Co-Founded by Skoll Scholar, Jesse Moore and London Business School graduate, Nick Hughes in 2009 with Oxford Saïd alumnus, Chad Larson joining in 2010, M-KOPA has gone from strength to strength; winning awards and rising to be one of the leading solar-power providers in East Africa.
Ever since deciding to reconcile my interest in business with my passion for social impact I have asked myself the question: can for-profit businesses really do social good?To help answer this question, I travelled east from Nairobi to Machakos, Kenya with M-KOPA Solar – the leading ‘pay-as-you-go’ energy provider to off grid homes. Along with Suraj Patel, MBA/MPH at UC Berkeley, Deenah Kawira, M-KOPA Solar Business Manager, and Felix Kyalo, M-KOPA Solar Field Sales Manager (pictured above from left to right), I got the opportunity to meet and hear the stories of three remarkable Kenyan women:
Christine the shop-owner
Eunice the side-hustler
Jane the home-keeper
But firstly, what are customers buying from M-KOPA? M-KOPA customers make a deposit of $30 followed by 365 daily payments of $0.50, paid using their mobile money. The solar home system comes with three lights, mobile phone-charging and a solar powered radio. Customers who complete their payment plans on time can acquire additional lights, solar TVs, energy-efficient cooking stoves, internet-enabled smartphones and water storage tanks.
Christine the shop-owner
Christine is a proud roadside shop-owner selling fruit and vegetables, among other products. She is a born businesswoman with a personality that could overflow a room. After hearing about M-KOPA over the radio, she waited eagerly and waved down an M-KOPA vehicle passing the area in order to buy one.
Before buying M-KOPA, Christine used two kerosene lamps to light up her store – a significant business expense. When her phone, used to order stock and make sales, ran out of battery, she would lock up shop for three hours to walk to her neighbour’s, hoping they were home to help charge her phone. The kerosene lamps, which have now gathered dust in the corner of her store, have been replaced by M-KOPA. Her torch helps her to walk home safely at night, her radio blasting during the day attracts customers and her phone charger means she never has to leave her shop, giving her time to sell more. As a true businesswoman, she now charges customers’ phones for $0.10 per charge, helping people in the area and helping her pay off the device.
After six months with her M-KOPA Solar device, Christine has saved and made enough money to renovate and expand her store, as well as support her two children and their families. Although this was largely a result of Christine’s individual business savvy, M-KOPA provided her with the platform to grow her business and improve her livelihood.
Eunice the side-hustler
Eunice is a struggling single mother of three who is forced to run a series of side-businesses (aka “side-hustles” in Kenya) to make enough money for the basics of food, water, and shelter.
Living in the isolated eastern foothills of Machakos, where getting clean water means travelling 5km across mountainous terrain, Eunice does what she can from breaking quarry stones and making mud bricks for construction, to growing herbs and crops for sale.
Through a woman’s chama, an informal finance vehicle where individuals pull funds together, Eunice was able to buy an M-KOPA device.
For Eunice there was no electricity where she lives and providing lighting for her family was a costly luxury. When night comes her home would become “lifeless,” quiet and inactive waiting for the light of day.
M-KOPA’s home system gives her family the simple luxury of a common lit area where they eat, talk and laugh together. It also gives her children the confidence to go to the bathroom alone.
Despite the fact that Eunice does not have a stable income, she is committed to make her daily payments to keep the lights on in her home. Far from ideal, this highlights the challenge M-KOPA faces as a social business managing the tension between profits and impact.
Jane the home-keeper
Jane is a wife and mother of four children. Her family lives in an isolated North-Eastern village in Kangundo – an hour from Machakos along a rocky dirt road. Her husband works at a local quarry and she tends to their two cows and chickens to supplement their livelihoods.
For Jane, M-KOPA initially meant a device for affordable solar power. But after paying off the solar device, she found another opportunity through the company to purchase a 1000L water tank.
