Saturday, April 28, 2007

Working to Change the World - May 24, 2007

Bill Coleman and I will be speaking at Santa Clara University on Working to Change the World on May 24th, 2007. It should be fun: I really enjoy talking with Bill and this is a chance to talk about what we both think really matters! Here's the announcement from SCU.

Santa Clara University's
Center for Science, Technology, and Society



A conversation with:
Bill Coleman
Founder, CEO and Chairman, Cassatt Corporation

Jim Fruchterman
President and CEO, Benetech

Moderated by:
Jeffrey Miller
Venture Partner, Redpoint Ventures

Join us for an inspiring evening as two of Silicon Valley’s key business leaders, Bill Coleman and Jim Fruchterman, discuss how they’ve turned their own professional successes into ventures that foster change and better the greater community. Coleman, co-founder of BEA Systems, the fastest growing technology company in history, and Fruchterman, recipient of the 2006 MacArthur Genius Award, will talk about their passion for social improvement.

What are the triumphs, risks, and challenges in social benefit entrepreneurship? They will elaborate on the models of change that drive and sustain their work, issuing a final call for change that links local action in Silicon Valley to the broader global community.

Thursday, May 24, 2007
5:30-6:30 p.m. - Networking Reception
6:30-7:30 p.m. - Program and Q&A

Location: de Saisset Museum, Santa Clara University

Space is limited. To reserve a seat please contact
Sherrill Dale at or 408-551-6027.

For further information call the Center for Science, Technology and Society, Santa Clara University, (408) 551-6027, or email If you have a disability and require a reasonable accommodation, please call the Center or 1-800-735-2929 (TTY-California Relay) at least 48 hours prior to the event.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Seeing Beyond Sight Salon

I'm on the host committee for an event honoring my buddy Tony Deifell and his new book, Seeing Beyond Sight. So, if you're in the Bay Area on May 17th, consider going and having a good time!
Sunburst dominating a courtyard scene

Lighthouse for the Blind is proud to be partnering with a new book Seeing Beyond Sight to bring you a wonderful event.

SEEING BEYOND SALON: An evening of social-networking, creativity & big-picture thinking

Thurs, May 17, 111 Minna Gallery | $10 | for tickets go to:

Only $5 in advance with special coupon for Lighthouse for the Blind friends (use coupon: “lighthouse” AFTER entering credit card info)

[5:30pm] Social networking with emerging & established nonprofit leaders presented by Craigslist Foundation, w/ talk by Jim Pitofsky, Executive Director of Hands On Bay Area

[7:30pm] Interactive Art presented by Exploratorium and SFZero + book party & exhibit for Seeing Beyond Sight: Photographs by Blind Teenagers (Chronicle Books), with talk by Author and special guests.

[9-11pm] Music, DJs & more

Host committee:
· Jackie Brand, founder Alliance for Technology Access
· Janet Cole, Executive Producer, Freedom Machines
· Jim Fruchterman, founder & CEO, Benetech
· Anita Aaron, Executive Director, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired
· Kathy Knox, Board of Directors, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired
· Jordie Welles, Board of Directors, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired
· Kari Orvik, Program Marketing and Outreach Associate, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired
· Ellen Lord, Development Manager, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired

OTHER ORGANIZATIONS PARTNERING WITH LIGHTHOUSE FOR THE BLIND: Chronicle Books, Craigslist Foundation , Exploratorium, Hands on Bay Area, Headlands Center for the Arts, Just Think, Photoworks, Red Ink Studios, Social Venture Network, SF Camerawork, SFZero, Spitfire Strategies

For more information about the new book, Seeing Beyond Sight:

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Gathering: looking back

Most Successful Ever!

I wasn't surprised to find out that this was the best attended Gathering of the Social Enterprise Alliance. So many people did a great job making this the event for social enterprisers in North America. I'm hoping we can expand our reach globally in future years!

The Gathering is designed to help stave off the loneliness so many social entrepreneurs face. Back in our "normal" environments, we're trying to break the mold. Like all entrepreneurs, we're told we're crazy and that our ideas are faulty. It's terrific for at least once a year to get together with six or seven hundred people who think the same way. Not only do we get the warm validation feeling, but we get to dig into the issues that face us with like-minded individuals. Peer learning as at the core of both the Gathering and the Social Enterprise Alliance. And of course, it's the people who make all of this possible.

