Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Bouncing Ideas Around

To develop our best ideas we need (as Paul Graham and Ravi Mohan point out below) to be able to discuss them with others. The Oxford Alliance community ( is intended to be a safe place for social entrepreneurs to meet and discuss their ideas. If you have an interest in social entrepreneurship, then consider bouncing your ideas for social innovation around with us at Oxford Alliance.
Paul Graham says, in one of his essays (emphasis mine)

"....Why do you need other people? Can't you just think of new ideas yourself? The empirical answer is: no. Even Einstein needed people to bounce ideas off. Ideas get developed in the process of explaining them to the right kind of person. You need that resistance, just as a carver needs the resistance of the wood.

In my experience, this need for "friendly resistance" extends to far more than creating startups. Every time you have a new idea, you need people you can bounce it off. To get any real benefit out of this process you need people with a complex combination of characteristics.

They should

  1. have firm (but not rigid) opinions on their own

  2. have logical reasons for those beliefs and be able to articulate them clearly

  3. are driven by ideas and not ideology

  4. not attach their egos to their opinions.

  5. be willing to concede a valid argument even if it forces them to possibly re-examine their beliefs

  6. know how to listen

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Sole of Africa

The Sole of Africa is a campaign created by the Mineseeker Foundation. The Foundation works to remove landmines from old battlefields; thus, returning killing fields to agricultural use. The Mineseeker Foundation is also working to end hunger and generate sustainable economic development in 70 areas around the world. Its list of patrons and supporters is impressive. The list includes: Nelson Mandela, Queen Noor, Sir Richard Branson, John Paul DeJoria and many other notables (check its website for a more complete list).

Given the campaign's good work, I was delighted to find that The Sole of Africa campaign has posted the following comment about Nourish the Children (NTC) on its website:

The Sole of Africa is thrilled that the mega food agency, Nourish the Children, together with its worldwide empowered distributor team has joined forces to continue this quest to Make Poverty History. A child dies every 6 seconds from malnutrition, no food and dirty water.

For those of you that do not know Nourish The Children, SOA believes that it is the most complete Social Marketing program working in the world. So do a lot of other people. Since their unique business model was birthed, their growing "Force for Good" under the Chairmanship of legendary Lee Iacoca have now donated over 75,000,000 especially formulated and enriched Vitameals.

75,000,000 in only a few years!!!!!! Donated not by large fund raisers or governments but by people just like you.

Let us hope that we soon see an end to the scourage of both landmines and hunger. If NTC's teams continue to work with entrepreneurial zeal, this goal is definitely within grasp.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

User Led Innovation

Here are some examples of Professor Eric von Hippel's "User Led Innovation" as collected by Nokia's Jan Chipchase:

"Rural Battery Charging Services, Uganda" A short January 2007 presentation authored with Indri Tulusan that introduces the home battery charging services to charge devices with limited access to mains power supply. Given that mobile phones require power, and access to power can be unpredictable how do people keep their mobile phones and other devices charged?
Download PowerPoint, PDF [2MB]
"Power Up: Street Charging Services, Kampala" A short January 2007 presentation authored with Indri Tulusan that introduces the street services that enable Kampala residents without regular access to mains power to keep their mobile phone's charged.
Download PowerPoint, PDF[3MB]
"Village Phone, Uganda" A short January 2007 presentation that introduces a collaboration between Nokia, Grameen Foundation USA, and Micro Finance Initiatives in Uganda to extend cellular connectivity to remote rural locations.
Download PowerPoint, PDF [2MB]
"Community Address Book & Call Log" A short January 2007 presentation co-authored with Indri Tulusan and Lokesh Bitra drawing on research between 2004 and 2006 in India, Nepal and Uganda that documents phone kiosk owner’s use of paper notebooks to record the phone numbers used by their customers - the combination of the book and the kiosk operator effectively becomes the community address book and call log for the members of the community that use that kiosk.
Download PowerPoint, PDF [1MB]
"Shared Phone Practices: Exploratory Field Research from Uganda and Beyond" December 2006 presentation authored with Indri Tulusan that introduces the results of a Nokia study of Shared Phone Use, drawing on research in Uganda, Indonesia, Nepal, India, China and Mongolia. Introduces the concepts of Sente, Step Messaging, Pooling et al..
Download PowerPoint, PDF [6.5MB]

Social entrepreneurs should find the above examples pregnant with meaning.

