Tag Archives for " social enterprise "

The path to altruism and a better world

altruismA review of A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

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Nicholas Kristof is one of the most-honored journalists of our time. He’s regarded by many of his peers as the “moral conscience of journalism” for his decades-long work exposing human rights abuses and human trafficking. Among a plethora of other awards and distinctions, Kristof received a Pulitzer Prize in 1990 along with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, for their reporting on the student democracy movement in China and the Tiananmen Massacre. Kristof is best known today for his twice-weekly New York Times Op-Ed column, which I read without fail. Bill and Melinda Gates even credit one of Kristof’s columns with pointing them toward an emphasis on world health in their philanthropic work.

A Path Appears is the fourth book to appear by Kristof and WuDunn and in some ways the most ambitious. Two earlier works grew out of their reporting from China. Then they wrote Half the Sky, a New York Times bestseller that explored the oppression and the potential of women to build a better world. In A Path Appears, the couple set their sights higher:

“So many social problems in the twenty-first century seem intractable and insoluble. We explore Mars and embed telephones in wristwatches, but we can’t keep families safe in inner cities. We can map subatomic particles such as gluons, and we can design robots that drive cars, respond to speech, and defeat grandmasters in chess, but we grudgingly accept failure in our struggles to keep kids in school, off drugs, and out of gangs.”

Through snapshots of extraordinary individuals who building large-scale, mission-driven enterprises, both for-profit and nonprofit, Kristof and WuDunn demonstrate the capacity of the human race to prevail against our most deep-seated social and economic challenges. However, they are by no means cheerleaders for knee-jerk philanthropic efforts to right the world’s wrongs; they devote considerable effort to discussing the many missteps that others have taken along the same road, and they acknowledge that massive resources have been squandered in failing attempts by outsiders to improve the lives of the poor.

At its most venturesome, A Path Appears is an attempt to determine why some people are altruistic and what can be done to raise the level of compassion in the world. Kristof and WuDunn interview cognitive scientists and even undergo brain scans themselves to gain better understanding of the chemical basis of altruism. Their exploration leads to conclusions few readers will find surprising: that helping others makes us feel good about ourselves, and that philanthropy is its own reward.

However, the authors deplore the failure of the nonprofit sector to achieve scale. “Researchers from the Bridgespan Group wrote in the Stanford Social Innovation Review that more than 200,000 nonprofits have started since 1975, but that by 2008 only 201 had reached annual revenues of $50 million. In a similar time frame, more than 46,000 for-profit corporations broke the $50 million barrier.” Kristof and WuDunn note in passing that for-profit companies have the potential to be more sustainable than nonprofits. Unfortunately, they don’t acknowledge the implications of this contrast: that market-driven models hold far more promise for addressing global problems at scale than do philanthropic ones. If there’s a flaw in this book, that’s it.

However, for a general audience seeking answers to how the human race can thrive in the face of the world-class challenges facing us, A Path Appears is a brilliant survey of what’s possible. In the final analysis, as Kristof and WuDunn conclude, “Our efforts at altruism have a mixed record of success at helping others, but they have an almost perfect record of helping ourselves.”





What makes social change happen?

social changeA review of The Social Labs Revolution: A New Approach to Solving Our Most Complex Challenges, by Zaid Hassan

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“Planning based-approaches — so common across government, civil society, and even business — represent a neo-Soviet paradigm” and have long been shown to be at best minimally effective in fostering meaningful social change.

If that assertion is a revelation to you, you’re sure to find The Social Labs Revolution illuminating. No matter how familiar you may be with economic development, urban planning, or other fields in which disciplined planning is a fixture, you’re likely to discover something new in this challenging book.

The author, Zaid Hassan, has built a consulting business on the basis of his belief that, instead of “strategic planning” by “experts,” the world’s most urgent and compelling problems can be solved only by bringing together large, diverse teams representing every aspect of the population that is most directly affected. Working together over months or years as a “social lab,” a team consisting of as many as 36 people struggles together but, eventually, and after considerable conflict and unhappiness, will arrive at a set of practical approaches to prototype as the first stage in solving the problem they share. At its core, a social lab is characterized in three ways: it’s social, it’s experimental, and it’s systemic (in that the ideas that emerge “aspire to be systemic in nature.”). Work within the lab is based on the “U Process” championed by Otto Scharmer.

The problems Hassan and his colleagues choose to address are invariably deep-seated and often life-threatening. The Social Labs Revolution focuses on three long-running experiments, one on sustainable food, a second on malnutrition in urban children (specifically, those living in Maharashtra state in India), and the third on stabilizing the (notoriously unstable) nation of Yemen. For example, the first of these three, a Sustainable Food Lab, was global in scope and participation, bringing together participants from government (Brazil, The Netherlands), civil society (World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy), and corporate food companies (Unilever, General Mills) who worked together for two years. The author credits the team with putting “sustainability” on the radar screens of global food companies.

