This post was originally produced for Forbes.
Social innovator Lexi Barrett is helping to lead a non-partisan effort at New Profit, a venture philanthropy fund, called America Forward focused on supporting results-oriented organizations working in education, workforce development and poverty alleviation.
Barrett, who has spent most of her career in government service, says, “Although the impact of our sector, and our New Profit Portfolio and America Forward Coalition Members in particular, is impressive—millions of communities and individuals go unserved each year and the problems we seek to solve are even greater. And while the federal government ought to be learning from and expanding these efforts, in too many cases government is getting in the way by creating unnecessary barriers, stifling innovation, and investing in programs that do not work.”
Barrett hopes to change that. She says, “America Forward is turning the page from an era of unprecedented gridlock to one of unprecedented problem solving.”
She adds, “The organizations that America Forward works with recognize that policy change is an essential part of scaling the solutions that they are advancing on the ground, and have come together as a Coalition to advance a policy agenda that champions social innovation.”
Barrett reports that the formal launch of the effort last month included the release of a briefing book called Moving America Forward: Innovators Lead the Way to Unlocking America’s Potential. She explains, “This book offers transformational policy ideas shaped by the experience of social innovators who are solving problems in their communities every day. These policy ideas are framed around five challenges for the next President, including government that works, education for the future, ‘market-able’ America, first jobs, and second chances.”
America Forward is hoping to get the attention of presidential candidates and policymakers. Barrett says the solutions to America’s biggest problems are apparent. “To scale the results we are seeing everyday on the ground in communities across the country, it is imperative that we activate America’s problem solvers. We envision a government that identifies innovative solutions, invests in what works, and engages everyone to solve our nation’s problems. By doing these things, we believe that together we can move America forward,” she concludes.
On Thursday, November 5, 2015 at noon Eastern, Barrett will join me for a live discussion about America Forward and the solutions that she sees to some of America’s biggest challenges. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.
More about America Forward:
America Forward is a nonpartisan policy initiative of New Profit, a national venture philanthropy fund that seeks to break down the barriers between all people and opportunity in America. America Forward unites social innovators with policymakers to advance a public policy agenda that champions innovative and effective solutions to our country’s most pressing social problems. We lead a Coalition of more than 70 social innovators who foster innovation, identify more efficient and effective solutions, reward results, and catalyze cross-sector partnerships. Our Coalition members are achieving measurable outcomes in more than 14,500 communities across the country every day, touching the lives of nearly 8 million Americans each year. Since 2007, America Forward’s community of innovators has played a leading role in driving the national dialogue on social innovation and advocating for lasting policy change. America Forward played a critical role in the creation of a federal tiered-evidence fund aimed at scaling high-impact organizations and significantly leveraging federal dollars; our community influenced the creation of the White House Office of Social Innovation; and we continue to advocate for the inclusion of provisions focused on outcomes in key pieces of federal legislation. Together, we have leveraged $1.5 billion for social innovation and have driven millions of federal resources toward programs that are achieving measurable results for those who need them most. America Forward believes that our nation’s social innovators can lead the way to unlocking America’s potential — and help move all of America forward.
As Policy Director for America Forward, Lexi focuses on developing and implementing federal policy initiatives that accelerate social innovation, leading policy communications strategies, and supporting the education policy work of the America Forward Coalition. Before joining America Forward at New Profit, Lexi spent nine years in federal service. She served for six years on Capitol Hill as legislative assistant to Senator Richard Durbin, working on a variety of education, national service, and early childhood policy issues. Lexi also worked as a policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Education in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. Most recently, Lexi served as a Senior Policy Advisor on Education at the White House on the Domestic Policy Council, helping to shape and advance President Obama’s early education and K-12 education agenda.
Over the last 30 years or so, a growing movement that expects capitalism to drive social benefit rather than tolerate its own harm has led to a burgeoning demand for capital with a conscience. Michael Sauvante of Commonwealth Capital has developed a model for financing social ventures that could rapidly increase available capital for social ventures.
Michael explains, “Small business with 20 or fewer employees provide more U.S. jobs than all the jobs in big business, government, non-profits and all the other sources of jobs combined. Yet small businesses are struggling to survive and are desperate for capital and credit, both exceedingly difficult to obtain.”
