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Friday, March 27, 2009

The Ripple Effect - To be Defined

By Francisco Noguera

Editor's note: Guest Blogger Vinay Nagaraju sent us the following post from a panel at Skoll World Forum 2009, titled The Ripple Effect. The session was moderated by Ian Goldin, Director of James Martin 21st Century School. Speaking at the panel were  Ron Grzywinski (Chairman, Shorebank Corporation), Jeremy Hockenstein (CEO and Co-Founder, Digital Divide Data) and Marcia Odell (Director, WORTH, Pact Institute).

Each of the speakers on the panel was a social entrepreneur and had against all odds invested their effort, energy, dreams and money in ideas they believed and transformed communities in various parts of the world.

Marcia, while sharing passionately about her work at WORTH said that women can be successful bankers and successful entrepreneurs. The sources of income for these women from low-income groups at the end of the programme are not just their own social enterprises, but also their village social banks. She said that literacy was crucially important to providing access to information and that it was the fundamental capacity for their development. The women who she has worked with are now literate and have transferred these values (read importance of literacy) to their children thereby ensuring inter-generational transfer. Communities are collectively taking action around social issues of child marriage, dowry system, etc. It has created a ripple effect in communities.

Ron, spoke on how they had to change the psychology of individuals in the process of rebuilding community confidence. He made a distinction between sourcing clean capital that can support self-sustaining communities vis-à-vis capital from establishments that have ulterior motives in providing assistance. In the days of officially sanctioned discrimination on the basis of race and income, ShoreBank was created to demonstrate that a regulated bank could be instrumental in revitalizing the communities being avoided by other financial institutions. In 2000, ShoreBank expanded its focus to include environmental issues, believing that communities cannot achieve true prosperity without also attaining environmental well-being.

Jeremy is a co-founder of Digital Divide Data. DDD is a social enterprise providing education scholarships to handicapped and disadvantaged employees in Cambodia and Laos. Featured in Thomas L. Friedman's The World is Flat as an example of socially responsible outsourcing, the not-for-profit provides data entry, digitization and other IT outsourcing services to one hundred and fifty clients worldwide. Speaking of DDD he said that their biggest challenge was to continue having DDD as a 'non-profit' while continuing to make it sustainable. Merit based approach to recruiting and training people has been a corner stone of DDD's operations. Referring to the gaps that Jeff Skoll had urged to fill in the plenary address yesterday, he said for social entrepreneurs it is as much creating opportunity as much as seizing one.

In generating or raising funding for development work one has to confront the cynicism of people providing assistance. There were some in the audience who disputed this and said that Social Entrepreneurs should bypass development assistance to be true to the principles of social ideas. One of them argued that to seek funding from such quarters is a compromise with the 'aid community'. Also it is a choice between choosing to seek funds from communities that 'throws food from airplanes' rather than working with people at grassroots.

There were conversations on what it takes to be 'Practical Idealists' especially for today's youngsters. Ron in his response summed it up that social enterprise is the means to pay a new ethical order in the world. Business schools are the breeding ground to mould such catalysts. B-schools are a place to help create the first little step for budding entrepreneurs. The audience were enthralled to listen to these individuals who are on the frontlines and doing amazing work. Ripple effect indeed.

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