As Hassan concedes, his consultancy, Reos Partners, is not alone in advancing the social lab technology. He also mentions a Chilean innovation, SociaLab, which addresses new enterprises to alleviate poverty, and the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT, and points to a number of similar though less structured examples such as Greenpeace’s Mobilisation Lab, set in motion “‘to break through and win on threats to people and the planet.'”

The Social Labs Revolution is blissfully short and easy to digest, with the exception of an annoying digression into an academic discussion of the philosophy underlying the social labs concept. I don’t know about you, but whenever I come across repeated references (13 of them) to the philosopher Martin Heidegger and his disciples, or any other recognizable name from the ranks of dead white philosophers, I head for the exits. Instead of that digression, I would have enjoyed a more detailed discussion of the results that emerged from the three social labs mentioned most prominently in the book. What Hassan offers is spotty and inadequate.

Nitpicking: Someone — the author, the editor, or the proofreader, I know not who, or what potential combination of them — seems to believe that Jack Welch was “the legendary CEO of General Motors.” Fact-checker, please!



Innovation: Look beyond Silicon Valley


Today the popular website Virgin Disruptors, one of Richard Branson’s innumerable activities, posted the following article of mine under the title “Innovation — Look beyond Silicon Valley.” I had answered the challenging question, “Have entrepreneurs lost the will to innovate?”

Innovation is alive and well among entrepreneurs—but not so much where you’d expect.

Take Silicon Valley, for example—a place long considered virtually synonymous with innovation.

Twelve companies originating from that hotbed of invention during the past decade have achieved market valuations of $1 billion or more, presumably marking them as the most successful of the lot. Five are what I would term utilities, companies that provide online services that compete with similar free offerings available from Google or open source nonprofits (MongoDB, Evernote, Dropbox, Box, and Automattic). Four provide consumer services (Lending Club, Airbnb, Square, and Uber). The others provide social networking (Pinterest), big data analytics (Palantir Technologies), and flash memory storage (Pure Storage).

Of these dozen companies, only two are true market disruptors: Lending Club, which enables peer-to-peer loans, and Square, a mobile payment service. Both undermine the financial services industry (which can use some competition!). Just two companies—out of the dozen most successful, with hundreds, perhaps thousands of other ventures that have fallen fall short of the billion-dollar mark. Are some of these truly innovative? Probably. But take a look around Silicon Valley, and you’ll find the majority of would-be entrepreneurs are navel-gazing to dream up pointless apps that solve nobody’s problems.

So, where are entrepreneurs innovating in ways that make a difference in people’s lives? Where is innovation alive and well?

Call it the Global South, the developing nations, the emerging economies, or whatever you will. That’s where.

Innovation that matters

Most people who live in the developing nations of Africa, Asia, and to a lesser degree in other regions are extremely poor. All told, more than 2.7 billion people live on $2 a day or less. They represent two-thirds of the population of India (about 800 million) and seventy percent (600 million) of the people of sub-Saharan Africa. In those regions, real innovation—innovation that improves people’s lives, and doesn’t just make money for the inventors—must address the challenges faced by people in poverty. To an extent that most of us who live in the rich nations of the North are likely to find surprising, resilient and resourceful Africans and South Asians are putting Silicon Valley to shame.

So, just as we took Silicon Valley as emblematic of entrepreneurial innovation in the North, we’ll look to sub-Saharan Africa for counterpoint—surely, the region where most of us living in the world’s richest countries have been taught to least expect business smarts to emerge. So, here’s just a smattering of recently founded African companies and their products or services for the poor:

  • EGG-energy (Tanzania) wires homes and businesses and furnishes them with reliable electricity using rechargeable batteries, charged at central locations where customers exchange them for new ones—at half the cost of energy from the local (highly unreliable) grid.
  • MPedigree and Sproxil (piloted in Ghana) use scratch-off codes with a phone number a customer may text to learn whether a medicine is authentic—in a region where thirty percent of drugs are counterfeit.
  • Moladi (South Africa) builds modular urban homes in under a week around a plastic skeleton around which a mold is fastened and a concrete-like mixture is poured. The Moladi system is in wide use building affordable and low-cost housing, “training the unemployed to house the homeless.”
  • M-PESA (Kenya) provides two-thirds of Kenya’s population with a banking and person-to-person funds transfer service using text messaging on mobile phones; the company is now beginning to expand globally.
  • Medic Mobile (launched in Malawi) provides health personnel with the tools to deliver critical information such as health alerts and the availability of drugs and to receive progress reports from patients who live hours or days away from clinics.
  • Bridge International Academies (Kenya) operates hundreds of bare-bones private schools that offer consistent, quality education for $5 per child per month, supplanting ineffective and unreliable public schools.
  • Solar Sister (Uganda, South Sudan, Rwanda) provides affordable, solar energy to unserved villages in rural Africa through a direct sales network that empowers women as entrepreneurs.
  • Shujazz (Kenya) is a comic book and FM radio station reaching young people with stories full of advice on how to make money and improve their lives.
  • Other companies in the region offer such agricultural innovations as crop insurance indexed to climate indicators, paying out to farmers if rainfall is inadequate; cooperative farming projects that enlist small farmers in collectives that achieve the scale to employ modern agricultural techniques to raise crops for export; and databases of critical agricultural information (crop prices, pests, rainfall patterns, opportunities to buy and sell) via mobile phones.

