Resources for Social Enterpreneurs

November 15, 2009

I just discovered the UC-Berkley Global Initiatives blog (now added to the blogroll) and their great post on resources for social entrepreneurs.

I’m also jealous of Berkley’s apparent course offerings on social enterprise: Introduction to Microfinance and Market Based Approaches to Poverty Alleviation.  Yale SOM, take note.


Kiva, Zombies, and The End of Charity

November 13, 2009

1) Kiva News
has been getting knocked around in the past month as it was recently reported that your $25 doesn’t actually go to that bike mechanic in India.  Instead, he already received a loan and your $25 goes to a a bigger pool that supports microfinance organization partners.  There is a good summary article from New York Review of Books blog (featuring a quick interview with my hero, Nicholas Kristof) right here.

My thoughts: Kiva’s marketing as donations to individuals is clearly a  gimmick.  So is just about any “adopt-a-child” program.  But these gimmicks have popularized microfinance and philanthropy in an ethical (and transparent if you read the fine print) way.  These are not weaknesses, but strengths in mobilizing consumers to get aboard the social enterprise bandwagon.

2) How Zombies Can Destroy the World
I just discovered the Zombie Research Society and their blog: they have some really interesting posts.  In all seriousness, it is great to see insightful writings that analyze the crossover of practical public health concerns and the upcoming zombie apocalypse — a great interdisciplinary approach to discussing important issues of pandemic.

3) I could not have said it better.
In an impressively well-written article from the Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal, David E. K. Hunter eloquently explains what is wrong with the nonprofit sector.  It perfectly explains my bias toward social investing over traditional charity. The author focuses on three main unpleasant truths:

Unpleasant truth number 1: While nonprofits work incredibly hard, with passion and dedication, and often in incredibly difficult circumstances to solve society’s most intractable problems, there is virtually no credible evidence that most nonprofit organizations actually produce any social value.

Unpleasant truth number 2: Because so few nonprofits are willing to face this fact and ask themselves whether they are doing any good at all, or even as much good as they may be doing harm, we cannot rely on direct service nonprofits to fix themselves without a serious push.

Unpleasant truth number 3: In general, nonprofits do what their funders tell them to do. When funders make demands, more often than not the vision, mission, goals and objectives of nonprofit organizations give way. As the saying goes, We are what we eat. . . . and most nonprofits are what their funders make them.


November 11, 2009

I recently wrote a post on 25 Ways to Spend $25, but the idea of “philanthroconsumerism” is worth writing on again.  (I’m surprised that word hasn’t been coined or used more often — it has zero results on Google.)

There are a lot of ways to use market mechanisms for social impact: microfinance, social venture capital, impact investing, corporate social responsibility, and social businesses.  But many of these programs depend on large multinational corporations (or small-to-medium size enterprises) to lead the charge for market-based solutions to social problems.  There are smaller players, however, who are often overlooked.  Consumers.

Any product purchase is like an economic vote for what consumers demand.  Consumers can  “vote” to move all VHSs to DVD format, they can “vote” to increase the production of furbys, and they can “vote” to force social responsibility to play a larger role in the economy.  There are a lot of promising candidates on the ballot of your local supermarket.  Here are a few of my favorite items that not only rock, but encourage social responsibility and deserve your vote:

1) TOMS Shoes (now featured in the AT&T commercial) — buy a pair of now-trendy shoes and they send a pair to kids in Africa.

2) Tide’s Loads of Hope — buy a pair of specially marked laundry detergent and donate to help provide clean clothes and comfort to families affected by disaster.

3) Starbuck’s Product(RED) Gift Cards — donate 5 cents to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS for every transaction made with the gift card.

4) Pink Ribbon Products — they are all over the place.  Many manufacturers have partnered with breast cancer research organizations and make donations for each product they sell that features the pink ribbon.

5) Pamper’s One Pack = One Vaccine — UNICEF and Pamper’s have teamed up to prove that even when buying poop-disposal-apparel, you can contribute to a cause.  Each purchase of a diaper pack also covers the cost of a vaccine to be distributed in the developing world.

