The New Hybrid: Game Changers and World Changers


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

Corporate Compliance, Part 2: Ethical Innovation


Sometimes standard forms just aren’t big enough for what you have in mind. (In an installation at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh PA, the sculptor needed more room so he built the structure to stretch beyond the gallery walls and into the space outside.)
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In the previous post, Positive Steps in Corporate Compliance, we listed five steps for rethinking compliance.

To recap:

1. Turn around every once in a while.
2. When you turn around, look for positive opportunities to partner.
3. Lead openly
4. Lead across silos and business units
5. Measure the positives as well as the negatives.

Here are the final five:

6. Feature ethics as foundation.
In conversations that happen in your organization, keep both ethics and compliance in play. It is easy to shift the focus exclusively to compliance, to focus on avoiding unwanted outcomes. Try incorporating the next four suggestions to keep ethics in the conversation and create a positive culture that also obeys the rules.
Example: Johnson & Johnson’s Our Caring

7. Leading with ethics requires creativity.
It may seem counterintuitive but lawyers, accountants and control-oriented MBAs also want to be creative. Promoting a new brand of ethics and compliance in your organization can be a priority and innovative. Invite marketing and communications to join you. Create brainstorming sessions that include people from all parts of the company. Ask for ideas and demonstrate openness to suggestions. Just one very successful campaign can shift the culture more than a slew of mandates.

Example: Second City Communications’ RealBiz Shorts–the Funny Video Collection on Business Ethics and Compliance

8. Adopt causes.
For every ethical principle, opportunities abound for reinforcing and advocating for that principle. Some organizations have developed sophisticated campaigns to support a particular principle. There are causes, events, contributions, campaigns. Do the research and find the cause to which your organization can commit wisdom, work and resources.

Example: Pepsi’s Refresh Everything; Pepsi’s One People Commercial 2010

9. Innovation requires innovation.
Even the most conservative industries are being changed by large trends–open innovation, new media, social networks, mobility, to mention a few. Ethics and compliance can’t hide from these. Choose the trends that are changing your business and support the functions that need to build muscle in these areas. Saying no isn’t going to fly going forward.

Example: Allstate Insurance builds Customer Social Network

10. Be ethically selfish.
Every organization needs talent. Talent shortages are predicted as boomers retire and the smaller Generation X needs help from the Millennials to fill the talent opportunities created by growth and innovation. The two most important things you can do to attract the Millennials are to be a technology leader (obvious) and an ethical leader (much less obvious).

Example: Dell’s adoption of social innovation; Manish Mehta, Vice President, Social Media and Community at Dell on scaling social media

Positive Steps in Corporate Compliance


Transparency, clarity, direction, focus: All parts of the compliance skill set
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I just returned from the Compliance Week 2010 conference in Washington DC. As always, I headed home with a new set of thoughts and concepts. We live in a world with a requisite number of bad apples, but the mind (or should I say mine) tends to remember the good things and forget the bad.

Here is my list of significant concept “chunks” that were dealt with at the conference. I’ve also included the link to one of the books that has addressed each of these idea areas:

Greed, short selling and the great recession
The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine

Energy shortages, $4/gallon gas and the Gulf oil spill
Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution–and How It Can Renew America

Bailouts, billions and bonuses
Too Big to Fail

Great recession, predatory lending and banking collapse
Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy

Globalization, pervasive marketing and brand proliferation
No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies

The Compliance Week team does a superb job of assembling some of the most well informed and influential people in this area. Harvey Pitt, former SEC Chair, did the keynote the first day, and I was fortunate enough to converse with him over lunch. His list of the ten things you must know/do when the SEC calls or if you think they might call were homespun and yet brilliant. (If I were Compliance Week, that would be my next cover article.)

So in the spirit of groups of ten, I offer my ten learnings/suggestions for lowering the opportunity costs for this new decade of compliance. Where possible I have included a company that exemplifies the positive result of this approach.

1. Turn around every once in a while.
One expert described the seven pillars of an effective compliance system. Needless to say, corporate compliance leaders have their hands full. Constantly faced with a long list of things that can go wrong, it is easy to forget that positive actions can go further in changing employees’ perception of their company’s commitment to do the right thing.

Example: Walmart’s Sustainability Investments

2. When you turn around, look for positive opportunities to partner.
Eliminating corruption seems like an activity that focused on eliminating negatives. However when the right groups get together and the positive impacts that a truly effective effort can have are made visible, then being a leader in convening the players and solving the problem creates a positive vibe, and more.