Where do all these exciting new ventures come from? Some are from innovation hubs (call them incubators, if you will), both public and private, throughout the region: iHub (Kenya), Akendewa (Cote d’Ivoire), Jokkolabs (Senegal), EtriLabs (Benin), and many others. Yet other innovations spring whole from the minds of brilliant (if often unschooled) individuals like William Kamkwamba, a 13-year-old Malawian boy who used ancient physics textbooks to teach himself how to build a windmill on his parents’ farm that furnished power for irrigation and increased the family’s agricultural output by a factor of five.

Most of the examples cited here can be found, along with others, in an excellent new book, The Bright Continent: Breaking Rules and Making Change in Modern Africa, by Dayo Olopade. [Note: I recently reviewed this book here.]

In places where so many things are dysfunctional or entirely unavailable, innovation isn’t just a good way to make money—it’s a necessity.

Stay tuned: you’re going to see a whole lot more come out onto the market from Africa, South Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe—and anywhere else people are forced to do what they can with what little they’ve got.

An optimistic view of economic change in Africa

economic change

The Bright Continent: Breaking Rules and Making Change in Modern Africa, by Dayo Olopade

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It starts with the title itself—Dayo Olopade’s challenge to the prevailing sentiment that sub-Saharan Africa today is little different in its essence from the “dark continent” perceived by nineteenth century colonialists. In The Bright Continent, Olopade catalogs an impressive number of innovative businesses, social sector ventures, and even an occasional government initiative that contribute to the fast growth of this long-underestimated region.

To put Olopade’s story in context, the World Bank recently announced that economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to rise from 4.7 percent in 2013 to 5.2 percent in 2014, compared to 3.5 percent globally. And the CIA World Factbook lists eight African countries among the twenty fast-growing nations in the world in 2013. However, these numbers must be interpreted with caution, since the measurement of economic indicators in most countries in the region is notoriously unreliable (as economist William Easterly reminded us in The Tyranny of Experts), and growth in GDP or even GDP per capita doesn’t necessarily mean that life is getting better for the seventy percent of sub-Saharan Africans (600 million) who live on $2 a day or less. Still, there is clearly a lot going on in Africa these days, and it’s time for the world to pay much closer attention.

Olopade, a first-generation Nigerian-American whose parents, both physicians, have roots in rural Nigeria, brings a fresh and well-grounded perspective to the project. She refuses to accede to conventional word usage, rejecting terms such as “developing country,” “emerging nation,” “poor country,” and “rich country” in favor of her own constructions. One is the term “fail state,” connoting a country whose government fails to deliver essential services but is not a “failed state,” which she applies only to Somalia. Another is the distinction between “lean economies” and “fat economies.” (You can guess which is which. Not a bad way to look at things, is it?) She also organizes her material around a clever device she calls mapping, relating new developments in terms of five “maps” that dominate the reality of Africa today: Family, Technology, Commerce, Nature, and Youth. These five maps “showcase the unique institutions that bind black Africa together and are building its bright future,” Olopade writes.

Permeating the book is the concept of kanju, a term in the Nigerian language Yoruba that the author loosely translates as “hustle,” “strive,” “know how,” or “make do.” In practice, kanju means bending the rules and devising workarounds — a concept similar to the Hindi and Urdu term jugaad, which also is often used to characterize the unconventional solutions that people come up with out of necessity.

Here are just a few of the many recent ventures featured in The Bright Continent, every one of them an example of kanju in action:

  • EGG-energy (Tanzania) wires homes and businesses and furnishes them with reliable electricity using rechargeable batteries, charged at central locations where customers exchange them for new ones—at half the cost of energy from the local (highly unreliable) grid.
  • MPedigree and Sproxil (piloted in Ghana) use scratch-off codes with a phone number a customer may text to learn whether a medicine is authentic—in a region where thirty percent of drugs are counterfeit.
  • M-PESA (Kenya) provides two-thirds of Kenya’s population with a banking and person-to-person funds transfer service using text messaging on mobile phones.
  • Bridge International Academies (Kenya) operates hundreds of bare-bones private schools that offer consistent, quality education for $5 per child per month, supplanting ineffective and unreliable public schools.

Olopade emphasizes that virtually everywhere in the region, national governments are “a constant impediment to development progress,” typically ignored if possible and almost universally disdained. (She reports that ninety-two percent of the businesses in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city with a population now estimated at 21 million, operate outside the law.) Rwanda is an outlier. There, the autocratic government of Paul Kagame enforces rapid and orderly development free of corruption in a pattern similar to that of Lee Kwan Yew in Singapore in decades past. Visitors to Rwanda, including friends of mine, note the surprise they registered when they learned that “everything works there.” The country is on a fast track toward middle income despite (some might say because of) a lack of high-priced natural resources.

