Three Perspectives on Doing Good Online: Kiva, GlobalGiving & MYC4

For the past six years the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship has brought the who’s who in the field together in the famed university town. The theme of this year’s gathering from March 25th to 27th was “shifting power dynamics.” Coverage of this topic would be incomplete without taking into account the changing web landscape. One session, held on March 26th, that related squarely to Web 2.0 dynamics was titled “(Financial) Power to the People.”

The panelists included three Web 2.0 social entrepreneurs: Premal Shah, President, Kiva.org; Mari Kuraishi, President, GlobalGiving.org; and Mads Kjaers, CEO, myc4.com. Each of these social entrepreneurs is having a positive impact in the world, but each with different business models: online micro-lending for Kiva, online giving for GlobalGiving and online investing for MYC4. The moderator was Tom Watson, Managing Partner, CauseWired Communications, who also operates www.socialedge.org for the Skoll World Forum.

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Globalgiving: The Challenges of Online Giving

The Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship featured a session, held on March 26th, that related squarely to Web 2.0 dynamics was titled “(Financial) Power to the People.” One of the companies participating in the panel was www.globalgiving.com, which I have covered previously in this blog.

Mari Kuraishi, President, GlobalGiving introduced her company by noting “they have been called the eBay of philanthropy,” although they are a non-profit organization. Amidst the cluttered landscape of giving options, Kuriashi explained that the core uniqueness of GlobalGiving is that donors can hear back directly from the field as to how their contributions have made a difference. Thus far, GlobalGiving has funded almost 1,300 projects through the contributions of 40,000 donors for a total of US$20m.

One apparently similar portal is www.networkforgood.org that opens the door for individuals to donate to all registered charities in the US. The difference from GlobalGiving is its project approach. They focus on opportunities for people to accomplish something when they donate. Another uniqueness is that individuals who are not registered charities can raise money for causes.

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Kiva and Online Micro-Finance

The Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship included well-known non-profit Kiva.org in a panel discussion titled “(Financial) Power to the People.” Non-profit Kiva has generated widespread attention for its innovative online approach to giving. Permal Shah, President, recounted that the company is only 3 1/2 years old.

Kiva provides an internet marketplace for microfinance. A person can choose an entrepreneur in the developing world and lend $25 or more and repayment usually occurs within 10 months. Shah stated that the payback to lenders is 97.7%. Thus far, they have raised US$65m from over 500,000 people in more than 100 countries. Shah noted that in spite of all the positive press they received for their pioneering efforts, they are still an extremely small part of the overall micro-lending market worldwide.

Shah explained that it took Kiva an entire year to solicit their first US$1 million in loans. At present, they process that much per week. They now work with 115 micro-finance institutions (MFIs) in order to source worthwhile projects. Shah suggested that this is probably the largest microfinance network in the world. The MFIs are in 45 countries, ranging from young non-governmental organizations with little finances to large MFIs that resemble banks. They are constantly looking for reputable MFIs to help handle the overload of would-be lenders

Tom Watson, of CauseWired.com, the moderator of the panel, asked about whether they have widespread demographic support or if they rely on a core of do-gooders. Shah suggested that they presently appeal to a general rather than a segmented demographic, just like Amazon would. Shah’s view was that the market exists, but it is an awareness issue especially in comparison to well-established brands for giving. On a more general note, he lamented that “The big enemy is apathy; you have to get people engaged; it must be two times better than alternatives so that people will tell friends of friends”.

Reporting from the Skoll World Forum

I will be blogging and tweeting this week from the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University. This annual event has evolved over a few short years to become arguably the most important event in the world for social entrepreneurs. Financed by the first President of eBay, Jeff Skoll, the Forum attracts the who’s who of the social entrepreneurship sector. Consider it the Davos World Forum for social entrepreneurs.