In keeping with my observation that the world is full of innovation, but not of people who recognise it when they see it, Chipchase states:
The tough part of the job is in using the data to inform, inspire and affect how my colleagues think and what they do.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Breaking Down Resistance to Innovation

As I stated in a previous post, I don't believe there is any shortage of innovative social and humanitarian ideas. There is instead a shortage of people who recognise and embrace innovation of any kind, and a shortage of social entrepreneurs who know how to put their good ideas across. Most innovative ideas (good and bad) are destined to go unnoticed - that's a fact.

There isn't a lot that we can do to change human nature. Resistance to change is here to stay, but that doesn't mean it's insurmountable. We can - we must - learn to present our innovative ideas in ways that overcome the natural inertia resident in all of us. In short, we need to learn to sell our ideas.

Fortunately, the utilisation of effective sales methods does not require one to engage in shallow, manipulative or other ethically questionable behaviour. One need not wallow in the muck to put one's ideas across effectively. This was underscored in an e-mail essay I received on Tuesday(along with 49,000 others) from Robert Middleton.

Robert writes:

I admit it. I watched the Grammy Awards last night. The whole thing. Let me give you a very quick rundown:

There were wall-to-wall musical performances. Some awards were given out. Heartfelt thank-yous were offered. Everyone looked beautiful. But the show is already fading from memory.

The Grammys, like most award shows, value style over substance. Lots of flash and glitz and "look at how passionately wonderful I am." It all gets a little overwhelming after awhile as one thinks, "But I don't even listen to this kind of music, anyway!"

However, I took away a valuable marketing lesson that I'd like to share with you: Most marketing messages are much like the Grammys: the substance is missing.

Everyone's trying to get the perfect marketing message, the perfect look, the perfect mind-blowing information that will compel prospects to respond in droves.

But it usually falls flat. Why?

Because it's often missing the most important thing of all: What the client actually gets from working with you. Don't think this is all that important?

Let me tell you a story...

One of the people in my current Marketing Action Group had been struggling with her marketing message. Nothing was really working. But finally she applied some of my ideas on creating a marketing message and told someone the story of a recent client success.

And the immediate response was: "Wow, I need your services. Will you work with me?"

And the great thing is that it wasn't a fluke. Now almost every time she uses the message, people want to work with her. Hey, her message was so great that I even decided to work with her!

Her message was so powerful, in fact, that I'm hosting a TeleClass program with her next month. I won't give away her message right now. That's not my point today. The point is that the substance of the message is the key.

How do you create a message with substance? Here's a 5-step process that will work for you.

1. Identify your ideal client
Your message will not work for everyone. You need to be clear exactly who your message is for. Who can you help the most? Who do you understand the best? Where do you have the most
experience? Think all of this through and develop your message specifically for this ideal client.

2. Identify a client challenge
What does your ideal client want to do but doesn't know how? What's missing for them? What are they struggling with? What is confusing or frustrating for them? Clearly articulate this: "I work with these kind of clients who have this kind of challenge."

3. Identify a service and outcome
What specific service could you offer to address the client problem and provide a desirable outcome? Keep it simple: "I offer this kind of service and when clients use this service they will get this result." A service without a promised outcome is a wast of time.

4. Prove you can deliver the outcome
If you a haven't offered this service before, then find an ideal client and perform it for them. If you need to cut your price or even offer it free to validate the outcome, so be it. But you need
to be confident you can produce that outcome consistently.

5. Use your story as your message
The most powerful marketing messages are simple stories that demonstrate that you delivered a desirable outcome. "This was a client who came to me. They had this frustrating challenge. I
implemented my service. These were the results."

This is the process my Marketing Action Group participant went through. She now has a reliable marketing message that's all substance, no style. She doesn't have to worry about perfect words or the "magic phrase." She just needs to tell her outcome story and get a positive response. Every time.

The actual response you get will depend on who your clients are, the depth of their challenge, their interest in getting an outcome, the actual service you develop and the kind of results you can deliver consistently.

But I promise you that if you follow these five steps to the letter, you'll emerge with a marketing message that's a quantum leap beyond what you're using now.

The More Clients Bottom Line: Avoid the "Grammy Factor" where your marketing message emphasizes style over substance. Deliver a desirable outcome for your clients and simply tell a story of the actual results you got. It really doesn't get any more powerful than that.

[Robert requires the following attribution statement.]

By Robert Middleton of Action Plan Marketing. Please visit
Robert's web site at for additional
marketing articles and resources on marketing for professional
service businesses.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Samuelson on Social Entrepreneurship

Last Tuesday I invited several social entrepreneurs to comment on this year's Oxford Skoll Forum theme "enabling social innovation". One especially thoughtful comment was sent to me by Peter Samuelson. I asked Peter If he would mind my sharing his insights here, and I am happy to report that he doesn't.

