Best practices for social change and environmental action

Archive for the ‘Social enterprise’ Category

Think like a designer

In Best practice, Communication, Design, Methods, Resources, Social enterprise, Tools on December 22, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Can the same kind of thinking that conjured up the first laptop computer, Oral-B toothbrushes, and Steelcase chairs work in the social sectors? Writing in the Stanford Social Innovation Review,  two experts suggest that it most certainly can.

Tim Brown and Jocelyn Wyatt of the consulting firm Ideo posit that the way is through the emerging practice of design thinking.  They should know; Ideo is renowned for the application of such thinking to things as diverse as utility bicycles and pharmaceutical innovation processes.  Moreover, the consultancy now puts design thinking to work on some of the world’s most pressing humanitarian problems.

The three step process they describe is deceptively simple: inspiration, ideation, implementation.  The catch is that it all demands new approaches, real-world insight, and a much wider frame of reference. None of it is easy to come by.

Design Thinking for Social Innovation is available online for free at the publication web site.

It validates the common wisdom that real impact now demands systemic solutions rooted in the real world of daily lives.

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Curing “shoot-in-the-foot” syndrome

In Best practice, Nonprofit management, Social enterprise on December 14, 2011 at 9:50 pm

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Could the extended economic turmoil become an “inflection point” for nonprofits and NGO’s? The signs are all there: demands for accountability and transparency from funders, an abiding need for operational efficiencies,  and the difficult quest to achieve real impacts at the systemic level.

Those are tall orders for boards and management alike. Yet, if there is something good coming out of these difficult times it’s a rising appreciation for the art and science of running a social enterprise like a true business.   The big hitch, of course, is the general indifference (or even resistance) to the tools of the trade.  Thus, there is largely lip-service for the effective development of data-driven management, human-capital reserves, and performance cultures.  Everyone talks about them, but few are willing to make the investments of time, money, and institutional equity that they need.

As a result, the roster of organizations on life support keeps growing and some important causes are falling by the wayside.  For lack of will, the nonprofit and philanthropic communities are essentially shooting themselves in the foot.

The Urban Institute recently took on this insidious dynamic by hosting a symposium called “Tough Times, Creative Measures.” The symposium featured an estimable lineup of participants to discuss the key themes in the book Leap of Reason, an acclaimed call for “managing to outcomes in an age of scarcity.”

It was a short event, but it encompassed a lot of ideas worth considering. Venture Philanthropy Partners, the book’s publisher, has teamed up with the Urban Institute to make an excellent summary available here.

It’s brief, bulleted, and on point: a good prescription for shoot-in-the-foot syndrome.

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Open source impact

In Best practice, Collaboration, Methods, Nonprofit management, Social enterprise on September 28, 2011 at 2:59 am

Open source models are now commonplace in the for-profit world, most notably within the technology sector.

The thinking and the appeal are clear enough: offer an excellent product at no cost to the user, foster the development of a support community dedicated to enhancing it … and natural market dynamics will encourage its adoption and create an entirely new economic ecosystem around it.  If your computer systems run any flavor of the Linux operating system … or if you use the popular Firefox web browser … you are an open source beneficiary. If you are a software developer customizing applications for those platforms, you are doing business and making money from them.

The open source approach may not be sustainable for every form of endeavor, but it certainly seems like a natural for the nonprofit and social enterprise sectors.  For an organization focused on solving problems first and foremost, open source methods could be logical ways to accelerate solutions.

It’s a worthy possibility to consider…and the Stanford Social Innovation Review is doing just that with a series of articles from experienced practitioners in the field. The first installment — Scaling Social Impact by Giving Away Value has been written by Roshan Paul and Alexa Clay of Ashoka to give the series a thought provoking launch.

It all makes good sense to this writer, and I’m eager to see what others have to say on the subject.

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The “B Corporation” gains traction

In Best practice, Civics, Nonprofit law, Nonprofit management, Policy, Social enterprise on September 6, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Despite the impression given by media puff pieces, Corporate Social Responsibility is hardly a new thing. Since the industrial revolution, there have been businesses with a core sense of responsible public behavior.  Lots of large corporations and smaller ventures have put those values into practice, either in the interest of good citizenship, an abiding sense of ethics, or simple public relations.

It’s all been largely voluntary, however, and subject to the whims of senior management and governing boards.

Now there is way to integrate a social role into the structure of a business, in essence making it a formal part of the corporate charter: The B Corporation. (Benefit Corporation) 

This business model extends the concept of social enterprise into the greater for-profit sector. By achieving certified “B Corporation” status, a business commits to using the power of free enterprise to solve social and environmental problems.

Unlike the majority of social enterprises, B Corps are not neccessarily in business to address specific problems in the public interest (although the model does make good sense for a nonprofit or social enterprise.)  Instead, the B Corp certification is for any business — regardless of the products it makes or the services it provides.  It is a new way of addressing impacts and ethics in a world of constrained resources, changing climate, and humanitarian mandates.

That’s quite the challenge in this day and age, so it’s logical that certification is much more than just making a paper committment. To distinguish itself as a B Corporaton, a business must put formal programs in place to meet comprehensive – and transparent  – social and environmental performance standards and implement legal accountability practices for those standards.  Moroever, the business must strive for a like-minded consituency across its supply chain, partnerships…and even its customer base.

A tall order, indeed.

In the US, the B Corporation designation is implemented at the state level.  So far only Maryland, Vermont, New Jersey, Virginia and Hawaii have passed legislation for it, but a number of other states have proposals on the table.

There’s a lot happening on this front. To learn about it, check out the B Corp website. 

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