“One of the biggest problems with raising money for such small businesses is that, unlike investing in the stock market where investors can buy and sell anytime they want, when they invest in small private businesses, investors cannot easily get their money out of them once they put it in. What is needed is a way for investors to support small businesses, but still be able to get their money out anytime they need or want to,” he continues.
His innovation has been around for decades, but Michael wants to breath new life into it for the sake of social enterprises. He notes, “BDCs (Business Development Companies) overcome this problem by serving as an intermediary between investors and small companies. BDCs are a special type of venture capital company that is a public company listed on the stock market. That means anybody can own a piece of them, not just wealthy people like they do in regular venture capital funds. It also means their investors get freely tradable stock that they can buy and sell anytime they want.”
He adds, “BDCs take the money they get from investors and invest it in and/or lend it to small companies. That way small businesses get the money they need, but their investor backers don’t have their money tied up if they need or want to get it out. Commonwealth Capital is taking the basic BDC concept further by forming lots of smaller BDCs under it to help spread this concept much wider than would normally be possible.”
Michael is passionate about social entrepreneurship. He says, “Small businesses are the backbone of every local economy. Commonwealth Capital (CC), along with other BDCs it will help to sponsor, will provide a means to financially help small businesses at an unprecedented level, all across the country. That alone will go a long way to uplifting local economies and making them more sustainable. However, CC was also formed as a special type of corporation called a benefit corporation. Benefit corporations are legally mandated to address the social and environmental needs of their employees, their customers, their suppliers, their investors, and the broader community they serve, in addition to paying attention to their financial bottom line. That makes them model corporate citizens and fixes what is currently broken with the old model of greed capitalism. And CC will require all the companies it invests in, lends to and/or acquires to follow that same beneficial mandate as well.”
On Thursday, November 5, 2015 at 2:00 Eastern, Michael will join me for a live discussion about the BDC concept for social entrepreneurs. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.
Commonwealth Capital (CC) is a California benefit corporation, Business Development Company (BDC). BDCs are public venture capital companies that invest in small businesses. Being a public company, anybody, not just wealthy investors can invest in them. And its investors will have freely tradable stock. CC thereby resolves what has been an irresolvable dilemma – how to invest in small private companies but retain the liquidity that comes with investing in large public companies. As a result of its “benefit purpose,” CC expects to work primarily with impact investors. Such investors pursue investments that normally have a sustainability focus around environmental, social and governance concerns.
Michael is the Executive Director of Commonwealth Group LLC (www.commonwealthgroup.net), the leading consultancy in the U.S. with respect to using Business Development Companies (BDCs) for Main Street small businesses. He is also the chief architect of Commonwealth Capital, a California benefit corporation, soon to be first benefit corporation BDC in the country. He has over 30 years of experience in founding and running more than a half dozen companies in diverse industries and has long been a progressive thinker in the field of sustainability, corporate social and environmental behavior, and corporate responsibility.
Sauvante’s philosophy for building sustainable businesses is outlined in “The Triple Bottom Line: A Boardroom Guide,” published in 2001 in the “Director’s Monthly” of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD). His efforts to change California’s laws (in 2004) to make corporations more socially and environmentally responsible (six years before the first state approved benefit corporations) is highlighted in the book, Megatrends 2010: The Rise of Conscious Capitalism, by Patricia Aburdeen.
He expanded on that topic in an article “Rewiring Corporate DNA,” published in 2008 by the Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management.. His article “A Primer on Going Public: How companies too small for the national stock exchanges can access public capital” laid out the concepts that later would best be described as crowdfunding. Michael subsequently promoted the concept for regional stock exchanges, which resemble crowdfunding portals. His stock exchange idea was explored in the book “Local Dollars, Local Sense” by Michael Shuman. Many of Michael’s other ideas were published in a number of articles, books and other writings including, “A New Stock Exchange Where People and the Planet Matter” which explores the question, “What if there were a stock exchange where society and the environment were the top priority and profit a means to maintain continuity and not an end in itself?” Corporations listed on such an exchange would be valued based on how well they served society instead of solely by short-term profit. In 2002, Michael was recognized by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, as one of 35 “Technology Pioneers” worldwide. For a full bio and comprehensive list of his writings, visit www.commonwealthgroup.net/sauvante.
There is a lot of talk these days about impact investing, but relatively few people actually know what it is or how to do it. With the help of Your Mark on the World Center sponsor Gate Global Impact’s CEO Vince Molinari, we’ll explain impact investing basics.
