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The caring conundrum – beyond badges for social enterprise

save the earthGreen not working? Try chocolate...

At a loss for how to explain what I do for a living, my sister once described my work as “something to do with pyramid schemes and poor people.” I can laugh at it now (the base of the pyramid is an awful phrase for a number of reasons), but the incident highlights how contradictory most people find the combination of capitalism and doing good for the world.

Even when familiar with enterprises that use “capitalism for good”, most people generally call to mind a class of companies that fill a small, though often profitable, niche of eco- or socially-conscious consumers. By in large, growth in those markets is defined by how much you can make people care (about the planet, about people, about pandas).

Green badge: Do Good, Buy Now!

There’s another class of companies, however, who may use green means, but who don’t rely on consumer sentiment about society or the environment to sell their stuff. Among these are many of the companies I have worked with in recent years, where the name of the game has been catalyzing massive new markets, primarily in the so-called base of the economic pyramid. While they used inclusive means to serve poor communities, these companies’ goals were those of growth-seeking, profit-oriented enterprises.

I'm a CatComm Champion - Join my pledge!

Im a catcomm championHere's an opportunity to help me support an incredible organization that we're working with here in Rio, one that is helping local communities throughout the world solve their own problems. I have agreed to become a CatComm Champion, pledging $500 to support Catalytic Communities’ unique work with community leaders around the world, but only if I can inspire at least 50 of my friends and colleagues to each contribute $50 or more to match my pledge (for a total of at least $3000).

A Bigga Boda - XAccess' Cycle in Kenya

After five months of intense work in communities in Kenya and Brazil we've got a long backlog of stories to share. Now that we've got a short breather we thought we'd post a few. This one from Kenya came up recently when we were asked via our colleague & mentor Stuart Hart, "Have you heard of these XAccess guys?"

Actually, yes we have!

In June the BoP Protocol team headed out to the shores of Lake Victoria in Kisumu, Kenya to visit with the XAccess and KickStart folks who were modifying an innovative bicycle for the local market. XAccess is the non-profit sister of XtraCycle, maker of the world's first Sport Utility Bicycle, and KickStart, the NGO formerly known as ApproTEC, is a long time provider of enterprise enabling technologies to low-income communities. KickStart is helping XAccess to commercialize its bicycle in Kenya as the "Bigga Boda", an upgrade to the existing "Boda Boda" bicycle taxis, so named from their early days on the border of Kenya and Uganda where the taxi riders cries of "Border! Border!" eventually morphed into the "Boda Boda" of today.

Innovating a Business Icon

In less than a week we hit the ground in Kenya, to begin the pilot test for the Base of the Pyramid (BoP) Protocol, a multinational, NGO, and university sponsored effort to find innovation and business opportunities among the world’s poor.  Sure, we’ll spend time at corporate offices, with NGOs and government officials, but most of the time we’ll be visiting and living with people who don’t have easy access to running water or electricity, probably not phones or computers either.  So, being an MBA, I fixated right away on the most important question.

Should we bring business cards?

Innovation, Ignorance, and Coming off the Mountain

"I could use a hundred people who don't know there is such a word as impossible"
- Henry Ford, Sr.

We admit having a bit of a fascination with Henry Ford, a man, who in our minds, was one of the world's greatest social entrepreneurs and enablers of the common man, who also happened to become insanely wealthy to boot. How could you not be fascinated with him? When people tell us we're nuts trying to make money working with today's version of the comman man, the 4+ billion "poor" living in the Base of the Pyramid, we point at Henry Ford and say, "He was nuts too,"and then a moment later add, "and I'm with stupid."

However, it was Ford's notorious dislike for "experts" that we find the most compelling:

The Power of Play - Pumping Water in Africa

Remember how much fun spinning around on a playground merry-go-round was when we were kids?

In our recent article, Capturing the Unexpected Innovation, we included a picture from a story we knew we had to chase down (see image right). Thankfully, just as we were looking for more, BBC News ran the article, "Why pumping water is child's play".

"It's a positive displacement water pump, and as the children spin around it transfers their energy into vertical or reciprocal motion, and that pumps water from an underground borehole or well to the surface where it's stored in a tank for future use."

