Changing Our World

The expertise to do it right.
The passion to see it through.

Buzz is Changing Our World's news and commentary blog, covering the latest stories and updates in the world of philanthropy.

 Subscribe to BUZZ

Subscribe by Email

Other blogs from
Changing Our World

FLiP is dedicated to creating a community and a network where other future leaders can meet, learn, exchange ideas, and contribute to each other’s success.
Visit FLiP Online »

onLine examines all things related to philanthropy and "being online": online marketing, online fundraising, Web 2.0 technologies, new tools, new issues, and new strategies to help nonprofits find their audience,
Visit onLine »

April 06, 2007

What If? Headlines from the Future

One last post from last week's Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship in Oxford. At the awards ceremony, the Skoll Foundation showed a brilliant bit of video that wrote some "future headlines" aimed at showing how possible it just might be to solve some of the world's major problems. Big targets to shoot for, but it was moving nonetheless. Here's the video:

April 02, 2007

What Social Entrepreneurs Think (Hint: More Capital Needed)

One of the highlights of the 4th annual Skoll Forum for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford was the release of an in-depth survey marking the current attitudes of people working in the sector. Growing Opportunity: Entrepreneurial Solutions to Insoluble Problems, by SustainAbility, Ltd., gave a clear-eyed snapshot of social entrepreneurship and its conclusions identified several clear challenges to the movement.

The first is money: fully 72% said raising money for their social ventures was a problem, and 74% said they were primarily funded by that very old-school financial instrument - the foundation. And the report acknowledged that social entrepreneurship remains a small slice of philanthropy right now:

To put rough numbers on the three areas of social enterprise, cleantech and philanthropy, we estimate that less than $200 million is going into social enterprise worldwide from dedicated foundations each year, compared with over $2 billion into cleantech in the USA and EU and well over $200 billion into philanthropy in the USA alone.

In terms of buzz, the report contained some rah-rah combined with no shortage of caution. While stating that social entrepreneurship is "on a roll," SustainAbility also sounded this warning: "There is a real risk that many business people will chalk this up as another fluffy, feel-good fad."

The report called for the adoption of what it called "Mindset 3.0," which it said is about: about seeing — ‘reperceiving’ — immense challenges, such as the growing risk of abrupt climate change, as potential opportunities to leverage the power of markets and business to reboot entire economic and political systems. This is exactly what is beginning
to happen in the energy field. In some cases the time-scales involved may be generational, but the transformation is under way."

This can best be seen in environmental action, the report said, particularly in cross-sector partnerships to develop cleaner fuels. Despite its cautionary notes, particularly in the area of funding, the report does come across as optimistic - a mood that clearly captures the ebullience at Oxford last week. Here's the takeaway:

"We are entering a new era in which today’s apparently insoluble problems spawn tomorrow’s transformative solutions. The new breed of social and environmental entrepreneur is part of a new global order that is dedicated to new levels of equity, quality of life and sustainability. Far from accidentally, there is a buzz around innovation."

The full report can be downloaded here.

March 29, 2007

Remains of the Day: Fundraising Still Job One

It took Martin Fisher, the co-founder and CEO of Kickstart, all of 30 seconds to answer the question on the biggest thing he'd learned at this 4th annual Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship:

"There is still a shortage of funds, the funds that are there still very hard for the social entrepreneurs to get.  Social entrepreneurs are still spending too much of their time raising money."

So that's it, eh? Raising money is still "job one" for the world-changers who gathered here in Oxford, particularly those who don't have a personal fortune to finance their social enterprises. Along media row the other morning, one waggish fellow remarked perhaps a little too loudly - "some of this reminds me of the old Steve Martin routine on How to Be a Millionaire - you know, 'first, get a million dollars....'"

Time and again in the Skoll sessions, committed social entrepreneurs talked about how hard it is to raise funds - donations, capital, "investments" etc. - for innovative ideas that don't fit in to what foundations and philanthropists believe about funding projects. Outside of the self-funding ventures in micro-enterprise, the money it takes to fire up major movements like tackling global warming, eradicating poverty in Africa and south Asia, preserving delicate environments, and empowering poor women generally comes from fundraising.

