Francisco Noguera

Friday Roundup – 10/8/10: Social Enterprise and a $100 Million Gift

This year’s Social Enterprise Conference happens on a special week for Columbia University and its Business School in particular. One of its distinguished alumns, Mr. Henry Kravis, announced a pledge of US$100 million to help the school complete its expansion projects in the next several years. In addition to a new building for the school, this investment, according to Mr. Kravis, should increase the involvement of Columbia Business School with its sourrounding community, allowing it to better serve and interact with local entrepreneurs in the neighborhoods surrounding campus through the Columbia Community Business Program.

The spirit of learning by doing and having tangible impact while completing coursework is precisely the one promoted by the Social Enterprise Program led by Ray Fisman. Whether the focus is on upper Manhattan or developing countries, an overarching trend seems to increasingly define the business philosophy taught at Columbia: enterprise and markets as positive engines of societal change.

The conference kicked off bright and early with a keynote by Citi’s Robert Annibale, who commented on the bank’s engagement with the microfinance industry worldwide since its early beginnings. He spoke about the importance of competition and how more of it has increased transparency in the industry, and also made some remarks on the industries that could be “the next microfinance” in terms of gowth and innovation. Affordable housing, clean energy and savings products for the poor were included in his speech.

His keynote led to the morning parallel sessions. I sat at an interesting panel that discussed several mobile innovations in the developing world including the founders of Frogtek, mPedigree, Mobile Transactions and an innovative payments system being pioneered by Martin Hartigan. The panel also included remarks from IBM highlighting the firm’s latest research in last mile access to Internet and telecommunications. Though informative and diverse in the applications that were addressed, the panel had very limited time for questions and discussion. In spite of that, the packed room and the diversity of views showed the great excitement that surrounds mobile solutions to development.

I’m on my way to a the afternoon sessions and I hope I’ll be able to attend a couple of sessions: One about metrics, where I hope to learn more about the second version of IRIS, and a subsequent one about distribution challenges at the base of the pyramid.

I’ll be back soon with the second part of this week’s Roundup.