A New Breakthrough in Tracking Social Entrepreneurs

I’ve always valued metrics but remain wary of the extent to which numbers can be used to reveal the whole picture. Hearing about the new Portfolio Data Management System (PDMS) – an online database tracking social entrepreneurs – is proof that there is progress in the effort to measure social impact. A variety of organizations came together for this massive effort: Acumen Fund, Salesforce.com Foundation, Skoll Foundation, Lodestar Foundation, along with programmers from Google. How does the PDMS work? BusinessWeek explains:

A common set of metrics will be recorded for each organization so donors and investors can check regularly and track their progress or spot trouble. Social entrepreneurs will be able to benchmark their results against those for similar organizations around the world.

The system will allow foundations and other donors see what the return on their investment is, and compare it against other similar organizations to see if real progress is occurring. I can imagine that not only will the information be useful to investors, though, but also to other stakeholders – partner organizations, beneficiaries, almost anyone involved the same field who wants to stay informed of the value of programs and money.

Since social enterprises are relatively new entities, standards and benchmarks are not common or shared. A specific metric that one enterprise decides to use may differ with the next. The PDMS offers a solution to the current haphazard situation… Continue reading

[TC-I Call to Action]: Google’s Project 10^100

In line with celebrating 10 years of existence and the origin of its name (googol), Google is holding a contest titled Project 10^100 (Project 10 to the 100th). With the tagline “may those who help the most win,” the contest is to fund ideas that will have a wide impact.

Never in history have so many people had so much information, so many tools at their disposal, so many ways of making good ideas come to life. Yet at the same time, so many people, of all walks of life, could use so much help, in both little ways and big.

Maybe the answer that helps somebody is in your head, in something you’ve observed, some notion that you’ve been fiddling with, some small connection you’ve noticed, some old thing you have seen with new eyes.

The deadline is October 20, 2008, and voting begins on January 27, 2009. Google is pledging $10 million to implement five ideas. TC-I encourages its readers who have an idea with a potentially far reach – to India and beyond – to submit an entry. They’re also accepting video submissions, and you may submit any text or speech in Hindi, if you prefer it over English. Find out more about how it works, along with the categories and evaluation criteria, here.

Evening Edition

  • State weakness report: Brookings Institute ranks India 67th out of 141 states in their new report that measures state weakness based on the criteria of economic, political, security and social welfare.
  • Technology: Google released today Voice Search in Hyderbad which enables users to find business, restaurants, etc. by speaking the query into their mobile. In a similar act of tailoring products to the Indian subcontinent, Yahoo! released local language maps with directions.
  • Telecom revisited: Building off of the momentum of the story in the Midday Newsfeed about the telecom spectrum, we are reporting here that the big three mobile GSM providers have been hit with a notice of enquiry for acting as a cartel and distorting prices.
  • Travel: Pakistan is considering dropping the visa requirement for Indian travelers.

Op-Ed: Microeffect of Microfinance

A recent article in the New Yorker echoed sentiments expressed by many venture capitalists that have begun to shift their focus on the developing world and BoP markets that microfinance, while an amazing concept for enable entrepreneurs, cannot in itself lift countries out of poverty. James Surowiecki writes:

Microloans are often used to “smooth consumption”—tiding a borrower over in times of crisis. They’re also, as Karol Boudreaux and Tyler Cowen point out in a recent paper, often used for non-business expenses, such as a child’s education. It’s less common to find them used to fund major business expansions or to hire new employees … [I]t’s also because most microbusinesses aren’t looking to take on more workers. The vast majority have only one paid employee: the owner.

I agree with this opinion, particularly because I think that the current obsession with the ‘globalizationally’ sexy structure of microfinance tends to ignore the need for the creation of domestic consumption demand in struggling nations to jumpstart development.

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ThinkChange India has Calendars Now!

Hello readers,

We recently just launched two Google calendars with the aim to keep our readers up to date on pending deadlines, dates and events relevant to social entrepreneurship in India. Please check them out by going to the Calendars tab on top of the blog. Feel free to subscribe to them in your own Google calendar account or desktop calendar software.

Hope this helps,

The ThinkChange India Team

Some more BACO-bits of investing knowledge from Acumen

Previously, ThinkChange India posted on the Acumen Fund’s investing strategy. In that post, we pointed out how a major factor in the Fund’s decision-making process is the BACO, or best alternative charitable option.

Due to a comment posted in response to this article,

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Rafiq Dossani — Next Google will come from a small town in India

In an interview promoting his new book, India Arriving, Rafiq Dossani (former editor of Business India weekly) said that he sees the next Google coming from not Bangalore or even the developed world, but rather a small town in India.

Now, if you ask whether someone else might do that in India, and who that will be, well I have an answer that will probably surprise you. I think it will come not from Silicon Valley inspired startups, although several of those have been formed and are doing fairly innovative work, but catering mostly to the global markets. It will come when India’s local market reaches a certain level of maturity, and it’ll come from a small town. It won’t come from Bangalore or Bombay, Delhi, or one of those cities.

Dossani believes that the burgeoning entrepreneurial culture of India has reached much farther than the well-known urban centers, and that any city could be a hotbed for innovation.

I can give you one example. Indore is a small town by Indian standards, a very poor town, 2 million people, relies on soybean trading. You wouldn’t think Indore would be a bastion for software product development, but when I visited it, the first thing that struck me was when I spoke at a university, was how highly qualified the faculty was. And then speaking to students: how well trained they were. Even though their language was mostly Hindi and not English, they all used Google with complete fluency.

The entire interview can be found here.

Select Headlines

Here are some headlines for the day:

Just Call Me on My Cell …

At the risk of overstating the role that mobile phones will play in reaching the BoP, a great post on NextBillion.net talks about how cell phones have reached the level that Malcolm Gladwell would label a “social epidemic.”

It is notable that Eric Schmidt, chairman of the board and enlightened CEO of Google has said that the trend “will end with 5 billion out of the 6 billion with cell phones,” a figure that reaches well into the Base of the Pyramid.

While the article may seem to place cell phones on a pedestal and almost describe them as the missing link for development, one point the article does make well is the notion that unlike in developed economies where some blame mobile technologies for the fragmentation and depersonalization of society, in the developing world they actually enable people to become more secure and interdependent.

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