Article on Atlas Corps and Deadline for Fellows April 1st

Here is an excerpt from a Washington Post article on Scott Beale and the Atlas Corps, an organization we have written on numerous times in the past:

His creation is Atlas Corps, which lures highly-skilled non-profit decision-makers from India and Colombia to the United States for a year, running Sept. 1 to Aug. 30.

He concentrates on India and Colombia because he speaks the languages and because they have highly-developed non-profit sectors. They also have a high opinion of the United States, Beale said.

To join this program, go here before April 1st, which is when the applications are due.

E4SI selects 24 fellows to help change India

Here is an update on a great fellowship founded by one of our colleagues Nitin Rao.

The Engineers for Social Impact (E4SI) Fellowship Selection Committee is delighted to announce that, after receiving and carefully reviewing the close to 500 internship applications it received for its 2009 edition, it has made offers to 24 outstanding candidates for 14 roles at 10 partner social enterprises that focus on development by means of sustainable for-profit entrepreneurship.

You can read further here.

[TC-I Call to Action]: Ennovent looking to fill Investment Manager position

Here is an opportunity for an experienced finance professional.

Job Profile

Title

Investment Manager

Job Objective

To develop and manage the investment portfolio of ennovent in India and Asia

Start Date

As soon as possible

Location

India – frequent travel in India and Asia

Reporting Relationship

Position reports to Managing Director

More information can be found here and general information on Ennovent can be found 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.

mKrishi – More power at farmers’ hands

The Hindu reports about mKrishi (mobile Krishi) a mobile agro advisory system launched by Tata.  It can help farmers get personalized advise and updated information on their mobile phones about factors that may affect their crops such as weather.

Prima facie, this looks very similar to Nokia’s LifeTools that ThinkChange India reported a few days earlier.  However, there is one critical aspect in which mKrishi goes one step further. mKrishi mobile phones, that run on Tata Indicom’s network, are equipped with sensors that can read and send data about the current status of their crops.  This combined with an on-phone camera, should help agricultural experts provide specific advise experts understanding the on-field situation correctly.

According to K. Ananth Krishnan, vice-president and chief technology officer, TCS, personalised information and advice are given after farmers submit the soil nutrient and farming pattern data (The Hindu)

Further, it is also usable by illiterate farmers to make a query from a cell phone using voice-specific functions and get a response as an audio message.

This initiative has fetched TCS Wall Street Journal Global Innovation Technology Award for 2008. As I researched further to form my own opinion, I came across Ramesh Jain’s post on mKrishi.  He is a Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at University of Michgan, Ann Arbor and an entrepreneur.  I suppose his testimony should have better credibility than mine!

This project is truly revolutionary — it goes farther than most similar projects do.

Kubera-Edelweiss Social Innovation Honours awards 3 Indian organizations

Anjali, Azad Foundation and Samata are the winners for their innovative and outstanding work for the Girl Child in the fields of Health, Employability and Education. Here are the descriptions of each social entrepreneurship organization:

Anjali: Focusing on mental health issues of mothers and daughters in Kolkata, Anjali has been awarded top honors in Health.

Azad Foundation: Located in Delhi, Azad nabbed the Employability category by training girls from the slums to become professional taxi drivers.

Samata: Finally, Samata provides an innovative education and research curriculum for tribal girls in Andhra Pradesh.

For more information on the Kubera-Edelweiss Social Innovation Honours, check out their website here.

Pizzas are good for these senior citizens

What do the words “new start-up”  and “garage” bring to your mind? The old stories about how all the tech companies started off to make today’s Silicon Valley? If that sounds a little too boring now, here is something as appetizing as a pizza. Started right here in India’s Silicon Valley by by Padma Srinivasan, 73 and Jayalakshmi Sreenivasan, 75 (as against in The Silicon Valley by a bunch of youngsters), Pizza Haven pumps in the revenues that it earns by catering to school kids and software companies (like HP, now that is some coincidence!) to running an old age home – Vishranti.

“Granny’s pizzas are a hit among the software professionals, not just because they are delicious, but also because they are sold for a cause,” said Padma.

The profit from pizzas and generous donations from some well-wishers have helped in completing the home for the eldely, named Vishranthi (Rest), in June 2008 (news from newkerala.com)

What is there to be learnt from this story? Of course, a for-profit model makes this home’s future secure. But there is a more important lesson. Sustaining a social initiative doesn’t always need a complex innovation! All it needs is for one to look around yourself and identify what they are looking for!

With the current model up and running, is the Vishranthi executive team looking for expansion? Absolutely!

“In Vishranthi, I am also planning to start an orphanage and vocational training centre for poor rural women. And again our pizzas will come in handy to finance all our projects.”

Nokia poised to help farmers to expand its rural base

Nokia is about to launch a set of “Life Tools” to be embedded in its mobile phones in an effort to expand its base into rural India. These Life Tools cater to the needs of the rural community with information on three different sectors namely Agriculture, Education, Entertainment. On agriculture, the Life Tool is likely to offer updated information on weather and market prices for the farmers produce on the mobile phone in the farmers native language.

As the old proverb goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Nokia’s datasheet on Life Tools provides an easy-to-understand picture. Evidently, this tool is developed not just to penetrate into rural India, but rather to the “rural world”.

