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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Ashoka Focuses on Agricultural and Sustainable Development in India

Last week, Ashoka announced that the organization will use a US$15 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support the placement of Ashoka fellows in Africa and India.  The grant money will specifically target social innovation and entrepreneurship in agriculture and sustainable development.  According to their press release,

Agricultural and rural sustainable development initiatives supported by Ashoka will be oriented around key issues such as new technologies, farmer productivity, key agricultural policies, and connections between smallholder farmers and markets. Ashoka’s network already includes many Fellows working on agriculture and rural development related issues— whether developing markets for small farmers in Kenya, or using local knowledge to regenerate arid land through natural farming and permaculture in India.

The most promising aspect of this partnership is the approach that Ashoka espouses in ensuring that their social innovations become sustainable – a community based approach:

Ashoka realizes that innovations alone do not create sustainable large-scale solutions in agriculture and sustainable rural development. These new solutions endure only when social entrepreneurs have a community-level understanding, build a broad citizen base of support, introduce incentives for participation, and topple traditional barriers to entry or involvement. This partnership will allow Ashoka to launch 90 social entrepreneurs and their powerful, pattern- changing ideas that are built on this bottom up approach. Additionally, as a product of the increased number of entrepreneurs in this area and their broad base of supporters, Ashoka will be able to identify transformative universal principles that will ultimately revolutionize the field.

Looks like this is a great time to become an Ashoka fellow in India.  I’m looking forward to seeing what developments Ashoka comes up with in 2009.

Extreme Affordability

We at ThinkChange India, have reported (and discussed) extensively on serving people at the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP). One such initiative is the Entreprenurial Design for Extreme Affordability effort under the aegis of Stanford Institute of Design.

The name clearly conveys the objective of the initiative – innovating in design to gain advantage in terms of cost – which in turn helps the product being available to a larger chunk of the population. Their mission is

To treat the poor as customers, not as charity recipients. We believe in listening to the needs the poor tell us about, not assuming we know best. We believe in products and services designed for specific cultural contexts, not just Western hand-me-downs. And we believe that careful attention to design can create innovative-and extremely affordable-solutions to the problems of the other 90%.

Exactly the same idea as espoused by BoP approach. The center believes it is high time that we start designing and creating products and services for less fortunate chunk of the society.

An interesting project being undertaken is Embrace – an infant incubator that costs around USD 25. The project also won the 2008 Echoing Green Fellowship. Needless to say in a country like India, where medical facilities, especiall at the rural level, leave much to be desired, innovations like these will help India correct the currenly skewed social indicators. They are currently preparing for clinical trials in – you guessed it right – India 🙂

Read more about product here. Also do read about other ongoing projects under Entreprenurial Design for Extreme Affordability.

The Economist Innovation Awards – Accepting Nominations

The Economist is accepting nominations for their 2008 Innovation Awards. Nominations are welcome until April 7, 2008 in seven different categories, including “Social and economic innovation.”

More details, including the criteria for selection, can be found here.

Celebrating Innovation

Marico Innovation Foundation’s Innovation for India Awards 2008 took place on March 19 in Mumbai. Over a 100 entries out of total 205 were about social impact, indicating that there is a large level of activity occurring in this realm.

For example, one of the winners is Bhinge Brothers, who redesigned the treadle pump for pumping irrigation and drinking water. For a list of the nominees, go here.