Skoll World Forum 2014: from the most touching stories to the coollest innovation

Caroline Hartnell

Caroline Hartnell

The Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, to give it its full title, is more than anything about celebrating social entrepreneurs. The 2014 Skoll World Forum, held in Oxford 9-11 April, was no exception. The awards ceremony, though less glitzy than previous years, and all the better for that, is the supreme moment of celebration.

Social entrepreneurs are disruptive, said Skoll Foundation president Sally Osberg, introducing the ceremony (‘disruptive’ is a favourite Skoll word). ‘They take aim at perverse systems and uncover solutions; they disrupt the status quo … Getting rid of global problems is no task for the faint-hearted.’

No task for the faint-hearted

Malala after receiving her award

Malala after receiving her award

It certainly isn’t! Take Girls Not Brides, whose founder Mabel van Oranje ‘wants to end child marriage in one generation’. Currently 14 million girls get married under 18 each year. Launched in September 2011, Girls Not Brides is now a global partnership of more than 300 civil society organizations working across 50 countries. Or Fundación Capital, whose founder Yves Moury aims to get 100 million families set up with bank accounts and financial training in the next six or seven years. Or Malala Yousafzai, known simply as ‘Malala’, who is only the third ever recipient of Skoll’s ‘Golden Global Treasure’ award, and wants all children in school by 2015. Clearly not goals for the faint-hearted!

And the other Skoll awardees were no less impressive – B Lab, Global Witness, Medic Mobile, Slum Dwellers International and Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP). Click here to read more about them>

The most touching stories …
Everyone at Skoll – and in the philanthropy world more widely – is keen on the idea of ‘stories’, and many of the social entrepreneurs at the Skoll Forum had wonderful stories. Often whole enterprises had grown from a single experience. Sam Parker of WSUP described how, eight years ago, he saw a 2-year-old sitting on the ground with sewage running over his feet. There was a tap nearby but no water coming out. WSUP is now providing water and sanitation to nearly 2 million people in urban slums in six countries.

Mabel van Oranje of Girls Not Brides remembered talking to a 14-year-old girl in Bihar about her wedding day. ‘I was afraid,’ she said. ‘I was a child.’ As the mother of two daughters, aged 7 and 9, the story hit her.
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For Jenny Bowen, a previous Skoll awardee and founder of Half the Sky Foundation‎, it all began when she adopted a little girl from a Chinese orphanage. The child was suffering physically and emotionally from the effects of institutionalization, but a year’s love transformed her. This experience determined Bowen that providing training and support for carers in Chinese orphanages could transform the lives of other children. Founded in 1998, Half the Sky Foundation is now the biggest NGO in China, with 1,700 staff, working in partnership with the Chinese government in 54 cities in China.

The biggest buzz …
Impressive as these social enterprises are, what they achieve is still only a drop in the ocean compared to the problems to be solved. While Fundación Capital aims to reach 100 million families in the next six or seven years, a hugely ambitious target, the world has 2.5 billion adults who are unbanked, ie lacking access to financial services.

Achieving scale was the focus of a session on Friday afternoon which saw the launch of Monitor Inclusive Markets’ (MIM) new report Beyond the Pioneer: Getting inclusive industries to scale. The report looks at the key barriers to scale at the level of the ecosystem rather than the individual business and identifies the role of ‘facilitators’ in removing them. Harvey Koh, one of the authors, described how MIM’s housing programme had moved from building houses to getting affordable finance to working with government.

There was a real buzz in this session. Scaling is a critical issue for many, as attested by the packed room. ‘If I was a social entrepreneur, I’d love to have Shell Foundation coming in and hugging me, or DFID “tweaking” with government,’ commented Skoll Foundation’s Alex Sloan, an excellent ‘facilitator’. Shell Foundation and DFID are two of the facilitators cited in the MIM report.

The work of B Lab, one of this year’s Skoll awardees, is all about creating the infrastructure for social businesses. B Corps or Benefit Corporations are companies with a social purpose that serve both their shareholders and society more broadly. Before the creation of B Corps in 2007, people trying to use businesses to solve social problems were often constrained by their legal structure. With 20 states in the US having passed Benefit Corporation legislation, nearly 1,000 B Corps certified, and 16,000 companies using its tools, B Lab is now focused on accelerating the global adoption of this new model.

… and the coollest innovation

Will Marshall with the Dove

Will Marshall with the Dove

I have to end with Will Marshall of Planet Labs, who featured in a star-studded closing plenary. ‘What could you do if you had access to images of the earth every single day?’ was the question he threw out. Social entrepreneurs tend to work in places with little data and little information, he said. Satellites are big and expensive, and existing images of the planet are old. How to democratize access to satellites and satellite data? Well, working in a garage, Planet Labs has created a tiny satellite called Dove, measuring just 30 by 10 by 10 centimetres. Twenty-eight have already been launched and soon there will be 100 in orbit. Forming a continuous line round the earth, they will take a picture of each part of the earth every 24 hours as the earth rotates. Someone monitoring deforestation due to illegal logging will be able to see daily changes. How cool is that!