For further reading, there is also a great (and critical) article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review on the Hidden Costs of Cause Marketing.  There’s definitely a risk for the perversion of cause marketing, e.g. Fiji Water.  The philanthropic power of the consumer, however, must continue to play a role in the future of social innovation.

The Future of Health Care Reform

November 9, 2009

If Health Care is Going to Change, Dr. Brent James’ Ideas Will Change it (via NYTimes Magazine).

National Ethical Investment Week

November 8, 2009

It’s National Ethical Investment Week in the U.K.

Buying a green and ethical investment is a positive choice – your money not only works hard for you, but can also help society and the environment. If you recycle or make other green choices, it makes sense to look at green and ethical investments, too.

Want to make money and make a difference?

Check out the website: it’s got great resources, events, case studies, all kinds of stuff.  The US needs something like this.

National Ethical Investment Week

The Only Place You Should Buy a Water Bottle

November 4, 2009

…is now Pangea Bottles. There’s no need to purchase one anywhere else.

Pangea Bottles is founded on a simple concept: for every bottle you purchase, Pangea is giving a person in need clean water for four years.  By donating a portion of the revenue from every bottle toward drilling water wells in isolated villages around the world, we are changing people’s lives in remarkable ways.  Our mission is to provide the people in developing nations clean water by leveraging the power of individuals to make a difference in a sustainable way.

Check out their awesome site.  And check out this video (via charity:water) on Why Water?

Why to Vote for the Unopposed

November 3, 2009

Today is the New Haven municipal election but there isn’t much activity at the polls in my ward (Ward 1).  That’s because the aldermanic candidate (Mike Jones, a Yale student) is running unopposed and incumbent John Destefano is expected to be a clear winner in the mayoral race.

I bumped into a friend of mine at the library and she asked me, “Have you voted today?”  While I admitted then (and admit now), I have yet to vote, I do fully intend to be at the New Haven library by the poll’s closing time.  But why?

  • Voting voices support.  Every vote for Mike Jones is a vote for confidence in our representative and his concern for our Ward’s issues.  You don’t have the option to vote against him, you can only abstain in protest or not vote.  The polls don’t distinguish between passive protests and sheer laziness (you have to actually get off your butt and fill in the Abstain bubble to show any real discontent).  An unopposed candidate with many votes demonstrates an ability to unite constituents. Each vote, therefore, provides future power to the representative and prioritizes the issues that concern his Ward.
  • Abstaining voices opposition.  Go walk to the polls and fill in that Abstain bubble if you don’t like the unopposed candidate.  It gets filed in official records and legal documents (and isn’t that what democracy is all about?).  You can still Rock the Vote and not actually vote for anyone–abstaining can actually hold a lot of clout (I imagine) in unopposed elections.
  • Voting shows participation. Unopposed candidates limit democracy and discourage political activism because citizens passively accept the inevitable outcome.  Taking the time to walk to the New Haven public library and cast a vote serves to maintain engagement in the local political process.  Voting shows the city (both officials and local neighbors) that individuals are still monitoring municipal politics, that individuals are concerned about local issues, and that individuals are still involved in bringing positive change to their community.
  • Voting increases accountability.  It’s harder to hold your local representative accountable if you had no role in their election. Frankly, he is your politician–whether you voted or not–but you get a lot more credibility (at least with me–and that’s important) if you demonstrated your political activism right from the start.  Go the polls, vote, and take ownership in your representative’s office.  Or go to the polls, abstain and then yell at him.  Either way, you’re more legit for being part of the process.
  • Voting demonstrates support for the primaries.  In Ward 1, Mike is running unopposed because he won the primaries last semester.  That’s not the end of the election process though.  If the above 4 reasons aren’t enough, my final bullet point is that he deserves another vote.  As a reward for winning.  Like a soccer trophy.  Go give your representative a soccer trophy.