D.light’s d.sirable business success

But what really has us excited is the excitement at the consumer level.  If you have a chance, visit D.light’s website to see hear some of the remarkable stories of their customers and how light has impacted their lives. And also take a look at the letter that D.light just received from a resident in Orissa living in D.light’s first 100% solar village. We’ve got thousands and thousands of villages to go, but a very exciting start.

From a Nextbillion.net article on this disruptive company aiming to provide solar energy to India’s rural poor. This article emphasizes what is one of the most important aspects of a successful business, partcularly startups, which is knowing your customer and focusing on developing your entire business model to what they need and want.

Access to Safe Drinking Water, the Sustainable Way

PepsiCo Foundation has awarded two grants, totaling $76 million, to sustainable water and sanitation efforts by WaterPartners and Safe Water Network. The PR release describes each program. WaterPartners will use the award to implement their WaterCredit program:

The WaterCredit program in India has two main components: first, to provide traditional grant funding directly to local non-government organizations to install pipes, faucets and storage cellars in impoverished communities, reaching some 60, 000 people. The second component is to establish a loan fund that will empower communities to expand access to safe water for an additional 60, 000 people over the course of the three-year project. This model produces a “multiplier effect” for impact based on a single source of funding and is the first time PepsiCo Foundation has applied micro finance as a strategic vehicle to advance water and sanitation improvements.

The idea of building community-based water supply projects through a combination of grants and loans is new to the water sector. Until now, nearly all water projects facilitated by other organizations have been funded entirely by grants, even when the individuals served by the project have the means to share costs.

Bridging microfinance and water is a topic that NextBillion.net covered earlier this year, so this is a connection that is working well in some regions and with the support of different organizations, such as ACCESS Development Services and Hindustan Unilever Limited. The vision behind this is that communities may not be able to afford methods that purify water and make it safe for drinking, but using microfinance models allows them to collectively take a loan and repay until they eventually purchase the system. Continue reading

Job Opportunities with Acumen Fund in India

Source: Nextbillion.net

There are two openings in India, one for a Business Development Manager and the other for a Portfolio Associate.  Both are accepting applications and hope to close the application period early next week (August 20).  View both job descriptions in PDF format, and consider applying.

Learn more about the Acumen Fund here.

Measuring Impact — The billion person question

A post on Nextbilliion.net today announced that the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) just launched a new framework to measure social impact of a business or organization. While the name of the framework, Measuring Impact Framework, is not the catchiest in name, it is attempting to do something that has been a challenge so far within the field of social entrepreneurship. We have written many posts to this issue in the past, you can check them out here.

The goal of developing an effective measurement system is a topic of much research and debate and numerous models have come prior to this one an a number more are likely to follow. A post on Socialedge from last year listed the following:

•    Balanced Scorecard Methodology (New Profit Inc.)
•    The Acumen-Mckinsey Scorecard (Acumen Fund)
•    Social Return Assessment Scorecard (Pacific Community Ventures)
•    AtKisson Compass Assessment for Investors (AtKisson)
•    Poverty and Social Impact Analysis (World Bank)
•    OASIS: Ongoing Assessment of Social Impacts (REDF)

Makes you wonder whether or not we need a metric to measure the effectiveness of these metrics. But in all seriousness, quantification of social impact is a complex and at times impossible task, effectively guaranteeing that none of these indicators on their own will ever fully get the picture. The most important thing, however, is to recognize that while each may come from a slightly different angle and methodology, the actual organizations and ventures that sift to the top should be relatively the same. Those in the middle are likely to differ as subtle differences in how each index weights various factors may cause significant movement among organizations that are scored closely together. However, like many rankings and indexes, those organizations that are consistently on the top of multiple metrics are there for significant reasons that should be relatively immune to methodological differences.

It is then when we can either know that the methods are being accurate (or all suffer from an identical fundamental flaw) and then when they in complement will have the greatest utility.

Pedal Your Way to Clean Water

Stories on water are either on the rise or are more likely to catch my eye – either way, another interesting design innovation to contribute to water issues is critiqued by NextBillion.net. A YouTube video on the site also explains the Aquaduct, a tricycle that aims to provide a means of transportation and simultaneously filter water.

Developed by Ideo (an extremely successful design company), the cycle uses energy from pedaling to filter two gallons of water from a 20 gallon tank- supposedly enough for a day’s worth of water for one family. Derek Newberry points out:

As with any shiny new BoP innovation, it’s important to remember that just because the product is inarguably cool doesn’t mean it will actually be applicable in the specific context of local consumers. Has research been done to confirm that the Aquaduct would be cost effective and functional for the BoP in different regions as compared to other available means of water filtration and transport? And I didn’t understand the idea of storing 20 gallons of water but having only two gallons filtered – is this really enough for a family? Does the user have to pedal around every time they want an additional two gallons of filtered water?

All insightful questions. I personally also take issue with the design itself. When I used to bicycle to my project every day in India, I realized that cycling was no simple joy ride – I needed to utilize the basket installed in front and the small clip in back to carry my daily necessities with me or throw in some fruits and vegetables I might purchase from the street vendor on the way home. With that removable tank put in the front, the Aquaduct might have to be a separate purchase for a family, in addition to their other bicycles.

