs between microfinance and the other global development options, Ms. Roy pulled a balanced context together with this one line: “Microfinance is the greatest bargain in global development.”

As I mentioned in a question after Ms. Roy’s comment, any other development sector, healthcare, water, slum upgrading, would kill (pardon the expression) to have a thousand people gathered with recognized brand names like Comportamos, ACCION and Kiva, discussing the trade-offs from $30 billion dollars of global development—most of which was paid back! Likewise William Foege and leaders from the World Health Organization and a broad range of other organizations organized and innovated to avoid the deaths and maiming of millions upon millions. Both outcomes show the value of vision and innovation in attracting the human and financial resources and then making measurable progress in solving global challenges.

A version of this post first appeared on CSRwire.


The Cheena Vala (also known as the Chinese fishing nets) of Cochin, India: A technology of indeterminate age and source, the nets are balanced so that the weight of just one man on the main beam causes the net to descend into the sea.

During the past three weeks while attending six conferences—see the full list under Road Work on the side column to the right—I felt like I was fishing in well stocked waters, using multiple nets, and lucky enough to be in the midst of a tidal surge. While my nets came back full, I know there was still a lot that I wasn’t able to catch.

Luckily these waters have no minimum size requirements so I’m keeping everything I caught. Here are a few highlights worth sharing.

The “Actions Speak Louder” Award
SOCAP attendance was several hundred more than a thousand, and attendance at the “unconference” on the third day had 600 participants and featured 12-15 UN sessions per time slot. This was twice as many participants as any other conference I attended and almost twice as many as SOCAP had last year. Most important, virtually every person was working on solutions to one or more global (and/or local) problems. To learn more, read Neil Eddington’s report here.

Hybrid Vigor
In an earlier post I suggested that the Investing in MDG Goals conference and the Ashoka Futures Forum be held together in 2011. I’d like to suggest another pairing: The US Chamber Business Civic Leadership Center and SOCAP should do their September conferences together next year. ReachScale extended SOCAP invitations to a dozen companies and about half accepted and participated in the privates session we conducted with top social enterprise leaders like Rebecca Onie of Project Health, Lelia Janah of Samasource, Abby Falik of Global Citizen Year and David Smith of Affordable Housing Institute. Adding the four hundred attendees at the BCLC to the mix would open an innovation window that would be enlightening for all parties.

For an example of the mobile innovation opportunities on display at SOCAP and analysis of why Omidyar is investing $55 million in mobile tech, read this article by Alice Korngold at Fast Company here.

Impact Investors Collaborate

To read a primer on impact investing, your time would be well spent turning to one of the founders of SOCAP, Kevin Jones. You can read his article on the Huffington Post here.

This article was written before the boomlet that was SOCAP 2010, anticipating a movement that is now forming. At SOCAP a group of innovative early stage impact investors agreed to share information, due diligence, tracking and measurement of investments. This effort is being called Toniic and is designed to partner with the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN). Early stage moves like this will lay the groundwork over the next decade for social investors to realize that while backing companies that do less harm is good, investing in companies that are actually solving problems will be even better. (Read the CSR Wire announcement here.)

Another piece of the puzzle is investment advise for guidance on impact investing. An announcement at the Clinton Global Initiative of the Global Impact 50, the first index of top impact investment fund managers that are delivering social and environmental value in addition to financial returns (including the leaders from microfinance, community development, fair trade, and other strategies) is well received news. Impact investing requires a willingness to put risk capital in play for early stage transformative investments. The Global Impact 50 will bring visibility to those playing this role. You can read the announcement in Forbes here.

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.

Problem Size, Innovation and Scale

Polynesian seafaring “wayfinders” used devices like this to navigate the vast Pacific, a tool that takes into consideration the location of islands, sea currents, wave patterns and astronomical data. Solving complex problems, like sea navigation, doesn’t happen with singular, linear approaches. (On display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Massachusetts)

When the challenge of poverty is viewed from the standpoint of the individual, government and NGO efforts to solve poverty on a grand scale look remarkably narrow-minded or, more accurately, narrow-visioned – they focus on what is easy for the funder to deliver rather than what is an integrated solution for the recipient. A common example is rural health-care delivery efforts that don’t deal with clean water: what benefit is there of getting well if the next drink you take makes you sick again?

Those silo approaches are doomed to fail, so strategic social entrepreneurs are creating braided solutions. As my previous post discussed, they are leveraging (1) the pervasiveness of the entrepreneur, (2) new delivery innovations, (3) new ways to collaborate, and (4) the power of scale and innovation to create virtuous cycles.

A key enabler for these new “big problem” social entrepreneurs is the presence of an already on the ground “mission entrepreneurial entity” or MEEs, a local social enterprise. (Click here for more on MEEs, a term introduced by the Affordable Housing Institute.) MEEs cut across the silos and mitigate against non-responsiveness by government and surrogate NGOs by organizing and advocating at the same time. Most importantly, they insure that approaches are tested and structured to deal with the local challenges. (Think of the population in India who refused to relocate from their neighborhood on a toxic waste dump to the safety of a high rise.)

The changes have to occur in the local environment, and MEEs are farther along on the learning curve in working with governments and NGOs to create solutions. As collaborators from outside the MEE’s world, governments and donors/ social investors need to bring insights into how to test the four approaches identified above. The best results are achieved when the learning environment integrates knowledge from on-the-ground operations as well as external experts.

When problem resolution is viewed from this perspective, certain things look very different. For social investors, bigger problems are more worth tackling, because they have:

1-Availability of existing investing systems and business channels that can be repurposed to address these large scale problems. It will be fruitful to use the world’s investment infrastructure to augment impact investing.

