Posts Tagged ‘ Ashoka

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.

A Congress Where One Can Visualize Innovation

The World Health Care Congress convened in Abu Dhabi on December 5. For those of us in the US, media coverage was focusing on a dysfunctional congress in Washington. So now for something completely different, an innovative congress happening on the other side of the globe.

At least four ecosystems were visible at the WHCC, each collaborating and co-creating to achieve the following over the next decade:

– Increased attention to breakthroughs around access, diagnostics, delivery, chronic care and behavior change

– Fewer resources invested in discoveries and expensive healthcare systems for the top of the pyramid

– Improvements—potentially dramatic— in healthcare innovation on the cost, access and prevention (especially prevention through behavior change) dimensions

As General Electric stated in the October 2009 Harvard Business Review article, “How GE Is Disrupting Itself”, survival in the next century requires companies to import their innovation from the most innovative sources in the developing world where priorities are driven by a very different innovation and resource focus.

ReachScale was at the World Health Care Congress to introduce the social enterprise ecosystem as a major innovation source for the global health transformation opportunity (more information about one of several innovation social enterprise models, Healthpoint, can be read here.) I suggested that more visibility for social enterprise and impact investing was needed, and the WHCC organizers agreed. (Coming directly from an impact investing conference hosted by Asad Mahmoud of Deutsche Bank I brought fresh insights into that point of view.)

The validity of this suggestion was quickly demonstrated when my first question to the assembly mentioned Ashoka and causing several people to ask, What is Ashoka? That led to many questions about social enterprise, primarily regarding the Ashoka and Healthpoint models, in multiple sessions. I was able to have conversations on this topic with over a hundred leaders from all over the world.

While social enterprise was the last guest to be invited to this gathering, the potential for innovation was greatly enhanced by convening the other ecosystem leaders. This was done brilliantly through a successful collaboration of the World Congress and the Abu Dhabi Health Authority whose leaders were influential in bringing some of the most thoughtful and innovative speakers and participants from the Gulf Cooperation countries along with a full complement from India, Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe and North America.

There are four ecosystems which I envision collaborating with the social enterprise ecosystem to drive innovation breakthroughs around access, diagnostics, delivery, chronic care and behavior change. Your list might include a few others. And if you are a leader in one of those other ecosystems not named here, let’s talk and accelerate the conversation.

Here are my four:

1-New health care system builders (and broken health care system innovators)

2-Global South healthcare system innovators

3-The world organizations ranging from the UN and WHO to the functional and dysfunctional ecosystems around the MDGs, especially MGD 4 and 5

4-Corporations seeking a license to grow and committed to social brand equity as part of their global footprints

My next post will discuss why these partners are all essential, how they are currently innovating and how that innovation could move even faster if conversations and scaling opportunities like those we discussed in Abu Dhabi were blown up (to use a popular Millennial phrase).

Positive Black Swans

There are no black swans in the Northern Hemisphere, so whiteness was assumed to be an essential quality of swanness. When a Dutch explorer spotted a black one on an expedition to Australia in 1697, that concept had to be restated. It is a simple but useful analogy for how fragile a system of thought actually can be. Our assumptions, whether they result from reason, logic, falsifiability and/or evidence, can be undone in a moment. (See a brief description at the bottom of the post regarding Taleb’s use of the term “black swan.”)

As the first decade of the 21st century comes to a close, the popularity of books like The Black Swan (written by Nassim Nicholas Taleb) could be seen in a negative light. There is no need to recount a string of unfortunate Black Swan moments that have appeared successively in economics, the financial world infrastructure and politics. However, when enough people become dissatisfied with the business as usual approach, a world of increasing connectedness is also offering opportunities to create movements and infrastructure that can lead to the beneficial good news black swans.

My take on the past year is that a lot of positive black swan road building is happening that is not visible to the business as usual crowd. As these new roads open up—and in many cases this is happening in the not so visible backwaters of the Global South—new innovations, commerce, solutions and jobs will continue to go unnoticed by the short-term profit maximizers.

Here are a few examples that we encourage you to build into your thinking as you position your careers, companies and capacities to benefit from the unpredictable positives and mitigate risks of the unpredictable negatives:

Impact Investing. While the numbers are still small—$25 billion by some estimates—the concept is big. Two decades ago Domini, Calvert and others began a crusade that resulted in $7 trillion dollars being placed in socially screened investments—i.e., companies that are actively demonstrating that they are doing less harm. Now an intrepid group has set out to demonstrate that your entire portfolio can be investments that are solving global and/or local challenges. These are organizations that produce significant social benefit as well as making a profit. What if ten percent of that $7 trillion moved to impact investments?