First, I'd like to acknowledge the dedication and contributions of Jim McClurg. Jim stewarded the Alliance during our CEO search, and I think turned over our association well positioned for future expansion and success.
Jim McClurg, seated at a dinner table with crutch
The funny story about Jim that illustrates who he is was related the last evening after Jonathan Greenblatt's speech. Jim fell down some stairs the night before the conference started. He came to the board meeting and sat there for a couple of hours. Kirsten Gagnaire noticed him moving slowly, and asked him about it. He then related that he had fallen (and had probably broken a couple of toes). However, he was leaving his shoe on, because the conference had three days to go and he couldn't risk the possibility he couldn't get his show back on! Luckily, other folks prevailed on Jim to get medical attention and he soldiered on with his one crutch.

Another person with equal dedication was Julann Jatczak, who was chairing the program committee for a second Gathering (her first was also successful: the Milwaukee Gathering a few years back)!
Julann Jatczak seated on floor, talking on the phone I think the programming worked well, meeting the needs of both experienced SEs and newbies. Dave McDonough and the local host committee also did a terrific job of making our stay in Long Beach exciting.
Dave McDonough with beer in hand Dave more or less froze on the Long Beach harbor tour, drinking ice cold beer in shirt sleeves while many people wore heavy coats or hid belowdeck where it was warmer and out of the wind!

And of course, we were backed up by some great staff: Sarah Park, Lorraine Grogan and Jen Bavry. Wish I had pictures of all of them! They kept the conference humming. The night of the last conference event, after it was all done, I went over to the Queen Mary (which by the way, is a social enterprise) for a drink with the staff. I was regaled by their stories of unusual attendees and gained new respect for what it takes to run a big conference. We took a bus home and found that our driver had to be the wild guy: he turned off all of the lights on the bus and told us he was on stealth mode, as he caught air going over the bridge from the Queen Mary. Who said buses are boring!

But I digress. My final comments are on our two leaders. Chuck Lief, our chair, and Kris Prendergast, our new CEO, have the responsibility for taking this movement forward. Chuck is a serial social entrepreneur, having spent 12 years running Greyston Foundation (the parent organization of Greyston Bakery, which makes the brownies for Ben & Jerry's) and now leading the charge with multi-income and multi-use real estate developments in New England.
Chuck Lief with Sarah Park smiling
Kris comes to SEA from the U.S. Green Building Council, an organization which has rapidly grown into a major player in that field. I can tell she has the knowledge and drive to bring SEA along a similar path. She spoke frequently to the members with passion, and talked a lot about how to bring the same energy and excitement of the Gathering to our members year-round. I'm looking forward to seeing what she does, and of course to the Ninth Gathering in Boston in March 2008. Maybe I'll see you there!
Kris Prendergast at the podium with Social Enterprise Alliance on it

Friday, April 20, 2007

Blogger creates trouble!

Late breaking news from the Gathering. Yours truly clearly ticked off our articulate and thought provoking keynote speaker, Carl Schramm, the head of the Kauffman Foundation.

Carl Schramm

Carl's foundation is the foundation for entrepreneurship. Carl started off with a spirited advocacy for the power of entrepreneurship, touching on the vision of Ewing Kauffman, the founder of his foundation. He noted that the post-war predictions were that economic growth would come from large corporations, and that the era of the entrepreneur was over. Carl went to explain how much this is now the era of the entrepreneur, with half of the new jobs in the U.S. created by new ventures.

Carl covered the Foundation's efforts to foster entrepreneurship in kids (quite successful by his report). A really exciting venture is the creation of a REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) to address the need of charter schools for viable buildings for their schools. He's also a big fan of of Teach for America.

So far so good. Carl then took the social sector to task for its lack of scale. He used the many successful corporations who have become household names and/or hit a billion dollars in revenues. He challenged us to name a new (formed in the last 10 or 20 years) nonprofit Google, or Microsoft or YouTube. People came up with a mix of names, but Carl didn't go for many (Habitat and Teach for America he did agree to).

Of course, I'm thinking that just maybe this isn't a fair way to measure the social sector. After all, small businesses generate a whole bunch of those great jobs created by entrepreneurial energy, and they rarely scale. And, the social sector isn't structured by its nature to encourage scale like the for-profit sector.

