Thursday, December 15, 2011

"Non Profits Can't Scale"

The next time you hear someone say this, confront them. Confront them with One Acre Fund, or Envirofit, or Root Capital, or Doctors Without Borders, or VisionSpring, or Aravind Eye Care.

Successful non-profits can scale, and some of them are doing it. It is time to study what they are doing right, and stop the silly talk.

Last year, there was good news about progress on maternal mortality. In the past few weeks, there has been good news about malaria mortality. Non- profits played a big role in both of these. Certainly, neither of these problems are past, and I am sure non-profits will continue to play a role in building on these gains.

Yes, there are unique challenges for non-profits, but some of these organizations are solving them. And yes, of course, we need for profit enterprises working in these fields as well. If you are working on a BOP start up, I still suggest you try to find a for profit business model first. But if that doesn't work (as it did not with Envirofit), you don't need to give up. Non profits can scale. The organizations listed above are a good place to start if you want to study how.
NOTE: this picture is from a recent article about One Acre Fund in Good Magazine.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"Market Creation Is Hard Work" - Seth Godin

I was fortunate to hear this talk at the Acumen Investor Gathering in November. Nice perspective on the hard work required to create markets in BOP- for the first time in their history, people are "buying something for the first time."

Monday, December 05, 2011

Carrots & Sticks

I was impressed by this open letter to Occupy Wall Street from the founder of Carrotmob which asks:

"Would you rather punish businesses and get the same old results, or show love to businesses and gain unprecedented power and influence over how our economy works?"

I think a similar approach could be helpful in getting companies to consider products and services to serve BOP markets. Altruistic arbitrage, if you will.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Design Challenge: Inventions That Matter

I am a technology nerd. I think it goes with being an unrepentant optimist. One thing I like to do is read through popular magazines about new technologies, and think about how they might change our collective future for the better.

This morning, I was looking through Time Magazine's recent list of the 50 Best Inventions (sorry, if you aren't a subscriber, you won't get much from this link). It was depressing. Only one, a malaria vaccine in late stage trials by GSK, was really targeted at the BOP and had a chance of making lives better for millions of people. A second invention, a solar charged rural information system housed in an oil drum and promoted by UNICEF had application to the BOP. But it seems to me that just providing a solar charger for mobile phones would probably be a lower cost approach.

Perhaps I live in a bubble (OK, not perhaps). But I know of many inventors working on technologies that are aimed squarely at the other 99% of the people who do not have iPads and Priae (my attempt at the plural of Prius).

Paul Polak has been working on "Design for the Other 90%" for decades. Groups like MIT's D-Lab, Catapult Design, International Development Enterprises, CSU's Engines Lab, Haddock Invention,  Design that Matters, and D-Rev work in the field. Communities like Appropedia collect and test concepts. Companies like d.light, Envirofit, Vestergaard Frandsen and cell phone providers are bringing new products to these markets. And accelerators like the Unreasonable Institute and Village Capital are providing services to BOP inventors to help form companies to disseminate inventions that matter.

Am I am being too sensitive in my disappointment? I know inventions are the ideas, and innovations are what actually get used in the real world, and this list was of the former. But what I would like is for my readers to list the inventions that they are excited about in the comments below.

So... what are exciting inventions could make a difference for the other 6 billion people in the world that don't care about hummingbird drones or electric mood indicating bunny ears? What are the inventions that matter?