Vince offers answers to the following three basic questions:
1. What is impact investing?
Impact investing is a progressive new investment philosophy whereby an investor proactively seeks to place capital in businesses that generate financial returns from organizations committed
to societal, sustainable and/or environmental goals. The growth of IMPACT INVESTING is borne out by global trends in macro/micro socioeconomics, Next-Gen behavioral finance, and ubiquitous social media that continues to drive participants and awareness to this movement.
2. What financial returns can investors expect from an impact investment?
One of the most common questions about impact investing is what sorts of returns investors can expect. Vince answers, “Profit is not a dirty word, profit creates sustainability, and sustainability creates systemic change. Impact investing returns vary widely. Some investors are willing to give up part of their standard return expectations for the sake of high societal impact. Others are focusing on opportunities to earn market returns, recognizing that not only does solving societal problems create the potential for market returns, the very act of solving the problem may reduce the risk of the investment. Investors can earn high returns while creating impact.”
3. How does an impact investment actually create societal good?
Impact investing creates social good in much the same way that philanthropy does. The money is spent to fund a project that has a social benefit attached. Rather than donate the money, however, the investor asks for the money back. For instance, an investor could fund the construction of a school and ask for the money to be paid back over time in the form of a mortgage. The market for impact investments runs from large scale infrastructure projects to small investments in social enterprises that are serving social needs and providing employment in the developing world.
Vince recently authored “Africa Is the New Frontier of Impact Investing” for Ventureburn, where you can learn more about Vince’s take on impact investing.
On Thursday, October 29, 2015 at noon Eastern, Vince will join me for a discussion about impact investing. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.
More about Constellation Fin Tech:
Constellation Fin Tech is an innovative and disruptive financial technology software platform company with focus platform launches on impact investing and family offices.
Vincent Molinari is the co-founder and CEO of GATE Global Impact, a leading electronic marketplace platform that’s helping the world’s leading organizations standardize and accelerate impact investing.
Vincent is an active speaker on issues related to capital markets and early-stage companies, and he regularly speaks at events around the world. He’s been invited to testify before the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services and the Subcommittee on Capital Markets and Government Sponsored Enterprises. Vincent has also testified before the Securities and Exchange Commission Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies regarding secondary market liquidity. He regularly consults with members of Congress and regulatory agencies on these issues.
Vincent is a managing partner at Constellation Fin Tech and a founding board member and former co-chair of the Crowdfund Intermediary Regulatory Advocates, a self-regulating association that works with governmental and quasi-governmental entities to establish crowdfunding industry standards and best practices. Vincent is also a co-founder of the Crowdfunding Professional Association, a leading trade organization for the crowdfunding industry, and sits on the board of CF50, a global think tank of 50 of the leading minds from academia, policy, and industry.
This post was originally produced for Forbes.
Filmmaker Holly Mosher is a remarkable social entrepreneur herself, focusing her lens on a variety of social issues. Recently, I saw her film about arguably the greatest social entrepreneur on the planet, Nobel Peace Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus. I saw the film, Bonsai People, and met her at the 2015 Parliament of World Religions held in Salt Lake City.
The film title comes from Yunus’s observation that people who live in poverty are not deficient people, but like a bonsai tree, they are planted in confining circumstances that prevent them from reaching their potential.
Mosher explains, “When millions of people were starving from the famine in Bangladesh, Muhammad Yunus was inspired to try to do something to help. What he ended up creating was a microcredit program that enabled people to start their own income generating activities and get on their feet. But while working with the poorest of the poor, he saw that just like they lack access to financial services they also lack access to so many things we all take for granted: education, healthcare, nutrition, alternative energy, technology, etc. So he’s gone on to create 60+ social businesses all aimed at helping the poor.”
“I read about his work and was inspired to make a film that showed his vision and how his work affects those on the ground in rural Bangladesh. By creating the film, I’m able to help inspire those around the world to join the social business movement and help solve local problems in their own communities. They will see how he always looks to get to the root of the problem and come up with a business solution that really creates empowerment and change,” Mosher continued.
