Using future markets for social entrepreneurship?

  • A McKinsey & Co. report on prediction markets quotes James Surowiecki: “I wouldn’t be surprised to see prediction markets used in many more companies than today, not least as a tool to forecast sales. Consumer-facing companies should be particularly interested.”
  • Knowledge Management gurus Tom Davenport and Dave Snowden jumped into the fray to cool easy enthusiasm.
  • An article in the New York Times introduces the concept of futarchy. According to Robin D. Hanson, an economist at George Mason University and a fan of alternative institutions, futarchy is “a form of government enhanced by prediction markets. Voters would decide broad goals of national welfare, but betting in speculative markets would determine the policy steps to achieve those goals.”

When I read this post, I could not help but wonder if future markets could be applicable to social entrepreneurship. The first bullet point spoke to the use of such markets to predict the changing consumer preferences for companies. It would seem as though such information would be useful for understanding the evolving needs and desires of BoP customers as well. Can future markets be modified to be applicable to the BoP? Or is modification necessary, can we use them out of the box today?

Likewise, for social investors prediction markets could figure out what innovative approaches to specific problems are most likely to be effective and help guide them in their investing decisions. Anyways, just some food for thought. I need to think further about this, but I am sure you will hear more from me about this in the ‘future.’

Op-Ed: Microfinance revisited and its role in reaching the missing middle

Two weeks ago I wrote about James Surowiecki’s article in the New Yorker that brought forward the inherent limitations of microfinance to actually generate a substantial number of jobs in a developing country. Since then it seems as if I was not the only one (surprise surprise) to take notice of Surowieki’s conclusions and it has even brought pioneers like Acumen Fund‘s CEO

Novogratz gave some credit to Surowiecki’s argument that not everyone in society is an entrepreneur and that in fact most people simply want a predictable, stable job with defined roles. Novogratz, however, distinguished her stance through her anectdotal experience with women’s access to credit and how throughout her experience they have overwhelmingly been favorable towards it. She says that this desire for credit provides the rest of us with critical lessons on how to address poverty.

However, the desire for credit on its own in no way makes someone an entrepreneur. Every teenager in America has an affinity for credit, but just because they are willing to spend that money somewhere does not make them some sort of innovator. Likewise, Surowieki’s argument highlights that for the most part microloans are not utilized for business expansion, but rather they help tide businesses over during rougher times, a la a bridge financing round. These funds like simple credit cards are used to cover funds that someone has already spent before — not towards future capital investments. It is that ability to reinvest ones funds towards scalability and expansion that is truly entrepreneurial.

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