Example: Fluor Corporation has worked with the World Economic Forum and others to eliminate corruption, leveling the playing field and ensuring that development dollars can really achieve the impact so desperately needed.

3. Lead openly
The need to be more transparent shows up a lot in compliance discussions. More transparency is needed to lead both in both ethics and compliance.

Example: Kathleen Edmond, Chief Ethics Officer at Best Buy, writes openly on her blog.

4. Lead across silos and business units
The opportunities presented by new technology and social media are just some of the levers that enable innovative compliance efforts to open conversations and to forge partnerships across multiple business units and functions in large companies.

Example: Doug Chia at Johnson & Johnson is working as assistant corporate secretary to lead multiple efforts to leverage media and lead cross functional efforts at J&J.

5. Measure the positives as well as the negatives.
Compliance can be so focused on eliminating wrong that the scorecard fails to measure doing the right.

Example: American Express shared a superb internal scorecard with attendees at the conference. Leonard Shen, Chief Compliance & Ethics Officer, received well-deserved attention from virtually everyone for the corporate-wide use and commitment to this innovative effort. I suggested measuring the positive in my question to Shen, something he thoughtfully agreed to consider.

The next five: Coming up in my next post.

The Scaling Trifecta: Margin, Mandate and Mission


Three arrows in the quiver (Detail from Brazilian Candomblé metal sculpture, also known as Ferramentos)

In an excellent post by Brian Trelstad, Chief Investment Officer of Acumen, a case is made that the three primary drivers of scale—margin, mandate and mission—are respectively important to business, government and social enterprises.

After discussing nonprofit mission organizations (like the Girl Scouts,) business organizations whose growth is primarily margin driven, and government scaling that resulted from mandates, Trelstad both asks and answers:

At this point, you’re probably asking yourself: OK, makes sense, but how does this relate to social enterprise?

Where this gets interesting from a social enterprise perspective is that it offers us a lens to understand the oft-discussed but also misunderstood “path to scale”. The path to scale is not straightforward; social enterprises don’t follow just one path or another. In fact, every business in Acumen Fund’s portfolio blends some element of business, social enterprise, and policy experiment at different points in their life cycle. They need to focus on margin, communicate a compelling mission, and advocate for a mandate at various stages of their development.

I think there is more to this trifecta than Trelstad is suggesting here. A quick review of the success stories of the new century (Google, Apple, J&J, P&G, GE, etc.) suggests that business leaders have built on missions (make the world’s information available, eco-imagination) and mandates (grow through innovation with half of all new offerings coming from outside the corporation) which have become the foundation for increased margins.

That said, many of our current woes are a function of total lack of balance between profiteering and mission. Many companies were surprised by the overwhelming response of individual citizens and organizations in the third sector who exposed their lame attempts to color themselves green (greenwashing is now a thriving sector.) Did they forget about their colleagues at Enron, WorldComm and the banks whose rampant risk taking resulted in their demise and the economies cliff jump? A majority of the population (and the millennial generation in particular for whom these events were formative) has expressed clearly that they want more than just CSR reporting from the brands that are wooing them.

In my view, Acumen’s attention to the sophisticated social enterprise will soon become a common requirement for increasing numbers of investors and corporate leaders. As investors see more examples of successful double and triple bottom line companies, their expectations will continue to rise.

Balancing mission and margin while seeking mandates (and/or donations) makes the social entrepreneur adept at managing these complex and competing factors. More and more companies in the for-profit world are going to need to emulate that balancing act as well.

At the same time, more social enterprises will need to collaborate and in some cases combine forces with other organizations, both for profit and not for profit, to achieve critical mass. Seeking corporate partners that can demonstrate collaborative skills will enhance value creation on both sides.

Going forward, corporate organizations will benefit from with these social hybrids. Those partnership include a mutual exchange of ideas and techniques. As social organizations demonstrate the ability to create value for companies and to enable double and triple bottom line thinking to extend across all partners in these hybrid value chains, the attractiveness of these partnerships will increase further.

Aspirations and Ecosystems


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

Come Together


Performance artist Robin Rhode physically “pulls” the disparate chalk lines into relationship with each other. (From an installation at LACMA, Los Angeles)
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I just returned from the Social Enterprise Alliance Summit in San Francisco. Because of its close proximity in time to the much bigger and better known Skoll World Forum (which is considered by most to be the rock star social entrepreneur stage,) some might have had a tendency to think that the talent would be skewed in the direction of Oxford, England, volcanic ash cloud notwithstanding.

