Sunday, February 24, 2008

Entrepreneurship Week at Stanford

The DV Fellows (myself included) are presenting at Eweek today.

Today's event is two parts. First, a panel discussion about funding social enterprises followed by an open house the Digital Vision projects.

The panel began with a discussion of what social entrpreneurship is. Stanford's Center for Social Innovation uses Greg Dees' very specific definition of social entrepreneurship that firmly incorporates social returns with financial ones.

The first panelist is Jenny Shilling Stein, the executive director of the Draper Richards Foundation.

She first talked about the characteristics of a prospective social entreprenur, and specifically someone interested in investment by Draper Richards Foundation.
  • A candidate who is organized, who knows who the competitors, and funders are. It is critical that they know the market landscape
  • Personality, charisma. In the for-profit world, this would be a sales-type personality. Someone who fillls up the room with passion, excitement, and is willing to take a risk.
  • A good heart. This is critical to support funding, interest, and collaboration.
Some common mistakes that seekers make is trying to solve too many problems at the same time, for example tree farming and clean water. Also, an existing or large board of directors is a bad idea at the beginning, it's much better to be nimble and well supported.

Finally, great ideas really come from direct experience. It is critical to experience a problem or need first hand and move from there to solving it from an organizational perspective.

The second is Jessica Jackley Flannery, Co-Founder and Director of Business Development of

Jessica talked about her experience getting started, and how it was critical to meet and understand the people that Kiva serves. She emphasized the importance of really getting to know the people that they would serve. Jessica learned this by going to visit people served by the village enterprise fund in east Africa two and a half years ago, and that experience coupled with her passion for microfinance ultimately led to Kiva.

The stories were quite compelling, but she wasn't sure at the beginning how her friends and family could directly lend a few dollars to the people.

Specifically, her advice is:
  • Meet people
  • Stay focused
  • Follow what fascinates you
  • Talk to anyone who will talk to you, both to spread interest and be informed.
  • Don't plan too much, just give yourself a deadline and start, then interate
(On a personal note, this was one of the most important points to me as well. It was critical to break things down, start early, learn quickly, and get momentum. I loved using the ideas of using rapid prototyping and applying them to my project)

"Doing good, smart."

What did we do right? Figure what you want to do and do it. Don't be afraid to be scrappy. (One of my other favorite Kiva notions was from Matt Flannery, who mentioned his MDBS list in a talk at Stanford list -- the Must Do Before Sleep list. :)

Amy Clark, Ashoka, Global Fellows Program Leader

In terms of people, Ashoka fellows are typically creative, entrepreneurial, and trustworthy people. They start school newspapers, high school organizations, and others. They are interested in how people react to problems. They want to know if the person is interested in seeing a change happen, to make sure potential fellows are tenacious and bold.

  • Is it innovative?
  • Does it have broad scope?
Common mistakes grantees make are applying without a deep understanding of the social benefit to the recipients. Echoing what the previous panelists said, personal experience with problem areas to be solved is invaluable in social enterprise.

Ashoka particularly looks for trustworthy and credible applicants.

Suzanne McKechnie Klahr, Ashoka Fellow and Founder of BUILD

Suzanne was a law studend at Stanford during the first dotcom boom, working in East Palo Alto. She was passionate about working with low income entrepreneurs. What was so frustrating was they had great ideas but no access to funding just a few miles down the road. Here were crazy dot-com businesses getting tens of millions of dollars while a local restaurant couldn't get a thousand to expand.

She started a community law clinic, and a few months later, four kids came by and wanted to start a business, but to do that they would drop out of high school. Everyone dropped out of high school. So she made them a deal where she would help their business if they finished high school. And that was the beginning of BUILD.

Her advice for social entrepreneurs is:
  • Know what you want
  • Be prepared
  • Be ready to say no or 'we're not ready' so you don't go in half baked
  • Find a good mentor

EDIT: Michael Tsai has a great writeup of the open house with the Digital Vision fellows.

EDIT2: Neerja Raman, a Media X fellow at Stanford, also covered the open house in her blog.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Liveblogging myself

Experimenting on myself.

Got into a social media kick this afternoon, so I thought I'd document it.

Downloaded flock

Imported favorites

Set up facebook

Set up twitter. My twitter username is jkuner.

Sent a twitter message in reply to a friend.

Sent a facebook message in reply to a friend's status.

See an ad on facebook and realize...

Looked for adblock pro for flock -- where is it? Are they trying to get mozilla users? will the mozilla one work?

Changed my default search engine in flock to google (I guess Yahoo must be a sponsor since they are the default search engine)

Realized I should blog this so I started up textwrangler. :)

Back to searching for adblock

No go in the flock addons, but it I find out I can install regular adblock plus from mozilla extensions

Voila! Installed & restarted.

Look for instant messenger feature but it seems to only be blogs & media. So I add my blog.

Add my blogger account

Go back to checking out new facebook app -- Knighthood. [join me! :) ] Start building a watchtower.

Think about Jimi Hendrix's version of all along the watchtower and look for / flock integration.

Why is 'sign up' HUGE and 'log in' minuscule?

Retrieve password. On the way to my spam email account, check out media streams.

Look at facebook friends pictures

Search for flock google galleries. Nope, no such luck.

Decide to get back to work and post this blog entry.

Of course in the flock blog editor. :) (Note: link name editing should not continue the link, or at the least you should be able to link to nothing to end the link.)

Blogged with Flock

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Catching up: Back to the beginning

Why am I doing what I'm doing? Once I realized I could actually use what I'd learned about business and technology to manifest social change in a concrete way, I couldn't do anything but that.

I could explain more, but I'll let my video do the talking.

