Nathan Wyeth

Weekly Roundup: Not Venture Capital – Village Capital

Better late than never for, ahem, last week’s roundup. Putting this up Monday has allowed me to include a few new items, including the release of Bill Gates’ 2010 “Annual Letter”.

  • Time will tell if Gates and his letters (this is the second) will become for philanthropy (philanthrocapitalism?) what Buffet and his annual letters to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders are for investors. This is an opportunity to understand in a narrative form the thinking that goes into the work of this mega-foundation. In Gates’ words:

    “Melinda and I see our foundation’s key role as investing in innovations that would not otherwise be funded. The ones with low risk are where the innovation has been proven at a small scale and the challenge is to scale up the delivery. High-risk innovations require the invention of new tools. Some are at the frontiers of science, such as finding a new drug and running a large trial to see how well it works. Other high-risk efforts involve changing social practices, such as persuading men at risk of getting HIV to get circumcised.”

    This chart gives greater insight into the Gates Foundation’s thinking.

    From his emergence on Twitter to the creation of his Gates Notes blog, Gates seems to be picking up for his philanthropic work some of the things that would’ve helped Microsoft out a lot – being a little more open, and understanding that lasting influence that is accepted willingly comes from people understanding the intelligence of the approach that you’re employing. The conversation that results will hopefully improve the effectiveness of his foundation, as well as those of the people who are already following in his footsteps as new-style philanthropists.

  • Two exciting incubator slates have been announced in the past weeks, both with an innovative, entrepreneur-driven investment process and backed by First Light Ventures, a sister fund to Gray Ghost Ventures. West Coast Village Capital at The Hub in Berkeley and the Unreasonable Institute will both invest a pot of seed money among a set of ventures as chosen by their peers in their respective incubator programs, the idea being that entrepreneurs themselves are well-positioned to make these decisions. The 24 startups at West Coast Village Capital span a range of sectors but include some development-oriented companies, including a pay-as-you-go computing company for East Africa and a rainwater collection system developer. A third village capital project is in Mumbai and a fourth is in New Orleans.
  • Further democratizing the process, you yourself can help choose the startups for the Unreasonable Institute in Boulder, Colorado with the Unreasonable Finalist Marketplace – 284 applicants have been narrowed to 42 phenomenally diverse, creative, unproven and certainly unreasonable finalists including startups focused on sanitation and energy in Africa, organizing informal sector workers in India, renewable energy development on Native land in the U.S., and housing in Peru, to name just a few. 25 will attend the Institute. If you think you’ve got good VC instincts, this is your chance to back a winner.
  • For the second annual Opportunity Collaboration, the Cordes Foundation is offering fellowships on a global basis for organizations and individuals who could benefit from this cross-organizational “strategic off-site” in Ixtapa, Mexico, October 15-20, 2010 that fosters new collaboration across the anti-poverty sector and new relationships between funders and funded. Crucially, the website notes that it will not include: “death by powerpoint, plenary speechifying, or theater-style seating.” Apply here.
  • If you want to get further out of theater-style seating, you can also apply for the Grassroutes fellowship which sends youth on road trips to rural India, where they are mapped to various organizations, work alongside change-makers, and do their bit to drive social change. This will be its third year.
  • However, for some world class plenary speechifying, made even more speechified via webcast, the World Economic Forum is this week in Davos. The agenda has been switched around to give Haiti top billing, but most of the agenda is focused on a “sustainable” recovery for the financial system. On that note, from

    “According to a recent article in Indian daily The Economic Times, Dubai’s financial crisis has caused a ripple around the Arab world, “eating away at the money many Middle East families depend on, sent home from relatives who work in Persian Gulf countries.” Worker wages from the Gulf account for 15 to 20 percent of the economy in countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt. Remittances to Egypt have already fallen by 25 percent over the last year, according to the article. The World Bank estimates that remittances are expected to decrease by over seven percent this year across the Middle East and North Africa. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that a decline in remittances combined with a drop in trade could leave many of the poorer Arab countries slower to recover from the global financial crisis than other parts of the world.”