At the same time, the creation of designs aimed for the developing world can be really useful social innovations, once they have been properly priced and adapted. The Aquaduct is another one to watch and see if it moves past the prototype phase.

SMEs adaptability = ideal conduit to BoP

In a post on Nextbillion.net yesterday, Derek Newberry, wrote a great piece on how SMEs serve as an ideal player in modifying technologies and products to reach the BoP. He starts off by recognizing the recent interest by large multinational corporations (MNCs) in serving the bottom billion, but then pushes forth the inquiry about the role of SMEs in this process. Interestingly, instead of viewing MNCs and SMEs as antagonistic in this space, as they most often are vis a vis each other in traditional markets, Newberry recognizes the potential for cooperative coordination between these two players to better serve the poor:

Their competitive advantage is an ability to quickly and efficiently innovate new technologies and services that meet the specific needs of BoP markets in different regions. New Ventures enterprise Big Tree Farms is an example of this in reverse, where they are offering Whole Foods value as a partner by supplying exclusive access to authentic Indonesian foods. In other words, SMEs are a perfect channel for MNCs based in Europe and the US to intelligently connect with new markets and producers in emerging economies.

In essence, this approach leverages larger organization’s capital and innovative capabilities with the contextual knowledge of local SMEs to accelerate delivery of innovative ways to address poverty. Pulling from data collected by an informal survey done by the WBSCD, Newberry notes that the more pleasantly surprising statistic is that this partnership is already commonly utilized by both parties.

The results of the survey indicate that many companies already understand this – with 44% saying at least half their suppliers worldwide are SMEs. Still, as with any business relationship, particularly across regions and populations with differing resources and business practices, these engagements are never perfect.

However, the survey also recognized the challenges. From the MNC perspective, reliability of the SME distributors appeared to be a major concern, while for the SMEs they were unappreciative of the bureaucracy that hindered their ability to do business.

Taking a step back as well, one must be careful to ensure that such relationships are not merely facades to reintegrate colonialism type mechanisms where the instead of the focus being on providing better products for the poor, it becomes the desire to utilize such relationships to extract and eploit indigenous knowledge or products to then be sold in the first world markets.

Investing in Private Education, a solution?

Nitin Rao, a staff writer for Nextbillion.net, has published a paper in the MIT International Review, titled Harnessing India’s Human Capital Through Educational Opportunities, which puts forth the idea that education can be effectively delivered in India through “sustainable investments in a vast network of private schools delivering standardized, high quality education at an affordable price to the low income mass market (base of the pyramid) customer.”

You can read the paper at here.

Remote Blogging: Skoll World Forum 2008 – Replication and Scale

At the recent Skoll World Forum, the Berkeley Bottom Line bloggers covered Dr. Paul Farmer‘s speech following the Replication and Scale session. Diverging from discussions of business models and financial feasibility, Farmer offered a human touch to the idea of social entrepreneurship and scale. They quote from his speech:

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ACCESS to PureIt

A joint effort by ACCESS Development Services, an Indian microfinance technical services non-profit organization, and Hindustan Unilever is providing water purifiers to poor families. Unilever’s PureIt does not require any electricity or running water and so is perfect for rural use.  Nextbillion.net highlights the benefits of such a partnership through an anecdote.

Yakalakshmi lives in Nekkunda village, part of the Telengana region of Andhra Pradesh, with her husband and two children. Though she has water piped to her house by the village panchayat, her entire family fell ill for a month last monsoon season by drinking water directly from the tap. “We all got high fever and severe diarrhea,” and as a result, “we had to spend around Rs. 4000 ($100) on health care, which was very difficult for us.” So, when Yakalakshmi got the opportunity this past January to buy an effective water purifier through her Self Help Group (SHG) on an installment basis, she was one of the first to sign up.

The venture also shows two points. One that simply making people aware of a problem will not address the situation unless they can afford to do something about it. And two, that such an effort can be done on in a sustainable fashion.

Based on a public-private partnership model, this exciting tie-up is financially sustainable. The project has already been extended to 11 of ACCESS’s partner MFIs in Andhra Pradesh. HUL and ACCESS are now looking at expanding the initiative countrywide through the ACCESS Microfinance Alliance, which has a 110 partner MFIs across India, potentially bringing safe drinking water to a large proportion of the 2.4 million clients served by these MFIs.

Op-Ed: Arrogance today, humility tomorrow

A curious micro-debate seems to be emerging in the blogosphere on what is more critical to a social entrepreneur’s success — their humility or arrogance. This is an interesting discussion, as both qualities provide varied paths to success and failure.

For example, often times organizations are inextricably tied to the charismatic, larger than life personalities of their founders or current leaders. Two that immediately come to mind are the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative. Here arrogance, or what could at least be described as leveraging celebrity status, was a crucial component to the rapid success and growth for both organizations (w/r to the Gates Foundation immense capital also did not hurt).

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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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