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Free Global Health from “Living with Darth Vader”

April 15th, 2014 No comments

MBA student Grace Lam gives us a vivid account of “Closing the Gap:Tackling Global Health Challenges,” a panel at the Skoll World Forum.

Peggy Clark, Peter Drobac, Pamela Collins, Tapela Neo, Chris Underhill

With an audience filled with seasoned global health experts, there’s not much the “Closing the Gap: Tackling Global Health Challenges” panelists could say to shock their audience. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and mental disorders have been underfunded and largely neglected due to the widespread focus on malaria, TB, and AIDS. Sure. Less than 25 cents per person per day is spent on mental health. Unfortunate but familiar. There have been huge successes in the millennium development goals, especially since the country with the biggest improvement, Rwanda, was measured with its pre-genocide 1990 baseline. Impressive and noted.

What did garner a response, however, was Chris Underhill’s candid memory of his own childhood experience with mental health. As a 12-year-old boy, he had a mental health episode that required treatment. The British hospital naively thought the illness could be transmissible, so they placed Chris in a ward where the only other patient was one with an iron lung. The six month recovery period “was like living with Darth Vader”, recounts Chris. Though Chris’ jocular comment evoked a lively chuckle from the audience, his unfortunate treatment reminded us of the perils of erroneous healthcare decisions and our own responsibility to deliver not only efficacious but also ethical care. Anything less could become another’s Darth Vader.

Closing the Gap: Tackling Global Health Challenges

Chris’ story provided the perfect segway into a discussion of the shortcomings of today’s global health delivery systems. While most agreed more resources should be devoted to the treatment of NCDs and mental health, one critic questioned whether the disease-centric approach was appropriate or whether this approach only treated the symptoms while neglecting the underlying pathology of an inadequate organizational structure for delivering care. Regardless of the opinions of the feasibility of such an approach, all agreed that the structure need to expand diagonally to integrate more disease states and delivery personnel such as community health workers. As if anticipatory of the audience’s call for improved systematic change, Peter Drobac distributed copies of “Delivering Health. Care Redefined.” – a working paper on current successful expanded healthcare business models, and encouraged us to improve and expand on it. And so, with celebration of some successes and the weight of ever more challenges, we disbanded, each renewed with their own campaign to free global health from the grips of Darth Vader.

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Shifting the Paradigm: Social Entrepreneurs and the Art of Fiction Film

April 15th, 2014 No comments

MBA student Natasha Garcha reports on the Skoll World Forum panel, “Shifting the Paradigm: Social Entrepreneurs and the Art of Fiction Film.

Natasha Garcha

Natasha Garcha

Storytelling must not be peripheral to social movements – it must be at the center of revolutions. Cara Mertes, director at Just Films, begun the session by delving into the art of fiction. Quoting non-fiction author, Peter Matthiessen, who ironically said “(non-fiction is) captive to facts or predetermined forms- it cannot fly,” Cara elucidated how non-fiction can sometimes leave its audience feeling powerless, acting as a disincentive to civic engagement. Fiction, on the contrary, allows us to be embedded in someone else’s reality. Research shows fiction readers are inclined to believe the world is more just than it really is. As someone who spent majority of her childhood in a library devouring novels and grew up to be an irrepressible optimist, this deeply resonated with me! The session introduced us to two revolutionary fiction films, Difret and Under the Same Sun. Both epitomize why there is such great power in the art of storytelling. Movements are built around emotional connections and the immersive experience of fiction film is the perfect medium.

Cara Mertes, John Marks, and Mehret Mandefro in their session "Shifting the Paradigm" at Saïd Business School

