Where Geeks Unite and Change the World

Posted on November 29, 2011 by Comments Off

We know a few things about Silicon Valley.

  • It’s a beautiful stretch of land.
  • People there love working out of their garages.
  • Products that transform how we live, work and make friends come from Silicon Valley, creating vast amounts of wealth in the process.

Now Silicon Valley also wants us to know that it can change the world, for the better.

On November 30, Silicon Valley’s best and brightest will meet in Palo Alto to make this point at the Social Innovation Summit.   Convened by Landmark Ventures, some of the Valley’s most recognizable brands, from Twitter to Intel, from Facebook to Microsoft, and from Google to Yahoo!, will join some of the most innovative and effective non-profits and governmental organizations to discuss solutions, partnerships and business models that can change the world.

A remarkable achievement

The very existence of this gathering is quite an accomplishment.  Up until recently, many of these companies were either struggling to come up with viable business models, fiercely competing for market share or were entirely focused on their business bottom line.

Even those that knew that they had a viable business model didn’t always acknowledge the fact that they had both a role, and a responsibility, to help solve some of the world’s most intractable problems.

A few companies have stood out over the years:  Microsoft’s citizenship initiatives, such as Imagine Cup, and Cisco’s Networking Academy have long been heralded as very successful, shared value, corporate citizenship programs.  More recently, Google spent a lot of time and money trying to figure out where its philanthropic investments could be most effective.

But it’s fair to say that in a context characterized by fierce product competition, rapid obsolescence, and wild market fluctuations, social conscience has not always been top of mind for companies, particularly in the Valley.

Change is in the air

Something seems to be changing now:  companies, young and old, large and small, profitable and fledgling, are realizing that the products they develop can make them profitable and achieve positive social or environmental benefit at the same time.

One example that comes easily to mind is social media. Arguably, the companies that power social connections are bound to power social transformation, whether they want to or not. While the jury may still be out for some on the role that Facebook, Twitter, or  YouTube have played as agents of social change, there is no question that these tools have helped improve people’s lives.

There is a more profound change happening, however, and it’s not limited to social media.

Social innovation = business opportunity

In a fast-changing world that’s calling for accountability, transparency and engagement, business opportunities are being found in social innovation.

Corporations, and not just those in the tech or social media sectors, are moving away from reactive strategies, simply based on a need to manage their reputations.  They are now setting up businesses and divisions whose entire raison d’etre is to help the business seize the social innovation opportunity.

The leading companies and non-profits that will be showcased at the Social Innovation Summit are fully embracing this opportunity and creating a new sector where the power of innovation, collaboration, business and technology are coming together to affect positive change.

In the process, they are also influencing more traditional governmental and non-governmental efforts. Leading organizations such as the X Prize Foundation, Room to Read, DonorsChoose.org, the Corporation for National Service, and the United Nations Office for Information and Communications Technology will also discuss their latest efforts at the event.

While not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, these efforts indicate that there doesn’t need to be a sharp dichotomy between business and social innovation:  the very skills and tools that have transformed the world of business have the potential to transform our societies, for the better. Furthermore, they show that geeks can develop great products AND change the world at the same time.

What does “social innovation” mean to us? At Waggener Edstrom, social innovations are programs, products, and processes that address social, economic and environmental issues around the world. The result of creative collaboration across sectors, social innovations aim to create measurable social value for people and plant, and we help our clients to tell those stories.

Join the conversation!

This is a conversation that all of us can participate in.  You can read the press release for more details or follow the conversation on Twitter at #SIS11. The event will also be streamed live by Stanford Social Innovation Review starting at 2 pm PST.

Follow the event. Track the conversation.  And let us know what you think:  is social innovation here to stay?  What are some of the most exciting social innovations under way? What does social innovation mean to you?

Clinton Global Initiative – Were you Part of the 8 Million?

Posted on September 27, 2010 by Comments Off

For those of you who follow conversations related to social innovation, global development and philanthropy, you were likely overwhelmed with the volume of amazing content shared at last week’s Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting. To help analyze this content, Waggener Edstrom (WE) put our twendz pro tool to use to capture insight around the robust Twitter conversation from the event.  

Over the course of the upcoming week, we’ll share information, insight and learnings from the wealth of data gathered around the CGI Twitter conversation. Our kickoff to this week’s series explores “CGI by the Numbers.” In subsequent posts, we’ll explore the top Twitter influencers, retweets and conversations that took place at CGI.

I am proud of my agency’s significant engagement with CGI. Two of my colleagues – Melissa Waggener Zorkin (CEO) and Jean-Louis Robadey (Vice President Global Development) – took part in the annual meeting.  On Friday, Jean-Louis will share his thoughts and impressions of the meeting. At CGI, Melissa shared her impressive personal commitment to support entrepreneurial and economic empowerment programs in two Ethiopian communities that will be implemented by Mercy Corps.  WE provides pro bono counsel on digital strategy for the Clinton Global Initiative University, the college student version of CGI.

Without further delay, let’s dive into the numbers:

Can you guess how many Tweets were generated from CGI 2010?