I want you to know a little about Peter before you read his remarks. The following is taken from his biographical entry in the 2005 Skoll Forum notes.

Peter is both a successful feature film producer, and a successful social entrepreneur. He is the founder of three philanthropies that together have raised (as reported in his 2005 Skoll Forum biography) over $150 million for disadvantaged children.

In 1982 Peter established the Starlight Children's Foundation-a non-profit organisation dedicated to granting wishes for seriously ill children. He then expanded Starlight services to provide in-hospital entertainment. Today with chapters in the United States, Canada, Austrailia and the United Kingdom, Starlight benefits over 170,000 children every month.

In 1990 Peter brought Steven Spielberg and General H. Norman Schwarzkopf together to create the Starbright Foundation. This foundation develops media and technology based programs that educate and empower children to cope with the medical, emotional and social challenges of their illness. The Starlight and Starbright foundations have now merged into the Starlight Starbright Children's Foundation.

In 1999 Peter founded First Star a charity that works to improve the public health, safety, and family life of America's abused and neglected children.

Peter sent his permission to me on Sunday from the Berlin International Film Festival where his film Man in the Chair is in the competition.

Peter writes:

What I have found works, personally and in teaching social entrepreneurship, to create the self-determination to face down the constant nay-sayers, is to first fully imagine and inhabit the final built-out version of what is intended. If one fully comprehends that final 'neighborhood' in advance, it results in three productive benefits, of which the third is relevant to your point:

* It is then vastly easier to conceptualize progressive stepping-stones from here to there.
* It flushes out aspects in the plan that need refinement.
* It creates a psychological sense of certainty that the "it" will in fact work, which is mandatory in facing down the inevitable nay-sayers on the way. Me, I'm able to think "I've been to Rome; so don't tell me Rome is impossible.... I've walked around it for hours".

There are also reasons why truly forward-thinking, out-of-the-box ideas flourish better when the social/corporate environment is small, entrepreneurial and as far from a built-out business as possible: I'm on my fourth major pro-social endeavor at the moment.... it was necessary, and infinitely easier, to create #'s 2 through 4 as stand-alone enterprises, rather than parts of the prior, happily running charities (I know.... I tried both ways!) Row-boats turn faster than oil tankers and corporate conservatism most often kills fragile new ideas. And the original thin rope which became the Brooklyn Bridge was first carried across the water in a row-boat. Seriously.... I just read that!

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Resistance to Innovation

Resistance to Innovation is the Norm: Things will Change - But Slowly, If Incumbents have a Choice! Eric von Hippel

Eric von Hipple is Professor of Management of Innovation and Head of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Group at the MIT Sloan School of Management. He is author of The Sources of Innovation, and Democratizing Innovation (ISBN: 0-262-00274-4).

Democratizing Innovation
is available from the MIT Press Web site in an electronic format at no cost, provided that its use is for non-commercial purposes and proper attribution is made, otherwise it sells for $32.00/£20.95.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Business and the Global Poor

This week's issue of the Harvard Business School Working Knowledge newsletter has an interview with Kash Rangan that merits the attention of all social entrepreneurs. Here's a small taster to get you started:

Even when companies do carefully consider the economic and social impacts of their products on the poor, they may still face reputational threats if their BOP ventures are seen as "excessively profitable." Of course, it can be argued that without this profit, businesses targeting the poor will not attract the level of investment necessary to be sustainable or scaleable across the entire BOP. According to this view, above-average profitability should be seen as a sign of success, one that will no doubt invite competition and thereby bring down prices, ultimately benefiting the poor. To minimize negative public perception, however, companies that find that they are "profiting from the poor" must be willing to publicly address the profit debate, work collaboratively with NGOs and governments, and also measure and report on the social value they are creating for the poor.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Enabling Social Innovation

This year's Oxford Skoll Forum will focus on enabling social innovation. It's an interesting problem: we aren't very good at recognising and supporting innovation (at least not in its early stages).

I've been scanning recent best sellers on business innovation, and have found them to be, for the most part, filled with innovation clichés. I'll not list the clichés here, but in the main the advice seems to be: create an environment that encourages "out of the box thinking". (I've come to hate that phrase. Almost everyone I've been introduced to this past week has been described as an "out of the box thinker.")

I'm not convinced that there is a dearth of innovation, but my hunch is that there is a dearth of investors, managers, bureaucrats, politicians and academics who are good at spotting it. Joel Podolny, a very innovative thinker (now dean of the Yale B'School) told me that when Jeff Skoll first showed him the eBay idea (at Stanford), he told Jeff the concept probably wouldn't work.