The speakers usually comprise leading politicians, academics and social entrepreneurs from throughout the world. Last year some of the headliners included former President Jimmy Carter and former Vice President Al Gore. Carter spoken movingly about the various causes he is involved in, such as eradicating various diseases in Africa. Gore, meanwhile, focused on climate change and the catastrophic implications that lay ahead unless action is taken soon.

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Ways to Leave a Smaller Footprint

Have you been at a party lately where some one asked, “What is your “carbon footprint?” Or have you been asked, “What is your “offsetting” gap?” It is coming. What is your answer? It is time to figure that out.

Climate change and global warming are constantly in the news. Environmental disaster is apparently looming. Governments are taking action. But, what can individuals do to make a difference? And what can companies do through the collective actions of their employees?

A person’s “carbon footprint” is the total carbon dioxide emissions they create when they drive, go on a flight or use electricity.” An oft-cited statistic is that each individual in Canada and the US emits around 5 tons of carbon dioxide each year into the atmosphere from their day-to-day activities.

A straight-forward way to reduce your carbon footprint is through conservation – drive less, turn down the thermostat, buy locally produced goods. But these actions alone may not reduce all 5 tons of emissions.

This gap has resulting in the concept of “offsetting” the emissions that a person can’t reduce. An offsetting program reduces the emissions that a person cannot reduce by funding clean energy and efficiency projects such as wind farms. Here are four organizations that will assist individuals and companies in the offsetting process.

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The Four Benefits of Tele-Collaboration

The other day I was sitting at one half of a circular boardroom table in Manhattan; the other half of the table was projected onto three panel screens. I was sitting next to Carlos Dominguez, Senior Vice President, Office of the Chairman, Cisco, who leads the charge on collaboration and innovation.

He was demonstrating Cisco’s TelePresence technology. I noted in a previous blog post that Cisco’s TelePresence delivers “a unique ‘in-person’ experience with remote participants—you can interact and collaborate with others like never before, moving faster and more effectively.

Carlos dialed in one of his associates in Silicon Valley. In short order, she appeared and took her place at the table; that is, at one of the chairs across the table that was projected onto one of the flat screen panels.

The experience is unique as it provides much more of a real life meeting experience. You can hear their voices and movements of individuals from other locations quite clearly. Whenever someone was demonstrating something on their computer it was displayed on a screen for all to see.

The intent is to facilitate communication and meetings. We have all heard the general rule that much of communication is beyond content and voice, but also body language—in other words, ways to help you read between the lines.

With TelePresence technology you are able to simulate more of a real life meeting and derive similar benefits. What are the benefits of this type of technology?

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Twitter: Micro-Thinking?

I remember Evan Williams, the founder of Twitter, addressing the Web 2.0 Summit 2007 on the value of simplicity in site design and use. Williams quoted with approval from Tantek Celik: “the cognitive load of an individual is related to the number of clicks.” That’s Twitter—140 characters of simplicity.

But when is simple too close to simplistic? To people who don’t see value in Twitter, they could liken this vehicle for micro-blogging to a form of micro-thinking. In other words, is it a stream of mindless drivel that is cataloguing incremental, and in hindsight, worthless information?

A first clue that this is likely not the case is when you discover the all the hi-tech leaders of Silicon Valley are on Twitter. In fact, Twitter has been quickly integrated into conferences as a means of interacting with speakers. At Web 2.0 Summits the Tweats are posted on the screen and the speaker responds instantaneously.

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Social Responsibility: Doing the Right Thing for the Wrong Reasons?

One issue that regularly arises in a discussion of corporate social responsibility relates to the motives of companies. Are they really trying to “do the right thing?” Or, are they pursuing good solely for marketing reasons?

Critics scoff at the practice of social responsibility and particularly when incongruent with the company’s overall actions. They call it greenwashing, a decoy, a façade, a deception, and the like. In other words, selective actions are not reflective of what the company is doing, but rather a superficial ploy to mask the fact that the company is indeed unethical or socially irresponsible. Enron, for example, had a great code of ethics and was a contributor to many community projects.

