Sunday, April 26, 2009

Help One Acre Fund Grow

Andrew Youn, founder of One Acre Fund and a true BOPreneur, recently sent me a message asking for help in recruiting additional funding. So, bleeps, this is your chance to help an amazing group do their work for $20/month (enough to help a family of 6 work their way out of poverty).

"Thanks to your support as an Investment Council member, One Acre Fund continues to make major advances in addressing chronic hunger. More than 4,000 families, including more than 16,000 children, are literally growing themselves out of chronic hunger. Our farmers' hard work coupled with One Acre Fund's innovative market bundle, which includes quality farming inputs, farmer education and access to output markets, is proving to be a powerful tool in the fight against hunger.

Now we need to ask for your help. If every member of our Investment Council identifies just one friend, family member, co-worker or organization that shares the desire to create an innovative and permanent solution to chronic hunger, One Acre Fund can help an additional 500 families permanently grow themselves out of hunger. The Investment Council is One Acre Fund's single largest source of financial support. Please help us build a long-term foundation for a pioneering solution to world hunger."

Andrew has built a great organization, doing worthy work. He has done it quietly, in a difficult place and time. One brick at at time. Please join me in helping out One Acre Fund as a member of the Investment Council.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Better than Kyoto?

Bjorn Lomborg strikes again in today's NY Times:

"In Kyoto in 1997, leaders promised even stricter reductions by 2010, yet emissions have kept increasing unabated. Still, the leaders plan to meet in Copenhagen this December to agree to even more of the same — drastic reductions in emissions that no one will live up to. Another decade will be wasted...We might have assumed that investment in [energy technology] research would have increased when the Kyoto Protocol made fossil fuel use more expensive, but it has not. "

Lomborg suggests that instead of emissions limits, nations instead agree to invest .05% of GDP into research for making wind and solar energy technologies more competitive. He argues this would be more efficient and effective.

"Economic estimates that assign value to the long-term benefits that would come from reducing warming — things like fewer deaths from heat and less flooding — show that every dollar invested in quickly making low-carbon energy cheaper can do $16 worth of good. If the Kyoto agreement were fully obeyed through 2099, it would cut temperatures by only 0.3 degrees Fahrenheit. Each dollar would do only about 30 cents worth of good."

While he doesn't get into it in this article, Lomborg has also written persuasively that other public health investments are more compelling than carbon reductions. HIV treatment, malaria, cleaner drinking water, nutrition and education all have higher returns. Society must prioritize how we invest in a healthier planet (even more so after having lost a lot of ground due to the financial crisis).

"The fact is, carbon remains the only way for developing countries to work their way out of poverty. Coal burning provides half of the world’s electricity, and fully 80 percent of it in China and India, where laborers now enjoy a quality of life that their parents could barely imagine. " This statement is true, and troubling. The issue is whether we increase the chances (and speed) for leapfrog energy technologies with more R&D funding or with Kyoto.

Lomborg's view that investing in cleaner energy technologies may result in better decisions than regulating emissions deserves careful consideration by policy makers.

Sankalp Info

Intellecap is hosting Sankalp forum on April 28 in Mumbai. For more information, click here.

From Sujatha and Adrienne: "Sankalp (which means 'Pledge' or 'Determination') is India’s first Social Enterprise and Investment Forum with the primary goal of bringing together various stakeholders sharing a common conviction that capital should be invested to create multiple bottom-line returns (financial, social and environmental) and not exclusively financial (profit-maximizing) or social (philanthropic) returns."
They have some great sponsors and participants from the looks of their website.

I hope it is a great event, and that they tweet about it for those of us that can't be there!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

When Good Things Happen To Great People

Colorado State University GSSE and Engines Lab student Sule Amadu has received an Acumen Fund Fellowship for 2010. He is an amazing person and we are all so excited for him. He was chosen from over 300 highly qualified applicants.

Congratulations to Sule and congratulations to Acumen for making such a wise choice!

P.S. There are no known pictures of Sule when he isn't smiling.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Band Aid? Dead Aid?

President Obama is seeking to increase aid to developing countries:

"I intend to work with Congress to provide $448 million in immediate assistance to vulnerable populations from Africa to Latin America and to double support for food safety to over $1 billion so that we are giving people the tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty."

This is heating up the debate on whether and how to provide aid. Most Americans, our president among them, want to do something. It is hard to watch people suffer, and not try to help. But sometimes it makes the donor feel good, while not helping the person who is suffering.

Can aid help? Is it just putting a band aid on much larger problem? Is it doomed to failure?

Jeffrey Sachs suggests the answer is Homegrown Aid. People are poor and hungry, and international aid can help, if done properly, he argues. Of course, his proper way is to have recipient governments come up with plans. Aid can be effective if undertaken with "generosity, good science and rigorous management."