Difret has a double-entendre. In its widest use, the word means courage. But in Amharic, it also means “the act of being raped.” The film showcases the story of 14 year Hirut Assefa’s act of defiance against the dominant narrative. Abducted while walking home from school by her 29-year-old would-be husband (as is customary in Ethiopia), in an instance she is robbed of her childhood, her innocence, her freedom. In a desperate attempt to escape and return to the sanctity of her home, she manages to shoot her captor, killing him with his own rifle. Charged with murder, Hirut’s pleas of self-defense fall on deaf ears. Here unfolds the core story of a tenacious struggle against the status quo. Meaza, a human rights lawyer inspired by Hirut’s relentless courage, embarks on an epic legal battle to save the young girl from facing the death penalty. Based on a true story, the cast and crew went through extraordinary lengths to ensure minimal deviation from the real chain of events. During the snippets of the film that we had the privilege of viewing, audible gasps of shock echoed through Seminar Room A – a symbol of the deep impact that fiction films can have on its audience. Having the producer of such a powerful movie with us was a HUGE honor. Mehret Mandefro gave us an inside peek into the making of Difret, emphasizing the utmost importance of authenticity in a movie which hopes to represent the Ethiopian culture, giving its unsung heroes a voice in the world. Difret is not a tale of tragedy, but one of hope. Difret does not seek to demonize Ethiopian men, but to change the social norms around cultural violence by telling a story that does not judge or dismiss. I believe it will act as catalyst for change, making these men think, question and reflect rather than view this as a critique. Mehret also shared the struggles as a filmmaker to remain true to the soul of the story, defending her decision to not cast Halle Berry as the lawyer in a bold attempt to maintain the authenticity of the film at the cost of blocking out mainstream funders. She described how Hollywood is “dying for a revolution” that will challenge these artificial assumptions about the relationship between commerce and art. Mehret eloquently pointed out that disruptive movies require disruptive distribution channels – despite meriting the audience award at Sundance, commercial theatres (especially in the US) were still weary about screening a potentially controversial and un-conventional film. Difret in my opinion is nothing short of a work of art and I hope it is embraced and celebrated across the world.

Under the Same Sun is a movie based “sometime in the near future.” Producer John Marks gave us the pleasure of a candid discussion about his journey to create a movie of how an unexpected alliance develops between an Israeli and a Palestinian who “set out to make money and wind up making peace.” Old antagonisms, new technologies and two hopeful entrepreneurs live ‘under the same sun.’ They unite to develop a solar energy project to bring electricity to Palestine, risking their lives and burying old hostilities. The perils the duo encounter and how they overcome artificial divisions by recognizing the importance of being invested in something that is meaningful, exposes the audience to the crux of how cultures shift. Shot in three different languages, the film in John’s words is “the most scrupulously accurate film” possible which endeavors to fulfill his “über objective” of peacebuilding. In my opinion, by putting hope on the screen Under the Same Sun will help overcome the current cynicism by illustrating how ordinary people can create huge waves of disruption and truly enable shifting the paradigm.


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Getting the impact jackpot through networking and communities’ involvement

April 15th, 2014 No comments

MBA student Tanja Collavo tells us what she learned at the Skoll World Forum session, “The Impact Jackpot: Service Delivery to the Very Poor.”

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Tanja Collavo

There are no easy ways to make the difference when tackling the poorest of the poor. Many talks and seminars during the Skoll World Forum have aimed at facilitating the sharing of ideas among entrepreneurs, investors, facilitators and representatives of governments and public bodies on how to best operate in areas where nothing can be taken for granted. However, the session “The Impact Jackpot: Service Delivery Innovation for the Very Poor” was especially effective in exploring the topic. The panel featured Christine Mwelwa Kaseba, first lady of Zambia and champion of several projects in her country for the improvement of women’s health; Kristin Gilliss, associate portfolio director of Mulago foundation, investing in high impact organisations tackling the very poor with a scalable model;  Neal Keny-Guyer, CEO of Mercy Crops, an international development organisation operating in areas of conflicts such as Syria to transform crises in opportunities; Steve Davis, CEO of Path, a non-profitspecialised in innovation for healthcare; and Andrew Youn, co-founder and director of One Acre Fund, an NGO improving the productivity of the poorest farmers through support along their whole value chain.


Kristin Gillis, Neal Keny-Guyer, H.E. Christine, M. Kaseba-Sata, Andrew Youn, Steve Davis

The panellists discussed very openly about their projects, the difficulties they encountered and how they innovated in order to reach the bottom of the pyramid. The passion and commitment they showed for their companies and causes generated a strong involvement in the audience, which was clear from the many faces nodding during the session and from the questions and feedbacks expressed during the Q&A part. Most importantly, the discussion revealed a common theme emerging from each experience reported regarding effective serving of the poorest of the poor: the necessity of creating strong partnerships across sectors. The topic was brought up in his very first answer by Neal Keny-Guyer, who mentioned partnerships as the fundamental element to innovate and reach populations facing crises and lack of any kind of resource. His statement was then reinforced by all following interventions, that even went beyond it by explicitly mentioning the necessity to co-operate with local governments in order to have different stakeholders coming together and understanding each other and to connect different countries and players engaged in different programs in order to share best practices and uncover new ways to employ existing tools and resources. Similarly, the panel highlighted the potential of partnerships between NGOs and social enterprises allowing to fully exploit and combine the reach and connections of the former with the innovativeness of the latter.

