Ideas for Innovation in Underserved Communities
I recently attended Santa Clara University’s Boot Camp for social entrepreneurs, the Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI) — which never misses ‘wowing’ audiences as to how innovative individuals can be when confronted with a pressing societal need. With support from the Tech Awards, Presented by Applied Materials, the GSBI has been mentoring and training would-be entrepreneurs how to make their vision come alive profitably.
Each participant must have a clear product or service and assemble a solid business plan that shows the venture can be sustainable. A team of successful, experienced social and business entrepreneurs acts as the review panel and provides insightful comments after each presentation.
‘Inspiring’ and ‘real hope for the future’ were two reoccurring comments from audience interviews. After more than 20 presentations having to do with mobility for the disabled, renewable energy, communication and learning, sustainable agriculture and creating more efficient markets, what follows is my summary of three of the most intriguing ideas I heard at GSBI:
“Using capitalism as a force for good”, World of Good employs low-cost technology to workers in areas where reports of human rights abuses exist to get unfiltered, confidential data about working conditions. The innovative technology platform allows buyers, suppliers, and certifiers access to real-time information and enables educational content back to the individual. The current model in the semiconductor industry is for responsible companies is to join industry consortia and sign up to a Code of Conduct (Applied is a member of the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition and requires all of the companies in our global supply chain to comply with the Electronics Industry Code of Conduct). Audits of suppliers are conducted and reports are provided. However, the potential issue with this approach is getting real, unbiased information which is where World of Good matters.
“Mobile for the Next Billion” – Movirtu is reinventing the way mobile phones are used so that the rural poor can benefit from mobile technology. Currently, people in rural areas who cannot afford a phone (an estimated 1 billion people below the poverty line) must go to a business/village phone owner to make an expensive call. Village phone owners can be miles away. Movirtu provides a cloud phone system accessible through shared phones through mobile service providers to rural poor, helping people access jobs, reach family members, and transfer money at a much lower cost than traditional handset or SIM-cardonly solutions.
Hands-down, one of the top presenters of the day was Hugh Whalan, CEO of Energy in Common (EIC). Hugh has a background in economics and the renewable energy market. EIC has developed a model which can profitably use market forces to bring micro-energy to millions of households in developing countries. Even a $10 LED lamp that saves enough energy to pay for itself within a few months can be an up-front cost affordability challenge. EIC works with existing micro finance institutions (MFI) as a solutions provider, connecting them to energy companies and capital to enable the scale up of energy loan programs, thereby increasing the affordability of green energy devices including village-scale solar for the poor.
Next year’s GSBI teams are forming and will be at the University of Santa Clara in August 2011. Mark your calendar to be inspired.