And whether the funds go to social venture funds or operating budgets, they're obtained in the time-honored manner - through person-to-person meetings and solicitation. Major donors must be convinced to support these movements. And that takes vital time.

Ed Skloot said it yesterday. "Scaling up is very big topic in the states, and there was a big dollar infusion [for social entrepreneurship], and now we're having difficulty in the capital market. That may be the Achilles heel."

JB Schramm, founder and CEO of College Summit, agreed: "We face what so many nonprofit organizations face - the fact that innovation is strangled by fundraising constraints , that [major donors] tend to have a concentration on programs."

He described a fundraising innovation that puts the organization's financial needs on a single term sheet, with quarterly goals and metrics - donors simply buy into the term sheet, and follow the quarterly reports on goals. And he asks them to commit for three years. This takes the "program focus" of donors out of the equation and orients the donors toward the overall success of the organization.

Government funding was also a topic, though approach gingerly (social entrepreneurs, generally speaking, do not want to be boxed in by regulation). Michele Giddens, executive director of Bridges Community Ventures, a privately owned fund management company with a social mission, was honest: a government grant created the fund, which might never had gotten off the ground without the public money.

Jacqueline Novogratz, the CEO of the Acumen Fund, an optimist and energized leader whose whole mission is about providing new ways to fund social change, admitted that fundraising remains central - that social enterprises "always came back, somewhat reluctantly, to philanthropy - to finding a few big supporters." Nothing I've head here changes that formula, particularly for start-ups - entrepreneurs have always had to battle, to scratch, to promise their first-born to get the capital they need to launch something. For social entrepreneurs, that means major donors.

Said Novogratz: "Look, we need philanthropic money still."

Gabriel on Personal Motivation

Peter Gabriel has been a real presence at Skoll the past few days, and it's clear he's personally motivated to effect change. Here's his presentation from last evening:

Live-Blogging Larry

Like some rock star from another country (the nation state known as Google), Larry Brilliant of took the stage in Oxford this morning at the Skoll World Forum and declared himself an eternal optimist. Yet "the trends give rise to a great case for pessimism," said Brilliant, whose appearance kept 500 or so Type A personalities cooling their heels waiting to enter the Nelson Mandela Theater like they were waiting for the Rolling Stones.

Brilliant focused on climate change - noting that 51% of humans now live in cities, because rural areas no longer produce food like they used to. Deserts are growing. One hectare produces far fewer calories than it did 15 years ago. So humans now consume more wild animals. So they're also consuming viruses, exploding the possibility of world pandemics.

"Today the world is more diverse and unfair than it has ever been in history - today one percent of the world's population owns 40% of all the world's goods and services."

It's a destabilzied world that will be broadcast to you on YouTube, on your cell phones and laptops. Oh, it's quite a case for pessimism, people. (I paraphrase).

Bangladesh as case study - global warming - 75% at sea level. GoogleEarth video (branding, baby) showing Bangladesh terrain - twin increases of water - runoff from the mountains, increase in ocean height. One hundred millions refugees could be expected to migrate into India and China, says Brilliant.

Increase in sea level "will challenge our way of life." SF Bay area - "Google is right there, surrounded by water."

New diseases that begin in animals - it's just the beginning. We're all going to die (again, I paraphrase). But now the case for optimism.

Humans tend to step up and overcome when faced with non-survival. His optimism is based on what people are doing. "Beginnings of a movement on climate change." TXU deal limiting coal emissions. California pollution controls. Al Gore testifying. Evangelicals join environmental movement. European unity on the issue of global warming. LiveEarth concerts.

His view - people finally acting in their self-interest.

"I've held hundreds of babies who've died in my arms of smallpox - the face of hell itself - and that disease has been eradicated. Nothing makes moe more optimistic than that."

Smallpox was the worst disease in history - half a billion people died - more than all the wars in history. Not ancient history. Slide shows kings and queens who died from smallpox. "World is not a gated community." Gruesome slides - disease killed one third of all who got it.