Mosher hopes not only that people will see the film, but also that they will be motivated to act. “The more people that see the film, the more that will be inspired to join the new social business movement. The film has been used as a tool in many of the social enterprise programs that are starting to pop up at universities across the country, so that people can more deeply understand how the most successful social entrepreneur has taken this business model and created sustainable businesses in seemingly every sector. If he can do it in Bangladesh, we can recreate this model around the globe.”
On Thursday, October 29, 2015 at 1:00 Eastern, Mosher will join me for a live discussion about Yunus and the film. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.
More about Holly Mosher:
Holly Mosher is an award winning filmmaker and honors graduate from NYU, creating films inspiring positive change. Holly had her directorial debut with the award-winning Hummingbird, an emotionally compelling, award-winning documentary about two non-profits in Brazil that work with street children and women who suffer domestic violence. She then produced two films on healthcare – Money Talks: Profits Before Patient Safety and Side Effects, starring Katherine Heigl. She co-produced Maybe Baby, about single women trying to get pregnant. She executive produced Vanishing of the Bees, narrated by Ellen Page and Free For All, about election issues and Pay 2 Play: Democracy’s High Stakes, a film about the influence of money in politics. Her latest directorial project was Bonsai People – The Vision of Muhammad Yunus, which follows the work of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus from microcredit to social business.
Michael Custer and a team of students at Jiaotong University in Shanghai, inspired by the Hult Prize, saw a problem and created a solution for it.
As Michael explains, “The problem is illiteracy. Across the developing world, millions and millions of people remain illiterate. The UN estimates there to be 900 million illiterate people worldwide and a third of this population lives in India, where 289 million Indian adults are illiterate.”
“Illiteracy is not just a problem for the individual though, it also creates tremendous problems for the next generation. Academic research has repeatedly proved the inter-generational transmission of illiteracy and its close link to poverty. The worst part is, that for young children, the best way to develop the skills necessary for future literacy is to be read to during their early years (ages 6 and under), a task that is literally impossible for illiterate parents,” he continued.
Their solution, called teleStory, is as simple as it is brilliant.
Combining modern cloud telephony and mobile phones, teleStory has created a system that empowers illiterate parents to read to their children for the first time. To accomplish this, we first buy and record the audio for local children’s books. This audio is then uploaded to our cloud. We then partner with ngos already operating in the early childhood space in India and establish our libraries or book distribution centers. Parents then take a book from one of these libraries and give teleStory’s number a missed call. When the parents receive a call back they will be prompted to enter the ID of the book they took. The ID and our phone number will be on a label on the front or back cover of the book. Once they enter the ID the audio that corresponds to the words will play page by page. To go to the next page the parent presses one and to repeat a page the parent presses two.
Michael says the team has a big goal. “Our goal is to intervene in a child’s early years – the year’s most important to brain development- and break the illiteracy cycle, a key step towards ending the poverty cycle. The inability to read traps a person in poverty, drastically holding back one’s economic potential.”
On Thursday, October 29, 2015 at 11:00 AM, Michael will join me from China for a live discussion about their novel program and their experience competing for the Hult Prize. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.
More about teleStory:
teleStory is an app for dumb phones that empowers illiterate parents to read to their children for the first time. To reach our end users, teleStory partners with NGOs already operating in the early childhood education space to establish community libraries. Parents take a book from the library and give a missed call to teleStory’s number. When they receive the call back, they enter the book’s ID and the corresponding audio plays. Parents can press 1 to go to the next page and 2 to repeat and throughout the story we program in games and questions designed to create parent-child interaction. Presently, teleStory operates in India and China, reaching over 1500 children in four different languages. In rural China, children are listening to teleStory for over an hour a night and in the slums of Mumbai, neighborhood children rush to gather around the nearest teleStory user’s phone for the nightly story.
Michael is an avid traveler, ice hockey player and passionate about economic development. He completed his undergraduate studies at NYU, graduating cum laude with a degree in International Relations, and minors in Africana Studies and French. After his undergraduate studies, he spent two years abroad working as an Education Consultant. The first year in Dubai and the second year in Shenzhen, China. Michael Founded teleStory while completing his masters degree in Shanghai at Shanghai Jiaotong University.
This post was originally produced for Forbes.
The townships in South Africa are some of the largest slums in the world.
“The odds are stacked against children growing up in Port Elizabeth’s townships. Abject poverty, particularly amongst the country’s black population, is pervasive,” explains Jacob Lief, Co-founder and CEO of Ubuntu Education Fund, which works to solve problems associated with poverty in Port Elizabeth’s townships.
