Nourish International Keynote Event w/ Jessica Jackley

Last night I went to the Global Education Center for a banquet hosted by Nourish International, which featured Kiva‘s co-founder Jessica Jackley.  This event was the culmination of Nourish’s “Summer Institute,” a 5 day training program for student leaders in colleges all over the United States.

Jessica Jackley

Jessica Jackley

After watching an exciting final for the U.S. Open, I was dressed in shorts, a shirt, and sandles and walked towards the Global Education Center for the banquet.  The Global Ed. Center is only a minute away from my house.  As I came closer to the building I saw that everyone was wearing some very fancy suits and dresses, so I thought I should probably wear something more formal than my sandles, shorts and shirt.  After re-evaluating my attire, I was back at the Global Ed. Center eating some tasty hors d’oeuvres (there were even strawberries and pineapples from Edible Arrangements!)  The crowd was older, but I saw several students in there as well. In total, I would guess we were about 100 people.  We were ushered in to the Nelson Mandela auditorium where, after a brief introduction by James Dillard (Executive Director of Nourish), Jessica Jackley spoke about her life and Kiva — the organization she co-founded.

What struck me about Jessica was her modesty and humility when she spoke. She was not in any way pretentious, or talked as if she knew everything there was to know in the microfinancing world, even though she helped launch one of the most successful microfinance organizations to date.  She grew up in a middle-class environment in Pittsburgh, where she first heard of the “poor” and “poverty” during the Sunday sermon at her local church.  This was her first realization that she had to do something about this huge and seemingly unsolvable issue. Fast forward to college where she double-majored in Philosophy and Political Science from Bucknell University. She studied what interested her, but she was still not any closer to tackling that enormous problem of poverty in our world.  For some reason, she really didn’t delve much about, Jessica got on a plane and flied to Stanford. She arrived without a job, a house, a car or bike.

She gave her resumé to whoever would take it, and soon enough found a job as a temporary assistant to someone who was in maternity leave (or something along those lines) at the Stanford Center for Social Innovation. Now, don’t think that this was a lucky coincidence, she had already heard about the Center for Social Innovation at Stanford, and I believe that’s what attracted her to Stanford in the first place. She was indeed very lucky to get this position (which was only supposed to be temporary, but ended up staying for about 3 years) where she was able to talk to people and get herself involved with projects that were changing lives.  After 3 years of working she decided that she wanted to actually go out and experience these issues herself. She applied to several non-profits in Africa and was able to land a volunteer position with the Village Enterprise Fund, where she had to interview entrepreneurs in East Africa and handle the funds that went to their projects. According to her, this was the best job she has had. She met a ton of inspirational people in East Africa, each one who had their own story to tell. She was fascinated with these stories and began to write about them in her journal. When she was able to get an internet connection she sent them out to family and friends. One can start to see where the first stages of Kiva originated. She came back to the US and wondered what would happen if she just sent some loans to her friends in East Africa.  Would you need a license? A business?

She started to ask lawyers and almost everyone she talked to did not want to get involved. After a year of frustrating talks she decided she was going to launch Kiva with her partner Matt. She said that the first two weeks of starting Kiva taught them more than the previous year had.  I wanted to ask Jessica more about the start of Kiva, since she didn’t really elaborate much on the topic. However, she went back to Stanford, this time to get an MBA, and learn about running a business, since she had never taken a business class before starting Kiva.  These stories always encourage me since you don’t always have to do what you studied during your college career. If you studied environmental studies (like I have) but are interested in developing a business on some environmental technology (like I am) I believe I could simply start one (like Jessica did). Of course this is over-simplifying the matter, but I believe it is true. She said that the first year of Kiva, they were able to raise $500,000 (this is the loans for entrepreneurs in the Kiva website), second year somewhere around $10 million, third year about $45 million, now in their fourth year they have raised $85,808,135 (this is a cumulative total).  This is an exponential increase in loans. What is even more amazing than this staggering number is that all the loans are made with amounts of$25.