2-MEEs that possess significant relationships, skills and access to entrepreneurs. Just like levering the investment platform for social investment, we can use existing entities to launch new combined initiatives. For example, the microfinance infrastructure built in the last few decades can expand to address slum upgrading, cleaner cooking/energy and other related problems.

Problem size can also be leveraged in other ways to drive innovation and to attract talent and resources. Here are two examples:

1-Happening now: The millennial generation is creating an explosion in small collaborative organizations. These groups are populated with “digital natives” who refuse to look at problems as intractable. L3Cs, B Corporations and other new business forms are expressions of the Millennials’ desire to formally integrate social impact alongside profit as a business goal.

2- In the future: Much in the way M&A groups are used today to scour the horizon for profitable acquisitions, successful future global companies will use internal social-investment groups to find and scale the most innovative approaches to solve the biggest global challenges. The current trend of sponsoring business plan competitions – which provide only a pittance of what these innovative ideas need to actually scale – will be replaced by whole teams inside and outside companies that can build on the value creation from solving global problems.

These changes and others are transforming every aspect of global problem resolution. More to come in future posts.

Follow up to the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit: Three Questions that Gauge Commitment

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. (You can 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 the organizations that had committed to goals that seemed reachable in 2007 but seem less so today.

Empowering an ecosystem of leaders to re-envision the appropriate responses is a tough challenge in its own right. Well respected leaders including Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Georg Kell, Lord Michael Hastings and Jeffrey Sachs among others (the featured attendee list here) were doing yeoman’s work to course correct while all the measuring instruments are being recalibrated.

Under the current circumstances it is no surprise that the proceedings were dominated by testimonials of good works completed and new projects and collaborations being started. (For more on the results, read the Global Compact Annual Review.) I expect many people listening to the testimonials were asking themselves some recalibration and authenticity questions such as:

“Is that challenge or project worthy of the global organization that has taken it on?”

“Is there a problem that is so core to that organization’s business that they could dramatically increase the resources they have committed?”

“Would taking on a larger issue do a better job of engaging their human capital and leadership?”

Making decisions about our own response as individuals and company leaders becomes increasingly difficult during times like these. In small group discussions that took place during the conference, these questions were discussed. (One group I participated in came up with a three step process which I’ll cover in my next post.) Those conversations, along with the multiple testimonials heard from the dais, led me to three simple but core questions. I share them here as a possible path for companies who are viewing their commitment to “shared values and principles, which will give a human face to the global market” (a quote that appears on the cover of the Gobal Compact Annual Review). For those leaders who are willing to identify a global problem that has seemed intractable and to focus their energies on demonstrating progress towards its solution*, these questions will help.

1. Are we taking on a problem that our stakeholders would immediately recognize as a significant problem?
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 problem that has been viewed as intractable but could shift significantly with the right focus.

2. Is the problem we have chosen core enough to our business that we can ask our most competent associates to invest in its resolution? Is its strategic business relevance demonstrated by our experts applying 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 or their partners operate.

3. 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 the 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.

Next post: More from the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit.

* For a seminal discussion of these issues, read the Harvard Business Review article, Strategy and Society: The Link Between Competitive Advantage and Corporate Social Responsibility, by Michael E. Porter, Mark R. Kramer.

The New Hybrid: Game Changers and World Changers

Two forms come together, suggesting the motifs of taking flight, synergism, upward movement

Who are the game changers?

A quick review of the big business success stories of the new century (Google, Apple, J&J, P&G, GE, to name a few) suggests that the most visionary business leaders are building growth through missions and mandates that are essentially game changers.

These success stories are in high contrast to another class of companies (Enron, WorldCom and many of the leading banks) where rampant risk taking resulted in their demise and the world economy’s cliff jump. A majority of the population–and in particular the Millennial generation for whom these events were formative–has made it clear that they want more than just CSR reporting from the brands that are woo them on a daily basis.

Investors are now seeing more examples of successful double and triple bottom line companies. Their expectations are rising, and meeting and exceeding expectations requires a new view of what corporate responsibility actually means. The UN Global Compact, the World Economic Forum and the Clinton Global Initiative are expressions of this new view.

Who are the world changers?

In the influential book Philanthrocapitalism, Matthew Bishop and Michael Green describe this same rise in expectations as it applies to the non-profit sector:

“Increasingly, ideas we argue for in Philanthrocapitalism are being put into practice. Today, more than ever, philanthropists are being focused and strategic, targeting resources on where they make the biggest difference, measuring impact more effectively, finding partners to work with, and encouraging those non-profits they invest in to collaborate more and in some cases even to merge. The tough economic environment which threatens the existence of many non-profits, is making them more open to the ideas of philanthrocapitalists, which holds out the possibility that one silver lining of the crisis will be changes that greatly increase the productivity of the non-profit sector. ”

Bishop and Green are right to focus on increased non-profit productivity, but traditional non-profits tend to move slowly. Fortunately the future of social productivity is not in their hands. That future of social productivity is actually now in the hands of entrepreneurs.

Just as agile business start ups leap ahead of their larger competitors in the for profit sector, social innovation is being led by entrepreneurs. Many of them view old school non-profits as anachronistic which is not surprising given how many of the largest non-profits were started in the early 20th century (according to a study conducted by Bridgespan.) Today’s social entrepreneurs are creating their own solutions, gathering their innovative colleagues and getting to work.

Bringing these two movements together creates a powerful synergism and a new set of opportunities in the future.