Carl concluded with a pitch for true charity, and talked about the the value of pure philanthropic motive.

Now, I was one of the many people in the audience who didn't see much room for the social enterprisers in the mostly binary world of Carl's speech (strong for-profits and traditional charities). Most social entrepreneurs don't think of themselves as charities. Of course, there an awful lot of charities who end up using the term social entrepreneur as a hook to ask for grants, so I understand why Carl could be critical of the concept.

I got up and asked the question about the middle ground where most of the audience was playing: not traditional business or charity, but social mission ventures with lots of earned income.

Carl was pretty annoyed, and simply said that I hadn't been listening to his speech. Actually, I felt like I had been listening pretty closely, and was hoping for a more analytical or reasoned response. And, I've had twenty attendees come up and thank me for challenging this point, because they felt the question was crucial.

We knew that Carl would be a thought-provoking speaker, and would challenge the world views of the attendees. We weren't disappointed!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Seeing Beyond Sight

Tony Deifell rocks!

Our opening keynoter at the 8th Gathering of the Social Enterprise Alliance was Tony Deifell, who has been working as the senior strategy person at Kaboom!, the rapidly expanding social enterprise that builds playgrounds for kids. Tony has just published a new book entitled Seeing Beyond Sight, photographs by blind teenagers. As someone who has been working in the blindness world for a long time (18 years!), I was fascinated to learn about the paradox of blind kids taking pictures. Full disclosure: I bought the book a month ago and it sits on the meeting table in my office, so you might guess I ended up converted to Tony's point of view.
Tony Deifell at podium gesturing
Tony's talk blended photographs from his book with key questions that we should be asking ourselves. The questions were illustrated by the stories behind the pictures shot by his students at the state school for the blind in North Carolina. Tony recalled talking to Merlett about her best friend, Reba. So many social entrepreneurs work with "us versus them" issues and Tony riffed on this to great effect. Merlett told him that she didn't like white people. Here's the picture and the conversation Tony recalled:
Tell me about Reba. Reba is white, isn't she?
Don't ask me. I don't know.

You don't know if she's white?
Is she? Well, she has long hair - that's all I know.

Yeah, she's white. She doesn't act white?
(shakes head)

How does she act?
Like us.

Page capture from a book, with a photo of a white and a black girl holding hands
Tony really got the crowd going, because it was clear that at the same time he was teaching blind students to take pictures, he was getting a great deal of education himself. I was glad he was able to pass along some of those learnings to us!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Tuesday at the Gathering

The Board Meeting

The board meeting went well. I met Kris Prendergast, the new CEO of the Social Enterprise Alliance, as well as new board members for the first time. I'm looking forward to my last year (out of 8!) on the board, feeling that we're going in good directions. I think Kris comes with the knowledge and the ambition to grow this movement.

Kris Prendergast at a podium
The Hybrid Form session

This was jointly hosted with the Aspen Institute. Last year's Gathering had really indicated our members were interested in a new organizational form that might better serve social enterprise rather than bending the for-profit or charity forms to our purposes (since we aren't really either). This meeting moved the conversation forward. One new initiative that I got to hear about was the L3C proposed in North Carolina. It's a low profit LLC specifically structured so that private foundations can invest in it and not have to go to the IRS for a letter ruling to approve this form of PRI (program related investment). North Carolina is interested, because they see it as a way to buy unused industrial properties and make them available to businesses that could resume making furniture (since NC has been losing these jobs to Asia). The investments would essentially lower the cost of doing business.

My main contribution was to push for a matrix of all of the options that have been used or proposed, from the standpoint of a practitioner. Why would someone creating a social enterprise pick one of another form?

Gonna Take You on a SEA Cruise
Harbor scene with people on a boat in the foreground and the Queen Mary ocean liner in the background
The Social Enterprise Institute took us on a cruise tour of the Long Beach harbor, which features the Queen Mary, a Russian sub, lots of cargo ships and a few "islands" that are really disguised oil drilling rigs. It was fun, and quite windy!