This was the first video piece I created for Project VIEW, but I hadn't posted it until now. I created it at an amazing workshop at the Center for Digital Storytelling.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Muhammad Yunus @ Commonwealth Club Writeup

I had the good fortune to see Muhammad Yunus speak yesterday at the Commonwealth Club, and he was very inspiring. He spoke a bit about his overall philosophy of poverty reduction, some about Grameen's new corporate joint ventures (such as with Danone), and about Grameen Bank's new program for beggars. My favorite moments were his repeated entreaties to study poverty now so that we would have materials for the Poverty Museum in the future, when poverty has been completely eliminated from day-to-day existence and is only a relic of the past.

He started with some history of himself and Grameen Bank, which in itself is a fascinating story. In 1976, after degrees from Dhaka University and Vanderbilt University, he encountered many poor women in the village near where he worked. So he started lending them very small amounts of money. Seven years later, in 1983, Grameen Bank (aka Village Bank) was launched as an actual bank, designed to serve the poorest of the poor.

Dr. Yunus framed his talk with an amusing anecdote. A friend said, "All you're doing is giving away small amounts of money? And for this, you get a Nobel prize? That's too easy!" Dr. Yunus went on to say that it was simple -- just take everything you know about banking, reverse it, and collect your prize! And that was the basic idea of Grameen Bank.

Banks say: the more you have, the more you can get
So Grameen said: the less you have, the more attractive you are

Banks want a lot of collateral, but the poor have none. No collateral, no guarantors.

Conventional banks are owned by rich men, but Grameen was owned by poor women. One of the things that led to its increased education program was that some of the women that Grameen talked to in local communities said, "No, no. Don't give me a loan. I don't know what to do with money." In fact, some of them had never even touched money in their entire lives. So the staff is trained to recognize that kind of woman as the ideal client. That is the person for whom a small loan will make a huge difference.

Building on that, Grameen added an education program. So children of clients are encouraged to go to school. And when these children did attend, they excelled. Some of them were at the very top of their class. And for those who were eligible for college or higher education, a student loan program was instituted. Last year, Grameen gave 51,000 scholarships, and now has 21,000 student loans available; the only qualification is enrollment in college or university.

The next part of his talk dealt with Grameen's program toward beggars. The prevailing theory about microcredit is that it is only for "entrepreneurs". Dr. Yunus contended that all people are entrepreneurs; hard work and creativity are basic human traits.

After examining their local community, the Grameen team realized, by talking to many beggars, that in each of their lives there was a "tipping point" that forced them into a life of begging rather than formal work. So they started a program of very small loans and education for the beggars. They would give beggars small items to sell -- food, matches, household items. With a twinkle in his eye, Dr. Yunus asked, "Since they were going house to house anyway, why not take a few things to sell? "

This program quickly grew to serve 100,000 beggars; and now 10,000 of them have completely stopped begging and earn their livelihood through selling these small items, or becoming personal shoppers for the households they previously begged from.

The bigger picture in all of this was examining the fundamental nature of business. Is it just to maximize profit? From an economics perspective, this is an incomplete model; it's a one-dimensional view of human nature. To augment this model, Dr. Yunus suggests we also need "social businesses" measured by the degree to which they help, just as for-profit businesses are measured by profit.

(Personally, I am also in favor of a hybrid approach; I think for-profit businesses are realizing they can create premium products and have happy employees by adding social change into their product mix. But this is my personal sidebar. Back to the talk...)

One of the social businesses started was Grameen Danone, a joint venture between Grameen Bank and Groupe Danone, on of the largest food companies in the world. Grameen Danone's sole mission was to feed the hungry by selling yogurt fortified with vitamins and nutrients as cheaply as possible. If they had a penny of product, they didn't need 99 cents of marketing and sales - they could just sell it for a penny. This business was solely measured by how many people would be prevented from going hungry and malnourished. In fact, the mission was so focused that Dr. Yunus insisted they go one step further than biodegradable containers. The containers needed to be edible! If the poor were paying, they should get something from it.

At a higher level, these social changes need to be measured, and a clear and agreed upon metric is the set of UN Millenium Development Goals. One of these goals is reducing poverty in half by 2015. In the new beggars program, these loans are not handouts, they are real loans. They must be paid back, but the beggars can pay back a penny at a time, even once per year. No interest, no time limits. And this program has had 60% repayment so far!

So if 2015 is the date at which poverty will be reduced by half, Dr. Yunus is already talking about plans to open a Poverty Museum soon after 2030. The grin and twinkle in his eye re-appear frequently, particularly with this pronouncement.

The final questioner from the audience said that Muhammad Yunus was a great inspiration to so many people. So who was his inspiration? He simply replied that the borrowers were his inspiration. Talking to the people whose lives had been transformed was his greatest inspiration.

EDIT: This also posted on the Madera Group blog.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Doing good is the new green

I had an interesting conversation with a friend who used to run an import/export shop here in San Francisco, and has been working for peace in the Middle East since the 70s. I was explaining to him some of what I'd learned about social entrepreneurship. I told him that the upcoming business trend (in my humble opinion) was a super-set of green business. That the new business trend would be companies incorporating all kinds of social change into their core business practices.

Just one day later, thanks to the power of internet synchronicity, there was a great article on SocialEdge called "The Arrival of Ethical Business". Keep a close eye on this one, folks. Changing the world is going to be big business.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to everyone! 2008's going to be an interesting year, with elections ramping up in the US and more. I wanted to highlight a very interesting project that came out of a TED conference called Pangea Day. The idea is very similar to Project VIEW, using digital or mobile storytelling to connect people from all over the world. Basically, this is big simulcast of short films from all over the world designed to support global connections. Best of all, Nokia sponsored it!

David Sasaki from Rising Voices has a great writeup on the PBS website.