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WRI Officially launches NextBillion.net

The World Resources Institute has officially launched NextBillion.net, an online community focused on the intersection of business, innovation and poverty. We were lucky enough to get an early look at NextBillion, and WRI was kind enough to quote our impressions in their press release. See for yourself!

New WRI Blog Targets 'Next Billion' Consumers Dollars

WASHINGTON, May 27, 2006 - The World Resources Institute has launched an interactive blog focusing on business's role in eradicating world poverty. The organization hopes to position its new "NextBillion.net -- Development through Enterprise" blog as "the world's premiere online water cooler and conference room" for socially responsible business development.

Previously, there have been e-mail lists for such business developers, but NextBillion.net allows development and poverty reduction to reach a new level by offering a bottom-up educational resource and threaded-discussion tool for everyone from multinational executives to small-business entrepreneurs.

Representatives of companies such as Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Pitney Bowes, DuPont and SC Johnson (as well as many innovative individuals) have already begun posting comments and discussions on the blog. For instance, noted author Stuart Hart posted exclusive content this week detailing issues highlighted in his new book, Capitalism at the Crossroads: The Unlimited Business Opportunities in Solving the World's Most Difficult Problems. Additionally, with today's official launch, NextBillion.net's creators expect to quickly establish the site as the top news feed and content resource for corporations, foundations, the business-school community, poverty NGOs, development organizations, and many others.

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?

Kenya bound - Piloting the BoP Protocol

The BoP Protocol
Regular BRINQ readers may have noticed a lack of posting the last couple of weeks, this is because we've been working overtime getting ready for the Base of the Pyramid (BoP) Protocol pilot in Kenya, where we'll be hitting the ground in just two weeks. For a quick summary of the Protocol, it answers the following question:

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.

Reaching the Next Billion (World Resources Institute)

Well, it looks the folks at the World Resources Institute (WRI) have put together yet another great resource for the rest of us. WRI is behind a litany of world-changing best hits, including Beyond Grey Pinstripes, which tracks business schools on the leading edge of sustainability, the Digital Dividends progam, identifying and promoting solutions to the global digital divide, the New Ventures program, investment for sustainably oriented start-ups in the developing world, and the fantastic Eradicating Poverty through Profit conference, first held last December in San Francisco.

NextBillion.net, WRI's latest resource, was born of the fabulous community that came together for the Eradicating Poverty conference: close to a thousand aspiring and accomplished world changers, entrepreneurs and representatives of multinationals, NGOs, universities, governments, and local businesses from throughout the developed and developing world.

Rather than explain much more, I'll just let WRI do it themselves.

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.

Tribal Lingo - Defining Sustainability

“Ever had one of those conversations,” Stu Hart asked the crowd, “where you think you and another person are talking about the same thing, only to discover you’ve been discussing something completely different?  In my work, I run into that all the time.”

Stuart Hart is a professor at Cornell’s Johnson School of Management, recent author of the acclaimed “Capitalism at the Crossroads”, and one of the world’s foremost experts on the strategies and business opportunities for sustainable enterprises and serving the world’s poor.  Hart was co-presenting with colleague Mark Milstein (of the World Resources Institute) at Cornell’s 3rd annual Sustainable Enterprise Symposium.  

Hart and Milstein explained that there are so many different “sustainability tribes”, each using their own vocabulary of buzzwords, that even basic communication proves difficult and unwieldy; strategic planning and collaboration are even harder.  How can we collaborate in creating a better future if we can’t even communicate? 

Old Friends, Powerbooks, Tar Heels, and Spring Rolls for Bridges

It's been another busy travel time for BRINQ, as we get ready for the Base of Pyramid Protocol field test in Kenya, watch Carolina regain its college basketball throne, make the leap to Apple, and build a bridge in Viet Nam with hundreds of spring rolls.

Sheri Willoughby and I headed out to Cornell for the Sustainable Enterprise Symposium, hosted by the Center for Global Sustainable Enterprise and the local Net Impact club. We got to spend quality time with people whose work I respect the most, old friends Stu Hart (Cornell), Mark Milstein (World Resources Institute), Monica Touesnard (Cornell), Erik Simanis (UNC), and Valerie Cook-Smith (Citibank). New friends Claire Preisser (Aspen Institute) and Rubens Mazon (Fundacao Getulio Vargas in Brazil) also made the trip a wonderful one.

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