Innovation and Social Enterprise. This first decade saw a lot of attention being paid to innovation. And there’s no question that global problems attract innovation leaders. The innovation conferences have begun to shift their focus to newer concepts like open innovation, crowd sourcing and challenge innovation. One of the largest innovation ecosystems centers on social enterprise and is lead by organizations like Ashoka, The Skoll Foundation, and a long list of others. If you do not recognize these names then it is time to do some open innovating of your own. The leading global corporate innovators (GE, P&G, Unilever) are definitely opening to the burgeoning sources of innovation represented by social enterprise.

Social Capital Formation
. I had the pleasure to hear Wayne Silby, founder of Calvert, speak to the Impact Investing conference hosted by Asad Mahmoud of Deutsche Bank last week in NYC. Besides Calvert’s leading role in social investing mentioned above, the Calvert Foundation is one of many leaders in the social bonds space. Space does not permit a full rendition of that approach but suffice it to say that for-profit social enterprises can access debt capital much earlier than traditional entrepreneurs.

Social Enterprise Scaling Infrastructure
. A broad range of efforts are coalescing here—Ashoka’s accelerator program, Santa Clara University’s Global Social Benefit Incubator, Poptech, New Profit and our own ReachScale outreach to find the corporate scaling partners for the most innovative SEs–and the trend is growing.

These ecosystems are increasing in richness and connections. They are beginning to demonstrate the “power of pull” (from the book of the same name by John Hagel III, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison) and the “powerlaw” lens (as referenced in Chris Anderson’s guest review of The Black Swan ) that Taleb talks about at length, and they will continue to attract resources and drive innovation. Putting yourself in the path of these positive trends is a good thing, for you and for your co-travelers.

Note: Taleb’s “Black Swan Events” theory is offered up to explain the following:

1) The disproportionate role of high-impact, hard to predict, and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations.

2) The non-computability of the probability of the consequential rare events using scientific methods (owing to their very nature of small probabilities).

3) The psychological biases that make people individually and collectively blind to uncertainty and unaware of the massive role of the rare event in historical affairs.

Come Together

Performance artist Robin Rhode physically “pulls” the disparate chalk lines into relationship with each other. (From an installation at LACMA, Los Angeles)

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 World Needs More Social Entrepreneurs. And They Need Partners.

Bill Drayton is the founder, chairman and CEO of Ashoka. Since its founding in1980, Ashoka has advocated for social entrepreneurs by helping them develop, share and scale their ideas.

In Drayton’s recent article at Harvard Business Review, The World Needs More Social Entrepreneurs, Bill makes the case that we need to solve problems in a new way.

Bill is right.

Given all the problems our world faces — in teaching, technology, health care, or finance — we need many more social entrepreneurs and change makers. Progress against these problems will be intolerably slow if only 3% to 5% of world’s population thinks they can solve them.

We need to teach our youth that they can help people; that they can lead; that they can make lasting and important change in their communities and across the globe. Society, employers, educators, and parents need to recognize that our kids’ successful personal and social development must start with a mastery of several complex skills — empathy, teamwork, leadership, and change making.

Equally important, we need organizations that will step forward and invest in the best of the best SEs. And not just a passive investment but one that scales the best SE’s and to take leadership in finding other partners that are needed to achieve a significant impact.

Bill is right.

We have worked with more than 500 young change makers through our Youth Venture program. Here are some of the patterns we are seeing:

– Almost all entrepreneurs, business and social, founded something as a teen

– Young people are competent and love being involved in creating change;


– One must transform youth communities (in schools and elsewhere) so that it becomes routine for young people to initiate and organize. They should be trained and rewarded for doing so.

The good news is that to partner and help scale a social entrepreneur, you don’t have to have started your venture when you were a teen. However it does help if, as a grown up, you can champion the idea to your organization that social impact investing is a critical new piston in both the social impact and marketing engagement engines. And that potential is going to have significant ramifications in our collective future.

Bill is right.

Anyone who has this confidence, who can enjoy working with others to solve problems and open new opportunities, will be a motivated learner every day.

As companies invest in the social innovations of these confident and motivated learners, they will be scaling the impact of those enterprises. But they will also reap the benefit of learning what their customers care about as well. Win/win all the way ’round.

Halo effect: Radiant light illuminates everything in its field.

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)