The author does have blind spots. I detected a couple of errors in her reporting, and, more consequentially, she seems to have been bamboozled by Columbia economist Jeffrey Sachs, the driving force behind the ill-fated Millennium Villages Project. Olopade refers to the project respectfully, although the available evidence points to the effort as a dismal failure. (The full story is told beautifully and authoritatively by Nina Munk in The Idealist, a biography of Dr. Sachs that focuses on the village project.)

In researching this book, Olopade, a journalist, spent many months traveling across the continent to observe the promising changes underway and interview the bright, resourceful, and usually young innovators who are creating change in one of the world’s most tradition-bound areas.

February 17, 2014

The true story of Ben & Jerry’s fight to build a responsible company

responsible companyIce Cream Social: The Struggle for the Soul of Ben & Jerry’s by Brad Edmondson

@@@@@ (5 out of 5)

One of my most vivid memories of the dozens of Social Venture Network (SVN) conferences I’ve attended over the years was seeing Ben Cohen walking into the dining hall in 2000, in tears over the sale of Ben & Jerry’s to Unilever. I went over to hug him — that’s the sort of thing you do at SVN conferences — and as he sobbed I said something stupid like “Look at it this way, Ben. You walked away with a s**tload of money.” ($41 million, actually.) Ben was not consoled.

As I recall, I first saw Ben Cohen sitting in a circle at an SVN conference in 1991. (Anita Roddick was sitting next to me, literally bouncing up and down, impatient to speak.) Not to put too fine an edge on it, I was star-struck. We didn’t speak then, but within short order I found opportunities to ask Ben about some of the innovations he’d introduced to Ben & Jerry’s to advance social justice. I learned a great deal from him, with profound results for my company when I later put those lessons into action.

In the ensuing years — SVN’s four-day conferences were held twice annually — I got to know Ben as a person rather than a star. He invited me to join him on the board of his organization, One Percent for Peace, and I became engaged in the negotiations to merge that small venture into Business for Social Responsibility, of which we’d both been co-founders in 1992 (along with a cast of dozens). At one point, believe it or not, this marketing genius even hired me to do some marketing work for his company’s huge nationwide campaign in support of the Children’s Defense Fund. Much later, I felt comfortable enough with Ben that I was able to talk him into putting his name as my coauthor on a book I was writing for SVN, published in 2006 as Values-Driven Business: How to Change the World, Make Money, and Have Fun.

Despite this unusual degree of access to Ben, and strong relationships with a number of mutual friends, I wasn’t aware of what had really happened in the tumultuous days leading up to the sale of the company, much less in the thirteen years that followed. None of the several books I’d read about Ben & Jerry’s had helped at all. Now I believe I know . . . well, a lot, though certainly not everything, thanks to Brad Edmondson’s excellent new book, Ice Cream Social. Edmondson’s subtitle, The Struggle for the Soul of Ben & Jerry’s, is right on target, melodramatic though it may seem at first glance.

Much of the author’s information and contacts came from Jeff Furman, who, little known outside, was effectively Ben and Jerry’s third partner in founding the company. In fact, factoring in both Ben’s and Jerry’s long absences  — Jerry through several years in the 1980s, and both of them through most of the 2000s — Jeff is in all likelihood the only person (at least at a senior level) who has stayed with Ben & Jerry’s throughout its history. A board member for many years now, he has served as chair since 2010. Jeff is fiercely dedicated to social and economic justice — and a nice guy to boot.

Ice Cream Social details Ben, Jeff, and Jerry’s halting journey through the 1980s toward shaping the three-part mission that the company has been known for since 1988: making the best ice cream in the world; supporting causes that promote economic, social, and environmental change; and taking into account all the company’s stakeholders when making business decisions. Ben publicly called this the “double bottom line.” Within the company, and in Ice Cream Social, the concept is termed “shared prosperity.”

For a quarter-century, Ben & Jerry’s has been an icon of socially responsible business — a movement that the company was a leading factor in creating — but through much of the decade following its sale in 2000 the company fell far short of its exemplary performance in the last century. Clueless executives placed in charge by Unilever progressively whittled away at all three pillars of the mission, deliberately lowering product quality, getting in the way of the social mission, and shoveling economic benefits toward the outsiders brought in as executives. Ice Cream Social is most compelling when telling the story of how Jeff Furman and his allies on the company’s board started fighting back against Unilever in 2007.

Aggressively holding the parent company to the precise terms of the extraordinary sales agreement Ben and his colleagues had negotiated, and holding the threat of a major lawsuit over their heads, the Ben & Jerry’s board ultimately succeeded in winning over Unilever’s top management — and, in the process, embedding some aspects of its uniquely progressive mission into the priorities of a $68 billion global conglomerate, the world’s third largest food company (after Nestle and Pepsico). Today, Ben & Jerry’s is once again a sparkling example of how a company under brilliant and visionary management can realize big profits not despite an aggressive social and environmental mission but because of it.