The Beatles (an innovative musical group some years back:-) were turned down by a number of labels, before EMI/Capitol signed them. In fact, EMI/Capitol had rejected them, but Sir George Martin happened (accidentally) to hear their audition tape, and rushed out to catch Brian Epstein before he left the EMI office.

I am reminded of Gray's lines:

Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

The creative component that most are now focused on is certainly important, but if we want to stimulate innovation, I think we need to pay some attention to developing an ear or eye for it - a George Martin ear. Our world is rich in innovation, but short on recognition of it. Mark Twain advises us not to worry about having our ideas stolen. He claims that when an innovative idea has merit, most right thinking people will reject it.

The main impediment, I believe, is that our observations are theory laden. We are incapable of unmediated observation. Theory is our vision. We see what we believe. Quid quid recipitur, ad modum recipientis reciptur.

There are, I think, ways around the problem. Sir Karl Popper, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound point to possible solutions, but I'll save that discussion for another day.

If procrastination doesn't catch me, I plan to blog on this topic over the next month, and I hope that many of you will find the time to share your thoughts on the topic.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Skoll 2007

If you haven't registered yet, know that time is running out!

Registration is under way for the 2007 Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship at

This annual event will take place March 27-29, 2007, at Said Business School at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. To view more information about the 2007 program, schedule and fees, click here:

With tremendous demand and limited capacity in Oxford, we expect the event to sell out very quickly. Unfortunately, neither the Skoll Centre nor the Skoll Foundation is able to provide a wait list or accept individual inquiries for space. Those unable to attend this year will have unlimited access to streaming video, daily blogs and other resources from the Forum at

The Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship is an international event that last year attracted nearly 700 social entrepreneurs, thought leaders, policy makers, corporate representatives, financiers, philanthropists and students from more than 40 countries. The theme for 2007 is enabling social innovation, understanding how innovation informs new models and approaches for solving complex social and environmental problems. For three days, we will convene a series of plenaries, panel discussions, workshops and academic presentations designed for learning, problem solving and community building.

Among the speakers will be:

  • Jeff Skoll, Founder and Chairman, Skoll Foundation and Participant Productions
  • Muhammad Yunus, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Grameen Bank founder and microfinance pioneer
  • Christiane Amanpour, Chief Foreign Correspondent, CNN
  • David Galenson, Professor at the Department of Economics, University of
    Chicago and best-selling author of numerous books on creativity and
  • Dr. Larry Brilliant, Executive Director,, Founder and former Director of the Seva Foundation
  • Bill Drayton, CEO and Chair, Ashoka
  • Jeroo Billimoria, Founder, Child Savings International
  • Fazle Abed, Founder, BRAC
  • Susan Collin Marks, Senior Vice President, Search for Common Ground
  • Ashok Khosla, President, Development Alternatives Group
  • Nina Smith, Executive Director, RugMark
  • J.B. Schramm, Founder and CEO, College Summit, Inc.
  • Salman Ahmad, world renowned Pakistani musician and UN Goodwill Ambassador

During the conference, you will be invited to attend the inspiring Skoll Awards Ceremony at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, which honors individual social entrepreneurs from all over the world who are creating positive, systemic change across critical issue areas, including the environment, institutional responsibility, health, peace and security, social and economic equity, and tolerance and human rights.

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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Build a Village

I received the following message from NSE's Elizabeth Thibeaudeau today:

Dear Ambassador,

On behalf of Nu Skin Enterprises, I want to inform you about NSE’s latest efforts to make a difference in children’s lives. As you are aware, the Build a Village project from Nu Skin Force for Good Foundation has already begun. This ambitious project has a two-fold goal: the first is to build an actual village in Malawi, Africa; the second goal is to make this village a “living classroom.” Many Malawians will come to live in the village and learn agricultural techniques, house construction, fish farming, and other beneficiary trades. Already, with your help, we have been able to bring sixty acres of arid land under cultivation as a result of the construction of a new dam.

For more information about this project and its success so far, please see the Build a Village video which is now available for online viewing on Maxcast. You can locate this by going to This video was presented during a speech by Sandie Tillotson, Senior Vice-President of Nu Skin Enterprise in the General Session of the North America Convention October 26, 2006.

These projects could not have been started without your support and participation. I thank you for your help thus far, and request your continued contributions to these projects. Your participation in the Build a Village Project will help ensure the livelihood of Malawi farmers and their families. Nu Skin believes that together, we can make a monumental difference in the lives of people throughout the world.

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