  • In total, CGI generated 4,597 tweets from September 21 through September 23, of which 2,098 were retweets, 2,897 included links to additional coverage and 4,011 tweets incorporated at least one or more hashtag.
  • At the peak of CGI Twitter traffic, there were nearly 8 million people following the online conversations.
  • Conversation was driven mainly by panel sessions featuring heads of state, government leaders from around the world, CEOs, celebrities, philanthropists and nonprofits, all of which were streamed live at www.ClintonGlobalInitiative.org. This allowed for thousands of people beyond the conference walls to watch the discussions in real-time while participating in various conversations online.
  • The high number of retweets, links and use of hashtags shows the high level of engagement and participation by the audience present at the conference and beyond.

Key Twitter Metrics from CGI

If you love to wallow in data, this next section is for you. The graph below explores the overall measure of frequency, reach and level of influence during CGI. To provide context, we define these terms accordingly:

Frequency: Total number of tweets from a given timeframe. In short, frequency = tweet volume.

Reach: Total number of followers in a given timeframe. This number can fluctuate as tweet followers are added and subtracted from tweet profiles on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. But in short, reach = total number of potential twitter followers. So basically, your audience.

Level of Influence: Influence is the sum of the influence scores (0-5 scale) for each tweet related to the search topic during the specified date/time. Influence will indicate the overall impact of the tweets that are being sent about the search topic. 

As discussions started to happen, top influentials began to participate, which impacted both the reach and the level of influence. As the event progressed, it was obvious the level of influence increased with some heavy hitters driving the discussion. At the peak, the number of followers quadrupled with nearly 8 million people following on the 23rd and the level of influence more than doubled.


Black = Frequency
Blue = Reach
Purple = Level of Influence

 CGI Word Cloud

For those of you who like visuals, check out our world cloud below. The cloud represents the top keywords associated with tweets around CGI*.  As trends rise in the Twittersphere, conversation frequency shifts upward, creating a larger impact on the overall word cloud. As seen below, “global”, “clinton”, “cgi2010”, “initiative” and “ashoka” were hot topics of discussion at CGI.

*Twitter conversations tracked from September 15-23, 2010

Stay tuned tomorrow as we dig into the Top 10 influentials from CGI.

The Role of Youth in Driving Social Innovation

Posted on September 17, 2010 by 2 Comments

Last night I attended a conversation with Rob Salkowtiz, the author of “Young World Rising.” His book explores how youth, technology and entrepreneurship are changing the world. This event was hosted by the Young Professional International Network through the World Affairs Council. Rob’s book goes deep in exploring how around the world, young people are now armed with unprecedented access to technology, the internet, and social networks and through this access are finding innovative and cost-effective solutions to solve some of the world’s largest challenges.

Rob made an astute point, while well known to most, is a good reminder: today’s children are born digital. This immediately got me thinking about my young nephews who knew how to use high tech remotes to turn cartoons on when they were barely three years old and how easy they are able to navigate their computers in the back of their minivan on summer road trips. Kids today are surrounded by technology and social media and given this, learn about global issues faster than we did growing up and can create relationships and solutions faster because of this.

Rob highlighted several compelling examples of young social entrepreneurs from around the world. Two examples that really jumped out for me were:

Suhas Gopinath, CEO & President, Globals Inc.: Born in 1986, Suhas is one of the world’s youngest CEOs. He resides in Bangalore, India and received the 2008-2009 Young Global Leader Award from the World Economic Forum. Suhas was passionate about entrepreneurship and to his mother’s dismay, spent hours at the neighborhood cybercafe instead of studying for his school exams. Little did his mother know that Suhas was getting certified as a web developer. From that cybercafe, at the age of 14, Suhas set up Globals Inc. in San Jose, California because Indian laws did not allow him to set up a company as a minor.  Suhas took an interesting new business approach: he emailed dozens of small and medium sized manufacturing companies asking for links to their websites for the products they sold. These companies often did not have websites since they were lean and had no experience in web development; the companies would ask if they could snail mail a catalog instead or better yet, visit Suhas in person in India. Suhas would promptly respond that having a website was a bare essential for procurement of the product and that the company was no longer eligible for the bid; he would also conclude the emails saying, “By the way, I know this very affordable web development company you should check out, Globals Inc.” Globals Inc is now a $120 million company that provides web, e-commerce and mobile solutions to the Fortune 500.

Ashifi Gogo and Bright Simons, MPedigree:  Did you know that 30 percent of medicines in Africa are counterfeit? Given this, consumers do not trust medicines or the pharmaceutical industry, which as you can imagine, dramatically impacts the public health situation in the continent. Ashifi Gogo, a native of Ghana who studied engineering and innovation at Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering worked with Bright Simons, an Ashoka fellow also from Ghana, to create a nonprofit to fight the counterfeit drug issue, which they call mPedigree. As writer Suzie Boss reports, “the program combines mobile phones, scratch-off drug labels and text messaging into a simple, effective way for consumers in places like Accra to find out if the medicines they purchase are the real deal or counterfeit.” Here’s how the program works: mPedigree provides pharmaceutical manufacturers with specially coded labels, which are affixed to individually packaged medicines. At the drugstore counter, the purchaser scratches off a label to reveal a unique code, which he or she texts to a four-digit number. An automated service looks up the code in a database. On the spot, the consumer gets a reply message indicating whether the drug is genuine or fake. Now, the counterfeit drug penetration rate in Ghana is in the single digits. That is truly social innovation.

