From Crazy Ideas to Social Innovation Breakthroughs

Posted on December 5, 2011 by 1 Comment

By: Julie Gates and Seema Bhende

Last week, in the hotbed of innovation, start-ups, and entrepreneurship, 300 changemakers from the corporate, public and nonprofit sectors gathered at the Social Innovation Summit in Palo Alto.

One clear theme stemming from the Summit was that continued innovation (and knowledge-sharing) is needed to solve the world’s largest social problems, ranging from education to healthcare to sustainability. And with more limited resources from governments, the role of nonprofits and the private sector – working in partnership – has become more important than ever in driving change. During a panel with leaders from the Silicon Valley, including Intel and Microsoft, Peter Diamandis, Chairman and CEO of The X PRIZE Foundation, astutely noted: “The day before something is truly a breakthrough, it’s just a crazy
idea.” So how do those crazy ideas become breakthroughs? And how do breakthroughs lead to impact? Below are the 5 key themes (and tips) we saw emerge from the event that help answer these questions.

  1. Think big and then make it even bigger.  Entrepreneurs are known for thinking big, and social entrepreneurs are no exception. Scott Harrison, who founded charity: water wanted to tackle what he saw as the biggest problem – unsafe water, which contributes to 88% of disease in the world. And to talk about impact, Harrison’s nonprofit has raised over $40 million to reach more than 2 million people through 4,200 water projects in 17 countries over the past 5 years. In 2010, charity: water achieved 85% growth, nearly doubling their ability to impact the water crisis. Harrison’s goal now is even bigger – he wants to raise $1 billion for clean water. So what makes charity: water attractive to corporate partners like Saks Fifth Avenue and The Macallan? Harrison has a bold vision and his organization provides demonstrated proofs of impact to show ROI. charity: water also has a proven track record of achieving scale which has enabled it to attract many additional supporters and partners.
  2. Content is king but metrics (and stories) make him powerful. As Jonathan Greenbladt, director of the White House Office of Social Innovation remarked “we manage what we measure.” Measuring social impact is an ongoing challenge for many nonprofits and CSR teams alike. It is compounded by the lack of good metrics when it comes to programs that focus on human capital, as Silicon Valley pioneer and philanthropist Mitch Kapor noted, and the fact that social change takes time. And don’t forget the often primary culprit: the time and expense that goes into actually tracking data. Greenbladt also noted “there can be tension between innovation and impact, and new and shiny might not always be the most impactful.” But for a nonprofit to prove ROI to its stakeholders and continue to receive funding for their programs, demonstrating progress – even in the short term – is important. Storytelling – especially “hopeful” storytelling – is a great way to show impact and progress beyond numbers (for more on this, be sure to read Marianne Allison’s blog post on this here).
  3. Behave like a business (a responsible one). With individual and corporate donors’ funds more strained than ever during our prolonged recession, there is a heightened demand (and scrutiny) for nonprofits to be transparent in running their organizations and make data-driven decisions. As Jen Boynton from Triple Pundit wrote in her blog post on the summit “when the tools of business are applied to NGO models, redundancies vanish.” Thinking like a business can also bring to light the innovation solutions that are needed to solve big problems. John Wood, who left a successful career at Microsoft to start Room to Read, made the point that businesses are not afraid to think big.  At Microsoft, he was encouraged to take risks and have “BHAG” (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals) and he took this same approach with Room to Read, which has benefitted more than 6 million children in the last decade.
  4. Flaunt failure. Given the pressure to demonstrate impact and effectiveness, most nonprofits only want to talk about the good stuff. Yet, where the social innovation community can benefit society the most is learning about each other’s failures in order to not repeat mistakes.  Jacqueline Fuller, Director of Charitable Giving and Advocacy at Google, said she looks for nonprofits who share Google’s “fail fast” motto and likes to see engineers and developers in the C-suite because they are so used to things breaking or evolving constantly. A risk-taking mentality is also what makes young entrepreneurs like Andrew Yang, who founded Venture for America, ideal leaders of truly innovative nonprofits. More companies and donors should encourage nonprofits not to be afraid to fail and to share their failures as much as their successes.
  5. Be social. Charles Best, founder and CEO of, noted that being “social” is in the organization’s DNA: “We do everything we can to make sure a donor feels like they didn’t simply transact a donation, but forge a relationship with the beneficiary.” With more than 1.9 million click throughs from Facebook last year, it’s no wonder that 50% of all public school teachers in the U.S. have used to fund a project. From fundraising to storytelling, social media continues to be a powerful (and affordable!) tool for nonprofits, social enterprises and companies. But as Charles Porch, who manages community programs for Facebook, said organizations “should lead with your voice and people” to be effective on social media. Being authentic and genuine drives true engagement and loyalty with audiences.