"I visited villages where rivers would not flow because of the numbers of dead babies who had been thrown into them."

WHO used rewards, advertising, door-to-door - all to track the disease. History's greatest horror ended. "How can that not make you optimistic?" And then, applause.

Ending Torture: One Skoll Story

Alternative funding, return on social investment, new structures for financing and sustainability. All important, but they hardly carry the human story, do they? With hundreds of social entrepreneurs here in Oxford for the Skoll World Forum, I thought it might be time to at least tell one story from the field.

But this begins at the taxi stand at the Oxford train station late on Monday, when your feverish flu-ridden correspondent waited for a cab in the gathering Oxfordshire evening. Ahead of me on line was a another attendee at Skoll, anxious to get to her dinner and running late. She introduced herself politely as Karen Tse. "I'm a social entrepreneur," she said. They're everywhere, thought I, and we chatted briefly about the conference.

Fast forward to tonight's Skoll Awards presented in the stifling Sheldonian hall. The Skoll Foundation showed four short films highlighting the work of previous winners of the award - one of them was Karen Tse. And it's quite a story.

Karen Tse took on routine torture of criminal suspects in Cambodia, beginning in 1994, when there were only ten lawyers left alive in the post-Khmer regime. Trained as a public defender at UCLA and the daughter or Filipino immigrants, Tse had always been interested in human rights causes and wanted to put her training to work.

The stories of the prisoners moved Tse, who is also an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister. She learned that the problem had less to do with abject cruelty (though cruely was certainly present), than with practicality and economics; there were no public defenders, and there was no system for legal questioning that preserved prisoners' rights. So she started in on creating one, as described in a recent US News and World Report profile:

All of the stories carry the message of what Tse calls "the power of transformative love." It's a philosophy that Tse has successfully channeled throughout her career, including with one of the first prison directors she worked with in Cambodia. "He had a huge scar in the front of his forehead, and he was known to be very cruel," Tse says. "The first time I met him he said, 'If we see any of the prisoners coming down, we will hit them down like rats.'"

The prisoners, stuffed into dark quarters with no opportunity to challenge their sentences, were clearly suffering, but the director wouldn't let Tse inside. Looking for "the Christ or the Buddha," Tse decided not to fight. "I said, 'Can we go for a walk?' And I remember he looked at me--incredulously--and turned to his guards and said, 'Did you hear her?' And then he said, 'OK. Let's go for a walk.'" Eventually, Tse won the director's trust, and soon she was in the prison every day. Working together, Tse and the director tore down the prison's dark cells, built a garden, and started exercise classes--for both the prisoners and the guards.

Tse founded International Bridges to Justice in 2000; it's based in Geneva and employs less than 20 people with a small yearly budget. Yet, the organization has dramatically improved and even saved the lives of everyday citizens by training and supporting criminal defense lawyers and establishing a network of Defender Resource Centers throughout China. Plans call for expansion in China, as well as Vietnam, Cambodia and other countries where programs are expected to reach critical mass due to public awareness and the creation of professional associations of trained advocates and judges.

March 28, 2007

Skoll Award Winners

Tonight at the Sheldonian, which was designed by Christopher Wren and opened for lectures in the round nearly 350 years go, the delegates celebrated the 2007 Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship. The recipients, who will each receive three-year grants of $1,015,000, are organizations that target social issues in need of urgent attention. Here's the video:

Skoll Forum: A Few Photos

Here are few photos from around the Skoll Global Forum for Social Entrepreneurship:

Above, the lobby at the Said Business School and delegates gather for lunch in the courtyard.

The ancient Sheldonian, above, was the setting for opening talks by Muhammad Yunus, Jeff Skoll, and Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan.

Social Entrepreneurship: What's the Focus?