Lief sees the extreme gap between rich and poor in South Africa as a root of the problem, noting that South Africa is the 2nd most unequal country in the world–without noting which country is worse. “This widening gap between the haves and the have-nots permeates society. While the elite receive quality private healthcare, South Africa’s poor are forced to rely on public clinics. Plagued by shortfalls of doctors, service interruptions, and infrastructure backlogs, these facilities cannot fully address the country’s HIV/AIDS and TB crises,” Lief says.
Education isn’t a panacea, he says. “Facing these economic and medical barriers, many South Africans believe that education has the potential to act as a great equalizer. Yet the education system is equally fraught with challenges. Children growing up in Port Elizabeth’s townships lack access to quality healthcare and education, and face unstable homes everyday.”
So Ubuntu has developed a unique cradle to career program to support 2,000 children in the townships that Lief calls the Ubuntu Model, “a strategy that has received international acclaim from Bill Clinton to the World Economic Forum.”
The model has four tenets, he says:
The results of the program are impressive.
Lief exults, “Ubuntu’s impact is transformative– from HIV-positive mothers giving birth to healthy, HIV-negative babies, to vocational-tracked youth in our Ubuntu Pathways (UP) program securing employment. Within just four years of joining Ubuntu, 82% of clients are on-track towards stable health and employment.”
“An independent study conducted by McKinsey & Company found that every $1 invested in an Ubuntu child will yield $8.70 in real lifetime earnings for that individual. Ubuntu graduates will contribute $195,000 to society, while their peers will cost society $9,000. Ubuntu graduates attain successes that few in their community ever realize and, in doing so, they are redefining what the world believes to be possible in disadvantaged communities,” he enthusiastically continues.
It seems daunting to consider expanding such an intensive program to other communities, but this is exactly what Lief hopes to see. “The Ubuntu Model is a blueprint for sustainable grassroots development– one that should be replicated and contextualized for communities across the world.”
On Thursday, October 22, 2015 at 2:00 Eastern, Lief will join me for a live discussion about the program and its impact in Port Elizabeth. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.
More about Ubuntu Education Fund:
Founded in 1999, Ubuntu Education Fund (www.ubuntufund.org) is guided by a simple, all-encompassing, yet radical mission: to help raise Port Elizabeth’s orphaned and vulnerable children by giving them what all children deserve—everything. Ignoring traditional development models, Ubuntu redefined the theory of “going to scale”, choosing to focus on the depth rather than breadth of our impact. Our holistic cradle to career model provides children with comprehensive household stability, health, and educational services, enabling them to break cycles of disenfranchisement and inequality. The success of our model is unprecedented, and we are currently transforming the lives of 2,000 children and their families.
Jacob Lief is Co-Founder and CEO of Ubuntu Education Fund, a non-profit organization that takes vulnerable children in Port Elizabeth, South Africa from cradle to career. Nuancing traditional development models, Ubuntu redefined the theory of “going to scale”; rather than expanding geographically, they focus on the depth rather than breadth of their programs within a community of 400,000 people. Ubuntu’s programs form an integrated system of medical, health, educational and social services, ensuring that a child who is either orphaned or vulnerable could succeed in the world of higher education and employment. Ubuntu’s child-centred approach highlights the difference between merely touching a child’s life versus fundamentally changing it. In 2009, Jacob was selected as an Aspen Institute Global Fellow and, in 2010, he was recognized by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader. In 2012, he joined the Clinton Global Initiative Advisory Committee. He is currently a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania. Jacob has authored a book, I Am Because You Are, focused on his journey in South Africa and the creation of Ubuntu Education Fund, published by Rodale Inc. in May 2015.
“One hundred and twelve million children lack access to high-quality, reliable, affordable early childhood education [ECE]. It’s a fundamental injustice that caps their potential and robs children of the futures they deserve,” says SOMOS Managing Director, Anne Friedman.
SOMOS was recently recognized as a Hult Prize finalist at the Clinton Global Initiative.
Anne explains further, “Children who don’t receive high quality ECE in the first 5 years of life suffer from depressed educational and health outcomes, starting school about 2 years behind and never catching up. Even family stability decades later is affected by the education a young child receives. The problem is that potential is distributed equally but opportunity is not. Millions of children born into poverty are never given a fair chance to succeed and are then condemned for their failure in adulthood. It’s a tragic violation of the human right to dignity, life, and the pursuit of potential.”
