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June 28, 2007

More on the Boomer Entrepreneurs

Earlier this week, 15 people over the age of 60 who lead projects to solve a pressing social problem were selected as finalists for the $100,000 Purpose Prize. Recently, I mentioned the prize in a post about "encore careers," a term coined by Marc Freedman, the head of Civic Ventures, which just so happens to be the group awarding the prize. Prize SealThe range of issues addressed by these finalists is impressive: humane treatment of farm animals, better care for foster children, saving energy for low-income home owners, and many others. And one of the finalists is 91!

Freedman is quite the evangelist about the potential of older Americans to engage in transforming the world around them. He founded Civic Ventures for starters. He's also just published a new book, Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life. In a statement about the Purpose Prize finalists, Freedman gave some context to this rise in 60+ social entrepreneurs:

As baby boomers leave their midlife careers and continue working into their 60s, we are experiencing the biggest transformation of the American workforce since the women's movement. One of the most interesting and significant developments from this transformation is the emergence of social innovation and entrepreneurialism from people over 60.

Here's the list of finalists:

Ray Anderson, 72, (Atlanta, GA): Leading the business community by adopting practices for his own multi-million dollar carpet company that protect the environment and boost profits

Gloria Jackson Bacon, 69, (Chicago, IL): Training hundreds of low-income parents to inspire and support their children in school and help them succeed in life

Donald Berwick, 60, (Cambridge, MA): Enlisting wide-scale cooperation and scientifically-proven protocols to help hospitals improve care and save more than 100,000 lives

Sally Bingham, 66, (San Francisco, CA): Leading an interfaith response to global warming by helping churches, synagogues, temples and mosques buy green electricity, reduce energy consumption and add a moral dimension to environmental activism

Phil Borges, 64, (Seattle, WA): Utilizing stories, pictures and technology - podcasting, videoconferencing, and the Web - to expand cross-cultural understanding among youth around the world

Richard Cherry, 64, (New York, NY): Saving energy and providing green building services to low-income New Yorkers

Adele Douglass, 60, (Herndon, VA): Advancing the humane treatment of farm animals through the certification and labeling of meat and poultry

Jose-Pablo Fernandez , 62, (Houston, TX): Teaching Hispanic parents computer skills to get them involved in their children's educations and to boost the children's chances of success

Sara J. Gonzales , 71, (Atlanta, GA): Training new Hispanic entrepreneurs and linking them to the larger business world

Gordon Johnson , 74, (Daytona Beach, FL): Creating new approaches to foster care that keeps siblings together and improves the quality of care and attention given to each child

H. Gene Jones , 91, (Tucson, AZ): Accelerating student achievement by integrating music and art in a district-wide curriculum that improves critical thinking, problem-solving and test scores

Marian Kramer , 63, (Detroit, MI): Organizing a grassroots, legal and legislative fight for the right to affordable water in Detroit

Gary Maxworthy , 69, (San Francisco, CA): Using expertise from a career in food distribution to redistribute tons of nutritious produce at a city food bank - that would otherwise go to waste - to low-income people

Wilma Melville , 73, (Ojai, CA): Saving lives at disaster sites by training rescued dogs to serve on canine-firefighter search teams

Sharon Rohrbach , 64, (St. Louis, MO): Saving the lives of newborns through home visits by nurses

June 26, 2007

A Giving Nation

Giving is big business. And a new report just out this week on philanthropy in the United States shows why. There's a lot of money floating around. Americans are giving at record rates—both as individuals and through foundations. Hands GivingIt's a wonderful sign of our altruistic nature. And for some, an ideal business opportunity. “Every major bank, every major mutual fund…is promoting the act of giving,” said philanthropy expert Lucy Bernholz over coffee recently, as we chatted about innovative projects and the generous people who fund them.

The commercialization of philanthropy and giving is only a good thing, in Bernholz’s view, because the financial services industry brings “product and service innovation” to the field. Innovation like “embedded giving”—opportunities to tack on a donation to a charity on top of another financial transaction. Haven’t encountered this yet? Bernholz describes it here on her blog about the "business of giving", Philanthropy 2173.

