If scale is what got us in this mess, is scale really what will get us out of it?

There’s a need, it seems, to acquire and expand. And it’s not just in our personal and material lives. Startups want to scale — that’s the most critical stage for them. How do we expand? How do we robotize it so we can speed up the process?

Nonprofits need to collect data for “impact” reports, illustrating how their ideas are not only innovative, but scalable.

It’s a numbers game to grow and, if possible, grow exponentially. That’s the sign of success — numerical growth.

Everything needs to have scale. Scalability is like sustainability now — another simple concept made far too abstract and complex.

Yet, what used to be sustainable can no longer be so because we live at roller coaster speeds. The small-town businesses struggle against the giants because they cannot “scale” or, perhaps, they don’t want to. Hence, as consumers, we have to decide do we go for the local “brand” or the corporate one? It’s one or the other, it seems.

So, should scalability really be such a big focus?

Sustainable lives are smaller lives. They’re lives that are in sync with the community, with the earth, with each other. Scalable lives require us to extend ourselves beyond ourselves.

In the social enterprise world, scale is plenty important for most actors. The impact investors, the foundations, the social entrepreneurs they’re all talking about how to scale, how to measure impact at scale, how to build the missing middle or how to select and supports those few enterprises that can grow. I am (and have been even more before) certainly ingrained with this mindset.

Now from a perspective of (environmental, at least) sustainability in many regards it was the advent of large scale production and consumption that got us into the mess we’re in right now. The disconnection between production and consumption of food, the carbon costly supply chains, the export of environmental degradation to the places which can manage it the least… all of it came on the back of rapidly scaling enterprises and global systems. It has elevated environmental and social challenges to a size of equal proportion meaning that we now no longer talk about the survival of individual communities but of everybody (well, except maybe for the 1% – they can afford to pay their way out of the mess).

One answer to these challenges have been touted as globally scalable social endeavors – be it the Gates Foundation or Grameen Bank. However, isn’t this just repeating the same process which got us in trouble in the first place?

The signs are there: much-touted microfinance have been shown at scale to have little effect on poverty (http://blog.linuskendall.com/microfinance-contribution-on-poverty-reductio) – in Andhra the scale of microfinance got so out of control that it contributed to a spate of suicide and eventually extreme government reaction.

Read the original article here:


Social Entreprenurship – adjusting to it’s new clothes?

If you spend any amount of time following the field of social
entrepreneurship, there are some easy to spot trends and movements.

Many of them are captured in this simple and straight forward article
at Collective Responsibility:

One of the big discussions is the definition of what SE really is.

Nothing surprising there, any “new” community or movement will be in
the search for what defines them, what sets them a part from other (in
case of SE: traditional NGOs, aid work, etc.).

Following this development what I would expect to see is at one point
the community becoming comfortable in the clothes that we are wearing.
Starting feeling that we know what sets us a part and instead focus
not on building the framework, but rather innovating within it (and
sometimes outside it – creating new communities & groups).

Some people argue that the search for definition is leading SE off
track – maybe they’re right. However, from what I have seen of
community development, this is a necessary (if maybe time consuming)
process to go trough.

What do you think? Is it a waste of time or a necessary process?

So long – I’m going to India (… and what will I be doing there?)

Having arrived at the airport, changed currency, gone through the security check, sat down, got my horrible (overpriced) airport espresso, flipped on my laptop and turned on my travel playlist, I am finally beginning to get that for the next 6 months I'll be in Delhi.

I guess somehow this post is a bit overdue, I have actually known for a bit over a month now that I'd be going to Delhi, and I've been many times over been telling people about what I'll be doing there – however, I didn't actually get to writing here about what I'll be up to. 

So, as said, I'm going to be spending 6 months in Delhi where I'll be working for an organization called Waste Ventures. As most of the people who've spent any amount of time around me knows, I've had a big interest in waste for some time, and now I had the great opportunity of gaining some practical experience of this area. Waste Ventures is a triple bottom-line (environmental, economical, social) business working with solid waste management enabling waste pickers to increase their income through implementing a scheme of service fees, recycling, composting, carbon offsets and biogas generation and through these activities have a positive environmental impact. I'll be helping Waste Ventures establishing their processes and routines, do work on evaluating potential partners and sites as well as (I'm sure, as it's a start-up ;)) a wide range of other things. 
I got the chance to work with Waste Ventures through the Artemisia and AIESEC Social Business Ventures program. In this program Artemisia supports a number of students and recent graduates to experience working with social businesses in India and Latin America. We're a group of fellows in this program who will work with different social ventures throughout India at the same time so parallell to our internships we will also be able to connect with each other and create a common learning environment. 