Rob discussed another critical issue to ensuring young social entrepreneurship continues to flourish, IT skills training. Rob shared an interesting comparison on the current demographics between India and China. Right now, there are 1.3 billion people living in China and 1.1 billion living in India. China currently has a larger workforce, approximately 964 million people between the ages of 15-64 while India has 780 million. Given China’s aging population and India’s ever growing younger generation, in 2050 India will have 1.1 billion workers and China will have 870 million. In 2050, India will have an inexhaustible supply of labor; given this and the country’s strong promotion of capitalism and entrepreneurship, India will also become the central hub for idea generation and social innovation. It is for this reason India needs to continue to invest in education, literacy, and IT skills training to ensure that it can be the world’s knowledge business supporter. Personally I am more passionate about seeing India improve basic human development indicators such as reducing the maternal mortality rate, ensuring citizens have access to clear water and steady supplies of electricity. However, I can appreciate the attempts the public and private sector or making to get digital access to children in India. (aside: I would still advocate that solving the basic health and livelihood issues should still be tackled first because what is the point of having a computer if you cannot power it up.)

Rob reminded me of the cycle of innovation and how critical business creation, training, innovation, public-private partnerships and reinvestment back into community are to ensure the work of social entrepreneurs is lasting and impactful. His talk also reminded me that at the end of the day, kids get it. Their simple, untainted views of the world often offer the most easy, nonpolitical solutions to everyday programs. So while my nephews may not be solving the world’s energy crisis while driving to school, does not mean someday soon they won’t.

Know any young social entrepreneurs whose story you want to share?

A Reminder from Muhammad Yunus: Do it With Joy!

Posted on May 24, 2010 by Comments Off

Yesterday, I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Muhammad Yunus, the founder and Managing Director of Grameen Bank, speak at the Town Hall Seattle to discuss his new book, Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs.  Garbed in a traditional South Asian kurta pajama with a brown Nehru vest, Yunus noted in his speech, “Poverty is not created by the poor, it is imposed on the poor.”

Dr. Yunus, the visionary who pioneered microcredit, won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. As someone in the audience correctly pointed out, Dr. Yunus should have actually won an award titled the “Nobel Economics Prize” given the critical role microcredit has had in lifting millions of people out of poverty. In his book, Dr. Yunus explores a new dimension for capitalism which he calls “social business” that harnesses the energy of profit-making to objectives that meet human needs. In sum, social business creates self-supporting, viable commercial enterprises that generate economic growth even as they produce goods and services that make the world a better place.

 At the town hall, we watched the trailer of a documentary titled “TO CATCH A DOLLAR: MUHAMMAD YUNUS BANKS ON AMERICA.” The film chronicles Grameen America, a not-for-profit microfinance organization founded by Yunus, during its first year of operations in Queens, New York.  The film directed and produced by Gayle Ferraro, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah back in January. I was blown away when I learned that since opening in January 2008, Grameen America has disbursed more than $4.3 million in loans to 2,002 borrowers and maintains a repayment rate of 99 percent. Of note, of the eight million Grameen borrowers around the world, 97 percent of them are women.

In reflecting on the film and the irony that the film’s recording begin in 2008 when the financial crisis was in full gear, Dr. Yunus stated that he hopes one day New York City can be the first city in the world to not have any Payday Loan shops or pawn stores. He indicated these shops “are an expression of sickness in our financial institution” that we have interest rates as high as 1000 percent being charged to borrowers.

In his speech, Dr. Yunus also reminded us to not forget the many other crisis’ beyond the financial crisis that were happening back in 2008 that continue to plague our system such as the global food crisis – especially for food importing countries like Haiti who have suffered so much in recent years. He also reminded us of the energy crisis and when oil was $250 a barrel back in the summer of 2008. And of course, global warming continues to be a crisis that Yunus reminds us we should not ignore.

Given all the aforementioned crisis’ the world faces, Yunus strongly believe in leveraging social business – in using the private sector to address the world’s greatest challenges. He shared an anecdote about the children of Grameen borrowers and how his bank ensures that all children of loan recipients receive a good education. He encourages these children to not “be job seekers, but rather job givers.” He feels cultivating entrepreneurship amongst children whose parents are micro-entrepreneurs will help their local communities flourish with new jobs and opportunities.

Towards the end of his remarks, Dr. Yunus reminded the audience of the importance of having fun and passion in creating social business. Of his seven principles of social business, the last one is “do it with joy.” When you hear Dr. Yunus speak, you can truly feel and sense the deep joy and passion he has for his work. This reminded me that the work we do every day in Social Innovation is a chance to address social problems that help people lead better lives which in turn brings me great joy.

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