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Finding Career Purpose in Social Enterprise

September 9th, 2014 No comments

Jonathan Waldroup is the Operations and Finance Manager at Impact Business Leaders, an organisation that provides career opportunities for professionals looking to develop business solutions that solve major global challenges.

jonathan-waldroup-ibl

Jonathan Waldroup of Impact Business Leaders

Six years ago this December I did the unthinkable: I dropped out of Oxford.

Now, as I prepare to return to Oxford under completely different circumstances, I couldn’t be more thankful for that decision. In the six years in between, I have struggled with the search for a fulfilling career, as have many in my generation. My search led me to Impact Business Leaders and a renewed optimism in the very topic I left behind when I dropped out of Oxford. This is a story of how I came to believe in the power of a practical, impactful economics, known by the name of social enterprise.

“Saving Economics from the Economists”

I arrived in Oxford in September 2008 to study for an MPhil in Economics, just as world markets found themselves plummeting into the abyss. Living and studying in Oxford was a dream come true, and my wife and I still remember our time there as one of the most formative experiences of our lives. But it became clear all too quickly that a career as an academic economist was not going to work for me.

Theoretically I understood how different the highly specialized, mathematical approach of academic economics was from the more logic-based undergraduate economics that I so thoroughly enjoyed. But as I attended class and observed the world around me, it seemed that the discipline was out of sync with reality. How could anyone speak with such certainty about models and theories when the realities they claimed to explain were crashing down all around? I simply could not square the claims of rigor and precision in the classroom with the messy facts outside.

Ronald Coase, a Nobel laureate in Economics, put to words a few years later exactly what I had felt:

“Economics as currently presented in textbooks and taught in the classroom does not have much to do with business management, and still less with entrepreneurship. The degree to which economics is isolated from the ordinary business of life is extraordinary and unfortunate….[It] ignor[es] the influences of society, history, culture, and politics on the working of the economy. It is time to reengage the severely impoverished field of economics with the economy.”

The Oxford Econ Department was not to blame for this problem – it was an issue that slowly accreted across institutions as economics morphed from a study of everyday life and business into a specialized tool of policy (as Coase also points out in his article). There are many legitimate and helpful uses of academic economics, but I needed something more tangibly impactful.

After the Crisis

Returning to the US, I worked in the corporate world for a few years while I struggled to find some direction. After much deliberation, I decided to pursue the same types of international issues I had originally hoped to address with economics, but now from a more holistic perspective. I took up a degree in international affairs in Washington, DC.

It was during this time that I discovered the field of social enterprise, and spent a summer working with Village Capital in Nairobi, setting up an accelerator program for social enterprises. Here was a group of innovators that drew on the key insights of economics in a practical way, driving impactful results every day through the simple concepts of supply and demand.

Social entrepreneurs, and the impact investors who provide capital to them, realize that social impact is often more sustainable when driven by the market. Businesses can be firmly built on the demand from those at the Base of the Pyramid (BoP)—who live on a few dollars a day or less—generating solid financial results while simultaneously creating positive social impact. The companies I saw working with VilCap were enough to convince me of the value of social enterprise, and I left Kenya with a renewed appreciation for a more practical and empathetic economics.

Finding Direction

Having finished my degree in DC, I was committed to pursuing a career in social enterprise and had the good fortune to get involved with Impact Business Leaders (IBL) in its early days. At IBL, we recognize that there are many people like myself, who have become disenchanted with the prevailing economic notion that business exists purely for profit, and equally with the notion that social impact can only be achieved through handouts.

But moving between the traditional corporate world (or government, academe, NGOs, etc.) and the social enterprise/impact investing world can be surprisingly difficult. Social enterprise is still a nascent sector driven largely by personal connections, and still heavily segmented geographically. IBL helps bridge the gap, connecting professionals with job opportunities around the world, and preparing those professionals for the opportunity with practical training from our group of experienced instructors, all of whom are practitioners in the field.

So when I return to Oxford in October for the upcoming IBL@Oxford program, in partnership with Oxford’s Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, I will be completing a circle that began in Oxford six years ago. I left Oxford disenchanted about economics; I return to Oxford hopeful about how economics can be practically applied to make a difference in the world, through the host of innovative entrepreneurs around the world who care about more than profit.