The big take-away that I got from her talk was about believing in yourself. She spoke about something that I often think about.  If you have an idea that you want to create, or see in the world. Then you look it up in Google and see that there are about 15 different forms of that idea, you should not be discouraged. The “entrepreneur” will find a way to get that idea out in the world.  There might be 1000 people that have the same idea as you, but maybe you are the only one who has the determination to actually see it happen.

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Currently Reading: The Power of Unreasonable People

I have started to read The Power of Unreasonable People by John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan.  I thought I should post a small passage from this book since the authors give us yet another way to define “social entrepreneurship.”  I mentioned that I have been struggling with the definition of social entrepreneurship, trying to explain this to people who do not know about the subject is particularly difficult.

“Listen to Bo Peabody, a highly successful serial entrepreneur who sold his first venture at age twenty-one for $60 million and has gone on to spin off multiple other successful ventures.  ‘When I was growing up, ‘entrepreneur’ carried roughly the same connotation as ‘inventor,” he recalls. ‘The word conjured up images of your wacky uncle doing some science experiments in hi basement in search of a new species of peanut butter. But by the late nineties, ‘entrepreneur’ meant millionaire and celebrity. And that meant everyone wanted to be an entrepreneur. The problem is this: Very few people are entrepreneurs.’  … The central point Peabody makes is this: ‘Entrepreneurs are born, not made. One does not decide to be an entrepreneur. One is an entrepreneur.  Those who decide to become entrepreneurs are making the first in a long line of bad business decisions’.”

So there you have it. Entrepreneurship is embedded in your genes, you have it or you don’t…  I disagree.  After reading Gladwell’s “Outliers” I believe that entrepreneurs have certain characteristics that they are born with, but some characteristics are due to their upbringing and the opportunities available in their life.  I do not think entrepreneurs are born entrepeneurs, entrepreneurs (and people in general) are shaped by circumstances that are outside of our control and the way we were brought up, plus our genetic inheretance also plays an important role.

Movie Review: The Entrepreneur

I just saw a movie called “The Entrepreneur” on Hulu.  It will be available on Hulu for three more days. Even though it does not deal with social entrepreneurship, it shows some characteristics of an “entrepreneur,” that being persistance and determination. This is the story about Malcolm Bricklin, the man who brought the Yugo to America.  I had no idea who Bricklin is, or what the Yugo was, but his story shows someone who has a vision and determination that is unparallel and can only be associated with the classic symbol of entrepreneurship.

Book Review – Outliers: The Story of Success

I must admit that this book is only here because the title caught my attention, “Outliers: The Story of Success.”  After reading Bornstein’s, “How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas,” I knew that social entrepreneurs are some of the most driven and successful individuals one could meet, yet I wanted to read a book with a different approach to describing success.  Bornstein highlights the individual (social entrepreneur) in such a way that it is very hard to see exactly how that individual came to be so successful at what he or she does.  I believe we usually hear about the geniuses, the talented and the entrepreneurs (social, artistic and commercial) similar to how Bornstein’s describes the Ashoka fellows;  someone is compelled to change the world, through their hard work, extraordinary vision and intelligence they are able to pull it off.  Gladwell takes a completely different approach to describing these “outliers” and delves deep into the opportunities and the cultural legacies of these successful people.  Even though Gladwell does not focus on social entrepreneurship (he only mentions ‘entrepreneurship’ once in his book), he does enlighten the reader by explaining why most professional hockey players were born in the first half of the year, how many hours of practice one needs to fully master a skill (10,000), and why kids with extraordinary IQ’s does not correlate with success later in life.

As I mentioned before, Gladwell convinces the reader on the power of opportunity and cultural legacy.   To illustrate the importance of opportunity, Gladwell gives us the following example of Bill Gates and Bill Joy.  The former is more well known than the latter, but they are both probably two of the most famous people in the computer programming world. Gates is the founder of a company called Microsoft, (you might have heard of it), and Joy is the founder of Sun Microsystems (might not have had about this one), but to put Joy’s success context,

“Do you know who wrote much of the software that allows you to access the internet? Bill Joy.”