George Ayittey was interviewed the same day, and decried "Dead Aid." How's this for provocative:
"Americans were justifiably outraged when AIG, which received billions in U.S.taxpayer money in bailouts, paid out hefty bonuses to its executives. So where is the outrage when African leaders, who receive U.S. taxpayers’ money in foreign aid, build palaces for themselves while their people wallow in abject poverty?"

Not enough? How about: "The African countries that received the most aid -- Somalia, Liberia and Zaire -- slid into virtual anarchy." He goes on to urge that aid be focused on building institutions that support liberty and freedom, not projects.

I recognize the need for aid, and have argued that it, as well as enterprise, plays a role in development. But the waste and ineffectiveness angers me. I think that development funds (as opposed to emergency aid) should flow to the approaches, and countries, with better records. I also believe that, just as in developed countries, aid is needed to subsidize health and education. If we left it just to markets, we would still have endemic small pox and polio in these countries.

There is also the issue of the capacity to receive these flows. Recently, ANDE was launched, providing a new resource network of $750 million for investing in developing world enterprises. Backed by some pretty smart funders in this field. They believe they can deploy these funds and make a return. But if there were 10 ANDE type funds, or 100, would they be able to find projects that would be able to provide a return on investment? Or would they start a "bubble" in social enterprises with too much money chasing too few investable deals?

The size of the Obama plan and ANDE are similar. It will be interesting to see whether either of them can help us understand new ways to help the patient.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Powermundo Power

How to raise money in a down economy? The time tested business plan competition. Read about GSSE venture Powermundo's journey.

Musings on Media

A few random thoughts from the last few days...

1) "With Facebook zooming to 200 million users, what happened to My Space? I can't remember the last time I checked my MySpace account." Nicholas Kristoff tweet 4/8/09 Yup, me too. Sorry Rupert.

2) Spoke with a former exec with Gannett yesterday. The business model of tying information to advertising... newspapers, phone directories... (even google?) has broken down. Few healthy papers in US. Rising literacy in BOP is helping some papers in India, etc. She tells me of study showing that more individually selected news (via feeds) increases polarization (people select what they want to see, and lose out on diversity of opinion).

3) Luci, who used to write for the CSU newspaper, tells me she needs to promote the Rotary Ambassadorial scholarship for students. "It is so hard to get the word out to students," she says. I suggest facebook instead of the student paper or posters, but then found that CSU doesn't have a very big fb group yet. She mentions that students don't seem to use email much anymore.

4) I have noted groups of students walking across campus "together" but all talking on their cellphones. I wonder if they are talking to each other, by phone?

5) An article in Washington Post on proper manners when someone you are talking with starts working their PDA. I say walk away! I also walk out of businesses who answer the phone in the midst of "serving" me.

Overall, I find that the data torrents can still largely be tamed, and it is good to be able to connect with so many interesting ideas and people. I still read a paper, to keep me busy while I have a coffee. But the paper comes after a quick scan of my home tabs: iGoogle (for blogs, weather, news), facebook (friends) and twitter (random eavesdropping on the sustainability and entrepreneurship space). And I don't interupt conversations to take phone calls or emails.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

(Social) Entrepreneur of the Decade

I am no pundit. But Jim Collins is (in the more traditional definition of the word). In a recent interview, he says Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, is the entrepreneur of the decade.

"Her organization is truly an entrepreneurial creation that is out to utterly transform education. It's taking an entrepreneurial, let's-do-something approach to tackling a massive social problem.

And his runners up? Jobs, Chouinard, Roddick, Schultz and Bezos. He gets enthusiastic too, about what he calls the next stage of entrepreneurship, which involves not just building a great company, but a great movement. Sounds a bit like Paul Hawken or Paul Light. If building great movements is the next stage, social entrepreneurs will continue to get JC's blessing, and the line between activists and entrepreneurs will continue to blur.

Paul Graham is also naming names for his top 5 founders. Steve Jobs is tops on his list.

"A lot of startup culture is Apple culture. [Jobs]was the original young founder. And while the concept of "insanely great" already existed in the arts, it was a novel idea to introduce into a company in the 1980s."

As always, both Collins and Graham are worth reading. But props to Collins for selecting a young, female social entrepreneur as his entrepreneurial hero. Ground breaking, unfortunately.*

I recently blogged on Jacqueline Novogratz, founder of Acumen Fund, a Fast Company Social Capitalist. So maybe it's is a trend. But that will be up to some pundit to claim with any certainty.
* I recognize that Anita Roddick was a woman and a social entrepreneur. So Collins goes 2 out of 6.