The closest watering hole for Jane is 1.5km across rocky terrain. Providing water for her family normally requires her to make the trip every 2-3 days – back-breaking work that she is becoming too old to manage.
Now with the water tank from M-KOPA, which she is paying for using the same daily rate of $0.50, Jane only needs to make the trips to the watering hole once every two weeks or over the weekends when her children can help. She can rest her back, knowing that she has enough water to wash clothes, drink, cook and feed her cattle. The water tank has also given her the opportunity to help her neighbours when they are short of water, which she does regularly. She credits M-KOPA’s payment system for allowing her to afford a water tank like this and giving her the security of a sufficient water supply.
This weekend in Machakos was a remarkable and an eye-opening experience for me. It became evident that M-KOPA is an example of a social business that undoubtedly operates at the nexus of profit-making and impact-generating. However, operating at this nexus also generates its own set of challenges – even for these three women. For instance, Christine has since had to fend off people looking to steal her M-KOPA device jealous of her success. Eunice has had to deal with the shame from family and friends of owning a device that she occasionally cannot pay off and Jane has had to trust that her family can maintain payments to pay-off the water tank over the long run, whilst taking care of a large family.
However, there is no doubt that this one solar business, established on an innovative for-profit business model, means a lot to these three women and has had a positive impact on their livelihoods overall. Now revisiting my initial question I have more confidence in knowing that despite the challenges that exist in social business, for-profit businesses can really do social good.
Skoll Scholar, online Maria Springer, shop reflects on her classes during the Oxford MBA programme.
Economies can, patient and indeed should, work for everyone. While studying the MBA, I realised that all business is social business and that no business is all good or all bad. Every company has a choice. Companies can operate ethically and value social impact and environmental responsibility while maximising bottom-line profits. Of course, this choice is not a one-time decision. Companies must make and reaffirm this choice at the most senior levels of leadership on a continuous basis, not because they should, but rather because it’s good for business. With this understanding of social business, small, medium and large public companies can indeed be a force for good.
In Strategic Human Resources Management, I learned how wages, equity ownership, and benefits can motivate employees to deliver exceptional results. In Leadership, I learned how executives, investors, bankers and shareholders can deliver social impact without jeopardising financial performance. In Private Equity, I learned how companies can form a diverse Board of Directors to increase shareholder value. In Supply Chain Management, I learned how reliable suppliers, ethical manufacturing standards and robust environmental policies can make or break a company’s reputation and viability. And, in Strategic Brand Management, I learned how companies can defy unhealthy marketing standards to create engaged and loyal audiences.
I am walking away from the MBA a pragmatist, but also an optimist. I am clear that no business is all good or all bad; even Patagonia, Tesla, and Whole Foods get it wrong sometimes. I am also hopeful that companies are being forced to correct where they may have been wrong. Acting responsibly is becoming a business norm, required by clients and consumers alike. In response to the market, Wal-Mart, Shell and Monsanto have been forced to transform their operating practices and image in recent years.
Pragmatism and optimism feels more relevant than ever. After the fatal shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by United States police, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has gained unprecedented momentum as voices of outrage, fear, pain and frustration dominate the media cycle. Yet, I also see hope. Black-owned banks have witnessed an unprecedented number of depositors. Policy and social movements can be powerful solutions to widespread discrimination, but so can businesses that step up to address racism, inequality, and environmental injustice.
Throughout the year, as I walked into formals at colleges hundreds of years older than my country, I felt immense privilege. As a Skoll Scholarship recipient, I have been afforded immense privilege and as a white citizen of the United States, I was born with immense privilege. As I prepare for graduation, conscious of my privilege and the complex world we live in, I am encouraged that my classmates and I have been equipped with the tools required to start, run and grow businesses that will play a role in constructing just, equal and sustainable global systems.