SOMOS is a student-led social venture that was created to address the problem of unequal access to ECE.
Anne describes the effort, saying, “We’re giving parents the tools and support they need to change their children’s lives. First, healthy childhood development is predicated on high-quality interaction with a loving adult. For many and complicated reasons, the norms around parenting in situations of urban poverty often lead to suboptimal outcomes for kids. They simply don’t get as much developmentally beneficial interaction as their more affluent peers. But that’s easily changed! Give parents simple, fun suggestions for how to integrate their child’s education into their daily lives and they do it!”
“We deliver world class, age appropriate educational curricula directly to their mobile phone. We do it in small groups of parents so they can provide advice and support to each other. Not only are the benefits of peer-to-peer learning proven and significant, we believe having a community of support that follows a child for a lifetime is critical to changing his life trajectory. Many of the benefits of most of the world’s best early childhood education programs are lost before 3rd grade. We wanted to make sure they last and we think community is the way to make that happen,” she continued.
Anne shared the SOMOS vision of the future with me:
Call to mind your vision of a “slum.” Maybe it’s the favelas of Brazil, the townships of South Africa, the barrios of Mexico City, or the housing projects of Chicago. Imagine the kids growing up there and what their lives must be like. Now, imagine that every single one of them graduates high school prepared for college and/or jobs with dignity that allow them to provide for their families. Imagine their parents woven together into a safety net that doesn’t allow any of their children to fall through the cracks. That’s what we want to build. We want to connect parents with each other, and the resources they need, to turn their “slums” into safe-havens, to give themselves and their kids the futures they deserve.
On Thursday, October 22, 2015 at 1:00 Eastern, Anne will join me for a live discussion about SOMOS and its plans to alter the educational paths of millions of children living in urban poverty. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.
More about SOMOS:
SOMOS is an interactive social media company building virtual “villages” of resources and support around low-income parents in developing nations to empower them to become their children’s best teachers. Disparities in education before they even start school put 112 million children growing up in poverty at a permanent disadvantage, resulting in decreased health and educational outcomes, even family stability decades later. All this can be solved if parents have the tools and support they need to educate their kids. In small groups–“villages”–we deliver world class educational curricula that turns parents’ daily routine into brain building activities for their kids.
Anne Friedman earned BA’s in Political Science and Sociology from Stanford University, graduating with honors and the Firestone Medal for Excellence in undergraduate research based on her statistical analysis of the factors that influenced voter disenfranchisement in the 2004 presidential election. From there, she moved to Washington, DC to craft media and messaging strategies as Associate Director of the political consulting firm run by Donna Brazile. Wanting broader exposure to clients working on different social issues, Anne struck out on her own to found Bold Ink Communications, a communications consulting firm helping outstanding individuals and organizations to frame and communicate their brands. Over the course of five years, Anne built the business from the ground-up, eventually serving internationally-known celebrities including an Academy Award winning actor, a billionaire on the Forbes’ list, and one of the women nominated to replace President Jackson on the $20 bill. As much as she loved her clients and her work, Anne’s dream had always been to start a social enterprise so she applied to business schools and enrolled at ESADE in Barcelona to pursue an MBA. Upon graduation, she and four classmates founded SOMOS.
This post was originally produced for Forbes.
As I visit with social entrepreneurs around the world, I often find that religion is a motivating factor for their desire to do something that matters. Although rarely discussed, taking religion out of social entrepreneurship would, for some at least, rob it of its heart and soul. [It has been my honor to speak at a few Rotary District Conferences at discounted fees, but I’ve not been paid by Rotary International.]
Of course, many people approach social entrepreneurship from a purely secular point of view, including some who are religious, but that does not negate the influence of religion for others.
This week, I am attending the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions here in Salt Lake City, a gathering of 10,000 religious people looking to advance world peace, many through some form of social entrepreneurship.
K.R. Ravindran, President of Rotary International, a global organization with 34,000 clubs and 1.2 million members, most of whom are business and community leaders, will speak at the conference. He shared excerpts from his speech with me in advance.