Not surprisingly, social entrepreneurs—entrepreneurs with a humanitarian mission—are also behind many of the new projects that facilitate donations and investments. Bernholz said social entrepreneurs are playing a major role in how the tools and mission of philanthropy are changing:

There’s this whole industry of giving that social entrepreneurism is a part of largely because very smart businessmen have entered the field and are very excited about it.

Besides more traditional tools like socially responsible mutual funds, there’s a whole new world of giving options out there. In the past couple years a proliferation of websites have sprouted that make it easier for donors to find causes/charities/social enterprises that they believe in. Some of these include:

Network For Good
Global Giving

And like everything else these days, social networking sites also play a part. MySpace, Facebook and Second Life allow people interested in supporting different causes to find each other.

As the president of consulting firm Blueprint Research & Design, one of Bernholz’s goals is to encourage more “mission-driven investing.” What does this mean? She points out that U.S. foundations hold an estimated $450 billion in endowed assets. Most of these assets are invested in businesses that have nothing to do with the foundation’s mission—and may even in undermine it, as a recent Los Angeles Times investigation revealed about the Gates Foundation.

Now that it’s becoming “more and more possible to make money by doing good,” as Bernholz puts it, there should be more willingness to invest in social entrepreneurs and their projects. After all, the social entrepreneurs are the people who are creating financial opportunities for doing good, says Bernholz. Like Muhammad Yunus’ Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and South Shore Bank in the Midwestern United States.

“We’ve entered a period of philanthropy like no other,” explains Bernholz, “because the federal government has gotten out of the business of funding domestic programs.” Foundations and individuals are picking up the slack by providing resources to projects—and many social entrepreneurs. Even if the government increases its commitment to domestic programs, Bernholz believes social entrepreneurship and its hybrid approach—drawing on strategies from the market as well as the public sector—to solving serious problems is here to stay:

The problems people are trying to solve are not caused by any single sector so no single sector can solve them.

June 21, 2007

Encore Careers: Or a Worthy Life Begins at 60

The next time you hear someone complain about their life being "over" because they're turning 40, tell them about Robert Chambers. Robert Chambers At age 62, after working for years as a software engineer, Chambers is enjoying a second career as a social entrepreneur. He is now transforming the lives of hundreds of low-income people in New Hampshire by helping them get a car they can afford, in a rural state where cars are essential. NOW will profile Chambers and his innovative organization—Bonnie CLAC—on our June 22 broadcast [the video will be posted after broadcast here]. Chambers is just one of many older Americans who are starting or getting involved in projects with a humanitarian mission.

As the population ages, a growing number of older and retired Americans are viewing their talent and experience as an asset to be invested through service and advocacy. According to an October 2006 Business Week article, older social entrepreneurs

… are starting companies and nonprofits that apply new business solutions to intractable social problems in the fields of housing, education, health care, and the environment, among others.
Anecdotally, this rings true—it seems the bios for many people leading social entrepreneurial projects begin along these lines “Jane retired from such and such industry…”

Helping create more opportunities for older Americans to get involved in philanthropic work is one of the goals of Civic Ventures [disclosure: Civic Ventures has received funding from the Skoll Foundation, which also supports Enterprising Ideas]. The group gives out a $100,000 “Purpose Prize –-Chambers was a finalist in 2006—to people over 60 who are helping solve society’s problems. They also run a number of programs designed to get baby boomers involved in public interest projects.

Are you over 50 and looking to spice up your life with a volunteer gig or even a new job at an enterprising social organization? To learn about other organizations that take advantage of older Americans’ talents, check out this list from Civic Ventures and this list from AARP.

In a video of Chambers produced by Civic Ventures, Chambers talks about how his inspiration for Bonnie CLAC "grew over time." The kind of insight and imagination necessary to conquer an intractable social problem is often borne from experience. And it's not so surprising then, that some of the leading social innovators have a half century or more of life and work experience under their belt. [UPDATE: Read more about the new generation of social entrepreneurs in this interview with Marc Freedman, founder of Civic Ventures.]