Additional suggestions that social entrepreneurs as well as governments, funders and NGOs might find interesting were those of Andrew Youn and Steve Davies, who both focused on the necessity to redesign the whole distribution chain and to think about the whole ecosystem when planning to deliver something to forgotten communities. Indeed, in order to reach such populations and to really make the difference, it is necessary to trigger behavioural changes, to make recipients understand the products offered and how to use them, to reach people where they are, and to develop products and services keeping in mind from the very beginning the money, mobility and information constraints that these populations face. The importance of connecting with and providing detailed information to target recipients was confirmed by Zambia’s first lady Christina Mwelwa Kaseba, who recalled how important information sharing had been in the projects she championed in order to make poor women aware of their rights, opportunities and of the services that were available to them. In this regard, she mentioned the relevance of new technologies in engaging with people in a visual and easy-to-understand way, another theme clearly emerging in many sessions held during the Skoll World Forum.


The Impact Jackpot: Service Delivery Innovation for the Very Poor

Overall, for me the key take-away from this session was panellists’ conviction, supported by the Skoll foundation’s belief and from similar conclusions reached in other seminars, that no real impact can be generated if a project does not trigger systemic change and does not go beyond the delivery of a mere service or product. What the poor need is a chance to speak up, to develop themselves in the way they need and want through products and services configured around them and with their contributions, to hope in a better future thanks to someone helping them in reducing inequalities, that are one of the main barriers of economic and, most importantly, social development. Partnerships and connections are the key to succeed in this important mission. After three days of networking, it feels like we all should be in a better position now to go reach the bottom of the pyramid and make even more the difference.

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April 14th, 2014 No comments
Austin Harris

Austin Harris

Skoll Scholar and MBA student Austin Harris gave us this update from Day 3 of the Skoll World Forum.


When pioneer firms attempt to introduce new innovations into bottom of the pyramid markets, they often face barriers to scaling the business models. Alex Sloan with the Skoll Foundation moderated our panel of speakers who highlighted these barriers and addressed ways to overcome them.  The focus was impact through successful scalability, from the individual firm to the entire market. 

Harvey Koh with Monitor Deloitte is a coauthor of From Blueprint to Scale, a report on the role of philanthropy in impact investing.  Making reference to this report, Harvey discussed the “pioneer gap” in investment and how philanthropic money can be used to create inclusive businesses.    

Harvey illustrated that introducing a working product into a market is not enough.  Three essential criteria for firms to succeed:

·         Impact

·         Sustainable

·         Scalable

Of these, scalability is the “hardest to crack.”  He emphasized that scale needs to focus on solutions rather than the number of companies.  Instead of simply focusing on the firm, you must extend to include external elements, such as government and supply chains.  

What has become informally known as the “Easter Egg Model”, Harvey showed the links between the firm, value chain, public goods, and government to display all components involved in scaling a business model. 


More than One Firm to Make a Market

Judith Pollock with the Shell Foundation added that scaling should be should not just be limited to the firm, but also the industry to expand the total market size.  To scale an industry, it is helpful to have your product and service replicated by other firms.  She shared the experience of the Shell Foundation in doing clean cook stoves in Asia.  One firm was insufficient to tackle the total problem.  The foundation sought to reduce the barriers to all firms in the industry, enabling them to get to market.  The effort was on lowering barriers in the value chain, using existing distribution as an enabling mechanism, and dealing with financial constraints that limited inventory for merchants.  Tackling all these elements enabled Shell Foundation to increase clean cooking stoves in the market from 100,000 to 1,000,000. 