Lara Barbier is a writer/producer for Be Inspired Films, an award winning video production company aiming to bring great ideas to life and tell stories that matter through the creation of broadcast quality video and animation.
So, you’ve got that kick-ass idea, and you’re ready to harness the power of crowd funding! That’s great. Crowdfunding is potentially a really powerful way for the average person or small organization to launch their music, game, film or product without the traditional finance and commercial backing that multi-nationals and corporations have. It can also be a great way to get people to support a cause.
However launching a successful campaign isn’t always straightforward, in fact, according to Crowdfunding Academy , around 60% of projects fail.A successful campaign requires lots of planning, a well thought through timeline, some very important social media sharing triggers, a little bit of luck and – a killer video!
As Kickstarter succinctly puts, projects with a video are 50% more likely to succeed than those without, while John Vaskis an Indiegogo ‘Games Guru’ says that campaigns with videos raise, on average, 114 per cent more than those without.
The video is the elevator pitch – it’s going to tell your story and should entertain, but also make people care and want to be involved in the process – preferably by a pledge and/or by sharing your project with their friends.
It doesn’t matter if you’re recording on an iPhone or on a top-range DSLR – take time to plan your video before going anywhere near that shiny recording device.Watch lots of other crowd funding videos, both successful and not, and think about why they did or did not work.
Once you’ve done your research you’ll want to write out a script and shot list, and practice what you’re going to say, so it sounds engaging and sincere. Reel SEO offers these five points as the backbone for the structure of your crowd-funding video:
Your Project’s Story
We would probably add a couple of things to that. It can also be very powerful to clearly define the problem you are seeking to solve through what you are doing and then offer your solution, this can get people on board if they can identify with the problem. While it’s great to include possible rewards – don’t list them all! Pick your top two to three.
This leads to the next point – keep your video short and sweet.You need to be respectful of your viewer’s time – and grab their imagination up front. As Entrepreneur.com points out, you have the rest of the project page to expand on the details, don’t try and cram it all into the video!
You don’t have to be the next Michael Bay to make a great video. According to Kickstarter, it doesn’t have to perfect, it just has to be you. That said, you do need your videos to be of a good enough quality to capture and keep the attention of your audience. Poor sound and lighting can be a big turn off, just as much as an unplanned, monotone speech.
But don’t be afraid to try out bold ideas or mix it up. The best place to try out innovative ideas is usually at the start of your video says Crowdsourcing.org, and cites The Bridge as a good example launching straight into the action, before going to the who, how, when, why of the film project. Be creative – but also test it out on people who will tell you straight up if it works for them (your mum does not count)!
Finally, have some fun – and let your enthusiasm and passion shine through – this project means a lot to you and perhaps exists because of the way you or your friends and family live life. A great example of this is Gotham Bicycle Defense, who created a theft resistant bike light after a friend was hit by car after having his light stolen one night.Or “Boombot REX Ultraportable Speaker” campaign on Kickstarter , which, as Crowdsourcing.org point out, sells an out-doors lifestyle just as much as the product.
All eyes in the crowd widened in awe as Professor Coussios introduced the two companies he founded during his time in Oxford. The fist of the two, OrganOx Ltd, founded in 2008, has developed a novel normothermic perfusion device for improved liver preservation prior to transplantation through to first-in-man trials and first sales. Following this success, In 2014, Coussios co-founded OxSonics Ltd, which is developing a new generation of ultrasound-based medical devices for drug delivery and minimally invasive surgery.
Following this fascinating summary of his entrepreneurial success in the field of biomedical science, Professor Coussios moved on quickly and took a universal approach to the advice he offered. He engaged directly and effectively with the diverse audience by breaking down what he believed were some of the tools necessary to build any type of business.
COUSSIOS TOP 5’s FOR ENTREPRENEURS
Professor Coussios’ explained 5 key questions that everyone thinking of embarking on an entrepreneurial business venture should ask themselves:
Do I have a great idea?
