Sunday, October 31, 2004

The social entrepreneurship movement is very important to me: after being a social entrepreneur for ten years (and not knowing the term), I found out that there is a vibrant national and international community around this. Although we are doing a myriad of different things, these are the people I feel are my community. We have common challenges and a common interest in changing society. Peer learning is the most valuable part of participating in these groups: I learn a great deal from my peers and hope to have some learning to offer in return.

I'm between two major events in the field at moment. I recently came back from the Social Enterprise Alliance Stoweflake Funder's program. I was able to attend a funder meeting by virtue of being on the SEA board, and because our methods of choosing social enterprises to invest in are similar to those of other funders. The meeting was exciting because it focused on building a capital market for social enterprise (with a North American focus). There were many exciting perspectives on finance. My best thoughts came from thinking on debt, listening to people like Clara Miller of the Nonprofit Finance Fund and Tim Freundlich of Calvert. We have frequently thought about taking on debt to help finance our programs, but have never made the leap. At this event, I had the chance to think more deeply on it and realized that the issues are very similar to those I have had a high tech company CFO (a role I've played on and off for over ten years).

If we had a project that required significant capital assets, such as tooling or a big investment on server infrastructure, we'd have a good case for debt. When we have a financial asset to borrow against, such as receivables (either from sales or a grant), we also might find a debt solution. For example, we currently have a $50,000 note against such a receivable. But, the bulk of what we need funding for is product development and marketing. And, that's less attractive to lenders! So, like your average high tech company, we need equity to get started. In our case, it is donations and reinvested income that we typically use. But, we're thinking about equity-like vehicles that pass the nonprofit legal requirements and yet provide something for social investors in search of a financial return. That's pretty interesting.

At the moment, I'm en route to Brazil for the Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur Summit. This is a chance to meet with my international peers in the movement, thanks to the Schwab Foundation. This was founded by Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum. Pamela Hartigan and her team consistently pull off incredible events, and I'm sure this one will be no exception. I am sure I will have more to report in a week!

Friday, October 29, 2004

Benetech's human rights programs are going to be a key part of the
Technology for Human Rights: International Colloquium being held in Amherst early next month. It's part of the growing movement to use technology to support the fight against human rights violations around the globe.

Monday, October 18, 2004

I've had many opportunities to give talks over the last few weeks, in a wide array of venues. Usually, I'm giving the general Benetech social entrepreneurship story, talking about how technology can be benefiting humanity even more, to audiences as varied as the Palo Alto Rotary Club, a Stanford Business School class, and a cocktail party for one of our funders. At the Venture Philanthropy conference, Robert Levenson of Social Profit Network and I talked about the relationship between venture philanthropist and investee. At the Haas Business School at UC Berkeley, I was on a panel with three other nonprofit CEOs talking about board relationships (Benetech's board is much more like a venture capital company's board than a typical nonprofits!). At the National Repository Summit held in Princeton, we covered the challenges faced by organizations trying to serve disabled students with textbooks. Last week in Kansas City, I talked to college reading centers about the same issues.

And, sometimes I don't talk and that works even better. The Skoll Foundation invited me to the 50th anniversary lunch for the Community Foundation of Silicon Valley, where Jeff Skoll, Bill Gates, Greg Avis (CFSV chair and prominent Valley VC) and Peter Hero (CEO of CFSV) spoke. Jeff talked about his foundation's support for social entrepreneurs and pointed out me, Martin Fisher of ApproTEC and Eric Weaver of Lenders for Community Development. A very nice gesture!

There's a lot of positive energy around talking about these issues. People love to hear about how technology makes lives better.