Highlighting the importance of respect, he said, “ In Rotary, every religion is respected, every tradition is welcomed, and every conviction is honored, for in Rotary, we join in friendship and we are bonded by our dedication to service. ”
Rotary’s motto is “Service above self.” In a thought that is highly relevant for social entrepreneurs, Ravindran connects that motto to religion in his remarks, noting, “Service gives people a way to come together and a reason to work together for the common good, regardless of their differences. Charity and serving those with the greatest needs are ideas common to every religion, which is what Rotary is all about.”
Thirty years ago, Rotary took on the challenge of eradicating polio. At that time, there were about 350,000 cases of polio each year. In 2014, there were just 356 cases, reflecting a 99.9 percent reduction. The eradication of polio now appears certain within this decade.
Of this effort, Ravindran says, “Rotary’s decades-long fight to end polio is perhaps the greatest example of a project that has united every Rotary member around the world in pursuit of a single, shared goal”
On Friday, October 16, 2015 at noon Eastern, Ravindran will join me here for a live discussion about the role of religion in business and social entreprneurship. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.
More about Rotary International:
Rotary brings together a global network of volunteer leaders dedicated to tackling the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges. Rotary connects 1.2 million members of more than 34,000 Rotary clubs in over 200 countries and geographical areas. Their work improves lives at both the local and international levels, from helping families in need in their own communities to working toward a polio-free world.
K.R. Ravindran is CEO and founder of Printcare PLC, a publicly listed printing, packaging, and digital media solutions company. It is arguably the world’s largest supplier of tea bag packaging, catering to nearly every major tea brand, with manufacturing facilities in Sri Lanka and India. Printcare is the winner of national and international awards of excellence. Ravindran has been a featured speaker at several international print and packaging forums.
Ravindran also serves on the board of several other companies in Sri Lanka and India and charitable trusts, including the MJF (Dilmah) Charitable Foundation. He is the founding president of the Rotary-sponsored Sri Lanka Anti Narcotics Association, the largest such agency in Sri Lanka. During the country’s civil war, Ravindran was involved in the business community efforts to find peaceful solutions to the conflict and was a featured speaker at the United Nations-sponsored peace conference in New York for the Sri Lankan diaspora in 2002.
A third generation Rotarian and a member himself since the age of 21, Ravindran has served on the Rotary International Board of Directors and The Rotary Foundation Board of Trustees and as RI treasurer.
As his country’s national PolioPlus chair, Ravindran headed a joint task force of the Sri Lankan government, UNICEF, and Rotary and worked closely with UNICEF to successfully negotiate a ceasefire with the northern militants during National Immunization Days. Aided by Rotary’s efforts, Sri Lanka reported its last case of polio in 1994.
He also chaired the Schools Reawakening project, in which Rotary District 3220 raised more than $12 million to rebuild over 20 tsunami-devastated schools to benefit 14,000 children. He continues to play a role in his club’s project to build a cancer prevention and early detection center in Sri Lanka. Once completed, it will be the only dedicated national facility to offer comprehensive screening and early detection services.
Ravindran is a recipient of The Rotary Foundation’s Citation for Meritorious Service, Distinguished Service Award, and Service Award for a Polio-Free World.
He and Vanathy have been married since 1975, and they have two children and a recently born grandchild.
Ulixes Hawili, with a team of student entrepreneurs from the University of Tampa, has created a company called Tembo Education, a 2015 Hult Prize finalist, to provide a proven curriculum of training to African parents to help their children prepare for school.
Ulixes, the Chief Intelligence Officer of Tembo, explains, “The problem is the lack of early childhood education in developing countries across the world. Millions of children are not afforded an opportunity to a high quality education and we believe that advanced economies are morally inclined to confront issues of this magnitude, even if it means making tremendous sacrifices.”
Noting that 86 percent of the population in sub-Saharan African have access to a mobile device, Ulixes says, “We are providing a high quality curriculum and training to parents across sub-Saharan Africa through mobile phones, effectively providing them with something that they do not have through something that they do.”
“Providing access to a quality early childhood education in developing countries will lay the foundation for economic development by catalyzing the acquisition of human capital, boosting relative incomes, and opening the door to foreign investment in the region,” Ulixes concludes.
On Wednesday, October 14, 2015 at 4:00 Eastern, Ulixes will join me for a live discussion about the the Hult Prize competition and the company he’s helped to create. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.