Are these individual examples of “doing the right thing” actually wrong? Of course, society generally and stakeholders specifically should examine the approach of companies, especially when these companies are trying to present their actions as reflective of an overall approach to business. The public has a right to scrutinize actions and point out inconsistencies with the messages being presented.

I think it is important, however, to distinguish the value of the overall concept of social responsibility and the inability of all specific companies to carry through on its execution. Just as there are examples of shortcomings there are many examples of companies doing well.

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Crowd Power & Social Responsibility

Crowd power may be the most useful tool in order to use social media for the benefit of social responsibility. The basic idea behind crowd power is to effectively tap into the wisdom and power of a large group of people with an outcome that would be superior to the efforts of any single individual

There are a number of crowd-related terms that all have an element of the power of the crowd, from “crowdsourcing” to “crowd clout.” At its root it is a means of building a community. Without a community there will not be a crowd to source.

As a result, crowd power is built on engagement and interactivity. In relation to social responsibility, creating positive change requires the engagement and motivation of people.

The concept of crowd power has been applied in a variety of commercial ventures: Cambrian House sources software and business ideas; Fluevog is home to the crowdsourced shoe; NowPublic has crowd-power journalism; Threadless taps the crowd for T-shirt designs, and on it goes.

The principles of crowd power can apply equally as well to companies that wish to practice social responsibility. I will explain the principle and then how it can be applied to social responsibility.

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Social Responsibility without Social Networks isn't responsible

Companies and not-for-profit organizations in today’s market need to utilize social media in order to succeed with their advertising strategy. We still use the term “social media” to identify something separate from the conventional measuring stick of mainstream media. At what point will that be irrelevant?

The demise of traditional media has long been reported, but has been slow in coming. However, that time may now be arriving. Mainstream publications, right up to the venerable New York Times, are bleeding red. They have not been able to take advantage of the new environment, but are being punished for their poor judgment.

In this new context is the notion of social media, the myriad ways in which communication and collaboration are facilitated in an online environment. For all organizations, the question is then, where do these communities congregate and how to access them effectively?

Dealing with social media is different than working with traditional media. Social media is unique due to the negligible cost of entry, quick communication, and the ability to build a following through merit. Jennifer Lowther, Director of Social Media, 6S Marketing, notes that in today’s environment you need to have a “social media friendly” website in order to succeed.

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Getting Financed in Today's Environment

Financing deals are still getting done in today’s challenging economic environment, but the bar has been set higher. The 12th Annual Canadian Financing Forum was held yesterday in Vancouver, drawing an impressive array of financiers from the US and Canada. There were two streams - IT and Clean Tech and Advanced Tech companies - with thirty companies presenting.

Financiers are generally looking for companies that are at or near profitably. For earlier stage companies seeking smaller amounts of financing, they will need to work with angels longer. As one panelist put it, angels are the new VCs - they are taking on the first level of financing that was previously the realm of VCs

Despite the economic concerns in the market, financiers are still very interested in certain sectors. There remains a strong desire in interest in climate and environmental issues, which clearly have not been solved. There remains a need for more fuel efficient vehicles and ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Kirk Washington, General Partner, Yaletown Venture Partners, explained his perspective: instead of pushing technologies we look for solutions to problems. He stated that one of the challenges in Vancouver is that, while there is technical expertise, there is a lack of management talent.

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Do Good – Don't Talk Good: Ten Steps for Starting a Social Responsibility Program

There is a lot of talk these days in the media about social responsibility. How do you go from talking about it, to actually doing it? It’s not complicated — get started. An Abbotsford, BC firm that is making a difference is IQ Engineering which provides professional structural engineering solutions to building owners and developers.

This past year IQ Engineering got together and helped Quantum Developments, on their clients, raise money for the Canadian Breast Cancer Annual Run for the Cure. On another front, connected to its core expertise, IQ was also thrilled to be asked to contribute its structural engineering knowledge to help Big Brothers Big Sisters construct their new Abbotsford office.