Am I passionate about translating this idea?
Can I handle uncertainty?
Am I investable ?
Can I assemble a great team?
Professor Coussios concluded this lecture on an inspiring note. Quoting Jeff Bezos on the essence of the entrepreneurial character, he said: “I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not trying.”
To hear all of Professor Coussios’s top tips, watch his full lecture here.
Building a Business is a nine-week lecture series designed to teach the fundamentals of developing a business. To watch past lectures or find out what’s up next, click here.
Sabre Collier is a Skoll Scholar and one of our Shell Foundation Fellows. She shares with us reflections from Johannesburg, see where she is working with GroFin. GroFin finances small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Africa.
I had the interesting experience recently of taking a preliminary GIIRS/ B Corp assessment. For those not familiar:
GIIRS is a ratings agency and analytics platform for impact investors and B Corp certification is to sustainable business what LEED certification is to green building or Fair Trade certification is to coffee.
B Corps are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.Today, there is a growing community of more than 600 Certified B Corps from 15 countries and 60 industries working together toward 1 unifying goal: to redefine success in business (Read more).
The experience was interesting because it reveals some of the complexity and trade-offs that will increasingly be faced as impact investing and social business become more and more sophisticated and industrialized.
In general, I support the idea of the B Corp and GIIRS Rating as they are vital to sector development and positively changing the nature of business and finance. Also, the assessment was very comprehensive and useful for business improvement. I would highly encourage fellow entrepreneurs to use it even if just to gain better perspective on one’s business model. The assessment must have had 100 items from governance to transparency to worker rights to LEED certification to employee training to staff diversity to environmental responsibility to infinitely more.
However, the rigor of such an assessment, particularly for small and growing businesses in low-income communities and countries, may be a bit unrealistic. How do we ensure higher standards without precluding more economically disadvantaged segments who can’t afford to invest in LEED certified buildings or paid worker training, etc? How many organizations from this segment have limited growth just because they lack awareness, capacity or tools for impact tracking and measurement and how do we change this? Note that we have to to take this in consideration when it comes to both organizations and individuals or the social impact space will not fulfill its potential to empower the most vulnerable.
In their favor, GIIRS and B Corp do actually take these challenges into consideration and thus, assessments have stratifications with different criteria.
The very existence of these rating systems underscore the increasing sophistication of social impact measurement. Back in the day, when primarily non-profits and NGOs were delivering social impact programming, social impact measurement had only a few tools and smaller sets of indicators. As the private sector has increasingly embraced shared value and the third sector has sought more commercial approaches to impact, rigor has increased. We all know what gets measured gets done. In the private sector, performance indicators can be narrowed down at the most granular level to make decisions about a store, a program or an employee.
As the social impact space continues to grow with the emergence of new corporate and social ventures, impact data is also increasing. This creates a network effect which will possibly make disclosing a broader and broader array of social impacts a requirement for impact investors and social businesses. The small set of indicators reported within an annual report are useful but with GIIRS and B Corp, the indicators encapsulate the life of the business or organization.
This holds them accountable for the broader social mission they uphold, not just their programs, but their whole business model and operations. For example, if an organizational mission is advancing professional outcomes for disadvantaged groups, then their HR policies would theoretically show some inclusion of this target and some specific growth opportunities, such as training. If solar plant manufacturer’s mission is environmental sustainability, then this is shown in both the number of panels produced but also in their sourcing and transport systems. For a long time, social businesses and organizations could simply focus on the core indicators but it is more tactical to ensure mission is aligned with operations at every level. This will be critical as much more transparency and measurement become the norm.
In the long run, this will certainly be a good thing. It will force businesses and organizations that are already doing good to do better. However, it will bring additional costs and time requirements. For impact investors serving small and growing businesses, we will have to make special effort to help them through this process because their impact is immense and deserves to be better reflected. For impact investors and social businesses at large, align operations with impact to bring your “A Game”.