Anyway, so that's the brief summary of what I'll be up to for the next 6 months. I'm really excited, as I see this is as one of my first real hands on experiences of what I think I'd like to work with in the future. For the next months, expect updates here on waste, social business and life in India 🙂

PS. If you'd like to learn a bit more about Waste Ventures and the founder Parag Gupta who I'll be working with, check out his blog at Social Edge called Talking Trash.

Interesting reading: NGOs in China — Social Edge

An interesting overview of NGOs in China – would love to read more about this, anyone have articles to share?



-Sent from Read It Later

Sent from my iPhone

Charles Leadbeater: Education innovation in the slums

As social entrepreneurs tackle services delivered by government in the traditional recipe of states what starts to happen? Radical innovation occurs, old norms and ideas are challenged and things can move fast. I begin to wonder more and more about what kind of role of government we will see in the future.

Arguably – an education system built on fun, games and motivation, pull rather than push, seems a much more interesting proposition. The fact that government arranges this as a service (thus becoming a must) means that .

What do you believe is the role of government in the hubs of the places where the world grows?

Lessons from the field

Kjerstin Erickson who was the founder of an NGO called FORGE blogs regularly on SocialEdge.org about her organization, sharing how it is to work in the field. Currently they are in a dire situation and I guess almost all her energy goes into figuring out how to turn it around.

In her last post she gives her analysis of why they got into a financial crunch that they are in. There were two things that came into my mind in what she wrote.

One of them is that they didn’t have their source of revenue secured once they went into an organizational change that would refocus their fund-raising efforts. From my yet limited experience this is one lesson that I have learnt – always make sure that the financial bottom-line is covered, if nothing else works properly this will at least allow you to survive. Often you will feel that there is a “pipeline” of potential deals, but unless you have a very structured sales/fund-raising process probably this pipeline is worth very little. I have learnt to not trust the pipeline, as it often leads you into a false sense of security.

Secondly, many organizations are very naive about the information systems & websites. Online marketing is a serious challenge which requires a lot of knowledge and investment. Furthermore, she points to visitor numbers which is for sure an important metric – but an even more important one is conversion rates, how profitable they can make their website? (where “profit” can be measured both in raised awareness and donations)

Yet again, it seems to me, from the very little information I have, that a great infusion of a more business like mindset would be useful for them to grow and prosper.

I am, however,  really impressed by her openly sharing like this and I wish her all the luck in successfully completing her organizational transformation, I think that she seems like an amazing individual and that the organization is strong and delivering results so the change should definitly be possible to complete and deliver on.

Think big or start small or both?

Today I happened to have podcasts about two different entrepreneurs in my ipod, both trying to do good and each wanting to solve two challenging tasks – poverty and global warming. For me this is an interesting issue as I am currently trying to figure out what I want to devote myself to (as most 20-30 year olds).

The first of them, Shai Agassi, I originally heard about in an Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders podcast (do try them out – they’re amazing!) and was quite impressed by his way of speaking about how he attempts to solve global warming. He doesn’t think small and nimble – no he believes in a full out, complete shift in paradigm. He says that the only viable solution to solve a problem of this complexity.

Then we have Mohammed Yunus, Nobel peace price winner, who started almost infinitely small – with one $27 dollar loan – which he then followed up with another and another and so on. He solved a small, manageable problem and continued on to the next logical step. There wasn’t a grand plan to fix poverty, it was just a plan to help a group of women.

Both took quite different approaches – but who’s right? You might say, this is all depending on the type of the problem – and even though I’d agree in principle, in practice I don’t see humans acting this way. It seems to me that most people I meet, including myself, seems to prefer to find grand scale solutions.

In Silicon Valley in 98-99 it was all about the grand plans, in Silicon Valley 08-09 it’s all about the small and scalable. Solving poverty was long the realm of large NGOs and government bodies, today social entrepreneurship is all the rage. When to apply what strategy?

My guess would be a combination of the two, I’ll be back in 20 years when I figured it out.

World Peace

Many of us when we grow up have put “World peace” on our wishlist for some (or all) birthdays and christmases. However, just as many of us put it up there many of us took it off once we grew up, become more mature and realized what the world is really about (making enough money to get a nice car, nice house and vacations in Mallorca).

Some of us, however, never take that point off the wishlist, rather they go out to make it happen. I just finished reading the book by & about Greg Mortenson, Three cups of tea,  which might not be the best piece of litterature ever written but is an interesting account of one story of a person who did just that.

Another story I came across a couple of weeks ago was that of Noko Jeans. This is the story of three guys who are attempting to produce jeans in North Korea. They are just now in North Korea trying to start up the process, and while they might not necessarily be on a mission of World Peace I think that this type of activity, trying to connect the outside world with a pretty closed country like Northe Korea is one that certainly does just that. You can read about their background and also follow their progress on their blog.

Change the world through business

Noko Jeans a Swedish company trying to set up export of Jeans from North Korea is just this type of business. They have decided to try the feat of producing jeans in and then exporting them from North Korea.