Camille Saade with FHI360 discussed his organization’s experience with treating Diarrhea, the second leading cause of death in children after pneumonia.  The program in Uttar Pradesh delivered oral rehydration salts and zinc to children suffering from diarrhea.  However, after 18 months, they found less than 1% use of zinc in the slums.  Though subsidization, the program was able to incentivize distributors, starting at 70% subsidization and waning to 0% over time. They ultimately found 54% of doctors prescribing zinc.  Now that the distribution barriers to market were addressed, other brands of zinc followed into the market, totaling 42 brands in the region.

Important Factors for Scaling

Scaling for a firm often entails more than increased production of product.  The panelists offered other, often overlooked, factors for successful scaling.  Camille emphasized the determination of the entrepreneurs and the long-term vision.  Judith stressed the importance of establishing partners with common views and goals, and for reducing barriers of distribution and trade finance.  Liz Patterson with DFID focused on the importance of establishing strong relationships between firms and local government.

Where are All the Impact Investors?

Developing markets, otherwise known as global growth markets, have incredible upside potential.  However, the investment money is not following this potential.  Harvey stressed that many investors want opportunities that already exist.  Most investors are not interested in the risk and time in creating markets, which is often necessary in less developed countries.

Liz highlighted that regulations in government have also presented a barrier to investment.  Judith emphasized that more success has come with philanthropic investment that is willing to tolerate the high risk space.  She stressed that this investment needs to gain scope beyond the firm, and extend to the supply chain to achieve returns. 

Difficulties with Push Products

How does one know if consumers in the developing world needs a particular product?  Judith stated that there can be different reasons why a consumer does not connect with a product: she does not see a need, she is unaware of the product, or the new product does not fully meet her needs.  Judith emphasized the need to get feedback from the target audience to ensure your product is meeting the necessary consumer criteria.  Camille added that a focus on ease of access and proper pricing are also crucial when pushing products to consumers. 

What Lies Ahead?

Looking towards the next year, the panelists offered how to continue closing the pioneer gap and building firms to build markets.  Harvey noted the need to focus on industry facilitation. Camille concentrated on potential partnerships to form inclusive markets and work with competitors to grow the overall size of markets. Judith stated the need to use philanthropic money in high-risk areas to find what needs to be done to gain impact. Liz stressed the need to build investor confidence.

We extend a warm thank you to the moderator and panelists for illuminating difficulties for pioneer firms to get to market and scale.  They all provided wonderful insight on the issues currently faced and offered promising methods to narrow the pioneer gap.    

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In Defense of Founders – Report from the Skoll World Forum

April 13th, 2014 No comments

In addition to being a Skoll Scholar and MBA Student, Kjerstin Erickson is the Founder and Executive Director of FORGE, an international NGO that provides education, skills training, and entrepreneurial resources to more than 70,000 refugees in war-torn Africa.Kjerstin Erickson

Ahh, the age-old entrepreneurial debate: how can an enterprise transition from startup to scale without losing its zeal, passion, and sense of purpose? And what role do founders play in helping or hurting these transitions?  

In the session Founder’s Challenge: To Scale and Keep the Vision Alive, Skoll Centre Director Pamela Hartigan conducted a conversation with Wendy Kopp of Teach for America, Cheryl Dorsey of Echoing Green, Andrea Coleman of Riders for Health, and Subramaniam Ramadorai of National Skill Development Agency

While the panel was balanced between founding and non-founding social entrepreneurs, the overarching tone was decidedly pro-founder. Wendy Kopp pointed to research showing that founder-led company outperformed the rest of the market. Cheryl Dorsey reminded the crowd to “never discount the power of heros and legends.” And Andrea Coleman noted that the celebrity status of founders can be extremely helpful in attracting attention, resources, and talent.

Founders Challenge panel

Pamela Hartigan, Subramaniam Ramadorai, Cheryl Dorsey, Wendy Kopp and Andrea Coleman, The Founders' Challenge: To Scale and keep the Vision Alive

Of course, there are risks that organizations can become overly founder-centric or reliant. Subramaniam Ramadorai pointed out that “institutions are bigger than any one individual,” noting that it is critical that organizations be prepared for founder transitions at any point in time. Andrea Coleman discussed the need for founders to find their appropriate complementors and collaborators, noting that “founders are really good at something, but not at everything Wendy Kopp pointed out that “there are different kinds of founders,” and went on to discuss how she believes much of her success as a founder was due to a focus on finding and empowering great talent to innovate within the organization. In an interesting tangent, Wendy also discussed how her 25-year history as a public figure and fundraiser may actually be hindering her in building Teach for All. Because “after 25 years you owe a lot of people a lot of stuff,” she has to hope that “the organization doesn’t fall apart while I go out and give this speech.”

