Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Driving Developing World Solutions

Right now, there is no easy way to link social entrepreneurs to global communities in need.  Disruptive Thinker Shabnam Karimi has a way to do so.

With a Little Help From My Friends...
Ms Karimi is currently about to finish a Master's of Science in Global Leadership from the University of San Diego.  She has spent her life devoted to solving intractable problems worldwide, first as a public affairs officer for the UN and more recently as a Disaster Management Specialist for the Red Cross.  Combine this with an interest in business, and you begin to understand her passion for bringing these two disparate worlds together.

She calls her solution "Projectdoable."  I like to think of it as a cross between the XPrize and Kickstarter, only for social entrepreneurs.

The concept is simple enough, but profound in its implications.  A non-profit organization like the Red Cross identifies a problem, say the harmful health effects of kerosene lamps on children in the third world.  They create a short video about why the issue is important, and post it on Projectdoable's web portal.  An entrepreneur with inexpensive LED lamps sees his product as offering a unique solution.  He informs Projectdoable of his idea, and the coordinators within the Project make the necessary introductions.

Illuminating the Future
The Red Cross supplies 250,000 lamps in one year, and local health conditions improve.  A for-profit company finds a new, previously untapped market.  They project that sales could top 20 million in a few years.  Everybody benefits.

One of the unique elements about this Project is that it fills the space between the goals of a non-profit and pure for-profit entity.  Whereas for- profit organizations have a fiduciary duty to their shareholders to maximize profit, and non-profits have a duty to maximize social welfare, "For Benefit" firms fall somewhere in between.

As Forbes reports in "The Rise of The Charitable For-Profit Entity:"
In order to incorporate as a benefit corporation, the corporation must have the dual purpose to create general public benefit by creating value for its’ stakeholders – such as the community, local and global environment, employees, suppliers and customers- and create a profit for shareholders. For example, if the charter of a benefit corporation makes clear that it is organized to build affordable housing, officers and directors are therefore held accountable to achieve both this objective and a profit.  Legally this means, the benefit corporations can be shielded from lawsuits by shareholders who argue the corporation has diluted their stock by putting general social value over profit.
Those of us in the San Diego chapter of Disruptive Thinkers had the opportunity to hear Ms. Karimi present her vision firsthand last night.  She is preparing for a funding competition the University of San Diego Peace & Commerce Center is holding to promote budding problem solvers.  It was the first in our Disruptive Leader's Forum series, as we seek to not just discuss pervasive public policy problems, but also drive solutions for them.

In her own words, she describes Projectdoable in these terms:
Access and communication are two key challenges stifling social entrepreneurs in responding to society's most pervasive needs.  Social entrepreneurs have the resources and aspirations to respond to these needs.  Currently, however, business is limited in its ability to interact directly with individuals and communities in need.

Projectdoable will serve as a web-based portal connecting social entrepreneurs directly to individuals who are intimately connected to the challenges of their community.  This directory of of unmet social needs will simplify and package the data for entrepreneurs who are then encouraged to come up with innovative, affordable market solutions.  The end result is an accessible service that facilitates creative ideas, benefiting both communities and business owners.
Innovators and activists can now work hand in hand to solve societal issues with direct input from the people who best understand their communities. 

Do Something.
After an eight minute presentation, we offered  our feedback on both the business model and presentation style.  We peppered her with hard questions: The web developer in the room recommended the best way to deliver content.  Two successful young entrepreneurs in the for-profit world sharpened her end goal and delivery methods.  Frequent public speakers give their tips on capturing an audience.  Young innovators interested in Disruptive solutions helping one another, merely because they're intrigued.  Hopefully a model to build upon.

Will this idea take off?  Who knows.  Entrepreneurs always know the odds against success.  That said, all it takes is one enthusiastic and innovative person to change the world.  Judging from Ms. Karimi's knowledge and passion, she's a young woman to watch out for in the field of promoting For Benefit solutions.   


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