Edward Skloot has been involved in what is now popularly known as social entrepreneurship for a long time; he's the executive director of the Surdna Foundation, started New Ventures back in 1980, and is a board member of Venture Philanthropy Partners. So when he speaks, two things happen - he tends to frame his thoughts in the long term, and he wears his skepticism rather proudly. Though a friend to the social entrepreneurs, Skloot brings a perspective from a career in government, in the foundation world, and as someone involved in venture philanthropy - the catchphrase of the late 90s.

At this morning's panel, "Funding Ideas, Backing People," Skloot kicked things off by saying the social entrepreneurship "does not yet have a firm place in the lexicon and brainspace of those who think of themselves as entrepreneurs, social or not."

Skloot - who once gave a speech entitled "25 Years of Social Entrepreneurship in 25 Minutes," said the record in the sector "is mixed at best." He said that historians of the movement will ask five basic questions - and therefore, Skoll participants should ask the same ones; roughly paraphraising, they are:

  • are we generating useful knowledge
  • is some kind of institutionalization happening
  • is it crossing barriers
  • is it scaling up in terms of attracting capital
  • are we gettig the right outcomes

Jacqueline Novogratz, CEO of the Acumen Fund, was the perfect bookend to Skloot - placed there by writer David Bornstein, after discussions on capital-raising (let's call it "fundraising," ok?) by JB Schramm, founder of College Summit, and venture capitalist Ion Yadigaroglu. Novogratz focused on Skloot's first question for historians - the one about useful knowledge, and she shifted attention and emphasis from the donors - sorry! I meant "investors" - to poor people.

And it was a brilliant shift - because as the talk meandered through fundraising techniques, it was very easy to fall into a we/they scenario. "Poor people are left out of the global economy," she said, recalling a discussion at Acumen when she reached a crucial realization - that social entrepreneurship was about extending capitalism, changing the capitalist system to offer opportunity for the poorest human beings.

"I said look where this field is hurtling us toward - that's the future of capitalism...The first thing we need to do is to find entrepreneurs that look at the poor as viable customers, and not as passive recipients of charity."

Social entrepreneurs tend to see "capitalism as the driver of change," Novogratz said. But since the dawn of the first industrial age, it has also created an insurmountable gap between rich and poor, powerful and non-empowered. Because of the newly-wired world, " for the first time in history, the rich can see how poor the poor really are - and the poor know how poor they are."

Novogratz touched on some of the points that Nobel Prize winner and Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus hit upon last night in the gathering twilight under the Sheldonian's ancient beams - that "social investing" shouldn't be just about "helping the poor," but should actually involve the poor. She described product, specifically some well-designed mosquito netting aimed at the poor. "Rich people should not have a premium on beauty, on comfort, on design, and on liveability - there's a power in the market that if combined with empathy and compassion can lead to soutions."

The New Philanthropists

One of the more fascinating presentations came last evening from Irish writer Charles Handy, who is also a former Shell executive and the founder of the London Business School. A well-known author, radio personality, and bon vivant, Handy's latest book with his wife Elizabeth is The New Pilanthropists - a study of mid-career donors, mainly in the UK - "stories of ordinary people doing interesting things, and of the issues they raise."

So who are these "new philanthropists?" According to Handy, they're mainly in their 40s and still ambitious. They have a lot of energy and a strong interest in social change. They don't want to give their money as usual, to build new university buildings and the like.

"And they are DIY freaks!" he said. "They are not prepared to write checks. They want to do it themselves....and they have the annoying tendency to go blundering into areas where they don't know anything. Oh, they're not terribly popular [with existing institutions] these new philanthropists."

Handy briefly profiled four British new philanthropists: a restauranteur who gave up profits to feed street people, an ex-football star and alcoholic who started a clinic, an executive who began his own microloan program in Malawi, and a mobile telephone tycoon who set up a hospital for breast cancer patients in Africa.

Handy said the growth of these "new philanthropists" mirrors the return of Britain's entrepreneurial ethos, which he said had largely disappeared between the Victorian industrialists and the 1990s.

Note: the US view, from Philanthromedia.

Our specialty area »    Catholic & Independent Schools, Corporate, Healthcare, Higher Education, Human Services,International Development & Global Health, Philanthropies, Research & Policy