Saturday, March 6, 2010

UnUsual Biznuss: How to apply entrepreneurial thinking to addressing social challenges

Well another great RISE Austin has come and passed. It was this time last year when I really started getting into social entrepreneurship. After last year's RISE I set out on a mission to work with a team of very talented and bright social entrepreneurs on developing an eco-system in Austin to foster social innovation. After about nine months of planning and envisioning what it would be like and how it would operate, it all fell apart in a matter of days. It is interesting as to how things can unravel so quickly.

Luckily, I continued on with one of my projects. That of teaching social entrepreneurship to a class of 6th graders at Kealing Middle School through the Citizen Schools after school apprentice program. You can read about that blog here.

With RISE coming around again this year, bigger and better. I volunteered to help Mando Rayo with getting speakers for the multi-cultural series segment of RISE. As more and more of my friends volunteered to host sessions, I would get asked if I was hosting one. After about the fifth inquiry, I was like I am now, lol.

With not much time to plan a presentation, I decided the Wednesday or Thursday before RISE to register for a session, I decided to focus the session on being both a take away and workshop experience. The plan was to talk for like 15 to 20 minutes on my after school social entrepreneurship experience and then engage the audience to go through fast paced versions of the exercises I did with the students. Simple enough.

Well because I delayed in deciding whether or not to host a session, I did not do the proper promotion. I guess one part of me was hoping no one would show up and then another part of me wanted lots of people to show up. Turns out that one person showed up, Maria. A long term veteran in the mobile services industry. I believe she had been working with Sprint since like '95. Maria shared with me that back then, they were telling her that mobile was going to be huge and eventually the norm. That has pretty much come true since then.

Considering that only one person showed up to my session at Cospace, 911 W. Burnet, I adjusted my game plan to fit the situation. Cospace was awesome in hooking up a conference room with a whiteboard so I took full advantage of what was available. I told Maria that I was going to make this more of a one on one workshop to help her find out where her passions lay and how she could do something with her skills to follow suit with her passions. The goal was to show her how in an hour you could apply entrepreneurial thinking to address some social challenge.

Using the entire white board space available, I wrote out four columns; passions/likes, skills, resources, and needs.

Under passions/likes we listed;

networking and meeting people
mobile lifestyle and technology
wanting to do something about human and animal captivity (remember this because I will come back to this later)

Skills & Resources:

Business Development
Networking and social interaction and a vast network
Technology background
Freedom with current job to be out of the office
Access to financial means


Freedom to be out of an office
residual income to sustain lifestyle
Must be doing something that provides some type of value and does good for someone or something.

After we had listed out all this stuff and more, I didnt take notes so I am going all off of memory, lol. So anyways once we had all this listed out. I then went on to dig deeper onto everything. Because quite frankly helping and giving is all types of vague. So I immediately asked "DO you want to give and help animals, women, children, the environment and etc, lets break it down to something specific."

One of the first things that came up was animal captivity and we started talking about elephants chained up and how whenever Maria would see animals in captivity that she would feel real bad. Then from there we led the convo to human captivity and human trafficking. Maria had read somewhere recently that human trafficking is becoming more lucrative for criminals than the drug trade. It turned out that this topic was very close to Maria so we focused on this.

We now how a global social challenge that we could begin to apply entrepreneurial thinking to address. Incorporating her skills and background we decided that it would be best to somehow leverage mobile technology to combat human trafficking. Because of the challenge we selected we also had to add some more things to the needs list; be away from harms way.

To make a 2 hour and 15 minute workshop story short, we ended up coming up with the following idea.

What if there was a program/business/non-profit/something that when a cell phone was bought, a cell phone would be given to someone living in a high risk region of the world for kidnappings, human trafficking and other similar atrocities. That why they could keep in touch with family, be tracked via GPS if taken, the phone network could be leveraged to send out the word when someone went missing so that a network can work together in prevention and retrieval (similar to how you see those warning notices on the express way of what color truck and license plates. But through SMS)

So now that we had a general idea of something that could somewhat address a social challenge. Maria's next question was "So how do we make money off of doing this good?"

Well great question, no one wants to start a venture that loses money. My first suggestion was to have a hybrid type venture where one part of it is non-profit while another portion of it is for profit. The non-profit portion of this imaginary business would be the part that coordinates cell phone carriers, i.e. at&t, sprint, verizon and whomever to participate in this program that would match phone purchases with a phone donations to someone in a high risk region for kidnappings and such to this non-profit. The non-profit would then also serve as the connecting piece to distribute the phones to those in most need. The non-profit arm would also serve as a presence in that area to make people aware of the kidnapping risks in that region and work with the network on retrieval and prevention.

The for profit arm would have to take some thought and time. The initial ideas were to leverage the eventual network of phone recipients as a means to serve up messages and select advertiser mobile offers. Considering that recipients would be in specific areas, we could serve up local business offers to people through this mobile phone network. That was just one of the ideas but there were a few ways to monetize this.

Maria was really excited about having come to the self discovery that she could technically incorporate her passions, skills and resources towards something of meaning and benefit to the world at large by using entrepreneurial thinking to address a social challenge.

My take away from the session/workshop was great. This was the first time I had attempted to do something like this and it went much better than I had anticipated. Maria asked me on several occasions how much I charge to consult people and businesses on how to do this exercise and I said, nothing. I am definitely considering it now and definitely love to do this kind of brainstorming with individuals, groups and organizations all the time.

Innovate on.

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