January 31, 2010

Omnibus Blog Update

My apologies for the lack of updates lately! It was kind of a hectic month, spending the first half of January in Costa Rica at INCAE Business School and the second half acclimating to the start of the semester and my courses.

The seminar I attended at INCAE, entitled "Business and the Environment: Lessons from Latin America", was a wonderful experience and I feel like I learned more about sustainable development than I ever imagined. The school was founded more than 40 years ago under the guidance of Harvard University, and the rigorous nature of their MBA program was quite impressive.

Well, there are a lot of little things to catch up on, which is why I called this an "omnibus" blog post. So here's a short list of notes, in no particular order of importance:

1) The Unreasonable Institute, which helps train promising young social entrepreneurs, announced the finalists for their contest. In true crowdsourcing fashion, people are encouraged to vote and sponsor the social entrepreneurs and ventures that they support most. The first 25 ventures to raise $6,500 get to attend the Institute and receive business incubation help. They are all clever, noble ventures, so check them out and cast your vote! Three I think are especially cool:

- Kito International: In Kenya, Kito partners with street youth to harness their entrepreneurial spirit, providing the training and tools they need to launch their own microenterprise, become self-sufficient, and move off the streets forever.

- Frontline:SMSCredit: In the world of mobile money, Frontline:SMSCredit hopes to use cell phones to make financial services accessible and affordable for the bottom of the economic pyramid.

- Light Up Malawi: LUM hopes to free one nation off the grid by bringing 100% sustainable energy to Malawi. This clean technology will eliminate poor lighting and dirty fuels, therefore improving health quality.

2) Essential Tools to Start a Social Enterprise: This list of resources, compiled by Martin Montero, is a great starting point for those looking to build a business that is a social changemaker.

3) In a previous post, I mentioned Jacqueline Novogratz, the founder and CEO of Acumen Fund, a venture capital firm that invests in social enterprises. There was a great interview with her on NPR's "Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett" today. They've also posted one of the things I really admire about the Acumen Fellows Program, their required reading list. It is a very broad compilation of philosophical, questioning, culturally aware, empathetic readings; I hope to slowly read them all and put myself through a sort of mock version of Acumen training.

April 18, 2009

Beads Provide Bedrock for Transitional Program

There was a story on "The Newshour with Jim Lehrer" the other night about BeadforLife, a venture started by a social entrepreneur, Torkin Wakefield. (Watch the video here.)

The premise involves women in Uganda creating beads, which are then sold in the U.S. However, the founder, Wakefield, has taken an interesting angle by building homes for the women to own. These women are not encouraged to make beads forever, but it is seen rather as a transitional program. After 27 months, they are required to start learning a new trade, and they are assisted in that vocational training.

Overall, it seems like an interesting concept, and it will be nice to see the long-term stories of these women.

March 15, 2009

WSJ Article: The Rise of the Underground

There's an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal this weekend about the underground economies in developing countries. Though many economists have considered underground economies bad, they have functioned as a safety net for people who've been laid off from formal jobs during the economic crisis. These underground businesses are often entrepreneurial.

The article can be found at

February 16, 2009

FRONTLINE/World Series on Social Entrepreneurs

FRONTLINE/World has profiled a computer engineer in India who puts Internet kiosks in poor neighborhoods throughout his country, helping bridge the digital divide for thousands of children. In Kenya a world-class long-distance runner uses her prize money to start a training camp for poor village women, like herself, whose lives are changed forever. In South Africa a business entrepreneur invents and installs a merry-go-round pushed round by children that pumps enough water for a village of 2,500, making the delivery of clean water child's play. In Guatemala, an American coffee distributor helps develop organic growers among the region's poor farmers, whose beans can be marketed as "fair trade" providing them a living wage. In Uganda, two young social entrepreneurs develop a revolutionary model for microlending, using the Internet to connect borrowers with lenders, person to person, a venture that has grown from one small village in Africa to 11 countries around the world.

In a nutshell, these are stories about individuals whose ideas leap beyond charity to find systemic solutions to poverty, education, health and social justice.