June 18, 2007

Robert Redford Raps Green

Robert Redford

The actor who's played both the Sundance Kid and Bob Woodward, won an Oscar for directing movies and created an innovative film festival can also add dedicated environmentalist to the top of his long resume. In this podcast with NOW host David Brancaccio about a new environmental documentary, Redford talks about how the changing politics of the environment are creating a "whole new group of social entrepreneurs." He praises the emergence of what many are calling “double-bottom line” businesses—projects that both make money and do good, in this case, by protecting the environment. And he discusses Brancaccio’s pitooties. To hear the whole interview, click here.

June 14, 2007

Mommy, Where Does Social Change Come From?

Interested in someone who can describe how to change the world in less than 300 pages? Then meet David Bornstein. Bornstein writes about social innovation. He tells stories about people, in his words, "whose deep yearnings in their lives meets the world's deep needs." Bornstein met celebrated social entrepreneur and Nobel prize winner Muhammad Yunus as a young journalist and went on to write one of the most popular books on social innovation, How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas (which clocks in at 282 pages, in case you were wondering). In this short video interview on Global X, Bornstein talks about his predictions for 2017 and how a lot of social change "comes from people helping other people believe in themselves.”

June 12, 2007

Campaigning to End Child Labor

Today, June 12, human rights groups around the world are observing the World Day Against Child Labor. They hope that by raising awareness of the prevalence and devastating impact of child labor on children and on societies they can begin to make a dent in the problem. Stigmatizing child labor creates the kind of pressure that recently prompted the organizers of the Beijing Olympics to cancel contracts with Chinese companies for using child labor.

Child WorkingThe chairperson of the Global March Against Child Labour, Kailash Satyarthi, said in a press release on June 11:

It is unethical to eat delicious food and wear expensive clothes which are produced by half fed, half naked and even enslaved children trapped in agriculture world-wide.

Heavy stuff. The causes of child labor are simple, mainly poverty. Yet eradicating the use of children as laborers is a complex task, involving economic, cultural and other strategies. But as grim as the facts are—for instance, one in every eight children 5 to 17 years old works in the worst forms of child labor—there’s reason for hope. Corporations are increasingly sensitive to their customers finding out they use child labor. Recent surveys show a decline in the global number of child laborers. And there are more organizations and campaigns to advocate for these children and run programs to help them.

One of these programs is run by a social entrepreneur in India previously profiled on PBS who created an innovative model for increasing poor children’s access to education. Groups like UNICEF have long argued that education is “a powerful means of preventing child labour.” Because homeless children are among the most vulnerable to being exploited, Inderjit Khurana set up schools in Bhubhaneshwar, a city in the northeast, on the railway platforms where these children congregate. Khurana founded the Ruchika Social Service Organization in 1985 to bring schools to the children. Watch a short clip of a video narrated by Robert Redford about Khurana’s groundbreaking work with children here.
Or check out a series of photographs of the train platform students here.

Besides learning about child labor, we can each take concrete steps to stop it by removing ourselves from the marketplace for goods produced with child labor. Coop America has created a list of products that are fairly traded, cooperatively produced, or produced in a unionized factory.

June 8, 2007

Talking Back to the Wall Street Journal

The nation's business paper of record published a pretty negative article recently about nonprofits that get involved in commercial ventures. In the past couple days, a number of informed voices have responded to the Journal's article, called "Why 'Social Enterprise' Rarely Works."

The article by Ben Casselman draws on a new study from Seedco that notes few social enterprises are truly self-sustaining. To that criticism, Kris Prendergast of the Social Enterprise Alliance counters (hat tip, SEblog):

Viewing social enterprise solely from the perspective of the for-profit world misses the social goals of nonprofits, where the primary measures of success are social outcomes.

In his defense, Casselman makes at least one criticism about social enterprises that should be taken seriously:

...some experts say an overemphasis on creating a viable business can detract from an organization's social mission.

Here's a roundup of other reactions to the piece. The Seedco study focused on its own failed social enterprise. Thus, says the UK's School for Social Entrepreneurship blog:

The sad thing is that the WSJ article simply brands this [social enterprise] as a failure, and uses one example to generalise widely
And over at Xigi, a blog about social investing, they're pleased the concept of social enterprise is getting any ink at all in the Journal:
Social enterprise is hot enough that entrenched players like the old money Wall Street Journal are starting to attack the concept in a recent article. . . It’s good to see the guardians of old style thinking about money getting uncomfortable. We are getting under their skin.