I see it differently. Based on my experience I would suggest that every organization—for profit and nonprofit—-send one of their top recruiters to both. The talent on display everywhere at the SEA was superb. Once you see these individuals in action you will want to hire them, or people like them. You may want to read further on this site to understand the changes that need to be made to attract those kind of individuals.

I can’t begin to describe all the people I met, both young Millennials as well as more mature Boomers. These social entrepreneurs are innovators who benefit from the hybrid vigor of combining inspiration and aspiration to get good to grow.

While these social enterprise events can be inspiring, it is striking to me that so few from the for profit side are having conversations with these social entrepreneurs. That is a lost opportunity on both sides. I have written here about my recent experience at the Investing in the Millennium Development Goals conference, a meeting you would expect to exhibit awareness of the social enterprise world. About 75% of the 20 speakers I interviewed had never heard of Ashoka or Ashoka Fellows.

In the evening plenary session at SEA I pointed this fact out, mentioning that Ashoka is a good litmus test to measure those who know versus those who don’t. No one says, “I think I’ve heard of Ashoka.” Either you have or you have not.

I left the SEA Summit with a suggestion that I pass on to all my social enterprise readers. What would happen if everyone in this sector attended one less social enterprise conference and arranged instead to speak about social enterprise at a business, marketing, innovation or talent management conference? I am adding this one to my list of ideas I’d like to work on if someone would like to help me manage the effort—setting up a “social enterprise speakers bureau”. By placing talented SEs on panels with business leaders, the cross fertilization could produce a new and richly rewarding opportunity for mutual learning and respect.

The Millennials: Pervasive Impact


So many ways to read the writing on the wall: The message can be Better History, Bitter History, Better Future, or Bitter Future. Pick one.
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In an earlier post I wrote about the two most frequently asked marketing questions—having a Facebook presence, and good citizenship in advertising. While many might argue otherwise, the very fact that those two questions are plausibly presented as the most frequent marketing concerns suggests a substantial shift in the corporate marketing landscape.

What is driving this shift? The generation that created Facebook and Twitter are referred to by social scientists as the Millennials. Don Tapscott prefers to call them the Net Generation, placing more emphasis on their “growing up digital” than on a collective psyche response to being born near the millenium. I used to work with Tapscott, and I used to agree with that point of view. But the last two years have shifted my view 180 degrees. In my new view the collective psyche of the Millennials is totally driven by their arrival at adulthood at the cusp of a millennial change that portended promise but arrived with a heavy mix of disappointment and disillusionment.

Despite the fact that this is the first generation that actually likes their parents (according to generation experts Strauss and Howe), they also see how badly their parents’ generation screwed things up. They understand that they are the ones who will be stepping up to fix the problems, to turn things around.

So whether you are trying to garner their votes or get them to pay attention to your products, you’d better understand that their view of corporate responsibility far exceeds anything you could imagine from your executive level purview. This is a call to pay attention in a completely different way.

The reason it is hard to answer the Facebook and citizenship in advertising questions is because the rules are being set by people with an obsession for authenticity. As Millennials create the venues you most need to use to promulgate your products, they also are requiring authentic action to participate. A good example is the ease with which inauthentic environmental “press speak” was greeted by disdain and labeled greenwashing by social activists who could prove that it in fact it was just that–a white washing of the truth.

As we progress through the next century, the pervasive impact of these Millennial-driven inventions and interventions will redefine every sector, from marketing to talent development, from social enterprises to politics.

Sustaining Trust

Last week I participated on the Green Marketing panel at the MIT Sustainability Summit. Michael Hopkins, editor of the MIT Sloan Management Review, offered up the elemental question(s):

Should companies do green marketing?
If yes, how?

I’ll save my answers to the first question for another post. But in answering the second question, I proposed that the specifics of the how were not nearly as important as intentions and intended outcomes.

In the nonprofit world, the intersection of professional management and impact analytics comes together in a unique manner to achieve real progress. (This process is described clearly in an excellent book by Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant, Forces for Good.) And the move towards concentrating resources and innovation that is now being emphasized by philanthrocapital entities has resulted in sophisticated donors requiring each organization seeking resources to demonstrate how effectively it is—and will be able to solve—whole problems or significant portions of those problems.

Stewardship stories* are no longer enough. Stories now must translate into measurements, analytics and innovations that clearly show substantial progress, both in scaling the effort and in identifying how whole problems are being addressed and resolved. Now more than ever, intentions have to be translated into real innovations and outcomes before trust and resources will flow to any serious organization.