With the children pushing the roundabout around 16 times a minute, the play-pump can produce 1,400 litres of water per hour from a depth of 40 metres.

User Centered Innovation - More on Innovation in Utility

For those that have followed our work here at BRINQ, our efforts with the toy industry, and our focus on discovering "Innovation in Utility", the Boston Globe has an article which has gotten us really EXCITED!!! It even starts with an example from the toy industry!

Here's a quick quote, you can find a link to the rest of the article below:

Ultimately, user-centered innovation may transform not only companies' product development processes but also business models, turning them into the providers of innovation toolkits to users and the marketers of their innovations, [MIT's] von Hippel suggests.

Innovation toolkits!! We definitely need to talk to this guy!

Capturing the Unexpected Innovation - MTN villagePhone (Uganda)

Where should you look for the unexpected? Try finding a different world view.

"the unexpected success is not just an opportunity for innovation; it demands innovation. It forces us to ask, What basic changes are now appropriate for this organization in the way that it defines its business? Its technology? Its markets? If these questions are faced up to, then unexpected success is likely to open up the most rewarding and least risky of all innovative opportunities."

- Peter Drucker, Innovation and Entrepreneurship

At BRINQ, we believe those living in the Base of the Pyramid (BOP), the so-called poor, are a huge source for something unexpected: innovation. And particularly a type which we like to call "innovation in utility", the novel and unexpected ways in which people use technology. It's simple really, when does your invention become a true innovation?

Somebody uses it.

Lots of somebodies, and often in a way you didn't expect.

Why Not? A Guide for Ingenuity

The other day, my foster brother Seth and I were speaking about being innovative. Seth is a lead test engineer on a certain eXcellent gaming console in Redmond, WA.

"I don't think I have it in me," Seth commented, "I can almost always figure out how things work, like noise canceling headsets for example, but I don't know how people come up with those ideas in the first place."

"Maybe that's true," I responded, "but I bet that you could be trained."

I like to tell people that creating something innovative and new is like pulling on threads until it leads you to a sweater, or even better yet, it's like gathering threads into your hands until you finally realize that you're already holding a sweater. In non-knitting terms, innovation is an organic process, involving questions and observations, and a lot of looking at the world differently. And one of my favorite guides for looking at the world differently is Barry Nalebuff's and Ian Ayres' "Why Not? How to Use Everyday Ingenuity to Solve Problems Big and Small"

In twenty years and countless adventures in growing our business, our only progress and for that matter our only interesting breakthroughs have resulted from someone asking Why not? Nalebuff and Ayres have crafted an inspiring, imaginative, informative and best of all, fun treatise that will arouse the entrepreneur in all of us. You will fly through this book, and you will never look at a problem the same way again.

—Gary Hirshberg, President and CEO,Stonyfield Farm Yogurt, Inc.

Discordant Notes - More Disruption for the Music Industry

Demonstrating Apple's GarageBand

Headlines about the assault on the traditional music industry are a common sight, but most often these articles concern the disruption of traditional distribution and sales mechanisms by peer to peer networks and digital media. Yesterday though, the New York Times ran an article describing the latest discordant notes for the music industry, "Home Sweet Studio", detailing the rise of the home recording studio and digital tools for content creation.

"Mr. Pierce is part of a quiet revolution in music-making: the move from professional studios to home recording. Making an album used to mean booking a fixed amount of very expensive time in a well-equipped but unfamiliar room; now, it can be a matter of rolling out of bed and pressing a button. Whether it's Mice Parade's indie-rock, Aesop Rock's underground hip-hop, the twilit ballads of Keren Ann, the mercurial California rock of the Eels or sweeping Top 40 contenders from Moby, more and more music is emerging not from acoustically perfect state-of-the-art studios, but from setups tucked into bedrooms and basements or simply programmed onto a laptop."

Disrupting the mainstream

Traditional companies in the multi-billion dollar recording industry can be described as providing three major services: distribution & sales, marketing, and recording. The rise of home studios and garage bands foretells the disruption of the third area, recording, but could also have impacts on the first two areas.

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