The part of the discussion that stood out the most for me was Wendy Kopp’s description of her primary role at Teach for America, which she describes as “25 years of pushing a boulder up a hill to try to get people to understand our theory of change.” For Wendy, keeping TFA focused on their theory of change and empowered to make decisions which reflect it has provided a sense of strategic clarity that guided them through many tough years. As a social entrepreneur myself, I resonate deeply with the vision of a founder forging a stake into the ground then using it as the beacon for untold challenges ahead. I left the session feeling even more inspired by the humility and strength of will it takes founders to successfully scale an organization while keeping its values intact.

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A report from the Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship 2014

April 12th, 2014 No comments
CK Raine

CK Raine

This account of the Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship comes from Chris (CK) Raine, MBA student and Skoll Scholar.

“Caminante, no hay camino,

se hace camino al andar.”

(translation: ‘Wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking’.)

These are the words that were crafted by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado and chosen by Yves Moury, one of the seven Skoll Award winners in 2014, to express the universal journey of the social entrepreneur. They are words that really befit all the Skoll Award winners and perhaps even the social entrepreneurship movement. To step into the unknown, not having a path – but with a vision and the courage to pursue it.

The Skoll Award ceremony celebrates the inspiring paths that several social entrepreneurs and their organizations have forged towards creating a better world. Each one of these awardees is a shining light of leadership and courage and the bravery needed to take such steps. The Skoll Award is an affirmation of their work and a way to help them step even further. As Sally Osberg, President and CEO of the Skoll Foundation states, “These are not lifetime achievement awards, these are bets on the people who will create better futures for millions.”

Skoll Award winners 2014

The 2014 recipients of the Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship

So who are the Skoll Foundation making their $1.25 million (each) bet on this year?

B Lab - An organisation fuelling a global movement to redefine “success” in business, so that all companies compete not only to be the best in the world, but the best for the world.

Fundación Capital - a pioneer in inclusive finance innovation to help the poor save; grow and invest their assets; insure their families against risk; and chart a permanent path out of poverty.

Girls Not Brides – a movement to create a world without child brides.

Global Witness - an organisation that investigates and exposes the shadow networks that underlie deals that fuel conflict, corruption, and environmental destruction.

Medic Mobile - builds mobile applications for community health workers, caregivers, and patients to increase life-saving health care coverage.

Slum Dwellers International (SDI) - an organisation that facilitates the collective action of slum dwellers to take control of their futures; improve their living conditions; and gain recognition as equal partners with governments and international organizations in the creation of inclusive cities.

Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) - an organisation that  has turned the traditional charity model on its head by developing commercially-viable models to bring water and sanitation to nearly two million people in urban slums in six countries.

Malala Yousafzai

Jeff Skoll, 2014 Skoll Global Treasure awardee Malala Yousafzai, and Sally Osberg

It would seem that here we have seven very different paths. Several very different bets. But to hear each of the awardees speak as they received their award, there was an inspiration, passion and commitment to purpose that resonated through each of their words. These sentiments were echoed through the keynote presentation of Skoll Global Treasure awardee Malala Yousafzai, as she shared her own vision for a world in which all young women had access to education and a life without oppression – a vision that was received with an extended standing ovation.

The whole ceremony left me with a sense of being both inspired and the feeling of the preciousness of life that connects us all. That feeling filled the room and, rather than the typical mad rush to exit at events, a large percentage of people just seemed to stay in the theatre chatting away – laughing, connecting. The Skoll World Forum really isn’t a conference – it is more like a homecoming.

I guess, like most of the recipients, the delegates at the ceremony each walk their own ‘camino’. Carving a way forward step-by-step. Some have walked far from home to far-flung lands across the world to help people in need. Some have walked over the coals of tribulations and some have stumbled along the way. Yet we are here, with our scars, our stories and our dreams – celebrating that journey. That is the social entrepreneurship calling. Corny as it might be – it is what we believe and who we are. It is here that we come home to honor our very special brothers and sisters with a Skoll Award and then tomorrow we pack our bags, we fling ourselves out into the world again and return to our paths, for another year.

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