If you find yourself questioning why you do what you do, perhaps it is time you consider a program like IBL@Oxford. Applications are still available online through September 15, and we would be glad to speak with you more if you have any questions.

- Jonathan Waldroup is the Operations and Finance Manager at Impact Business Leaders and can be reached at jwaldroup[at]impactbusinessleaders[dot]com.

 

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The Zoona Story: Empowering MSMEs via Mobile Money Transfer in Zambia

June 24th, 2014 No comments

Skoll Scholar alumnus Mike Quinn, CEO of Zoona mobile money transfer in Zambia, tells us how the Zoona story went from an idea to reality – and shares his vision for its future.

Mike Quinn

Mike Quinn

” In 2007, I experienced a turning point in my life. I was completing a theoretical master’s degree in Development

Management from the London School of Economics following three years of volunteering in Ghana and Zambia with Engineers Without Borders Canada. I was hungry to get back to Africa as a social entrepreneur, but deep down I felt that I lacked the experience and expertise in business I would need to have the impact I craved. A friend referred me to the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford’s Said Business School, and the moment I opened their webpage I knew I wanted to be there. I applied and was extremely fortunate to be selected as a Skoll Scholar.

The year at Oxford was game changing in so many ways. I shook hands with the visiting President of Ghana in my first month, became friends with some of the most accomplished and talented people I had ever met, built a business network to draw on in the future, and filled my brain with knowledge on topics such as venture capital, organizational design, and social enterprise business models. I also got engaged to my wonderful wife Isabelle, thanks to all of the Oxford fancy balls I took her to!

I also came up with an idea. I would start a business connecting real entrepreneurs in Africa with impact-focused venture capital funds in Europe and North America. I made a business card with the name “African Enterprise Partners”

The Zoona Team

The Zoona Team

and the logo of a baobab tree and started handing it out at every opportunity. One of my professors of a social enterprise class, Kim Alter, helped me refine the idea into a pitch and introduced me to the Grassroots Business Fund (GBF). Shortly after finishing my MBA, I was back on a plane to Zambia on a GBF consulting contract in search of my first investment deal.

My very first day back in Zambia, I was introduced to two entrepreneurs who also happened to be brothers. Brett Magrath sat quietly while Brad sold me on their start-up mobile payments business that was about to launch called “Mobile Transactions”. They had had built a mobile payment platform from scratch and wanted to empower micro and small businesses in Zambia to process mobile money transfers for the 85% of Zambian consumers that don’t have bank accounts. They were motivated by making money, but the social mission was central to their vision.

Mobile money transfers empower small businesses

I spent the next two months emphatically selling the investment opportunity to GBF, which closed when the Fund boldly invested $200,000 of convertible debt into a business with only three months of revenues. They asked me to source new deals for them but my mind was made up that I was going to work day and night with Brad and Brett to make our business successful. And we had BIG dreams right from the beginning. When I stood in front of both brothers at our first ever strategy meeting and asked them what our vision was, Brad immediately replied, “Breakfast with Bill Gates”. We decided we should tone it down and be more realistic so we settled on a “Cashless Africa.”

Zoona in the market

Zoona in the market

The early days were exciting and we always thought we were on the verge of taking off. I remember how exhilarating it was handing out fliers in front of the government-owned post office in downtown Lusaka, which had a monopoly on the money transfer industry in Zambia, when Brad was placed under “citizen’s arrest” by the manager for attempting to steal their customers. So we set up one of our first agents 20 meters away. Five years on, that outlet now processes over $400,000 per month in transactions and is owned by a 24 year old woman named Misozi who operates an additional eight outlets, employs 14 people and earns over $9,000 per month in commissions. The social mission has become reality.

For the first three years we were constantly out of cash. I tapped into my Oxford network and recruited my MBA classmate Keith Davies to join the team and manage our finances while I went out to raise more investment. In early 2012, we closed what was the first ever international venture capital round in a Zambian start-up. The Omidyar Network, Accion Frontier Investments Group, and Sarona Asset Management Fundput in nearly $4 million of equity, the proceeds of which have helped to put the company on steroids. We rebranded to “Zoona”, which means, “It’s Real” in a local Zambian language and is one of our core values. We have built a customer base of 500 agent outlets that service 500,000 unique consumers and process $25 million per month in transaction value. And we are growing rapidly: our headcount has increased from 44 people to 75 in the first half of 2014 alone as we gear up for expansion into new markets.

