SubBlog Header

Whether it’s at the country, corporate or individual level, this blog considers how to gauge and measure impact.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Weekly Roundup 1/27/13: Social Entrepreneurs, Davos and making infrastructure sexy

By Scott Anderson

The rarified air and the elites who occupy it during the World Economic Forum in snowy Davos, Switzerland always receive their fair share of criticism.

This week guest writer Yotam Ariel took a shot or two at the big international conference and what he saw as the mere pretense of impact around solar energy. A few hours after Ariel’s post was published, I noticed this piece by Erica Dhawan, a consultant and keynote speaker whose role is defined as a “global shaper” at the WEF. Based on her experience with an educational social enterprise selling e-learning tools in India, Dhawan warns against over-romanticising the social entrepreneur. “The concept of social enterprise, so attractive in sites like Davos, tends to fall apart when we actually step outside the Western world.”

She makes a clear-eyed request to Davos’ leaders: “Let’s remove the bubbly champagne and shrimp cocktail, turn the social enterprise mafia into an assessment team in India, and examine social enterprises for both their strengths and limitations–that is resilient dynamism.”

“Resilient dynamism” was the theme of this year’s WEF, incidentally. And as Reuters columnist John C Abell pointed out, dynamism means much more than than a seductive product. He makes this point through the case of One Laptop Per Child, the nonprofit supplying low-income children with rugged, energy efficient laptops. Yes, I know. OLPC is whipping boy of sorts, but it was the darling of Davos in 2006. (For additional information on OLPC’s future, check out Sadna Samaranayake’s excellent post from 2011).

Abell reports that OLPC had given away 2.4 million of its XO laptops by the end of 2011. But the real game-changing mobile technology - smartphones - has nearly rendered the XO laptop a relic. Instead of another base of the pyramid gadget, Abell makes the well-reasoned case for an Internet access “moonshot.”

“The way to spread the wealth isn’t by putting a computer in every child’s lap; it’s by putting the Internet everywhere—even in places where there is no potable water. Villages, neighborhoods, fruit stands—even people—can become hotspots, sharing the wealth that computers promise.

Ariel, Dhawan and Abell all make excellent points, and I don’t think they’re making them in vain. Anecdotally, there seems to be a noticeable shift in how social entrepreneurs are approaching lasting and sustainable impact, and the mechanism is infrastructure. As one indicator, take a look at the social entrepreneurs attending Davos this year with the Schwab Foundation for its annual meeting. The vast majority of these 29 leaders have focused on leveraging infrastructure for social good, be it in finance, energy, agriculture, education, health, youth employment or financial inclusion, to name a few. (Some of their stories are shared in the video below).

Many of these enterprises are serving multiple stakeholders, and positioning themselves as a linchpin between consumers and larger companies, or government services for that matter. That’s a very valuable place to operate.

So, I would second Abell on his assessment that when it comes to spreading wealth, “the gateway drug will be the gateway itself.” 

 

 

In Case You Missed It ... This Week on NextBillion 

 

Special Series (Part 1): BPO for the BoP – defining Impact Sourcing and its potential to boost employment opportunity By Sateen Sheth — WDI

Mozambique : Is impact investment the answer for agribusiness? By Iulia Sandu

Special Series (Part 2): BPO for the BoP – The need for (and promise of) Impact Sourcing By Sateen Sheth — WDI

A Deal with the Devil?: Should health care advocates partner with “Big Food”? By Lisa Smith — WDI

A Doctor in your Pocket: The medical potential of smart phones By Jeevan Kumar

Put Down the Champagne, Pick Up the Computer Mouse: For solar power to reach poor consumers, the focus must be on results By Yotam Ariel

Part 1: What Really Happens at a BoP Clinic?: A new study shows surprising results By Rose Reis

A Changemaker's Secret: The Role of Self-permission in Changemaking By Laxmi Parthasarathy — Ashoka

Friendly URL: 
comments powered by Disqus
  • Managing Partners

    William Davidson Institute
  • Sponsoring Partner

    Citi Foundation
  • Content Partners

    Ashoka
  • Content Partners

    IADB
  • Content Partners

    MercyCorps

Have an Idea for a Story?Have an Idea for a Story?

Make A Suggestion

TrendingTrending

Social MediaSocial Media

Facebook Twitter

Story Snapshot

CLOSE