Though every company is unique, and the Ben & Jerry’s story is far more unusual than most, there are lessons to be learned from the company’s experience.

For starters, the differences in perspective between social entrepreneurs like Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield on the one hand and top executives at most large public corporations are profound. They can’t be bridged simply by briefings, educational sessions, or show-and-tell exercises. The differences lie on the level of values. B Corporations like Ben & Jerry’s express the personal values of their founders. Most big companies are still mired in the narrow-minded focus of Wall Street on short-term financial performance.

The hard bargaining between Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever, and the rocky relationship between the two companies after the sale, makes clear that good intentions are far from enough to preserve the unique character of a socially responsible company. The extraordinary sales agreement — a year and a half in the making — contained tough, enforceable provisions that made it a legal requirement for Unilever to operate Ben & Jerry’s in a manner that would maintain its unique and quirky character. Even so, the company was nearly driven into the ground over its first seven years as a subsidiary of Unilever, and it took extraordinary courage and disciplined action by Jeff Furman and others on the Ben & Jerry’s board to confront the reality and hold Unilever’s feet to the fire: genuine corporate responsibility doesn’t come easily in a classical corporate environment.

This book is included in my list of 29 good books about business history.

November 5, 2013

The case for Big Business: will Nike and Coca-Cola save the world?

rsz_111Everybody’s Business: The Unlikely Story of How Big Business Can Fix the World, by Jon Miller and Lucy Parker

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For the past three decades and more, a movement has been underway in the business community to incorporate concerns for people and the planet into the policies and practices of Big Business. Variously called socially responsible business, corporate social responsibility (CSR), the triple bottom line, or by many other imprecise names, this movement for change in the way business is conducted has gained great momentum during the past fifteen years. It’s the rare business school nowadays that lacks courses in CSR or related topics, and most of the larger schools have semi-autonomous institutes or centers devoted exclusively to this pursuit. Few major corporations fail to broadcast their adherence to CSR either in their communications to the public or with their own employees. CSR sells.

Regrettably, in most companies, CSR is cosmetic. Such programs typically include initiatives to lighten the company’s footprint on the environment, broaden employees’ engagement with the communities where they do business, or expand corporate philanthropy — programs that, in other words, are designed to make the company look good without changing anything meaningful. However, there is a small but growing number of major corporations (and many thousands of smaller businesses) in which the principle of the triple bottom line (“People, Planet, and Profit”) is now embedded in the decision-making process in every aspect of the company’s conduct. Those are the companies highlighted in Everybody’s Business.

In this fascinating, in-depth look at the mission-based operations of Nike, PepsiCo, IBM, GlaxoSmithKline, Google, and other major companies, Jon Miller and Lucy Parker have brought to light the increasingly common concern among Big Business leaders about the inadequacy and counter-productiveness of the late conservative economist Milton Friedman’s views that “the business of business is business” and that the only legitimate function of any for-profit company is to enrich its stockholders. A new generation of business leadership now coming to the fore is upending this conventional wisdom and reconceptualizing the reasons why their companies need to stay in business. In a number of the world’s biggest multinationals, that process of rethinking is leading them to the conclusion that their true purpose is to make the world a better place. The many brief case studies cited in this book are based largely on face-to-face interviews conducted all over the world, sometimes with a company’s CEO to highlight the firm’s new direction, sometimes with the hands-on manager of a beneficial initiative, sometimes with beneficiaries of the company’s commitment to share its resources (time, talent, and treasure). 

“Our proposition in this book,” the authors write, “is that if you want to fix the world, you’re better off harnessing the power of business than fighting it.”

As a survey of some of the most impressive Triple-Bottom-Line initiatives in today’s world, Everybody’s Business is superb. It’s obviously well researched, it’s well-written, and it’s structured in an engaging way. However, Miller and Parker stray far from their subject matter by appending a lengthy chapter about “the eleven conversations” that they assert dominate corporates’ concern for the future. The long, detailed typology of these eleven strategic topics — “enduring themes in the global debate, such as energy and climate change, education and skills, health and human rights” — is clearly an exercise in overreaching. This book would have been far stronger without it.

The authors are partners in a British corporate communications firm, the Brunswick Group. Lucy Parker’s previous experience was principally as a documentary filmmaker for the BBC and an executive coach. Jon Miller comes from the advertising world, where he served as strategy director for leading agencies, working with such companies as Coca-Cola and American Express and NGOs including Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and WWF. They spent two years together researching and writing Everybody’s Business.

My top five books about business (plus 25 others)

books about businessOf the dozens of books about business that I’ve read during the three-and-a-half years since I launched this blog, five books stand out. They remain fresh in my mind, and the lessons they teach continue to illuminate the path as I make my way through the thickets of the business world in all its dimensions, inside and out, variously as a social entrepreneur, impact investor, board member, adviser, and manager.