Zoona employee

Many Zoona agents are young entrepreneurs themselves

Zoona’s core purpose is to help small businesses grow. We want to become the best in the world at providing business solutions to micro, small, and medium enterprises in Africa that unlock their latent potential. Our mobile payments platform has evolved from money transfers to other transaction types, including payments from retailers to suppliers. We also provide affordable working capital finance and business management tools to our agents so that they can grow their businesses sustainably. Many of our agents are people under 30 years old who are first time entrepreneurs themselves and are creating jobs, servicing their communities, and helping their economy grow.

Our biggest challenge now is to prove we can do this at scale. Our vision is to build a billion dollar pan- African business that proves entrepreneurship can have social roots that make a big difference to people’s lives, while also making money.

As Steve Jobs once famously said, “We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise, why else even be here?” My job at Zoona is to make sure we do just that.”

 

Demystifying Social Enterprise and Inclusive Business

June 23rd, 2014 No comments

By Alexa Roscoe, Founder, The Social MBA  

This blog was originally featured on The Social MBA  and is reposted with permission. You can also follow The Social MBA on twitter @Social_MBA.  

Alexa Roscoe

Alexa Roscoe

This year’s Skoll World Forum on Social Enterprise only confirmed the accelerating levels of interest in social business.  The event brought together representatives from the private, public and non-profit sectors, all of whom agreed on one point:  inclusive business is the future.  However, there is one point which lacked any degree of accord: namely, what exactly inclusive business is.

Newcomers to the field might be forgiven for feeling a bit lost.  Inclusive business, and the related disciplines of social entrepreneurship and social “intrapreneurship”, have evolved faster than practitioners’ ability to articulate exactly what it is they are doing.

This blog is the latest instalment in my personal crusade to demystify the jargon surrounding the field of business and development.  It does not try to attempt to provide definitive descriptions; rather, it outlines the key elements of each term for which there is general agreement as well as those for which there remains some disparity.

Inclusive business is perhaps best defined by what it is not: corporate philanthropy.Inclusive Business and Corporate Responsibility:

 

The term arose from the need for a differentiator from the more widely known “corporate social responsibility”, or CSR, which had too great an association with company giving which benefited society but had at best a tenuous connection to core business practice. Think of a pharmaceutical company sponsoring a theatre production.  Good cause? Yes. Inclusive business? No.

Rather, inclusive business refers to core business practice- design, sourcing, production, marketing or delivery- conducted in a way which benefits society through core business practice.    It can be thought of as overarching strategy to use business for good, an umbrella term encompassing the narrower tactics of social entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship.

While broad enough to include most activities, there is some debate around the term’s use, particularly in regards to whether inclusive business should include all activities which create social good (e.g. creating jobs) or just those proactive steps to go beyond minimum legal requirements (e.g. paying a living wage rather than the minimum wage.)

CSR remains in use, but increasingly less so, and mainly within corporate sourcing teams with the fairly narrow mandate of social auditing. CSR may or may not be used synonymously with corporate philanthropy.

Key Elements of Inclusive Business  

What it is What it is not What it may refer to in practice
-          business practice which benefits society

–          an overarching term to include all models which contribute to this goal, including social entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship, and ethical sourcing

-            Philanthropy or charity -          Taking measures to mitigate harmful practice

–          The nuts and bolts of the industry such as social auditing

Social Entrepreneurship:

 If inclusive business can be thought of as an overarching strategy, social entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship can be thought of as two specific tactics to achieve it.

The key element separating the two terms is this:  whereas social entrepreneurship involves forming a new venture with joint commercial and social purpose, social intrapreneurship involves working within an existing company to enhance its social impact.

