The Quiet Revolution in Social Impact
Friday, February 17, 2012
There are currently 30 million African migrants who have left their home countries to find work elsewhere. They support more than 300 million people in their home countries, remitting essential food and goods, and in aggregate represent more than $10b in annual economic activity. This is an economy without an infrastructure, however, relying on informal channels and bribes to function.
South African entrepreneur Suzana Moreira is working to change that. Her startup moWozauses SMS to help African migrants order, pay for, and select a place for parcel pickup. Instead of having to actually ship a bag of maize, for example, they can simply order one near the person they’re buying it for.
Suzana and moWoza are part of a quiet revolution in social impact. While in Silicon Valley, the last half decade has been all about the rise of technologies where “social” refers to a reorganization of product design around shared experiences with friends, around the world, the same time period has seen a massive shift in the nature of “social impact” – companies and nonprofits dedicated to solving problems ranging from poverty to health to sanitation with market forces.
Like in Silicon Valley, innovation in the impact sector has been driven by an acceleration in the growth of new startups, and a significant uptick in the infrastructure of resources to support them. New funds have emerged to provide seed and growth capital for businesses with both financial and social metrics of success, and media both new and oldhas gotten ever more interested in the stories of social entrepreneurs. Importantly, working towards social impact has become embedded in the Millennial zeitgeist and is being inescapably woven into this generation’s definition of success.
In this landscape, one of the most important institutions to emerge is the Unreasonable Institute. Like a Y Combinator or TechStars for social innovators, the Unreasonable Institute runs a 6-week summer program in which entrepreneurs from around the world come to Boulder, CO to learn from mentors (disclosure: I was previously a mentor for the program) who are experts in both subject domain areas and business process and strategy. These mentors not only run sessions for the participants, but actually live with them in converted University of Colorado student housing.
The program was founded with a simple belief: that solving the world’s biggest problems was going to take the full resources and efforts of great entrepreneurs, and that the scale of the challenge was matched only by the scale of the opportunity – for both financial and social return.