Francisco Noguera

Find Out What Works. Then [Find A Platform to] Spread It.

I keep a few reference books close to my work station at all times, those that I find myself coming back to more often. One of them is Made to Stick, whose authors Chip and Dan Heath are now discussing how to change when change is hard. I’ve not read the whole book yet (only the excerpt published by Fast Company) but its central thesis is straightforward: Don’t focus too much on why this or that doesn’t work; instead, find what does work, and then replicate it.”

This notion rings a bell for those of us interested in social enterprise and in solutions that can potentially reach true scale. Maria Blair said it in a lecture I heard almost a year ago (which clearly stuck, to use the terms of the Heath brothers): The challenge today is not so much about finding technologies that work, but systems that enable those that do work to spread more rapidly.

A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of meeting Toshi Nakamura, co-founder of Kopernik, an interesting venture that addresses this very issue and launched a little over a week ago. In a nutshell, Kopernik allows technology providers and seekers to find each other, in the context of technologies that solve critical needs of BoP populations.

So, for example, say you manufacture a water filtering device that is currently distributed in Peru. An organization in Sierra Leone logs into Kopernik, learns about it, and concludes that the communities it works with could benefit from it. This creates a project whose goal of bringing the technology where is needed. The proposal is then open for individual donors to fund through donations channeled through PayPal.

Kopernik’s mission is similar to that of PowerMundo and Ayllu: make smarter connections, allowing existing enterprises to scale and expand into new markets. Its focus on technology and the use of a web-based mechanism set it apart from the other two, but the underlying principle is the same. I do think there’s growing awareness about the need for smart connectors in the social enterprise space, and we’re slowly getting smarter about the possibilities offered by the web to efficiently put the right pieces together.

One last thought about Kopernik has to do, precisely, with markets and their role in the venture’s vision: While bringing technologies to remote potential users is great news in itself, I wonder whether individual donations will make the process sustainable in the long run. What happens once the 13 N-Computing units have been funded and delivered in this project? I guess donations serve as an entry point, allowing for an initial interaction between user and technology that will unlock demand and market dynamics. It would be interest to contrast (and why not combine?) this approach with PowerMundo’s, whose approach relies on creating local distribution channels and a sales force for clean technology products in markets outside their initial niche.