If my everyday observation is any testimony, Nokia seems to have a wide user base at the lower economic sections of India, and this tool can be an excellent vehicle for informational empowerment of the rural Indian community. However, given that the rural buy is likely not going to buy these phones off a Nokia Priority Showroom, how Nokia is going to market this tool so that the buyer buys a low cost Nokia phone for its Life Tools rather than its ruggedness, ease of use or longer life would be an interesting point to observe. This may also be the crucial factor that may determine the tool’s success.

Open Innovation in India

Close on the heels of Shivam’s post on the open innovation tool, Innocentive, I am excited to write about the Open Innovation Portal, backed the Centre of Excellence in E-governance at Indian Institute of Technology (Delhi), along with Sun Microsystems and Knowledge Commons.

One very important point to note in the list of objectives on their site

An individual with an innovative idea or concept may want people to know about this idea. The idea may not even be scientific in nature and may be about a process improvement or even better usage of existing assets.

This is one point that I had stressed on in an earlier post on this blog – that innovation need not necessarily mean high technology. There are enough avenues to innovate in terms of processes or extend existing innovations and that “starting from scratch” is not always advisable. TC-I readers and potential users of the portal, do ensure that you read the Code of Conduct on the site.

PS: I already see 3 entries on the portal!

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.

Continue reading

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.
Continue reading

Muhammad Yunus speaks to NYU

Here are some high level points from his talk last night. My own observations are preceded by initials, while comments he said are left alone. I kept them in this order as this was the original chronology of how they developed:

  • (VG) Power of one man: it is impossible to not be in awe when you listen to what he has done.
  • (VG) Amazing brand image: While they may not be concerned with profit, there is no question that Grameen is very focused on building and maintining a strong brand identity that in itself is opening doors and creating opportunities.
  • Low tech + high tech: much of what Grameen does is marry high tech with existing/traditional products. The prime example is Grameen Danone which uses a dietary staple of Bangladeshi children to transmit nutrition.
  • “I wondered what I was doing” – his question when he realized he does not own a single share in any of his companies. (VG) This unyielding desire to create is found in any successful entrepreneur. For them money is only one part of what drives them.
  • “Human beings have multiple dimensions as should businesses”
  • “You don’t need fancy packaging in a social business because you are making something you need”
  • “Why should people pay for something they will throw away” — his response to make the the packaging to Danon Yogurt not only bio-degradable (currently happening) but edible and nutritious as well! (Danon is working on it).
  • Poverty museums — one day we will take our children to these to show them what the world was like when people still existed in poverty
  • “Technology is like water it takes the shape of whatever you put it in” — it is not the technology that is critical but it is being use for

Engineers for Social Impact (E4SI) 2009 Fellowship Program

E4SI is an ambitious fellowship program that we encourage everyone eligible to apply to:

The Engineers for Social Impact (E4SI) fellowship program has commenced its second annual rigorous recruitment process to match the most talented ten undergraduate students from fifteen elite Indian engineering schools with partner social enterprises that focus on development by means of sustainable for- profit entrepreneurship. E4SI fellowships promise to be highly entrepreneurial in a way that combines the best of consulting, technology, and social innovation. Fellows will gain unprecedented access to the development sector as they work with leading social entrepreneurs, attend leadership workshops at the Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad, and pitch their ideas to thought leaders as they join an outstanding cohort of exceptional young leaders.

More information can be found here and the deadline is February 22, 2009.

Intl. Conf. on Social Entrepreneurship in India – Day 1

I had the opportunity to attend the International Conference on Social Entrepreneurship in India on the 4th and 5th of December. In this post I will try to narrate my experience at the conference. In the posts following this one, I will talk about people and organizations I got in touch with, and most importantly discuss some issues that came up for discussion during the conference.

photo credit Sonia Rai

photo credit Sonia Rai

The theme of the event – Inspiring|Connecting|Sharing – set the right expectations for the attendees and, to be sure, lived up to it. The event was organized by UnLtd India and Center for Social Initiative and Management(CSIM).

The conference was spread over two days and events were well planned to facilitate formal as well informal discussions and networking. It was eye-opening and engaging in many ways. Participants from almost all parts of India, and with interests ranging from micro-lending to rural tourism, attended.

Day 1

Proceedings were kicked off by Bert Cherian of Meta Results setting the tone with his humour and energy. The ball was set rolling by an interaction with Nachiket Mor of ICICI Foundation, facilitated by Neera Nundy of Dasra. Nachiket talked about his personal experiences that shaped up the path to his current position as President at ICICI Foundation. He narrated how people in rural areas are not exactly used to the apathy and standard of living prevalent in urban areas. He also talked about evolution of ICICI Foundation. Answering to a question, Nachiket questioned the value of experience as the only source of answers to problems. In his opinion, many a times a fresh look at things from a total outsider can give us out-of-box solutions. On a related note he said that the ability to pay or finance an initiative is not always a plus point. Many an innovative idea has come out in crunch times.

Nachiket Mor photo credit Sonia Rai

Nachiket Mor photo credit Sonia Rai

Nachiket was of the view that the term “Social Entrepreneurship” should not have been a groundbreaking term or concept at all. Enterprises should be socially conscious and socially motivated by default. Talking about scaling up organizations, he cited example of Starbucks which had to operate in centers which were poles apart in their culture.

As you have seen, Nachiket gave us some really interesting perspectives of social entrepreneurship.

Continue reading