Caroline Hartnell, is editor of Alliance magazine.


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Reflections from Sankalp 2014: we need to bring all stakeholders into the conversation

Deval Sanghavi

Deval Sanghavi

Since 2009, Sankalp Forum has been bringing the voice of the social entrepreneur into the impact investing conversation. This was evident again in Mumbai this year (9-11 April) as over 1,000 delegates and 103 speakers from across the world gathered to discuss hard-pressing global challenges which could be addressed through market-driven solutions.

Highlighting innovations from across India, enterprises including Karadi Path, which delivers English programmes to over 55,000 children, and iKure, which aims to bridge the healthcare divide among the 840 million people in rural India, were recognized. Speakers at the conference included Vijay Mahajan, founder & chairman of BASIX Group; Sir Ronald Cohen, chairman of the Social Impact Investment Taskforce; and Paresh Parasnis, head of Piramal Foundation.

The underlying theme throughout the three days, and in particular the panel which I moderated, focused on the need to bring all stakeholders into the conversation. All forms of capital (grant, debt and equity), integrated networks (partnerships with government, corporate sector, social entrepreneurs) and differing perspectives (community leaders, youth, and companies) are needed to solve these wicked problems.

A case study on empowering adolescent girls in India was used to discuss the different roles required to delay marriage and childbirth and provide education and employment opportunities to girls. With 43% of all women aged 20-24 being married before the age of 18 and twice the number of adolescent mothers facing death during pregnancy, there is an urgent need to focus on this group. Delaying marriage and childbirth for adolescent girls can add USS110 billion to the Indian economy, and 90% of women’s income will be invested in their family’s welfare as opposed to 40-50% of men’s income. This becomes a significant reason to invest in adolescent girls.

On the panel, Paresh Parasnis highlighted the Piramal School of Leadership programme which has worked with the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, state governments, public schools and communities to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Anuradha Ramachandran from Omidyar Network spoke about their efforts not only to scale social businesses but also to support non-profits that focus on governance and transparency. Monique Villa, CEO of Thomson Reuters Foundation, talked about their work with lawyers in TrustLaw to ensure ‘a stronger focus on legal framework, wherein the girls’ rights are safeguarded and policy makers need to look at long-term solutions’.

The panel agreed that along with innovation and entrepreneurship, there is a need to reach out to the beneficiary group and strike a balance between trying to achieve change and working within the framework of already existing laws.

Deval Sanghavi, is partner and co-founder of Dasra, a strategic philanthropy foundation.


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UK fund to help social ventures win multi-million pound deals proving successful

Jonathan Jenkins

Jonathan Jenkins

These are exciting times for ambitious charities and social enterprises in the UK. The government recognizes the difference they can make providing key services and creating jobs and wealth in their communities, and is encouraging them to scale up their activities and bid for public contracts.

Around the country the social sector is worth £55 billion, supporting more than 2 million jobs. More than one in four social enterprises does work for the public sector, encouraged by policies such as the Localism Act.

The social investment market has grown strongly to fund this expansion of activity and demand is expected to reach around £1 billion by 2015/16. New forms of investment, such as social impact bonds, have been developed to target investors who seek both a social and a financial return on their money.

But as the market grows more sophisticated many charities are finding that they don’t have the skills to seize the new opportunities. Raising millions of pounds of investment and bidding against commercial organizations for public sector contracts requires specialist skills in law, financial management, corporate finance and public service commissioning.

The Investment and Contract Readiness Fund was launched in May 2012 to tackle these problems. It is the world’s first fund designed to equip charities and social enterprises with the business skills they need to raise serious amounts of investment and compete for public service contracts, and it is making ‘a significant and positive impact’, according to a report from the Boston Consulting Group, released on 9 April.

The £10 million fund, financed by the Cabinet Office and managed by the Social Investment Business, has made grants to 94 ventures worth £8.9 million. Of those, 74 are still carrying out their business support programmes, but the first eight have already raised investment and won contracts worth a total £35 million.

Pure Innovations, a charity that supports disadvantaged people, used to have a poor record of winning tenders but a £52,250 ICRF grant helped it secure a five-year contract worth £11.7 million from the Royal Borough of Kingston to take over the running of its learning disability service.

Doug Cresswell, CEO of Pure Group, said: ‘The ICRF grant has made a very tangible and positive difference. It enabled us to undertake a focused review of our growth plans and crucially to secure high-quality tendering and bid-writing support. As a result of winning the Kingston contract we have significantly increased our group turnover and rapidly extended our reach to vulnerable people.’