There are many and varied ways to do some good. Rob Quiring, President of IQ, recounts that for last year’s Christmas party, “we decided we don't need any more useless mugs or scarfs. The idea came up in our weekly staff meeting to give something back to kids in our community. We headed on over to the Salvation Army and grabbed 8 tags from the Angle Tree. We are now all buying gifts for kids that don't have a lot this Christmas!”

Do these initiatives make money for IQ? No. But they sound like the type of people you would want to work with.

Here are ten practical tips on how to get started with a social responsibility program for your company.

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Social Responsibility is doomed if smaller companies aren't on board

If smaller businesses around the world don’t get actively get involved in “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) then we are moving backwards in addressing society’s greatest problems.

The notion persists that CSR is primarily for companies that can afford it. Not true. While larger companies can do well and be seen to be doing well, smaller companies have an opportunity to make a huge impact.

Industry Canada defines small-medium sized enterprises as a business with fewer than 500 employees. As a result, 99% of all companies are small businesses—and their involvement in socially responsibility initiatives is critical to their respective communities. I will use the term “smaller” businesses.

CSR needs to be embedded in the actions of the firm, regardless of its size, as part of a deliberate company strategy. In fact, small businesses have many advantages when it comes to the practice of social responsibility—they can respond quickly to opportunities and not be buried in bureaucracy.

One example of a local business engaged in social responsibility is Domain7 Solutions, which provides of web-based solutions for companies in BC and internationally. Domain7 is contributing to several interesting initiatives. First, there is “One Laptop for Every Child.” In efforts to empower developing countries with the tools of technology, Domain7 was excited to begin supporting "One Laptop Per Child" in November 2007. The mission of the organization is to provide one connected laptop to every school-aged child in the developing world, in order to help make education a priority and not just a privilege.

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Social Responsibility 2.0 - From Why? to How? to Better?

Hi-tech leaders, from Google to Cisco, all carefully practice social responsibility. To understand the strategic advantage of doing so, we must trace the concept of “social responsibility” among corporate leaders as it has evolved from “why?” to “how?” to “better?”

There was a time in the early 1970s when Milton Friedman famously wrote that the sole purpose of a company was to make money. At that time he was stating an obviously belief of most people. Those days are long gone.

“The theological question—should there be CSR?—is so irrelevant today,” says John Ruggie of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. ‘Companies are doing it. It’s one of the social pressures they’ve absorbed.’”

The Business Council of BC reported in a recent survey that 83% of companies make corporate social responsibility a priority, compared to just 54% three years ago. Michael Porter, the renowned strategic thinker notes that, “CSR has emerged as an inescapable priority for businesses in every country.”

Concern over climate change is viewed as one of the biggest drivers behind the social responsibility movement. The venerable Economist explains, “Company after company has been shaken into adopting a CSR policy: it is almost unthinkable for a big global corporation to be without one.”

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Social Responsibility 2.0 - Cisco & Doing Well by Doing Good

Can a company “do well by doing good?” Hi-tech behemoth Cisco Systems, which generated about $40 billion last fiscal year, thinks so. Carlos Dominguez, Senior Vice President, Cisco highlighted to me last week that corporate social responsibility (CSR) is part of the cultural aspect of Cisco.

At Cisco, CSR practices are governed through a partnership between the Sustainability Business Practices (SBP) organization and affected business functions. SBP provides shareholder feed back to the management team, as well as guidance on potential environmental, social and governance and employee-related initiatives. There are four aspects of how CSR business processes are reflected at Cisco.

First, business and CSR goals are becoming integrated at Cisco; both financial and non-financial issues factor into business decisions. This harkens back to the balanced scorecard approach, originated by Robert Kaplan and David Norton in 1993.

Second, cross-functional collaboration allows for greater business impact by actively engaging diverse points of view and incorporating CSR objectives into each affected business functions’ business processes. This is an inclusive approach that reflects a broad view of stakeholder theory.

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