Let’s take social enterprise first.    While sometimes used as a synonym for inclusive business, in fact there are relatively clear parameters on what constitutes a social enterprise; namely, a venture which:

 

  • prioritizes social impact above profit;
  • receives a high percentage of income from commercial, rather than charitable, sources; and
  • in some definitions,  reinvests profit earned back into the enterprise or other activities of social value (rather than paying out to shareholders).

However, there remains a fair degree of ambivalence as to where exactly these parameters should be set.   Should a social enterprise prioritize social impact to the extent it risks going out of business? What percentage of its income should come from commercial activities, and how soon?

Does impact invest constitute venture capital or just another form of grant?

For a more in-depth exploration of the term, The Overseas Development Institute dedicated a  working paper to the topic.

Key Elements of Social Enterprise  

What it is What it is not What it may refer to in practice
-             A venture which  receives a high degree of income from commercial, rather than charitable, sources but which prioritizes social impact above profit

 

-          A charity without any commercial income

–          A company which produces some social impact (e.g. jobs) but which retains the primary goal of maximizing profits

-          A charity with some commercial income alongside other funding sources

 Social “Intrapreneurship”:

While social enterprise is increasingly well-defined, social intrapreneurship may well take the highly contested award for most jargony term in the entire field of business and development.

Like social entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship is one tactic to achieve inclusive business outcomes. Unlike entrepreneurship, social intrapreneurship involves working inside existing companies which may achieve and even seek to maximize social impact, but which still seek financial profit as their primary objective.  Unlike corporate philanthropy, intrapreneurs also remain intrinsically linked to the company’s core business activities.

Key Elements of Social Intrapreneurship  

What it is What it is not What it may refer to in practice
-          Working within a company to improve social impact through core business practice

 

-          Setting up a separate business

–          Corporate philanthropy

-          Taking measures to mitigate harmful practice

–          The nuts and bolts of the industry such as social auditing

Conclusion: 

In addition to the speed at which the field has evolved, there is another reason the definitions of inclusive business, social entrepreneurship and social intrapreneurship remain nebulous: the three increasingly intersect.

This convergence, to borrow Accenture’s phrase, can be taken as a promising sign of inclusive business moving from the purview of a few niche specialists into the mainstream.      The increasing professionalization of the field requires ever more specific terminology.  Inclusive business is the future. Let’s make sure we define it well.

This blog was originally featured on The Social MBA  and is reposted with permission. You can also follow The Social MBA on Twitter @Social_MBA. 

 

 

 

 

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Creating Bridges for Impact – inter-school social impact event

May 29th, 2014 No comments

Yashveer Singh, current Co-Chair of the Oxford Business Network for Social Impact, gives us this report from the recent inter-school event on social impact. 

Yashveer Singh

Yashveer Singh

The Oxford Business Network for Social Impact (SI-OBN) with support from Skoll Centre and Alumni relations office organised the very first inter-Business School Social Impact student exchange conference on May 25th, held in the Oxford Launchpad co-working space at Saïd Business School.

Over last few months, in our interactions with the students from other business schools we felt the need of a platform which can not only bring together energies of students inclined in the sector but also provide a platform where they can discuss and express their ideas and get guidance from the experts.

In the Oxford Launchpad

In the Oxford Launchpad

It is the first Social Impact-focused student conference of its kind hosted by any business school in Europe, and the plan is to for the organisation of future events to rotate between different business schools each year. With the inaugural edition hosted by Oxford and participation from some of the leading schools such as London Business School and Cambridge Judge Business School, we plan to scale the participation from next year.

The conference started with a speed networking session of the participants, where students worked in groups to come out with a product idea around a single word assigned to their team. The exercise helped the participants to get to know each other and get an overview of everyone’s interest and background in the space. Thereafter, and with an impressive speaker line-up, a social impact careers panel discussion provided insights to students about opportunities, expectations and challenges in the sector from experts who have gone through similar journeys after their business school education.

This interactive session was followed by a passionate debate amongst participants from LBS, Cambridge and Oxford with the proposition “The house believes that all social impact that matters can be measured”. The debate was hugely engaging and witnessed some really strong & diverse arguments through various examples shared by the contestants.