The five at the top

In alphabetical order by author’s last name

The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change the World, by John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan

The Power of Unreasonable People ranks with David Bornstein’s seminal work, How to Change the World, as a point of entry into the fascinating, and increasingly important, realm of social entrepreneurship. Written by two of the field’s leading voices, this excellent book covers the landscape, describing examples from virtually every area of interest in development, from healthcare to education to poverty eradication. In fact, the book is most rewarding in its presentation of vignettes of individual social enterprises, including interviews with many of their principals.

Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II, by Arthur Herman

Two extraordinary men — William S. Knudsen and Henry Kaiser — are the stars of this story, business impresarios who marshaled the stupendous numbers of men and women and the unprecedented mountains of raw materials that supplied the U.S. and its Allies with the weapons of war.

Infinite Vision: How Aravind Became the World’s Greatest Business Case for Compassion, by Pavithra Mehta and Suchitra Shenoy

This is the astonishing story of Aravind Eye Care, a nonprofit, family-run opthalmological empire based in South India that exceeds the standards of eye care in Britain and the US, pioneers in advanced opthalmology, trains eye surgeons from dozens of other countries — and consistently turns a profit. The book is beautifully written.

10The Self-Made Myth, and the Truth About How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed, by Brian Miller and Mike Lapham

The Self-Made Myth goes straight to the heart of the conservative argument that favors limited government and coddling the rich, striking at the movement’s fundamental values and assumptions with their origins in the work of novelist Ayn Rand.

The Devil’s Casino: Friendship, Betrayal, and the High Stakes Games Played Inside Lehman Brothers, by Vicky Ward

An intimate, inside look at the people of Lehman Brothers, the venerable Wall Street investment bank whose record-setting bankruptcy is widely credited with triggering the meltdown of 2008. Like the close-up portraits of the rich and famous that often appear in the pages of Vanity Fair, the magazine that employs the author, this book is nothing more, and nothing less, than a character study of homo sapiens wallstreetianus. Read it for an understanding of how greed — for money, for power, and for the power that money can buy — truly was the central factor at the root of the Great Recession.

Other business books I’ve enjoyed

Arranged in no particular order. Linked to reviews. 

Hell’s Cartel: IG Farben and the Making of Hitler’s War Machine, by Diarmuid Jeffreys

Rooftop Revolution: How Solar Power Can Save Our Economy — and our Planet — from Dirty Energy, by Danny Kennedy

Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution—From The Sopranos and The Wireto Mad Men and Breaking Bad, by Brett Martin

The Shareholder Value Myth: How Putting Shareholders First Harms Investors, Corporations, and the Public, by Lynn Stout

KaBoom! How One Man Built a Movement to Save Play, by Darrell Hammond

Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Methods Fail, by Paul Polak

Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Live — and Tell — the Best Stories Will Rule the Future, by Jonah Sachs

Social Entrepreneurship: What Everyone Needs to Know, by David Bornstein and Susan Davis

Rippling: How Social Entrepreneurs Spread Innovation Throughout the World, by Beverly Schwartz

The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation, by Jon Gertner

Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, by Steve Coll

Raising Eyebrows: A Failed Entrepreneur Finally Gets It Right, by Dal LaMagna

The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World, by Daniel Yergin

Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson

Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World, by Michael Lewis

All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis, by Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera

The Facebook Effect, by David Kirkpatrick

The Big Short, by Michael Lewis

Tribes, by Seth Godin

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, by Dan Heath and Chip Heath

Small Change: Why Business Won’t Save the World, by Michael Edwards

Losing the News: The Future of the News That Feeds Democracy, by Alex S. Jones

Googled: The End of the World as We Know It, by Ken Auletta

Fatal System Error: The Hunt for the New Crime Lords Who Are Bringing Down the Internet, by Joseph Menn

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel Pink

Narrowing global inequities: a reading list

Narrowing global inequitiesAs I’ve dug more deeply into the subject of global poverty in the course of writing The Business Solution to Poverty with Paul Polak, it has become increasingly clear to me that truly understanding how today’s glaring inequities have come about requires extensive knowledge in a wide array of topics, from Third World history to social psychology, development economics to the history of business and international trade.

Well, I confess I’m no expert in any of those fields. I’ve read widely in some, superficially in others, and I’m learning a lot.

My reading has emphasized economic history, the economics of poverty, colonialism, Third World development, social enterprise, and the ongoing debate about the impact of “foreign aid” (more properly, overseas development assistance). Along the way, I’ve reviewed in my blog many of the books I’ve read.

In previous posts, I’ve offered up reading lists on some of these subjects individually. Here, I’m sharing a compiled list. I’ve read all these books — some before I began my blog, so that I haven’t reviewed them. Where I’ve reviewed a book, you’ll find boldfacing and underlining that signifies a link to my review. The books are listed alphabetically by the author’s last name.

Banerjee, Abhijit, and Esther Duflo, Poor Economics A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty. PublicAffairs, 2011. 

Bing, Eric C., and Marc J. Epstein, Pharmacy on a Bicycle: Innovative Solutions for Global Health and Poverty. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013. 

Bornstein, David, How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas. Oxford University Press, 2007.