To see the robust Twitter dialogue from the Summit, check out #SIS11. Stay tuned for more information on the next Social Innovation Summit that will be hosted by Landmark Ventures at the United Nations in New York City, May 31, 2012 (follow #SIS12 on Twitter).

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,, 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?

5 Tips for Cause Marketers: Using Social Media to Identify, Influence and Engage

Posted on June 7, 2011 by 1 Comment

Have you ever wondered, “How did that cause marketing campaign raise so much money?” or “Why isn’t my campaign getting those kind of results?” This past week Seema Bhende and I led a session at the Cause Marketing Forum Conference to help cause-marketers answer these tough questions and to learn how to create repeatable results for their cause campaigns.
In our session we revealed the 5 key principles for using social media to drive influence and engagement to achieve the maximum attention for a cause marketing campaign.

1. IDENTIFY: Get specific about the audience you want to engage with to achieve better results and save time and money.

“You never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.” -Harper Lee

The first and most important part of any social media strategy is to know who the audience is.  To be truly successful in a cause marketing campaign, you need specify who your ideal core audience is that will want to engage with your campaign and who will actually take action.  Make sure your strategy is grounded in facts, not assumptions.

Be specific about who your audience is be that tweens, college students, working moms, or baby boomers.  “All consumers” cannot realistically be your target audience.  Research will help you understand who your most likely supporter is. Then develop a personalized strategy for the unique audience segments.

2. INFLUENCE: ID who your influentials are, internally and externally, and engage them to tell your story. 

The Mom Ripple EffectFirst, look inside your organization and align your cause campaigns across departments such as PR, internal communications, HR, etc. Make sure your cause marketing communications are part of your public relations editorial calendar, integrated with other company and employee news or product launches. As part of this effort, be certain to identify who the storytellers within your organization are and how they can amplify the cause message. Timberland’s CEO Jeff Schwartz is a great example of this.  He regularly blogs, tweets and publicly speaks on the company’s citizenship campaigns during annual shareholder meetings & employee events.

Second, look outside your organization and identify which influencers are already out there. Don’t create your own community, go to where the community already exists. Understand where the influencers live online, their communication preferences, and then go to where the existing community is.  Microsoft’s  Kodu Cup recently gained over 13M impressions in a few hours via a hosted a twitter party with Mom it Forward, a social media community with an established following of tech savvy moms, to promote a contest called Kodu Cup that promotes video game learning  amongst kids.

3. ENGAGE: Look at ways that make the most sense, not just what is cool right now

Too often in social media people start with the tactics: “I want more followers on Twitter and more fans on Facebook.” They do not start by thinking about why and how this will impact their campaign.  Just because you build a campaign, does not mean people will come, donate and participate!

The Key principles for engaging audiences via social media:

  • Use a variety of content channels
  • Create multiple content  types to promote your cause campaign
  • Establish a clear call to action
  • Participate in an effective two-way dialogue

4.       MEASURE: Have clear says to show success – then be ready to adjust as necessary

Measurement is an important element to using social media effectively because when you know what’s working, you have the power to make informed decisions about what to continue, to change, to scrap. 

To measure effectively you must:

  • Establish the right measurement program to inform Cause Marketing Objectives and Strategy Development
    • My rule of thumb – If it moves, measure it!
  • Establish Core Measurement Benchmarks that are Outcome Focused
    • HOT: Increase Small Donations by 30% amongst 29-35 year olds
    • NOT: Increase donations
  • Set campaign milestones to determine impact and need for adjustment

Do you have a milestone map?  Where do you need right now to get to your goal?  Are you hitting those marks, if not, what does the data reveal?