The Marketplace

The evening wrapped up with the Social Enterprise Marketplace, where social enterprises vied for awards and generally spread the word about their venture. The room was mobbed as attendees swarmed around the different groups (and ate loads of ice cream).
Crowded exhibit hall with dozens of people

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Spooling up for Day One of the Gathering

I'm noticing one sign of the Gathering maturing: multiple meetings to choose among for what is traditionally a light first day. For me, the morning is the board meeting of the Social Enterprise Alliance (the hosting organization for the Gathering). Other folks will be attending the pre-conference on faith and social enterprise this morning. This afternoon there are three choices: the Aspen Institute/SEA session on creating a new hybrid legal form for social enterprises, tours of local social enterprises, and a workshop on earned income ventures. I'm one of three people here from Benetech, and I'll be attending the hybrid form meeting while Peggy Gibbs and Barbara Morrison told me they were going to the earned income workshop.

Then the Social Enterprise Institute (which is also a part of our local host committee) is taking attendees on a cruise around the Long Beach Harbor. Right after that (!) is the official opening reception for the Gathering: a Social Enterprise Marketplace and ice cream social. I've done the Marketplace every year in the past: it's a great chance to meet SEA members and see the incredible variety of social mission enterprises present.

Time to get a cup of coffee and get ready for a busy day of exploring the social enterprise field!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Getting Ready for the Gathering

I'm flying to southern California tomorrow, and have been packing for the trip. I remember back seven years, when I first met Jed Emerson and he told me that I was a social entrepreneur, but that a bunch of them were meeting for a "Gathering."

That meeting in Miami was a landmark event for me. Not only was this a community of people like me (after eleven years of feeling like a real weirdo), but they were talking about the issues I had been, was then and would be facing. This moved me to volunteer to be on the founding board of what has turned into the Social Enterprise Alliance, a foolhardy move I still don't regret! It also built an abiding interest for peer learning, which is often the most valuable kind of educational opportunity.

So, I'm heading to Long Beach tomorrow looking forward to more of that camaraderie and shared learning. We'll be talking about the future of the Alliance, bringing in new board members, discussing a new hybrid organizational form (a joint meeting with Aspen Institute) and all the program for the Gathering on how to operate and succeed as a double bottom-line organization.

Should be fun. We're not called Social Entrepreneurs for nothing!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Route 66 Meeting

We recently had a meeting in Silicon Valley to celebrate the progress we're making with the Route 66 Literacy program. Gerry Davis, who is one of our board members was there and took some pictures, and I thought I'd blog them and share the moments.
Karen Erickson and another woman looking at a computer screen
The main reason for the meeting was that Professor Karen Erickson was in town. Karen is the innovator behind Route 66, and it was a chance to have Karen speak to us and some of the key donors who made Route 66 possible. She heads the Center of Literacy and Disability Studies of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Dave and Sharon Severns in front of a PC
Two local Silicon Valley foundations were especially noteworthy for supporting Route 66 at its earliest stages. The Severns Family Foundation and Special Hope Foundation both were enthusiastic about Route 66 and willing to take the risk that this effort would lead to a real effort to advance reading for people with developmental disabilities. Dave and Sharon Severns attended: the Severns family helped take Route 66 (before it even had a name) and encouraged us to take it forward.

And of course, we have some major funders who support Benetech and provide us with risk capital that we can use to advance projects, such as Skoll and Omidyar. Johnny Falla and Ruth Norris of Skoll joined us at the event.

We were able to show the latest version of the Route 66 demonstration site, which is now fully functional for trial use. Over the next few months, we'll be adding user sign-up functions, getting ready for the day when we start collecting revenue from users.

Lynne and John O'Hara seated at a PC, Jim Fruchterman standing behind

We were hosted by Gay Krause who heads the Krause Center for Innovation at Foothill College, where we were able to take advantage of a great facility with plenty of computers for the people who wanted to try out Route 66 and ask questions of the woman behind the technology and content. Here I am looking over the shoulder of Lynne and John O'Hara of the Special Hope Foundation.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

I've just co-authored an essay that presents the challenges of accessing capital for expansion for social enterprises. The paper, Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained: Addressing the Critical Gaps in Risk-Taking Capital for Social Enterprise, was published by the Skoll Centre at Oxford's Said Business School.