——, The Price of a Dream: The Story of the Grameen Bank. Oxford University Press, 2005.

——, and Susan Davis, Social Entrepreneurship: What Everyone Needs to Know. Oxford University Press, 2010.

Clark, Gregory, A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World. Princeton University Press, 2007.

Cohen, Ben, and Mal Warwick, Values-Driven Business: How to Change the World, Make Money, and Have Fun. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2006.

Collier, Paul, The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It. Oxford University Press, 2007.

Collins, Daryl, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford, and Orlanda Ruthven, Portfolios of the Poor: How the World’s Poor Live on $2 a Day. Princeton University Press, 2009.

Crutchfield, Leslie R., and Heather McLeod Grant, Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits, 2nd Edition. Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2012.

Diamond, Jared, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Viking Press, 2005.

Easterly, William, The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. Penguin Press, 2006.

Elkington, John, and Pamela Hartigan, The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change the World.Harvard Business Review Press, 2008.

Govindarajan, Vijay, and Chris Trimble, Reverse Innovation: Create Far From Home, Win Everywhere. Harvard Business Review Press, 2012.

Guha, Ramachandra, India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy. HarperCollins Publishers, 2007.

Hochschild, Adam, King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998.

Kamkwamba, William, and Bryan Mealer, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope. HarperCollins Publishers, 2009.

Kidder, Tracy, Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World. Random House,2003.

Kristof, Nicholas D., and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. Knopf, 2009.

Light, Paul Charles, The Search for Social Entrepreneurship. Brookings Institution Press2008.

Lynch, Kevin, and Julius Walls, Jr., Mission, Inc.: The Practitioner’s Guide to Social Enterprise. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2008.

Mehta, Pavithra, and Suchitra Shenoy, Infinite Vision: How Aravind Became the World’s Greatest Business Case for Compassion. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2011.  

Moyo, Dambisa, Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.

Newitz, Annalee, Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction. Doubleday, 2013. 

Polak, Paul, Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2006.

Prahalad, C. K., The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits. Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004.

Rifkin, Jeremy, The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power Is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World. Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. 

Sachs, Jeffrey D., The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time. Penguin Press, 2005.

Schwartz, BeverlyRippling: How Social Entrepreneurs Spread Innovation Throughout the World. Jossey-Bass Publishers,2012.

Sinclair, Hugh, Confessions of a Microfinance Heretic: How Microlending Lost Its Way and Betrayed the Poor. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2012. 

Sullivan, Nicholas P., You Can Hear Me Now: How Microloans and Cell Phones Are Connecting the World’s Poor to the Global Economy. Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2007.

Wrong, Michaela, It’s Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistle-Blower. HarperCollins Publishers, 2006.

Delivering healthcare to billions of the world’s poor


delivering healthcare: Pharmacy on a Bicycle by Eric C. Bing and Marc J. EpsteinPharmacy on a Bicycle: Innovative Solutions for Global Health and Poverty, by Eric C. Bing and Marc J. Epstein

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

Despite the widespread conviction that the state of the world is deplorable and getting worse by the day, the human race has made measurable, even dramatic progress in some important ways. The collective state of our health is the most telling example. In part because of the eradication of smallpox, the near elimination of polio, and the significant recent progress on HIV/AIDS, humanity in general is living longer and healthier lives. Average life expectancy at birth in India around 1950 was 38 years; today it is 65. In China, it was 41; today it is 77. Over the same period, average life expectancy in the United States has risen from 65 to approximately 80. Numbers can be misleading, but these tell a compelling story.

Building on this amazing success story, major institutions — the United Nations, the U.S. Government, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for example — have invested billions of dollars in recent years, targeting specific diseases, promoting the use of vaccines, and building public health infrastructure in developing nations. All these admirable efforts promise to continue the favorable trend in healthcare that has unfolded over the last half-century.

However, there is a hidden dimension in this picture. As Eric Bing and Marc Epstein explain in Pharmacy on a Bicycle, billions of poor people living in rural areas all too frequently fail to gain the benefit of these advances in healthcare. It’s fashionable to look on the world today from the perspective of the cities, but in spite of the massive migration of the last several decades, nearly half (49%) of the world’s population still resides in rural areas. Great numbers of these people live far from transportation hubs, often hours or even days of walking from the nearest road. It’s to these billions of people, nearly all of them desperately poor by American or European standards, that Bing and Epstein turn their attention in their illuminating little book.

Pharmacy on a Bicycle rests on a single, fundamental premise: “Most poor outcomes [in healthcare] are caused not by lack of effective medicines or medical know-how. The ability to prevent and treat many of these diseases inexpensively has been available for a very long time. But getting the right remedies to the right people in the locations where they are needed, in a way they will use them, and at a cost they can afford is continually a challenge. This is not a scientific problem. It’s a business challenge.”