5. FOUNDATION: Earning trust and driving influence through social media to affect change requires calibrated engagement across an organization. 

The problem many brands face is generating influence from social media marketing. They can’t quite synchronize content, campaigns and internal workflows to yield long-term success. The solution is to integrate marketing, communications and social media strategies to optimize a brand’s influence.  At Waggener Edstrom, we call this approach the Social Influence System. It’s the Central Nervous System of your digital strategy.

Global Health: Make it Your Business

Posted on June 1, 2011 by Comments Off

Over the past 6 months, my team has had the opportunity to work with a remarkable organization: The Global Business Coalition for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.  GBC is the world’s only organization dedicated to mobilizing the private sector in the fight against the three leading pandemics of our time – HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.  On June 1 & 2, GBC’s 230 members are gathering in NYC to celebrate the organization’s 10th anniversary.  Today, GBC reveals its new name –  GBCHealth – to better reflect its expanding mandate on global health more broadly.

Global health includes any health issue that cross borders and requires massive collaboration to solve.   That’s why GBCHealth encourages its members to use their core expertise or  “competence” to get involved in addressing global health.  At Waggener Edstrom, we use communications to tell stories about innovation and transform lives.  In honor of GBCHealth’s 10 impactful years, we created an infographic (below) to tell the story of the organization, its members, and the success that can be achieved when businesses use the tools they have in their toolboxes.

I’m eager to see how other companies are using the tools in their toolboxes at this year’s GBCHealth conference.  Ten students will serve as global health ambassadors at the meeting, bringing the content discussed within the four walls of the meeting room to the outside world.  If you’d like to follow along with me, follow @GBCNews.

Global Health Infographic

Top 10 People to Follow at Davos #wef

Posted on January 28, 2011 by Comments Off

Each year at the end of January, some of the most powerful people in the world descend upon the small ski resort town of Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting. The meeting brings together an eclectic mix of movers and shakers ranging from politicians and C-suite executives to changemakers and rockstars.

These high-profile individuals gather to discuss innovative ideas and solutions to the myriad of complex challenges we face today as a global society.  They also bring attention to new technologies, young leaders and social entrepreneurs.  Needless to say, from the perspective of at Waggener Edstrom’s Social Innovation Practice, what’s not to love?   

While there are still plenty of closed doors, not being able to pony up the admission price doesn’t mean exclusion from the conversation. Through the Twitter and the social tools WEF has made available, we all feel a part of the conversation.  With over 400 Annual Meeting participants officially active on Twitter (my personal fave?  Shawn Ahmed of The Uncultured Project), Davos Debates on YouTube and quick polls on Facebook, let alone the mainstream press coverage and the WEF’s official blog, where does one even begin to follow Davos?

Hardly surprising, there’s an app to keep in the loop. Against the photo backdrop of a bucolic, snow-covered Davos, one can directly link to news, those 400 participants’ Twitter feeds (alphabetized!), live video, photos, recorded speeches, and WEF publications.  I highly recommend it.

Still feeling overwhelmed? Like we did during the Clinton Global Initiative back in September, WE went to our social media gurus at Studio D, who set up our twendz pro™ tool to help us dig through the clutter and gain some insight into the robust Twitter conversation going on in this space. This innovative tool uses a formula (sentiment influence + quantitative + qualitative analysis) that can help you understand who the most influential players are in your industry and more importantly, how to engage with them.

What we found, thanks to twendz pro™, is that while a person’s influence ranking will change over time given the fluidity of the Twitter landscape, the influencers who rose to the top not only have a large number of followers, but they ask  questions, reply to questions, share links, and prolifically use hashtags in their tweets.  Many of these influencers have been retweeted at a high rate in the first couple of days of the conference, further demonstrating their reach.

So to stay in the loop on the latest and great content coming out of Davos, here is who you absolutely must follow:

Top 10 Twitter Influencers at Davos*

  1. @paulocoelho (1, 151,546 followers) – Attendee Paulo Coelho is a Brazilian writer who has sold 100 million books in over 150 countries worldwide, and is an international social media celebrity.  One of his tweets was retweeted an amazing 313 times.
  2. @davos (1,491,677 followers) – The official Twitter handle of the World Economic Forum dedicated to the Annual Meeting in Davos.
  3.  @bill_gross (9,031 followers) – Attendee Bill Gross is the founder of Idealab, which creates and builds successful, pioneering businesses.
  4. @coelhoespanol (84,612 followers) – Not associated with Paulo Coelho, this is a grassroots effort to tweet Spanish translations of Coelho’s official Twitter feed, further increasing his influence.
  5. @wef (1,094 followers) – The official Twitter handle of World Economic Forum events, not just Davos.
  6. @ftdavos (4,188 followers) – The Financial Times is one of the most widely read international daily business papers, printed in 23 cities around the world.
  7. @scobleizer (161,665 followers) – Attendee Robert Scoble is a tech enthusiast, video blogger, and media innovator with a highly engaged following.
  8. @gatesfoundation (462,501 followers)The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives, focused on global health, global development, & U.S. education.  
  9. @padmasree (1,386,559 followers)Padmasree Warrior is the Chief Technology Officer of Cisco. In 2010, Fast Company Magazine named her one of the “100 Most Creative People in Business.”
  10. @billgates (2,065,785 followers) – Attendee Bill Gates remains dedicated to his foundation and other endeavors since stepping down from his full-time role at Microsoft, becoming another social media celebrity in the process.

Our Big Takeaway

It’s clear that influencers take many shapes and forms.  Paulo Coelho, who isn’t a rockstar, but has written songs for a few, may not have even been on our radar for making this list, let alone topping it, but his combined following alone is over 1.2 million and multilingual in English, Portuguese and Spanish.  In all, these top 10 influencers reach over 5 million people.

These influencers’ thoughts, questions, observations and perspective on the event are highly valued by those who follow them.  In that way, Davos continues to open doors and, at least virtually, bring more people to the table to join the dialogue.

If you would like to reccomend someone to follow who is not on the top ten influential list, let us know!

 *As of January 28, 2011.  The Annual Meeting takes place January 26-30, 2011.

My takeaway from the Clinton Global Initiative: so, what’s new?

Posted on October 1, 2010 by 1 Comment

I had the privilege of attending the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in person last week.  Much has been said about this meeting already.  On this blog, my colleagues Seema Bhende and Caroline Sanderson did a masterful job earlier this week analyzing the vast online conversation  that CGI was able to generate, the top Tweeter influencers, the top re-tweets (very useful if you want to learn how to extend your own influence online!), and the key conversation topics.   

Today, I want to share some personal reflections from this meeting.  I won’t focus so much on its main topics and content – a lot has been said about it already by people who are more knowledgeable than I am about clean cookstoves and financial services for the poor!  Rather, I want to focus on how, from my perspective, CGI is helping change the way in which we approach global development.  Among much doom and gloom, CGI is a wonderful example of how we can think differently, creatively, and collaboratively about ways to address some of the major issues of our time. 

How so?

Entrepreneurship, innovation – and permission to fail!  Innovate, innovate, innovate! One striking feature of the Clinton Global Initiative is its focus on innovation, entrepreneurship, and action.  This is part of a broader trend, of course, which started years ago with visionary organizations such as Ashoka, the Skoll Foundation or the Rockefeller Foundation. These organizations were among the first to call on all of us to move beyond mere giving, charity and philanthropy.  CGI is helping to breathe new air in a sector that had grown somewhat stale, old and tired over the years.  It was very inspirational to experience, first-hand, the power of innovation and entrepreneurship to address some of the world’s most pressing problems. From Jaqueline Novogratz, CEO of the Acumen Fund to Ory Okolloh, founder of Ushahidi; from Muhtar Kent, CEO of Coca Cola, to Helene Gayle, CEO of CARE USA, the call to action at CGI was clear:  try new things; take risks;  innovate;  develop new models;  and most importantly, don’t be afraid to fail!

Power to the Poor!  We are used to thinking of people living in poverty as vulnerable, disenfranchised, passive recipients of charity and assistance.  Of course, noone can deny the fact that in many cases poor people need basic assistance.  At the same time, many voices are now calling for a different approach: poor people are more than powerless, passive recipients of assistance; they can be powerful agents of change.  They understand their conditions. They know, in many cases, what the solutions are.  And if given the right tools and techniques, they have the capacity to become positive change agents.  Among the many companies and organizations present at CGI, Procter & Gamble and Tata Sons are two examples of companies that have embraced this view, and are working with poor people and marginalized communities on innovative product design and distribution. Many others – for-profits and non-profits alike — understand that there is a very different paradigm out there: poor people do, indeed, have the power to be producers of social and economic value, and we can help make this happen by creating the right conditions for them to exercise this power!

Unlikely partnerships.  Strange bedfellows.  Partnerships have clearly come of age.  The issues we need to confront, and the solutions we need, are just too big, complex and multi-faceted for any one company or organization, no matter how large, rich and influential, to tackle it alone.  It was very humbling, as well as energizing, to hear this message come from organizations as influential as WalMart, Cisco, the State Department, or the Gates Foundation, in sectors as diverse as information access, water sustainability, or girls’ education.  As a result, new cross-sector partnerships are being created that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.  Two in particular stood out for me — the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves and Partners for a New Beginning – because of their clear focus, breadth of ambition, and depth of alliances.  Beyond that though, CGI really brought home the very notion that partnerships and new business models ARE a big part of the solution, and that leading organizations, rich and small, commercial, governmental or non-profit, have now embraced partnerships as a core element of how they operate and make a difference in the world.

Scale, scale, scale.  And sustainability.  What a difference a few years make.  Up until recently, much of the talk in global development was centered around individual programs and projects.  At CGI, the focus has clearly moved beyond the impact of individual projects.  The focus is on scale. Replication. Sustainability.  From Room to Read’s 10,000 Bilingual Libraries to Habitat for Humanity’s Global Housing Microfinance Fund and SNV’s Impact Investing for Small and Medium Enterprises, among many others, the focus of most ventures featured at CGI was to find new strategies to achieve scale and sustainability – and to avoid reinventing the wheel in the process!

The power of influence.  Finally – and this is of course very dear to our heart here at Waggener Edstrom! – CGI is a further demonstration of the power of influence through smart communication and engagement. As I was witnessing the dialogue – online and offline – that CGI was generating, it became clear to me that CGI isn’t really about the individual innovations, solutions and partnerships that are featured there – although of course that’s a big part of the story.  The real impact of CGI is to act as a catalyst of conversations, on a large scale, and inspire others, in turn, to join forces and contribute. Nowhere was the power of influence more visible than in the role President Bill Clinton himself plays as CGI: he is the consummate convener, as apt as ever at using the power of media, dialogue and relationships – online and offline — to extend the reach and impact of the innovations featured at CGI.

The Clinton Global Initiative is part of a broader movement that is redefining the way we think about global development.  This goes beyond finding new solutions to address global poverty and build healthier and more sustainable communities.  It was very inspiring to see at CGI that these five elements – entrepreneurship and innovation; empowerment; partnerships; scale and influence –are a fundamental part of the solution!

Clinton Global Initiative — What’s All the Chatter About?

Posted on September 30, 2010 by Comments Off

This week we explored the barrage of Twitter chatter surrounding the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting, starting with a broad overview of metrics, followed by a ranking of the top 10 most influential tweeters. Yesterday, we analyzed why the top 10 tweets at the conference were retweet-worthy. (Something you should definitely check out, if you are looking to get retweeted more!)

In today’s post we dive into an analysis of the key conversation topics at CGI. Waggener Edstrom Worldwide’s Social Innovation practice organizes it work along four issue areas: Global Health, Sustainability, Economic Empowerment and Access to Information. Using WE twendz pro™, we distilled the cacophony of tweets into the top two to three conversations for each issue. Here is a Cliff Notes version of the most pressing topics discussed by world leaders at CGI:

Global Health

  • Many participants argued passionately that we must secure the health and safety of girls and women. Hillary Clinton made waves in her address with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private partnership led by the United Nations Foundation, which empowers women to lead healthier lives by providing one simple thing — a cookstove. Ashley Judd, the actor and boardImage by Clinton Global Initiative member of Population Services International, shed courageous light on women in Congo gang-raped repeatedly by armed militia.

  • Lance Armstrong’s appearance brought the international spotlight to the growing cancer crisis, albeit a new one for the global development community.


  • Innovation was everywhere in the conversation about energy — from solar-powered classrooms in Africa to delivering clean energy to Haiti via micro-grids. @changemakers even questioned whether energy poverty was the missing Millennium Development Goal.
  • Procter & Gamble Safe Drinking Water Program for children hit on a top priority with this crowd. Top influencers @columbiawater, @black_dove and @csrafrica noted that water conservation is simply good business.
  •  Zerofootprint generated buzz by challenging schools around the world to measure, compare and change their environmental footprint in the never-ending climate war. (Have you checked what your kid’s school is doing to help the environment lately?)

Economic Empowerment

  • The Girl Effect team unveiled an inspiring new video which makes an impactful argument that ending child marriages is essential to breaking the cycle of poverty. Check out Huffington Post’s take on why empowering and investing in girls and women is critical to progress.
  • Education has always been an item of concern at CGI. Last week’s news was the launch of 10×10: Connect the Dots, Educate Girls, Change the World, a groundbreaking film and global social action campaign focused on educating girls.
  • A lively debate around “profiting from the poor” was the outcome of a discussion between microfinance gurus — Muhammad Yunus and Vikram Akula. @beyondprofit got right to the point:  “Yunus says to commercial MFIs: Find some other name for yourself … it’s not microfinance.”  Enough said!

Access to Information

  • Questions abounded about access to technology: Can developing countries leapfrog over old infrastructure models? Can we better use technology in dispersing humanitarian aid around the world?
  • A Cheri Blair Foundation report highlighting women, mobile technology and the issue of gender gaps snowballed through the Twittersphere, starting with top influencer @mobileactive. Key takeaway: On average, a woman is 21 percent less likely to own a mobile phone than a man. Not a good thing!

Last week, I was grounded in rainy Seattle while my colleagues attended CGI in person in NYC. We chuckled about how well one can follow a global event such as CGI through 140 character observations. It can be quite empowering to the average citizen. Tomorrow, my colleague will share his perspectives of CGI with the benefit of having attended in person. Tune in here!

Image by Clinton Global Initiative.

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?

Everyone is invited to the party

Posted on September 17, 2010 by Comments Off

This summer we had a summer intern, Kathleen Sullivan, working with us in our Social Innovation Practice. As part of her wrap-up assignment, I asked Kathleen to reflect on what she learned about Social Innovation. Here is what she had to say:

“I recently had a discussion with my mother about the mentality that wealthy families such as the Medicis held towards selecting beneficiaries, such as Leonardo Da Vinci, William Shakespeare, Brunelleschi, etc.

At the time, “patronage” was not primarily the notion of “giving back”, “taking responsibility”, or even to “doing something that benefited society” in the form of frescos, domes, or sculptures.

At its heart, patronage was viewed as a virtue, similar to other virtues leaders aspired to possess, such as morality, ethics, loyalty, honor, etc. Each leader knew that his kingdom, realm, and district would be judged by the art and public good produced—or lack thereof—during his reign.

As I conclude my summer internship with the Social Innovation team here at Waggener Edstrom, I find myself comparing the old definition of patronage with the contemporary view of social innovation. Social innovation, according to a recent Economist article, is meant to “transform the way public services are provided, by tapping the ingenuity of people in the private sector, especially social entrepreneurs”.

Today, most leaders aren’t concerned with improving the architecture of Florence – leaders are challenged by the fact that over 2 billion people live on less than $2 per day. Today, it is not solely wealthy families who are thinking about sponsoring individuals – it is people from all walks of life – Facebook users, employees, teachers, non-profits, governments, and businesses. Thanks to,, Jolkona, Text4Haiti, SeeYourImpact, One Lap Top Per Child, and a million other innovations, almost everyone in the developed world can be an empowered leader, an agent of change, a sponsor of someone’s life, a cause, or a movement. Which most people would agree, is pretty incredible.

What is more debatable is role that corporations, and the private sector as a whole, “should” play in the shaping of social good. Should they stay out, focusing on their efforts on their core competencies and their shareholders, a la Milton Friedman? Or should they “give back” and focus on additional stakeholders?

I doubt that Renaissance patrons spent so much time debating whether they should be the ones doling out money to sponsor artists, and quite frankly I’m surprised corporations spend so much time asking themselves this question. Businesses that pose the question in the first place are likely in a place to effect change, for better or for worse, whether they like it or not. No amount of “shoulding” will change that. “Shoulds” aside, corporations at the very least can commit to becoming aware of their impact, regardless of how they choose to respond.

As a Masters of International Business student at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, I came to this internship believing strongly in the power of business to change the world. I leave believing strongly in the power of cross-sector partnership, and I think social innovation’s true potential is in its ability to convene leaders committed to developing awareness about the impact of their organization.

I now see social innovation as a convening of great minds from incredibly diverse perspectives. I see it as a large dinner party (perhaps in a Renaissance hall) where a leader has invited his or her most interesting and educated friends to dinner to brainstorm solutions to a problem. Hopefully, no one would reject such an invitation, thinking they weren’t the correct person to brainstorm or “shouldn’t” be at that dialogue in the first place.”

Top Social Innovation Blog Picks

Posted on July 7, 2010 by 2 Comments

After reading TIME’s top blog picks, the Waggener Edstrom team created our own list of top Social Innovation blogs. The following websites are all great sources for information and opinions on a wide variety of SI topics, ranging from CSR and sustainability to global health and economic development.

We would love to hear your feedback about other good online resources and thinkers we might be missing!

  • 3BL: A social network and information aggregator focused on corporate citizenship and social innovation. Check out the particularly informative “CSR Minute” daily video while you’re there:
  • Africa Works: Former Wall Street Journal writer and author Gregg Zachary covers African affairs with a focus on what works in the sub-Saharan, and what doesn’t.
  • Autoblog Green: Sebastian Blanco leads a team of reporters covering today’s transportation industry revolution. Everything from electric vehicles to biofuels is discussed in a consumer friendly context:
  • Conversations for a Better World: This blog aims to educate people around the world about basic health issues ranging from HIV to clean water:
  • Cool Hunting: Stylish blog that hits at the heart of modern innovation, looking at the intersection of design, art, technology and culture.
  • CSR Reporting: A specialized online resource giving tips on both internal and external CSR communications, this blog analyzes and comments on CSR reports noting both the good and the bad.
  • The Gates Notes: One of the world’s most impactful leaders of business and philanthropy in the shares his personal notes, observations and learnings.
  • Global Poverty by A compassionate look at global problems including food, health and conflicts.
  • Joel Makower leads a team of top-notch writers covering sustainability and green business.
  • Grist: One of the most influential and widely-read environmental blogs, Grist also covers SI related topics.
  • The IDE blog: Rather than focusing on direct aid, Paul Polak’s organization develops technologies and products to help eliminate poverty. This blog provides an informative look at the organization’s activities and relevant news commentary.
  • IDEO News Archive: While not a traditional blog, IDEO’s news archive leverages all the resources of a global design leader, providing an excellent resource for news, events and product updates.
  • Inhabitat: Innovative blog that covers the intersection of technology and design.   
  • Philanthrocapitalizm: Matthew Bishop’s Values blog looks at the intersection of business and philanthropy.
  • Social Innovation Conversations: The Social Innovation Conversations channel is dedicated to social change, from the pandemic of AIDS, to challenges posed by climate change and global poverty. Social Innovation Conversations is co-produced with the Center for Social Innovation at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
  • Stanford Social Innovation Review Opinion Blog: This heavily academic look at social innovation is packed with news updates, interviews and great information.
  • Sustainable Life Media Blog: A green business blog from SLM, producer of the industry leading Sustainable Brands conference  
  • Tactical Philanthropy: Tactical Philanthropy Advisors CEO Sean Stannard-Stockton shares his views on bringing innovation, effectiveness and joy to philanthropy.   
  • A well run editorial look at the environment and ethical business that dubs itself “A Discovery Company”, in three steps, 1. Get Informed, 2. Interact, 3. Take Action.
  • World Changing: Alex Steffen and his international team of journalists cover the world’s most innovative solutions to problems including refugee aid, renewable energy, transportation, communication, and quality of life. Also boasts some of the most engaging podcasts on the web.

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