Sa-Dhan to Host Microfinance Conference in New Delhi

Sa-Dhan, an association of community development finance institutions in India will host a National Microfinance Conference in New Delhi on March 31, 2009. The conference is centered on the theme, ‘Microfinance Ecosystem: Equilibrium Between Growth & Effectiveness’.

One of the goals for this event is for Sa-Dhan member organization to come together with academicians, practioners and policy makers to strategize on ways to overcome issues plaguing microfinance in India, such as “commercialization of microfinance institutions (MFIs), governance, risk management, provision of holistic microfinance services (like savings, microinsurance, livelihood, etc), resource mobilization and credit crunch and cost of services”.

The conference is set to bring the policy makers, mainstream financial institutions, donors, financiers, practitioners, academicians, researchers, parliamentarians and international participants in one platform. Amongst others, the conference would specially focus on Effective Microfinance, Linkages, Opportunities, Gap in Governance, Ethics/Values, Code of Conduct etc.

Some of the speakers at the conference include Prof. Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank and Ms. Ela Bhatt of SEWA Bank. More information on the conference can be found here, and the registration form is available here.

Ashoka Launches Collaborative Competition for Rural Innovation

TCI had earlier discussed open innovation as an emerging tool for social entrepreneurs. An excellent initiative in this field is Ashoka Changemakers, which provides an online space for social innovators to present ideas and collaborate with others on refining and implementing them.

Changemakers is building the world’s first global online “open source” community that competes to surface the best social solutions, and then collaborates to refine, enrich, and implement those solutions. Changemakers begins by providing an overarching intellectual framework for collaborative competitions that bring together individual social change initiatives into a more powerful whole.

To keep the framework dynamic, the online Changemakers’s community identifies and selects the best solutions and helps refine them.

A Changemakers collaborative competition consist of three parts – collecting ideas, reviewing them with the member community and finally selecting the most innovative solutions through voting. The goal is for the whole community to share its experience and expertise in bringing forward solutions on challenges ranging from Health Care to Sustainable Tourism.

In collaboration with the Gates Foundation, Changemakers recently launched a competition on Solutions for Rural Communities. The framework provided for this competition is,

Three-quarters of the world’s poorest people—the 1 billion who live on $1 a day or less—rely on agriculture to feed themselves and their families, yet many cannot grow enough to sell or even eat. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and its partners are providing small farmers with tools and opportunities to boost their productivity, increase their incomes, and build better lives for themselves and their families.

Innovative solutions that span the entire agricultural value chain – from seeds to sales – are necessary to accomplish these goals. We encourage you to take part in Ashoka Changemaker’s “Cultivating Innovation: Solutions for Rural Communities” competition to help bring about innovative, creative solutions for small farmers in the developing world.

Entries are welcome up to May 13th and voting will begin on June 24th. If have an idea or know anyone working in rural development and agriculture, go to the site and make an entry. Also, read and comment on the current entries – there are already over 30 ideas presented there.

E-governance Gaining Momentum in India

A few weeks ago, Vinay wrote about the growing business opportunities in the e-governance sector. An exciting recent development in this area has been the announcement by the Government of India of knowledge kiosks being set up in Panchayats. The project is sponsored by the E-governance in Panchayati Raj Institutions (e-PRIs) and is projected to be completed in three years. Such a large-scale introduction of information technology at the Panchayat level opens up the rural market for entrepreneurs. There are a number of possibilities for public-private partnerships in delivering solutions within sectors such as education, healthcare, micro-finance, etc.

The progress of e-governance models has been slower than expected in India. Some of the challenges facing this sector were discussed at the Lok Sabha panel on e-governance. At this panel, Prof. Bhatnagar of IIM-A discussed the flaws in the strategy on e-governance: Continue reading

Get the world’s best brains on your R&D team

Social enterprises are often searching for sustainable breakthrough innovations, but lack the resources to invest in large-scale research and development.  One creative, and increasingly popular, solution to this problem is open innovation.  The basic concept is to utilize the collected knowledge of experts from around the world to solve design challenges.

One such tool is Innocentive, which has become the premier global marketplace for open innovation.  The website connects corporations and non-profits with thousands of brilliant minds from around the world. The best solution is awarded a cash prize by the sponsoring organization.

Social enterprises in India and around the world have posted numerous challenges on Innocentive and met with great success.  In an interview with Fast Company, Dwayne Spradlin of Innocentive discusses the growing trend of non-profits turning to open innovation.  He also explains how non-profits are able to generate interest even with small rewards,

We’re doing more in the non-profit space than ever. We’ve all come here to change the world and you do that by helping organizations of all types really address their challenges. It’s particularly rewarding to work in a challenge realm that can impact human life like people’s ability to drink clean water in sub-Saharan Africa.

Not-for-profit challenges, where there’s clearly some sort of a global good associated with it, tend to draw the attention of globally-minded solvers. That means that a $10,000 or $20,000 prize—which could be quite a bit for a not-for-profit to offer—is amplified dramatically because the dividends to the solver are not only the money.

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StartingBloc Institute for Social Innovation – Boston 09

TCI had mentioned the StartingBloc fellowship earlier, and this past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Greater Boston institute at MIT Sloan and Tufts Fletcher School.  To provide some background on StartingBloc, the organization holds three institutes in Boston, New York and London, whose goal is to bring together a cadre of 150 young leaders with a passion for social innovation. The institute’s focus is on providing training and networking opportunities. The mission and vision of StartingBloc according to their website is:

Our Mission
StartingBloc educates, empowers and connects emerging leaders to drive positive social change across sectors.

Our Vision
As StartingBloc fellows ascend to positions of influence, they will use the StartingBloc network to launch organizations, guide policies and effect cross-sector partnerships that address social, economic and environmental issues around the world.

The 2009 Boston institute was held over four days and featured speakers, workshops and networking sessions.  One of the highlights of the institute was a talk by Tom Szaky of Terracyle who has built a multi-million dollar enterprise that upcycles garbage.   Upcycling refers to the process of re-using waste material such as juice pouches or plastic bottles to create new products likes bags, purses and spray bottles.  Terracyle is an excellent example of how you can do well while doing good for the environment.
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