Bing and Epstein argue that humankind has never before been in such a good position to meet this challenge. The costs of many widely-used drugs have fallen dramatically, and scientists have greatly simplified the treatment of many diseases by combining multiple drugs into single capsules or tablets. Extremely cheap diagnostic techniques that provide nearly instant assessments are now available. Through telemedicine, a single well-trained physician can now offer her or his expertise to much larger numbers of patients. The widespread use of clinical checklists and the application of franchising to the healthcare industry have both improved access and lowered costs. And new business models, successfully piloted in many countries, using bicycles, motorcycles, and trained village-level representatives, make it possible for healthcare agencies and for-profit companies to overcome the “last mile problem” that has traditionally limited most of the benefits of the market economy to population centers. “We are now at a tipping point to make lasting global health impacts,” the authors write.

One of the most promising recent developments is the now near-universal access to cell phones; by next year, the number of mobile phones is expected to be greater than the world’s population. “Mobile phones are now being used for patient education and awareness, treatment compliance, health care worker training, data collection, disease and epidemic outbreak tracking, and diagnostic and treatment support.”

Pharmacy on a Bicycle is intended to spark much wider adaptation of these advances by making them more widely known. The book presents a seven-point implementation model called IMPACTS, which encompasses innovation and entrepreneurship, maximizing efficiency and effectiveness, coordinating with partners, accountability, creating demand, task shifting (e.g., empowering nurses to take on some doctors’ responsibilities), and scaling. The book includes an abundance of excellent examples that bring these deadly-sounding prescriptions to life.

Eric Bing is an M.D. who also possesses a Ph.D. in epidemiology and an MBA. He’s the director of global health at the George W. Bush Institute at Southern Methodist University. His co-author, Marc Epstein, is an eminent and much-published professor of management at Rice University in Houston whose previous teaching posts were at the Harvard and Stanford business schools and INSEAD (European Institute of Business Administration).

September 17, 2012

An engaging story about kids, playgrounds, and one social entrepreneur

Playgrounds: KaBoom! by Darrell HammondKaBoom! How One Man Built a Movement to Save Play by Darrell Hammond

@@@@@ (5 out of 5)

A little more than two years ago I found myself immersed up to my eyeballs in a new venture dedicated to fostering the spirit of play among disadvantaged children. That venture — a mission-driven, for-profit company — was the One World Futbol Project, just then founded by the husband and wife team of Tim Jahnigen and Lisa Tarver. Tim had invented an extraordinary new soccer ball that never goes flat, needs no pump or needle, and goes on playing even if it’s punctured. The Project opened for business shortly afterward during the 2010 World Cup in Johannesburg. Our goal was to distribute one million One World Futbols within three years to children and young people in refugee camps, war zones, impoverished villages, and low-income urban neighborhoods around the world.

What had drawn me to the One World Futbol Project when Tim and Lisa showed me a prototype ball late in 2009 was not the opportunity to give poor kids what would probably be their first ball to play with. For me, the Project wasn’t about play, or sports. I was drawn in by the way so many UN agencies, schools, and NGOs were using soccer as a teaching tool, offering games that helped children acquire insights and skills in conflict resolution, self-confidence, teamwork, gender equity, and HIV/AIDs awareness.

In other words, as I saw it, the One World Futbol could speed community development efforts where poor people lived. That, to me, was a no-brainer, since I’ve been concerned throughout my life with the challenges of global poverty. (Now I’m even writing a book on that topic.) As the business began organizing in the spring of 2010, I became one of four partners. Both Tim and Lisa have continued ever since to emphasize the importance of play in child development, and I even attended a presentation by Dr. Stuart Brown, one of the world’s leading authorities on play. Still, I didn’t get it.

Then I read Darell Hammond’s surprisingly powerful little book, KaBoom! I think I get it now: if kids are deprived of opportunities to play — not twiddling thumbs on video games but creating their own games and rough-housing out-of-doors — the ill effects are evident and provable in their later lives.

Less than 20 years ago, Darell co-founded KaBoom!, a nonprofit organization that builds playgrounds in disadvantaged neighborhoods in North American towns and cities. Darell himself grew up in difficult circumstances (though he didn’t see it that way), and he never finished college, but he proved himself to be a brilliant leader — enough so that he’s now Dr. Hammond, having received an honorary Doctorate from the college he briefly attended.

Since the mid-1990s, KaBoom! has built more than 2,000 playgrounds throughout North America, and it’s estimated that its training, advisory services, and online tools have enabled others to build 10 times that many over the same period. KaBoom! has become a model of social entrepreneurship and a superb example of how nonprofit leaders can equal the very best managers to be found in the private sector. These are all truly remarkable accomplishments.

KaBoom! (the book) is really three books in one. It’s Darell’s story, and the organization’s — an important story, told with charm and unflagging honesty. It’s an essay on the importance of play and the implications for public policy. And it’s a how-to manual for communities to build playgrounds themselves.

If you’re a social entrepreneur or just want to learn more about social entrepreneurship, you owe it to yourself to read at least the first half of this book.

Oh, and by the way: that goal of the One World Futbol Project to distribute one million balls in our first three years? With a generous boost from Chevrolet, we’re on track to meet it!

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