Tembo is raising money to accelerate its growth via GoFundMe.
More about Tembo Education:
Our solution uses a high-quality, evidence-based curriculum to train and employ home educators (members of the urban slum community) to teach parents via SMS text messages. The parents then educate their children in their own homes. We assess the learning process through a quiz via SMS text. For educating their child and answering the quiz correctly, the parent is rewarded with free airtime (minutes and texts).
We require parents and home educators to use our telecom partner to access the curriculum. Therefore, we increase the market share of the telecom. In our Nigerian pilot study, we have increased the market share of MTN by 33%, Globacom by 93%, and Etisalat by 92%.
We expedite the economic development of the country by not only educating millions of children, but also by creating employment opportunities, generating revenue for the telecoms, and opening the doors to foreign investors.
Jamie Austin and Aisha Bukhari co-founded Attollo SE Inc. as graduate students at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. Attollo was selected as a finalist for the 2015 Hult Prize competition, awarded last month at the Clinton Global Initiative.
Jamie explains, “Young children from underprivileged families do not develop the vocabulary they need for success in primary school. The extent that the vocabulary of these children is behind their more privileged peers has been termed the vocabulary gap.”
Aisha notes that over 100 million under-privileged kids are not ready for primary school, adding, “A key reason less-privileged children are not primary school ready and drop out of school later in life is that they are unable to understand and communicate with the world around them. They lack the quantity and variety of words needed to develop meaning and understanding of words. They lack the vocabulary needed to succeed.”
A solution, Jaimie explains, is Attollo’s product: Talking Stickers. You can see a demo here:
“Talking Stickers, which is comprised of an electronic device called ollo that can scan stickers, record and play-back audio in any language or dialect, helps parents deliver educational content from our partner educational organizations to their children. Talking Stickers also enables children to learn in unstructured ways through exploration of their world and environment,” Jamie says.
Aisha adds, “Since stickers can be placed on anything, Talking Stickers transform common household items into educational toys. Talking Stickers follow proven, culturally relevant, early learning curriculum to deliver the best education for every child in their home. In essence, Talking Stickers is a teaching tool, empowering parents to talk, sing and read to their children in a playful manner and build their vocabulary.”
Aisha explains their passion, saying, “We believe that literacy is a fundamental human right.”
“Language development is just the beginning. We envision Talking Stickers as a tool to communicate information about health, nutrition and all areas of early childhood development. Millions of parents struggle with correct usage of child products (medicine, nutrition supplements etc) because they are unable to read. Talking Stickers solve this problem by providing audio instructions enabling parents to correctly use child products,” Aisha concludes.
Jamie adds, “We aim to help underprivileged children below the age of 6 to develop their vocabulary skills, making them ready for primary school. This will help them to succeed in school and will increase their chances to get a good job and lift their family out of poverty.”
On Wednesday, October 14, 2015 at 2:00 Eastern, Aisha and Jamie will join me for a live discussion about the Hult Prize competition and their remarkable technology. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.
More about Attollo SE Inc.:
Attollo provides an affordable and playful way for parents to develop their child’s vocabulary at home. We do it through our innovation – talking stickers – which is comprised of a low-cost hand-held electronic device, named ollo, that can scan stickers, record and play-back audio in any language or dialect.
Jamie has a PhD in neuroscience and a MBA from the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. He as worked as a health educator in a developing country and a project manager for Canada’s largest hospital network. Jamie is a co-founder of Attollo and currently manages the development and production of educational content and the measurement of learning outcomes.
Aisha is a Co Founder of Attollo SE Inc and an Action Canada Fellow (2-15-2016). She is an engineer and a social entrepreneur. She enjoys work that involves creating a positive social impact, leading change and developing integrative solutions. She is passionate about energy, innovation and social justice. Prior to co founding Attollo, she was working at Toronto Hydro where she spent six years leading development and implementation of innovative smart grid solutions. A career highlight includes leading the utility aspect of a consortium-based Community Energy Storage project – the first of its kind in North America. Aisha has also been an active participant in shaping the energy storage policy and framework in Ontario. She also served on the advisory board for Women in Renewable Energy, a non-profit organization. Aisha has a Bachelors degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Toronto, a Masters degree in Electric Power Engineering from the University of Waterloo and is a recent graduate of the part-time Morning MBA program from the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto.