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Archive for the ‘Social Entrepreneurship’ Category

The past dozen-or-so weeks have been an outstanding blur of awesome people, places, ideas, gatherings, conversations and flights.  Summer came and went for much of North America, then San Francisco’s belated summer arrived and has now — with this weekend’s foggy chill — apparently departed too.  For me, the change of seasons always represents a good time for updates and reflections.  In the space of about six months I have opportunities to attend seven (fingers crossed, eight) extraordinary events, any one of which would be enough to satisfy my “pursuit of an interesting and meaningful life” quota for a good chunk of time.  Here’s a summary of those gatherings-on-tap:

As of today I’m officially halfway though this (for me) uber-exciting-albeit-slightly-daunting calendar, and already favorite memories are many.  Lots of interesting discussions about the Future of Money and alternative currencies, which have cross-cut these gatherings.  It seems that people everywhere are interested, in different ways, about how to live life and build a world focused on quality of life rather than quantity of dollars (or euro or renminbi) stashed away.  How do we build more resilient, human-centered economies that focus on relationships and well-being, rather than anonymous number signs (which, by the way, seem to be one of the lousiest indicators of happiness these days)?  How do we build a toolkit of exchange mechanisms – for example some based on time, others on expertise and others on reputation, each of which plays a meaningful and appropriate role in daily life?

Other favorite topics include urban mobility; the nexus between water security + food security + energy security + climate change; encouraging “more knowledge, less information” in today’s hyper-connected world; and the relationship between taking care of oneself and being an effective leader.  Each of these merits a blogpost of its own; well, all in due course – notwithstanding the firehose of ideas that seem to be streaming my way on a daily basis!  Better yet, perhaps I could get some YGL friends to guest blog here…

Aside from these events, I went to Peru over the summer to explore WaterCredit expansion opportunities there – as a springboard to other countries in Latin America.  It was great to refresh my rusty Spanish, and Lima has undergone a sort of urban renaissance since I was last there six years ago.

Now time to go dive into Zeitgeist!

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I’m only 6 weeks late with this post. That’s pretty good for 2011, all things considered.

It’s been a pretty amazing year so far — packed with opportunities, travels and discovery — though my blog has paid the price for that.  I have more half-written draft posts than I care to admit, and a pile of good intentions behind them.  These days it’s easier to get the quick-and-exciting stuff out immediately on Twitter, but that still leaves a gap for more thoughtful reflection.

Probably my most exciting — and certainly most humbling — news is to have been named a Young Global Leader (YGL) by the World Economic Forum.  It’s an honor I never dreamed could happen to me, and a journey which I am thrilled-beyond-words to take.  I got the news right before my birthday (end-January, as Davos was starting) and then had to keep it top-secret until the public release was issued on March 9.  I have a pathetic poker face for things like this.

Each year the Forum selects approximately 150 individuals under age 40 from around the world based on their “professional accomplishments, commitment to society and potential to contribute to shaping the future of the world.”  The YGL community includes heads of state, corporate executives, entrepreneurs, policy makers, Olympic athletes, actors, artists and many others.  This year YGLs come from 65 different countries, with the largest gender parity (44% women) and representation from the developing world ever.  Here’s the 2011 YGL list.

I join the YGL community formally for five years (officially beginning on July 1, 2011) and remain a YGL alumna for life.  During my active YGL years, I’ll have the opportunity to attend Davos and get involved in a variety of other Forum-related activities such as the YGL water and poverty alleviation initiatives.  There are also other topic- and geography-specific Summits throughout the year.  The first one is the Annual Meeting of New Champions in Dalian, China this September.  So my passport and frequent flier accounts should get continued good use and — if I’m lucky — I’ll visit lots of new places too.

My first few weeks as a YGL have been phenomenal.  Due to fortuitous logistics I’ve been able to attend the first-ever YGL Innovation Summit (held in the Bay Area, with 100 other YGL’ers from 35 different countries), hold meetings at the World Economic Forum HQ in Geneva, Switzerland, and meet a variety of YGL’ers independently.  The more I learn and observe, the more inspired I get.  It’s going to be a fascinating journey: as I said to the Forum, with the YGL community I hope to help amplify and disseminate things that really work — often blending for-profit and non-profit, public and private sectors — to do business and make policy in better ways.  So let’s get started!

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It’s been far too long since I wrote a proper blogpost.  That’s mostly because I — along with what seems like half the world — tweet rather than blog these days.  You can follow me here.  And my travelogue-library reduxes are still some ways from completion, alas.

Last week I was in Boston to attend a Gates Foundation-sponsored symposium on savings-led microfinance.  It was held at the Fletcher School, so great to take a trip down memory lane.  Spent time at Harvard and met the founder of SeedingLabs, another social enterprise focusing on in-country scientific research in the developing world and that I am keen to see expand dramatically in the coming years.

My eyes were opened to the power of savings as part of a broader platform of financial products and services for the world’s poor and underserved communities.  I’ve often encountered legal, regulatory and big-picture policy issues related to savings:  what kind of entities can and cannot offer savings, appropriate prudential and non-prudential regulations, and so forth.  But I hadn’t spent much time on the different grassroots, village-based, self-regulating (so unregulated from a governmental perspective) approaches that are taking root around the world.  Although not without their own set of challenges, they offer a robust new tool to deploy as part of a broader financial platform in many countries.  Oxfam’s Savings for Change program is one such example, but there are a surprising number of others.  And there’s clearly a role for linkages among these smaller groups with larger MFIs, though much debate remains as to the appropriate “linkages” to forge, as well as when and how to foster them.

Following the principal gathering day, there was a half-day open space for microfinance practitioners.  Par for the course, it was a highlight of the entire symposium.  We spent time discussing topics as broad as the Psychology of Savings (and how cognitive biases factor in) and how to foster more savings initiatives for youth.  Regarding the latter I learned more about organizations like the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) with savings-led programs in the U.S., and Aflatoun, based in the Netherlands and operating throughout the developing world.  CFED and Aflatoun’s activities resonate with me on multiple levels, not least the connection between Youth + Savings + Education investment.

So as I continue to navigate my current crossroads, even more to think about — how do we spur more action and innovation in this space, especially for future generations (and in a way that gives younger cohorts some control and meaningful responsibility in the process)?

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Seulam (Amharic, from Ethiopia) — Hujambo (Kiswahili, from Kenya) — Greetings from East Africa!

I’ve been on the road for almost 2 weeks now, yet due to lack of both quality internet access and time have not been able to blog as much as I’d hoped.  It’s been an amazing journey so far, as I’d hoped and expected… Addis Ababa, Nairobi, and now a small village (no electricity) in rural western Kenya near the Kakamega forest reserve.  I’ve hob-nobbed with cabinet ministers about legal reform for microfinance; seen zebras, giraffes, gazelles and even the fabled white rhino at close range; and experienced family hospitality and microentrepreneurship first-hand.  It’s an extraordinarily rich, diverse, warm and fascinating area, yet saddled with a problematic history (on many levels) and current obstacles to change.  Obama and his legacy live strong here — even 5 year olds know his name, and his portrait is painted on the side of many buildings.  I am delighted to be one of the first unofficial “foreign ambassadors” of the new-administration-to-be and can only hope that the push for meaningful change becomes a truly global movement.

I’ve also come to realize that online connectivity is not one of the region’s strengths.  So it’s probably best not to get my (or anyone else’s) hopes up by promising to blog “live”; rather, I may end up reverting to offline observations and note-taking, to be followed by a more comprehensive travelogue post after-the-fact.  It will depend in part on whether access options get any better in the coming weeks…

Meanwhile I’ve posted many “mini-blogpost” tweets online, which can be found here.  At least they provide a few snippits and insights into what I’ve experienced so far.  Please continue to check back at the same Twitter link, as I intend to update it as often as I can!

Kwaheri for now…

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This past week has been incredible. First BarCamp Africa at the Googleplex, then the inaugural SoCap (social capital) conference in SF. My mind is still spinning with ideas. Amazing and inspiring people, tremendous opportunities, so much to be encouraged and enthused about…

I moderated a BarCamp panel on social, cultural, political and development issues in Africa. A fabulous diversity of perspectives — from documentary filmmaker Amie Williams‘ experiences of the Kenyan political violence through the eyes of a teenage girl, to Joseph Nganga’s efforts at alternative energy and rural needs thanks to companies like Vipani, to Josh Goldstein‘s work with Google regarding internet policy and the specific needs of Africa (and a Fletcherite like me!), to Ken Banks‘ initiative to deploy technology to community health workers and hospitals in rural areas, to Kjerstin Erikson’s organization FORGE that works with post-conflict refugees in Zambia and beyond. Other highlight breakout sessions included an African music and dance journey, brainstorming about the likes of the XPrize, and taking an extraordinary Google Maps adventure above, below and around the continent.

Less than 48 hours later, I found myself at SoCap. Along with some 700+ other people — double the original capacity, from what I understand — packing into Fort Mason and eager to meet others interested in going “beyond microfinance” and pushing the double bottom line and social investment envelopes further.

There were more than 50 breakout sessions organized by the SoCap team, plus an unconference day facilitated by Jerry Michalski. Particularly noteworthy organized sessions included New Spin on Old World Development, Design in the Developing World, Venture Philanthropy and International Government Investment, Sustainable Energy Investments for the BOP, New African Capital and Scaling US Social Enterprise (that’s only a small fraction of what was on tap). The day was capped off by an engaging, challenging Oxford-style debate regarding whether profit maximization is the best way to reach and assist the poor. I lost count of how many times I heard the word “philanthrocapitalism”…

I must say — and not only because of my connection to Jerry 🙂 — that the unconference day was the best of all. Not only because it allowed participants to own and direct the discussions themselves, but also because this format finally provided “something different” at this type of conference. A forum to connect with others on one’s own terms and with one’s own thoughts in the open. A chance to let discussions take tangents, which 99% of the time lead to even better things. An opportunity around every corner to be surprised, challenged and reminded about the myriad avenues to build community.

A sampling of the unconference sessions I attended (can we say, custom-tailored to what’s most relevant to me these days?!):

  • “Legal / structuring 101” for social investing (including VC folks, entrepreneurs and a few lawyers for good measure)
  • Social impact metrics and measurement parameters
  • Franchising social enterprises (including e.g., microfranchising)
  • Fortune 500 companies: Can they innovate via social investment?
  • Social investment in Africa
  • Alternative exits, with an emphasis on legacy

I’m looking forward to staying in touch with so many people from SoCap (big question: might we work together someday?) and look forward to SoCap 2009 already. As for BarCamp Africa, I’m not sure if it’s an annual event but definitely think it should be — and its relevance will be felt again quite soon, as exactly 3 weeks from today I’ll be Ethiopia-bound!

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I depart for east Africa 6 weeks from today. I’m so excited I can hardly stand it. Much remains to be done — including yellow fever vaccinations and other mundane tasks — but I’m confident everything will get completed in time.

A couple of unique recommendations for anyone interested in further-flung travel, in one case Africa specifically and the other with more global appeal. BarCamp Africa is slated to take place on October 11 at the Googleplex and offers to be an extraordinary day full of issues, ideas and initiatives related to the continent (and people keen to learn more about them, get involved more directly, or who already have relevant and want to share it). I’ve been asked to moderate a panel on social and human issues in Africa (people, politics, policy). What an honor. I expect that much will dovetail also with economics (including, of course!, microfinance).

My Africa trip planning has also gotten a kick start thanks to the new Offbeat Guides. The concept is fantastic — customized travel guides for cities / places around the world that are created online (and then formatted into a printable, pocket-sized, user-friendly PDF). Included are weather forecasts, festivals and special events, etc. specifically for the dates you will be there. No more lugging around bulky travel guides of which only 10% of the info is relevant at any given time. No more worrying if you lose a guide en route (or anger at oneself if you loan it to a fellow traveler who unexpectedly takes the next bus out of town and leaves you stranded in a rural village in, say, outer Mongolia). I test-drove the site by creating a guide for Addis Ababa. More detailed info is definitely still needed for this particular city, though I doubt Addis is high on most people’s travel wish list and am confident it’ll be better by the time of my departure. What I would like to see most of all, however, is a travelogue component to each Offbeat Guide. Not least because of my own travelogging passion and tenure — maybe I’ve finally found another outlet-idea for them? — but especially because thanks to others’ feedback to mine, I believe that candid, offbeat, first-hand recounts of “stuff that wouldn’t normally be found in guidebooks” can be truly invaluable in helping others to see the world in a new perspective, whether doing so on-the-road or in an armchair at home.

On that note, six weeks… and counting!

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Last night I went to a reception for MicroBike USA and the One Hen children’s book about microfinance.  The event was co-hosted by Wokai, SVMN and Accion and featured the six MicroBikers who cycled across the USA to raise money for — and awareness about — microfinance, along with One Hen author Katie Milway Smith.

It was a unique opportunity to further expand the microfinance community to include “younger” generations, whether university- or elementary school-age.  My only complaint was that, if the event is titled “Youth in Microfinance” and the goal is to educate and excite youth about global economic development, then do not host it in a venue that is over-21s only.  To have to turn away the very people who you want most to attract seems to me not only counter-productive, but also an entirely preventable situation.  What about a local cafe, bookstore, school campus or neighborhood library instead?

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