Both of these men were undoubtedly talented and ambitious, they would never have done what they did if they weren’t, but Gladwell argues that they were also incredibly lucky.  You might wonder what does luck have to do with anything if they were both incredibly smart, top of their class, went to the best universities, etc. However, this is where Gladwell’s insight brings the reader to look at people like Bill Gates and Bill Joy in a whole new way.  They both happened to have been born between the years 1954-1955. Why is this important? In January 1975 the Altair 8800 hit the market, this was revolutionary,

“It was a do-it-yourself contraption that you could assemble at home … For years, every hacker and electronics whiz had dreamt of the day when a computer would come along that was small and inexpensive enough for an ordinary person to use and own. That day had finally arrived.”

So if someone wanted to be successful in the computer programming world, the best age to be (when this revolutionary computer was first available to the public) would be 20-21 years old, if you were older than say 25, you would have a job, be married, in debt, with a baby on the way (according to Gladwell’s assumptions).  If you were younger than 18, you would still be in high school. The ideal age is in between, and this would mean that the “perfect” birth date would be 1954-1955.  Bill Gates was born in October 28, 1955. Bill Joy was born in November 8, 1954. If you think that this is simply a coincidence, Gladwell points out other famous computer programming outliers:

Andy Bechtolsheim (co-founder of Sun Microsystems): September 30, 1955; Vinod Khosla (co-founder of Sun Microsystems): January 28, 1955; Scott McNealy (co-founder of Sun Microsystems): November 13, 1954; Eric Schmidt (ran Novell, CEO of Google): April 27, 1955; Steve Jobs (founder of Apple): February 24, 1955; Steve Ballmer (CEO of Microsoft): March 24, 1956; Paul Allen (co-founder of Microsoft): January 21, 1953

I have shortened Gladwell’s example considerably, but you get the point.  Through a series several lucky events (opportunities), both Bill Gates and Bill Joy were able to ride to the top of the computer world.  If you were born in the earlier part of the 1950’s, you had an opportunity that was not available to people born a few years before or after. Of course, it isn’t just being born in these years, where you come from (cultural legacy) also has an influence in this formula (plus the obvious intelligence, vision, hard work, etc).

This book might be read with some hopelessness since success seems like it depends on factors outside of your own control (opportunity and where you come from) but if I learned anything from my entrepreneurship minor it’s that the entrepreneurs actively search for the opportunity and seize it. This is in fact Gladwell’s overarching moral of his story, what separates the successful (outliers) from everyone else, seizing the opportunities laid in front of you.  Another entrepreneurship lesson is that opportunity is everywhere.  Gladwell makes several of these analytical observations on other aspects that involve opportunity and cultural legacy (why it matters where airplane pilots come from and why Asian kids routinely score better on math tests than Western kids).  I recommend everyone to read this book to have another perspective on success.  The book is available at Davis Library and the Undergrad Library at the UNC Chapel Hill campus and also on Amazon.

New Book Review – Outliers

I am currently reading Malcolm Gladwell’s (author of international best-selling books The Tipping Point and

Blink) newest book, Outliers: The Story of Success. I thought this would be an appropriate book to review, following David Bornstein’s How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas. Gladwell takes a radically different approach in describing the stories of geniuses, successful leaders, and also entrepreneurs. He calls these people “outliers.”  Gladwell decimates the traditional “rags-to-riches” parable of famous people and gives new insight on how those people became successful.

I will try to write the book review up this weekend!

9 Cool College Start-ups

9 Cool College Start-ups

Although this is not specifically related to social entrepreneurship, I found this while searching through entrepreneurship “resources” for a social entrepreneurship curriculum we are making. This came from Inc. Magazine, a pretty ‘cool’ magazine.