June 7, 2007

Fisticuffs Over Microfinance

Is turning every poor person into an entrepreneur a surefire way to fight poverty? Is microcredit—the practice of lending small amounts of money to impoverished individuals to start businesses—deserving of the billions of dollars devoted to it? Does the popularity of microcredit distract from other tested strategies for economic development? These are the very important and provocative questions posed in a new article from a social innovation journal.

"Contrary to the hype about microcredit," writes University of Michigan business school professor Aneel Karnani, "the best way to eradicate poverty is to create jobs and to increase worker productivity." Think Karnani is spoiling for a fight—or at least a vigorous debate—over the merits of microfinance?

Karnani attacks the microfinance movement in Microfinance Misses Its Mark, published in the new issue of the unfortunately named Stanford Social Innovation Review (it’s actually a much more interesting journal than it sounds!). Karnani starts off declaring that microcredit is no "silver bullet for alleviating poverty" and goes on to summarize the research about the drawbacks of microfinance, especially as relates to the very poorest among us.

To be sure, Karnani’s far from the first to question the amount of money and other resources pouring into microfinance programs. In a Boston Globe op-ed two years ago, a law professor declared that “even the most established microlending programs have yet to prove that microlending is more successful than welfare-style programs in lifting people permanently out of poverty.” Just this past April, Newsweek ran a piece about the “backlash” to microcredit, citing the practice of charging high interest rates and the high incidence of loan defaults, as well as the fact that loan recipients are barely eking out a living.

Most of the critics aren’t saying microcredit programs are worthless. Mostly they seem to be issuing a warning to donors and governments: Don't be blinded by your zeal for microcredit to other strategies that hold promise for lifting people out of poverty. Karnani advocates job creation, pointing to China, Vietnam and South Korea as places where employment is reducing poverty. Others have called for public investment in healthcare, education, clean water and other basic services.

What do you think? Is the current popularity of microfinance among foundations and groups concerned about poverty leading to overdue criticism or overblown criticism? You can discuss this and other topics related to social entrepreneurs and innovative ideas in the comments section here or on the NOW Enterprising Ideas message board.

June 4, 2007

American Idol Meets Silicon Valley

If you're reading this blog, you probably won't smirk at the claim that the Internet has the potential to make the world a better place. But you also know how much time can be wasted trying to make the Internet work for you. The mission of NetSquared is to help social change organizations use the Internet smartly and productively. This past weekend in San Jose, California, NetSquared held a conference that brought together 21 promising social change projects that use Internet tools to fulfill their goals. And had them compete against each other for a grand prize of $25,000, voted on by conference participants.

One of the most interesting of the 21 projects uses the Internet to connect doctors and emergency personnel dealing with humanitarian crises. But it wasn’t just the “contestants” who were impressive. Take a look at the list of conference participants to get a sense of the energy and innovation that was gathered under one roof in Silicon Valley this weekend. The winners had to demonstrate technological innovation, a viable financial model and social benefit. In addition to money, the winners get ongoing support from NetSquared.

Here’s the San Francisco Chronicle’s rundown of this weekend's lucky winners:
-- MapLight.org: A Light on Money and Politics. The Berkeley group, which correlates lawmakers' voting records with the money they've raised from special-interest groups, took first place and took home $25,000. The folks behind the site have been active in trying to get money out of California politics.
-- Miro Open Source. The Massachusetts group, which is working on creating free and open access to video content on the Internet, took second place and $15,000.
-- Freecycle Network. The Tucson group's goal—creating a free eBay to keep stuff out of landfills by encouraging people to join a global curbside pickup campaign— took third place and $10,000.

For those of us who couldn’t be there, someone at the Omidyar Network—an online community for “people who want to make the world a better place”— took notes.
UPDATE: You can listen to podcast interviews with each of the NetSquared finalists conducted by Jesse Patel of Innovatorz.org, a site dedicated to helping social entrepreneurs tell their stories.

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