Jim Black, a fellow panelist at yesterday’s conference, is a board member of Air Quality Sciences and GreenGuard certification. Over 21 years ago his wife Marilyn Black, founder of the Greenguard Environmental Institute, began testing products to determine their impact on indoor air quality. One of the first companies to ask for help was the leading maker of vinyl wallpaper, one of the worst indoor air and land fill offenders at that point in time. The product was so unsustainable that two decades ago the company’s management figured out that unless they made significant progress towards a sustainable product line, they would eventually be out of business. After four years and a multi-million dollar investment, vinyl wallpaper became an acceptable product with a manageable life cycle.

End of story?

No, especially considering the next question that was asked. Given the cynicism of consumers (and with good reason given the vagaries of recent corporate greenwashing,) will GreenGuard certification be seen as meaningful? What can a company like the manufacturer in the vinyl wallpaper example described above do to solve the problem of trust?

It is no longer enough to just tell your story and then point to certification for cover. Why? Because every consumer knows that turning one offending product into an earth-friendly one does not make measurable progress toward solving the cumulative product life cycle problem we all face.

The manufacturer who wants to win consumer trust must step forward and catalyze learning, innovation, resources and commitment to encourage as many companies as possible to do the same. Doing the right thing may save your company, but it does not buy you substantive consumer trust. Persuading others to follow your lead confirms your intention and your commitment to translate those intentions into results. And it is results that win trust.

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*Stewardship stories, content and materials are the testimonials that nonprofits use to demonstrate the value and scope of their impact model.

Largest Strategic Branding Error Ever?

Within 24 hours of leaving the Ashoka Future Forum earlier this month, I was welcomed by Stephen Jordan, Executive Director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Business Civic Leadership Center (BCLC), to the Investing in Millennium Development Goals meeting held at the UN on April 7-8.

The juxtaposition of these two conferences was striking. One conference brought together the best and the brightest social entrepreneurs. The other was a gathering of government, corporate and nonprofit leaders dedicated to accomplishing the Millennium Development Goals.

Then it hit me. Here’s what should happen in 2011: The Ashoka Future Forum and the Investing in Millennium Development Goals should be held together.

Oh, and while I am designing an optimal future, I want every CEO and/or CMO in America to attend.

I know it isn’t likely, but it isn’t an impossible goal. And just think what would happen if it did.

We can’t underestimate the importance of the global efforts of the UN, its agencies, the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups in changing the conversation about corporate social responsibility. The opening session at Millennium Development was “The Role of the Private Sector and the Future of Global CSR”, and it set the tone for the meeting. The 15 company representatives that I met—about half of whom were speakers—had some very strong examples of innovative thinking. For example, Unilever and Nestle used microfinance-funded businesswomen to create product distribution in rural areas, and IBM and Abbott sent innovation teams into disaster relief areas like Haiti to solve critical technology relief and malnutrition. All good examples.

But what struck me was that most of the stories tended to be more of the “surgical strike” variety. None of them were examples of how you scale social innovation in a way that can eradicate a whole problem industry.

In the opening session of the Millennium Development meeting, two speakers used Teach for America as an example of the type of social enterprise that should be supported by corporate funding and expertise. Teach for America represents a “best in class” example of an organization that has been able to scale a worthwhile mission of helping to eradicate education inequity in America.

But here is my version of the Teach for America opportunity:

A decade ago, a number of major corporations met with Wendy Kopp. They listened to her pitch, either made a one time donation to her cause or offered her nothing at all, and then they walked away.

At that moment in time, those corporations each made the largest strategic branding error in the history of their company. None of those enterprises have ever had a meeting to discuss that mistake, no one lost their job because of that mistake, and no one is making sure that it never happens again.

The brand equity that could have been achieved by a company that stepped up to help scale Teach for America is enormous. What would that be worth to a corporation in reputation, name recognition, good will, affiliation? My guess it would be worth many, many millions.

The Teach for America story leaves me with this question: Most leading companies spend millions researching and analyzing the investment value of merger/acquisition candidates, so why don’t they have a social investing team to do the same in the social venture space? Who in your organization has the vision and the scope of responsibility to find the next Teach for America?


Can we consider going for a larger arc? The Gateway Arch by Eero Saarinen in St. Louis consists of two foundational structures that come together perfectly at the top.

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.”
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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.

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*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.