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Book Review – How to Change the World

The title of this blog (How to Change the World) comes from the title of a book I’m reading by David Bornstein.  I have been reading this book for my internship with Frontline Solutions, a for-profit company that assists non-profits, philanthropic organizations and communities with resources, tools and networks of support. Their website (link above) has their motto, “helping change happen” which accurately describes their mission.   If you search through their website you can look at the different publications they have written, most of which are ethnographic research studies. The main office is in New York, but they also have an office in Philadelphia and one in Durham.  Micah Gilmer, the UNC Social Entrepreneur in Residence, is in charge of the Durham office.

Back to the book!

As I mentioned before, I’m reading this book for my internship with Frontline Solutions. The book is all about “social entrepreneurs and the power of new ideas”. Bornstein tells us stories of people who have overcome great challenges, have extraordinary vision and a huge heart.  These people are fighting for environmental benefits, rights of children, mentally handicapped people and other noble causes.  Of course Bornstein is referring to the social entrepreneurs in this world, and the stories that illustrate why they have are being written about.  I had heard of some of the people he mentions before, (such as Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize recipient in 2006) but the vast majority of the people were completely unknown to me.  The people he talks about do not have a high government job, they are not the CEO’s of large corporations in their countries, they might not have powerful friends to ask favors, they are civilians that have an extremely passionate view and will do anything to change the problem they see in the world.  The social entrepreneurs he writes about are (almost all) Ashoka fellows.  Ashoka works similar to a venture capital firm in the sense that they financially support entrepreneurs for their work.  Instead of a return in financial capital, Ashoka aims for a return in social capital, by funding a social entrepreneur.  I think Ashoka needs it’s own blog entry, but here is a little sidenote on Ashoka:  Ashoka operates in 46 countries all over the world, it has assisted more than 1400 social entrepreneurs, and has provided them with over $40 million in direct funding, and other professional services.  Ashoka has representatives in every country they work in that search rigorously for social entrepreneurs.  Once they are selected as “Ashoka Fellows” they are provided with a living stipend (the average is about $45,000 per year, but it depends on the country) for three years, which allows them to focus full-time on “building their institutions and spreading their ideas.” If you want to know more about Ashoka and Bill Drayton visit their site, I have it on my blogroll, also here is an interesting podcast list about social entrepreneurship, Ashoka and Drayton.

J. Gregory Dees points out that the “value created” by social entrepreneurs is not very east to calculate.  Dees wrote an article entitled, “The Meaning of ‘Social Entrepreneurship,'” where he writes,

“Social entrepreneurs operate in markets, but these markets often do not provide the right discipline … It is inherently difficult ot measure social value creation.  How much social value is created by reducing pollution in a given stream, by saving the spotted owl, or by providing companionship to the elderly?”

Dees believes that the problem with the value created of social entrepreneurs is not easily quantifiable (as opposed to the value created by business entrepreneurs, who can calculate the value of a company with stocks). The founder of Ashoka, Bill Drayton, saw the value that these social entrepreneurs were creating, and he created his organization Ashoka for the diffusion of social ideas that helped the community, people, the country and even the planet.  “How to Change the World, Social Entrepreneurs and The Power of New Ideas” was written to help spread this message of social entrepreneurship.  How these seemingly “normal” people from different backgrounds (mothers, teachers, government workers, etc.) can create extraordinary things through sheer will power and vision.

I have been trying to define “social entrepreneurship” in this blog entry (and to other people), but I come up short.  I have used words such as: extraordinary, will power, vision, all of which are good and have been used before to describe these people, nevertheless I find myself not exactly content with the words I choose.  Bornstein gives us a definition of “social entrepreneurs” in his book, “How to Change the World” by telling us the stories of the social entrepreneurs themselves.  I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in social entrepreneurship and even those who have not heard about social entrepreneurship, the book has some pretty amazing stories to be told.