Empower Community received a £108,650 ICRF grant, which helped it take its model to the mainstream investment market and secure a £10.1 million 20-year loan from a UK institutional pension investor. It used the funds to buy existing solar panels on 2,327 social homes in Sunderland owned by Gentoo housing association, and it will continue to provide tenants with free daytime electricity, which can reduce bills by up to 40%. The refinancing will allow Gentoo to install solar panels on up to 3,000 more homes in the city.

Alex Grayson, managing partner at Empower, says: ‘The beauty of this deal is that everybody’s interests are aligned: the investor makes solid financial returns, with measurable social and environmental impact; tenants enjoy access to free daytime power, which helps them escape fuel poverty; Gentoo enjoys an ongoing return and financing to continue their exciting developments; and the community receives funding for local initiatives from the profits.’

Boston Consulting Group found evidence that the ICRF is starting to change the market. Ventures that have received business support say their skills and knowledge have increased significantly and 70% expect to need less help in the future. They are more willing to pay for these services as they become aware of the benefits they can bring. And the fund has increased the professional support available.

The ICRF Investor Panel has been fundamental to this success, allowing major social investors to review ventures’ plans to scale up their operations and impact. The panel, which decides which applicants receive business support grants, is chaired by Big Society Capital, and includes the Big Lottery Foundation, NatWest, Triodos Bank, Bridges Ventures and the FSE Group.

We want to build on this success. We’ve already started introducing repayable components of grants, to ensure ventures have more skin in the game, and we hope this will also allow business support to be spread more widely.

We hope the stories of pioneers like Pure Innovations and Empower will show charities and social enterprises how professional business support can help them realize their ambitions and encourage them to think big.

Jonathan Jenkins, is CEO of the Social Investment Business, one of the UK’s leading social investors, which has invested more than £340 million in over 1,300 charities and social enterprises since 2002. @TheSocialInvest


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The link between Income Inequality and Public Services is stronger than I realized (thanks to Emma Seery for putting me straight)

Duncan Green

Duncan Green

Oxfam has been banging on to good effect recently about extreme global inequality in income and wealth. Over many years, we have also been making the case for universal health and education. It turns out the link between the two is stronger than I’d realized, according to ‘Working for the Many: Public Services fight Inequality’, a new paper published today.

We normally discuss inequality before and after tax (eg it’s progressive taxation that really brings Europe’s inequality down). But recent work published by the OECD and World Bank has put a monetary value on the ‘virtual income’ provided by public services. This produces some startling findings on inequality.

Indian hospital registration

‘Public services mitigate the impact of skewed income distribution, and redistribute by putting ‘virtual income’ into everyone’s pockets. For the poorest, those on meagre salaries, though, this ‘virtual income’ can be as much as – or even more than – their actual income. On average, in OECD countries, public services are worth the equivalent of a huge 76 per cent of the post-tax income of the poorest group, and just 14 per cent of the richest. It is in the context of huge disparities of income that we see the true equalizing power of public services.

The ‘virtual income’ provided by public services reduces income inequality in OECD countries by an average of 20 per cent, and by between 10 and 20 per cent in six Latin American countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico and Uruguay – see graph). Evidence from the IMF, Asia, and more than 70 developing and transition countries shows the same underlying patterns in the world’s poorest countries: public services tackle inequality the world over.

Latin American redistribution

In Mexico, and even in Brazil with its award-winning Bolsa Familia cash-transfer scheme, education and healthcare make double the contribution to reducing economic inequality that tax and benefits make alone. But regressive taxation in many Latin American countries, including Brazil, is undermining the potential to combat inequality through fiscal redistribution, and preventing even greater investment in health and education.

This evidence underlines a double imperative for governments: to ensure progressive taxation that can redistribute once when collected and again when spent on inequality-busting public services.’

And seen through the eyes of inequality and redistribution, the private v public debate becomes even starker:

‘Far from being a magical solution to providing universal access to health and education services, private provision of services skews their benefit towards the richest. Amongst the poorest 60 per cent of Indian women, the majority turn to public sector facilities to give birth, whilst the majority of those in the top 40 per cent give birth in a private facility. In three of the best performing Asian countries that have met or are close to meeting Universal Health Coverage – Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Hong Kong – the private sector is serving the richest far more than the poorest. Fortunately, in these cases the public sector has compensated.

Services must be free at point of delivery to reach their inequality-busting potential. Health user fees cause 150 million people around the world to suffer financial catastrophe each year. For the poorest 20 per cent of families in Pakistan, sending all children to a private low-fee school would cost approximately 127 per cent of that household’s income. The trend is the same in Malawi and in rural India.