Jed Emerson and Tim Freundlich asked me to join them on this paper one year ago at the 2006 Skoll World Forum, after I said something relevant in one of the plenary sessions. The structure of the nonprofit capital market has been something I am dedicated to trying to both understand and influence. Since I come from the Silicon Valley venture world, I'm familiar with a capital market that is tough, but very much provides incentive to accomplish the goal of maximizing financial returns to investors. The nonprofit capital structure is more complicated, but it could be augmented with some new approaches that would drive the goal of maximizing social returns to society.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Wrapping Up the 2007 Skoll World Forum

The Balancing Act: just about right

This is my third Skoll Forum, and I definitely think that it was the best. And that's saying something, since I got my award last year and that was pretty exciting. The challenge here has been the balancing act between the business school home of the Forum and the practitioner community. A couple of years ago, the focus was too academic and much of the material was not interesting to the social entrepreneurs. And, I know that academics need this kind of interaction: it's their career and passion. This year I think they got it right. Most of the plenaries were focused on inspiration and building the field as a whole. As usual (based on last year), we got to see four Sundance-created short films on Skoll entrepreneurs. The researchers got two days of focused seminars and content, while the practitioners and non-academic attendees were happily engaged in workshops and what I dubbed "master classes:" where Skoll Award winners would sit down and talk about their challenges. Their real challenges, not the ones they talk about when they are selling their organization!

Closing Plenary Speech by Larry Brilliant

Larry Brilliant did a great job inspiring us with a speech I've never heard him give before, because I've only heard him speak post-Google about And, it wasn't your typical inspirational speech: Larry went dark before he put forth the light. He gave us all of the reasons to be pessimistic, before he started to open the door to the possibility we might solve the problems. And then he went for the jugular in the core part of his talk: he talked about the appalling suffering that smallpox inflicted, with graphic pictures of smallpox victims. As someone who helped lead the successful effort to eradicate smallpox, Larry talked about looking at hell on earth: the faces of people dying from smallpox. It's easy now to forget how terrible a disease this was. His core message: if we successfully got rid of this pestilence, human beings can be up to the challenges facing us today.

Jeff Skoll

Jeff was quite accessible this week. He spent over an hour giving a talk to the Skoll social entrepreneurs on Tuesday before the event. He was very open to questions about his life and future directions. As someone who has already done some incredible things (eBay and Participant Productions being the two most notable examples), we're all interested to see what's next as Jeff considers his next moves. I felt Jeff did a great job speaking: he's really settling into this role as one of the tech/business communty's leading drivers of social progress. He also hung out with the social entrepreneurs at least three of the nights this week. And the best of those nights was the final party for the Skoll team and awardees. See below for pix!


After the conference concluded, the social entrepreneurs got together for two topics. The first was to discuss some issues in small groups we had set the topics for (I was in the group talking about a bigger vision for the movement beyond our individual organizations). The second was all about story-telling. Sundance had sent two senior executives and four director/producers to spend time with us. We were in a story-telling workshop and each had to talk about what motivated us, what kept us up at night and what got us up in the morning. That was the best part for me. Nick Moon got quite a laugh when he said Martin Fisher kept him up at night. He then went to point out that Martin is in San Francisco and he is in Nairobi, and the time difference made for late night calls talking about KickStart!
Nick Moon in a laughing seated crowd

Party for the team

As happened last year, the Skoll staff had a party on the final night. But last year, the conference ended at noon without afternoon sessions for the Skoll SEs. So, we had a ton of people. And, the Skoll team was bigger than just the staff. There were three MBA student bloggers from Haas: Rob, Ellen and the redoubtable Edwin (former Benetecher). The conference team attended. Nina Smith brought her baby. Nina Smith with baby, Will Foote in backgroundThe Sundance team was there. Spouses. Daughters (grown-up daughters). It was a tapas restaurant and the format encouraged people to circulate during dinner: a great format. And, Jeff spent the evening talking to people in 1's, 2's and 3's. I mean, he helped make Al Gore into an Oscar-Award winning actor: what might he be able to do with a social entrepreneur! And someone was kind enough to grab my camera and take the picture below to prove I and Taddy were actually there!
Jeff Skoll, Jim Fruchterman and Taddy Blecher


The big messages of the Forum for me came from some of the big names: Muhammad Yunus, Jeff Skoll, Larry Brilliant and Fazel Abed. They were pretty consistent:

  • the world's problems need original solutions from dynamic risk-takers

  • go forth and experiment

  • expect to fail a few times, until you get your concept working

  • When you've got it right, just do it over and over with more people (Yunus said get it right once, replicate 6 billion times)

The goal is to get more of the world's people behind making the change. I like to think we pushed the cause forward a little faster this week!