Guest Articles

February 10

Kyle Poplin / Scott Anderson / James Militzer

Social Business Roundup: Laureate Education Goes Big, Omidyar Gives Directly, Surdna Foundation Embraces Impact Investing


Biggest For-Profit College Company Gets Even Bigger

Laureate Education, the world’s largest for-profit college company, flexed its muscles this week, raising $490 million in its public debut.

The “education juggernaut,” the first chartered public benefit corporation to go public, does most of its business outside the complicated U.S. environment; the Obama administration cracked down on for-profit colleges but the Trump administration promises less regulation. “Laureate and its proponents portray the company as one that is focused on expanding access to higher education in emerging markets to support a rapidly-growing middle class,” says Forbes.  

(Speaking of which, it’s Education Month at NextBillion; make sure you check out our point / counterpoint on Bridge International Academies.)


Omidyar Gives … Directly

Omidyar Network provided a $493,000 grant to GiveDirectly, the nonprofit that has enabled donors to send millions of dollars in unconditional cash transfers to poor recipients – in part to determine if the model works. GiveDirectly’s program mirrors a universal basic income. While UBI has very little research behind it, GiveDirectly’s 12-year pilot in Kenya may offer solid answers. In a blog post, Omidyar’s Mike Kubzansky and Tracy Williams explain why more study is critical.

“While we don’t know what the right answer will be, or whether UBI will prove useful or feasible, this is an important first step on generating data, so that policymakers can make informed decisions. Emphasis on the word ‘first.’”


Debating Toward Impact Investing

How does a family foundation go from traditional grant-making for social justice causes to taking the plunge into impact investing? The Surdna Foundation announced plans to dedicate 10 percent of its endowment ($100 million) to a new impact investing fund. It also did something a bit unusual by detailing the decision-making process in a public report.

Tate Williams with Inside Philanthropy points out that “rather than charging ahead for one outcome, the (foundation’s) working group intentionally represented varying, passionate opinions on impact investing within the foundation. … Diverging opinions actually kept up momentum, and helped them gain full buy-in.”


BOP Bound? Count Customers, Not Profits, First

A new report written by researchers at INSEAD, the University of Toronto and co-founders of the social enterprise Essmart says too many companies are still “operating like Amazon or Walmart” when trying to reach base of the pyramid customers. Essmart distributes solar lamps and clean cookstoves to small retailers across India. It’s found success, the authors write, by providing catalogues, a few sample items and prompt product deliveries – easing the inventory risk to mom and pop shops selling them. It does the same for customers through “reverse logistics” supply chains that enable generous consumer product return policies. Find out more here.


Social Entrepreneurs Not on Team Trump

One thing you can say about Donald Trump: He forces people to take sides. And that’s just what dozens of social entrepreneurship leaders did this week, signing an open letter to the president protesting his Jan. 27 executive order banning people from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S.. (That order has since been blocked by the courts, and appears headed to the Supreme Court.)

The  letter says, “Groups like ours exist to help lift up the poorest and most marginalized with innovative solutions. In our opinion, this ban will make our work to foster peace, sustainability, opportunity and inclusiveness much harder.”


NYT Looks Into ‘Passion Investing’

The New York Times this week tells the story of investors who know they’re going to lose money and are more than OK with it. The Times describes this group as “passion investors” – mostly high net worth individuals who care more about advancing causes that will, possibly(?), pay off down the line. Impact investors look for returns and try to “make a practical accommodation between today’s reality and tomorrow’s aspiration. Passion investors spurn such accommodations. They are driven by a belief in the primacy of a cause – animal rights, climate change, reducing waste – and try to apply that desire to all investment types.”


NCDs Need a New Name. Got One?

Drs. Luke Allen and Andrea Feigl know this: “non-communicable diseases” is not a fitting name for what is now the world’s largest killer.

It’s a “longwinded non-definition,” they write in The Lancet, “that only tells us what this group of diseases is not.” It’s time, they say, to put some thought into branding NCDs, which are – along with infectious diseases and injuries – one of the three largest groups of ailments.

They prefer the terms “societal and ecological.” To their credit – and our relief – they admit those terms aren’t ideal, either, and invite debate. We relay it here: “What should this group of conditions be called?”


Report: How Behavioral Research Can Boost Savings and Improve Budgeting

It can be hard to make sound financial decisions, especially for low-income people with little room for error. This week, Common Cents (Duke University’s financial research lab), working with MetLife Foundation, released a report exploring how behavioral research can help. The report aims to provide a better understanding of the financial behavior of low-to-moderate income American households, focusing on five core areas: improving cash flow management, decreasing expenses, managing debt, increasing short-term savings and increasing long-term savings.


With Death of Hans Rosling, World Loses a Lot of Charisma

The world “has never been less bad.”

That’s a refreshing worldview we could use a little more of these days, right? Unfortunately, the man who spoke those optimistic words, and then showed them to be true, has died. Hans Rosling, a Swedish professor of global health, “edutainer” and founding board member of Gapminder, passed away on Tuesday at age 68, depriving the world of his special brand of charisma.

Rosling used bubble charts to show the while the world has many problems, global development is on an overall positive trajectory marked by incredible improvements. Check out this 2006 TED video which helped introduce him to the world:






Education, Health Care, Investing, Social Enterprise
behavioral economics, financial inclusion, impact investing