In the next half of the conference, students participated in workshops on impact measurement metrics and a real time social business case competition. These sessions not only exposed students to the methodology and the standard practices to these critical and important aspects of the sector but also provided them scope to come out with innovative ideas and brainstorm within smaller groups and get feedback from others. I always believe social impact is a team game and these sessions were a great way to work within different teams to learn not just from resource persons but also mutually from other students.

The event is definitely a great start to what could be a platform which can provide opportunities to collaborate and work together to future leaders of social impact space. The team is especially thankful to our guide and advisor, Dr Pamela Hartigan, Executive Director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at our business school, who provided regular guidance and support in conceptualizing and making this event a reality.

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Clean Energy Matrix- Where we headed in Latin America

May 6th, 2014 No comments

MBA candidate and Weidenfeld Scholar Manas Nanda reports to us about the Skoll World Forum panel on clean energy.

This was a session that clean-energy and sustainability enthusiasts, particularly those focusing on Latin America countries, would have found really interesting. The session brought together an interesting group of experts and practitioners working in the field of sustainability and clean energy. Opening the discussion was Sean McKaughan of Fundacion Avina, who drew an analogy of the current global energy consumption to a scene in the movie Matrix when Morpheus offers Neo the choice between a red pill and a blue pill. We could be smart like Neo to choose the blue pill – the clean energy alternative in this context and ensure a more sustainable planet. Or we could choose the red pill which is to continue with business as usual of consuming fossil fuels. He said, having signed up for this session means that the audience has already chosen the blue pill.

 

Sean McKaughan, Tasso Azevado, Sara Larrain, Dipender Saluja

Having set the ball rolling, Sean quickly gave a background of Latin America and the relevance of clean energy here. Environment is an important component in LatAm given that the region has the largest reserves of fresh water and tropical forests and is house 50 percent of bio-diversity. The good news is that since most of the countries here are democracies, it is possible to bring in policy changes that help conserve the environment. Sean referred to this really interesting map produced by the Global  Footprint Network which color-codes regions based on their consumption levels of natural reserves vis-a-vis the supply levels. Apparently LatAm is much better off than some of the developing nations in Asia. However, the region is highly vulnerable due to its high level of deforestation.

Finally, Sean concludes that there are massive economic opportunities in this space given that the clean-energy supply potential of Latin America is 22 times more than the demand, as reported in an IADB study.

The session continued with Tasso Azevedo, a social environmental entrepreneur, who gave an overview of the situation in Brazil.  He began with some data-based findings on the growth of emissions of OECD countries. Based on his estimates, emissions need to be limited within the 11 Gt CO2e in order to remain within 2 degrees Celsius cap in rise in temperature. So basically we are left with a small piece of cake to be shared among countries. However, some countries have been late to the party and they want to maximize the share of this small piece where as others who have already had a major share of the cake want to repeat it. He jokingly said, increasingly the emission problem can be simplified as  a choice between having a car or eating meat, even as the audience burst into laughter.

Deep-diving into recent trends in Brazil, the country has witnessed a decrease in emissions between 2005-12. However, on breaking-up the total emissions by source,   one can attribute the decrease in emissions  to effectively controlling deforestation even as as emissions from energy continue to rise in line with the global trend. Given that emissions in deforestation anyway need to reduced,  he laid emphasis on the need to reduce emissions from energy use. One of the problems with Brazil is that it has no policy on energy but mainly relies on plans. Also, oil sector has attracted some major investments in Brazil which has shifted the balance away from clean energy.

Sara Larrain, Executive Director of Chile Sustenable continued the discussion by an analysis of the situation in Chile. She began by saying that technology is not the only challenge in adopting clean energy. Lack of social and political structures within individual countries is a major bottleneck. Also there has been a political failure at the global level to de-carbonize the world energy matrix and reverse global warming.  Technology is already present to provide universal access to energy services.  She stressed the need to for an energy rebellion by from informed participants who would demand clean energy. She ended her talk by saying a shift in focus from consumerism to radical efficiency and conservation needs to be implemented.

 

Dipender Saluja from Capricorn Investment Group, shared his insight on the global trends in energy market. He highlighted the growing contribution of emerging nations such as India and China to global emissions. Per-capita energy consumption in China and India are at one-tenth and one-thirtieth levels of that of US and yet they are already the first and fourth largest emitters respectively in the world. Under  such scenarios, solar was the only viable solution, particularly because the world is blessed with adequate solar resource. Solar technology has witnessed 5x reduction in costs, which is highly encouraging. He compared the switch from grid to off-grid solar energy to the switch from land-line to mobile telephony.