Whereas public services provide everyone with ‘virtual income’, fighting inequality by putting more in the pockets of the poorest; user fees and private services have the opposite effect. Fees take more away from the actual income of poor people, and private services benefit the richest first and foremost. This is the wrong medicine for the inequality epidemic.’

Smart and important work by Emma Seery and colleagues.

Duncan Green, strategic adviser for Oxfam GB and author of ‘From Poverty to Power’.

This article was originally published on the Oxfam GB blog on 3 April 2014. The original article can be found here>


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Philanthropy in Mongolia

Bolor Legjeem

Bolor Legjeem

Recently I attended the 10th annual fundraising reception organized by the Mongolian Women’s Fund (MONES). It was a relief to see a big venue full.  And  it was a pleasant surprise to learn who the people attending this event  were— owners of top bakery shops, directors of medium size industrial entities, program directors and managers of international organizations, owners of jewelry shops. This crowd was quite different from what it was five years ago. Back then, people who came to this annual event, were from the inner  circle, people who were already concerned with social issues—mainly NGO activists.

MONES has been doing domestic fundraising since its starting days. Being a pioneer in Mongolia by fully engaging in domestic fundraising through events and campaigns, MONES experienced many ups and downs in its 15-year-long fundraising journey. We often struggled to meet our annual goals, every dollar was earned the hard way. Yet, we felt compelled to carry on. Our fundraising was never about raising money only. It was and is about raising support for women’s rights. We recognize that women’s participation— not only political but also economic— as essential for development. Economic participation includes philanthropy.

So, as a fundraiser, I felt proud of my people. In a country, where, for very long, the state took care of all social issues, people, finally, are taking it personally. They are willing to donate a portion of their income to a social cause, to women’s rights, for that matter. Yet, as I discovered during the process of this annual event, the “cause” itself was not the primary reason for many people to attend. They came because of friends, relatives, and colleagues.

The power of personal networks
Mongolia, with its culture rooted in nomadic lifestyle, is a clan-based society with tight-knit networks of relatives and friends who rely on each other for help. Here, giving is a must. Every month you are supposed to give to newborns, for funerals, to cover medical expenses, to pay tuition, to buy clothes, food, books—not just for yourself, but for the community. This list is endless and can range from an apartment to a pair of old shoes. And your level of income is of no relevance. Your donation can be small, but it is a must. Whoever is in need within this network can expect the network to extend its help.

Since society is not entirely nomadic anymore, networks have diversified and multiplied. Now, a person is affiliated with more than one network and can be a part of several networks – not only relatives, but classmates, co-workers, business affiliates, friends from a summer camp, from a dance club, etc. Nevertheless, the same rule of network help is applied here, although the level of commitment is lower. If you hear someone from any of your networks is in need, you are expected to help.

Who funds social causes?

It’s been two decades since the state stopped being a sole caretaker of social issues, like maternity health, education for rural children, services to disabled children, etc. Social issues exist in abundance, but the state has neither the capacity nor the will to take care of them. Many international aid projects have since filled the void to tackle these issues. However, their outreach is focused on improving the situation of target groups. Here the general public plays more of an observer’s role, without being offered many opportunities to participate.

For MONES, we’ve learned that domestic fundraising has proven to be the most powerful tool to connect individual people with the issue of women’s rights. It is absolutely crucial that this support is built from within and is extended throughout Mongolia as it has become more than just giving money. Our donors give more than money. Through giving to women and girls many, in turn, become advocates of women’s rights more broadly.

Looking forward

As MONES, we are rooted in Mongolia. We are part of and have access to these personal networks—networks that can be harder to enter and engage with as international funders.  So, after many trials and lessons, we learnt to engage with these personal networks and find ways to make connections to women’s rights organising in our country.

We invite a range of people to attend our events and encourage them to give donations through people they themselves know and trust. They may not yet be fully aware or feel supportive of women’s rights, but they respond to personal invitations. So, do we really need to break the culture of giving through personal networks? Or, is it better to utilize the existing culture and create a new channel that leads to more people supporting and recognizing the importance of social causes, like women’s rights? Maybe, in a due time, people will feel they can go outside of their networks to give to causes they support and are passionate about.

We at MONES will continue the journey of developing an understanding of local philanthropy within Mongolia that is inclusive of women’s and girls’ rights. In the meantime, I am encouraged by the fact that people who attended our annual event left feeling inspired.

Bolor Legjeem, International Communications and Fundraising Officer

The Mongolian Women’s Fund (MONES) was established in June 2000 to financially support projects from women’s NGOs and grassroots women’s groups. It is the first and only national grantmaking organization that is fully dedicated to mobilizing resources and providing financial support to achieving social change through the empowerment of women. This article is part of a series posted by Mama Cash sharing the perspectives of the local and regional funds that are its grantee-partners.


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