 

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INTERESTING VOICES, INNOVATIVE IDEAS, AMBITIOUS OUTCOMES

April 15th, 2014 No comments

MBA student Eduardo Beltran gives us his perspective on the Skoll World Forum panel, “Interesting Voices, Innovative Ideas, Ambitions Outcomes.”

If I could describe in a sentence what the Skoll World Forum is about, it would be: “a bunch of extraordinary people that are working relentlessly to solve the world’s toughest problems.” Taking this as the starting point, I decided to attend this session to see how some of these outstanding individuals are innovating in their fields.

The session started with a simple question: what did you want to do when you were 7 years old? Answers in the room varied from “be the President of EVERYTHING” to “be a ballerina.” Jess Search, CEO of BRTIDOC Foundation and moderator of the session, reminded us then of a quote by Oscar Wilde regarding ambition: “Our ambition should be to rule ourselves, the true kingdom for each one of us; and true progress is to know more, and be more, and to do more.” After attending the session I can tell that my own definition of ambition has changed. But, why did this happen? I think a common thread to the speakers and their stories is that at specific moments in their careers they asked a crucial question: why not?

The first paintbrush of innovation were the gifts that Jess gave to the speakers prior to the discussion: a model-size car of the famous “Delorean” for Marina Gorbis, from Institute for the Future; a rat-puppet for Bart Weetjens, from Apopo; a toy loud-speaker for Fredrick Ouko, from the Action Network for the Disabled and a small bag with wooden-pieces of London’s iconic monuments for Gabriella Gómez-Mont, from Laboratorio para la Ciudad (Laboratory for the City). To start a session with a symbolic gift to the speakers: why not?

Fredrick told that while he was as prepared as other candidates to get a job, he was given only 2 minutes to convince the interviewer to hire him, instead of the 15 minutes given to others candidates. After concluding that his disability was the reason for this, he started the mission of convincing large companies to employ disabled people. The task was not easy but Fredrick took unusual approaches in the process such as to subsidize labor for companies for some months just to show them the value-adding capabilities of disabled people: why not?

When Gabriella started Laboratorio para la Ciudad (LabPLC), she invited a diverse group of people with unsual trajectories tocollaborate with the government of Mexico City to build an open collaboration platform. Now, through a series of “experiments” based on the inclusion of different stakeholders, and particularly civil   society, they are designing innovative urban solutions. One of the experiments was HackDF, where programmers of the city used existing government data to design apps that solve problems such as long redtape. An open space for civil society to co-create solutions with the government: why not?

Bart Weetjens, Fredrick Ouko, Marina Gorbis, Gabriella Gomez-Mont and Jess Search

Marina Gorbis described the case of Freespace, which is a building in San Francisco where people are welcome to go and do something for the space with very basic rules (e.g. no drugs, no dogs) and in the spirit of participation. This “synchronized” action by the community transformed the space radically in just one month, including exterior paiting of the building, a new garden and workshops for homeles people. To “crowd-source” everything for and by the community to create a free space for ALL: why not? Afterwards Marina shared: if awe and emotions are at the core of human beings, shouldn’t we be using and measuring concepts like awe, inspiration and wonder, and not only GDP growth and profit maximization?: why not?

Finally, Bart Weetjens told the story of how when he was a child his first pet was a rat and later on his first business venture was to sell baby rats to pet stores. With time he did not only cared and learned from these animals but he got to view them as a “social resource”. One of the things Apopo does is to train rats to detect landmines in countries where they are a barrier to development. Recently, Apopo has gamified its approach to donations by allowing users to adopt a HEROrat, name it, follow its training and track its progress towards its first mine detection. Gamification approaches to attract people towards the goal of saving lives: why not?

After this session (and others at the Forum) I now know that the only limits are those that we create in our minds and that true ambition is what makes people change the lives of millions in a positive way. This definition may not last as long as Wilde’s one, but at least it will last during my lifetime.