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2007's Best: Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy
Alex Steffen, 31 Dec 07

Alan's important manifesto A Code of Ethics for Sustainability Professionals

3. Tell the truth about the trends, as you see it.
In a world of great media noise and confusion, where sustainability issues and global concerns must compete for attention, we have a responsibility to our clients to keep them informed. Be clear to your clients about what you believe to be the most important trends affecting our world and their future, and why.

Capitalism 3.0: Planning a Big Upgrade

Peter Barnes places a lot of faith in the institution of the trust—one in which certain individuals are charged with custodianship of resources owned by beneficiaries. The easy example is the "sky trust" (explored in Barnes' older book Who Owns the Sky?), which would regulate private interactions with the atmosphere by selling the right to dump pollution into it. As they sell less and less of such rights, the cost of pollution rises, and pollution decreases. The graceful flourish is that companies paying for the right to pollute would then be adding monetary wealth to the sky trust. And we're all beneficiaries. Barnes envisions a system in which we would all get paid dividends from our share of the collective.

This won't be easy, but Barnes suggests the way to achieve this is to scale up models like the Alaska Permanent Fund, which takes "at least 25 percent of all mineral lease rentals, royalties, royalty sales proceeds, federal mineral revenue-sharing payments and bonuses received by the state" [1] and puts it into a common fund that pays dividends to Alaskans.

Transforming Philanthropy

Worldchanging philanthropy, both organizational and personal, requires a fine sense of the challenges facing the planet. We must understand the causes of those problems and their proposed remedies. We need a sense of who's doing good work in the field and what their approaches are. We have to be aware of the law of unintended consequences and retain enough self-honesty to avoid the ethical pitfalls of power. This takes both a triage doctor's cold assessment of one's ability to impact a given situation and a good teacher's understanding that change is not always subject to calculation, and that when brilliance emerges it is not always subject to the normal rules. Seeing clearly, being honest and thinking ahead are not easy even when large amounts of money are not at stake.

The worldchanging philanthropist's job grows more difficult as our insight into the interwoven nature of the world's problems grows more clear. We know now that efforts to fix a single problem with a single, simple solution rarely succeed. For instance, it turns out that if we're serious about addressing humanitarian crisis, violence and environmental decline in conflict-torn regions, we'd better be prepared to address them all at once and holistically. We are just beginning to see truly effective philanthropy that thinks about its grantmaking in terms of systems, interconnections, leverage points and payoffs which are slow but powerful.

...Perhaps what's needed is a sort of philanthropic footprint report... a process any philanthropic group could undertake that would help it not only see the direct and indirect effects of its practices, but also to own up to them in public, spurring it on to better behavior where it has lagged, and encouraging imitation where it has excelled

Rob's Interview With Kiva's Jessica Flannery

Kiva was, in some ways, born out of necessity. Matt and I had a relationship problem: he wanted to do high-tech startups, and I wanted to do microfinance in Africa. We knew that we had this problem when we were dating, but we were in love, so we got married anyway and decided to figure it out as we went along.

Think about it – Kiva marries the high-tech startup world with microfinance. It’s the perfect solution to Matt and my relationship problem, and I can honestly say that it was born out of love. I would never have been able to get my head around Kiva had I not worked at the Center for Social Innovation, where these kinds of social innovations were part of the standard, day-to-day office talk.

My The Future of Philanthropy: Innovation, Networks, Thought Leaders and the Fringe

It is nearly a truism that innovation comes from the fringe of any field, out where strikingly new thinking is taking place -- as Thomas Kuhn put it in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, ideas must be "sufficiently unprecedented to attract an enduring group of adherents away from competing modes" of thought, and those kinds of ideas don't emerge by tweaking slightly the established conventional wisdom.

This creates some difficulties for philanthropists who wish to support worthwhile innovation. Not least is the fact because the frontier of knowledge is advancing so quickly (in terms of sustainability and social change), most people who give away money are increasingly forced to rely upon the judgment of others when making their decisions, and those others, especially if long-established in a field, have a tendency to resist new ideas which might clash with their own and work (however unintentionally) to aid their proteges and colleagues, even to the detriment of more meritorious outsiders.

So, the first challenge is, can we find truly innovative thinkers without going through the established experts, or can we create a mechanism through which the conflicts of interest those experts have can be filtered out?

Stewart Brand, in his obscurely famous 1971 Destination-Crisis Paper for the POINT Board of Directors (you can buy it in old editions of this book) where he proposed that the answer to the question, "What is most worth doing now?" is probably only something that can be discovered by individuals who move between disciplines and across fields and among various factions and tribes -- people who we might call circuit riders.

I suspect there's something to this idea. If we want to learn what's on the fringes that might be worth bringing to the core, we need to go spend time out on the fringe -- better yet, we need colleagues who live there, who share the strange obsessions, hothouse fads and passionate convictions of those who spend all their time thinking about what's next and how to make it cooler. Most of us are not those people, but even so, there is an astonishing lack of fringe-dwellers in much of the philanthropic world.

In part, this is because innovation, though now widely seen as absolutely fundamental, is not native to the mindsets of advocacy and charity. As an oversimplification, both are much more interested in doing more than in doing better. There is a quality of certainty in the minds of both effective activists and do-gooders which motivates action by suspending debate about possibility: they want to feed the hungry or end animal testing now, not debate the future of the food system or medical research.

I won't speak poorly of people who are living out their convictions, as long as they respect the liberty of the rest of us to live out ours, but both activism and charity as currently practiced run up against a regretful reality: it is likely that no amount of doing what we're doing now will save the planet or ourselves. And, in reality, we have a quite limited ability to support good work, so the chances of planet-wide success doing what we are doing now is, well, nil.

Mindy's Raising the Bar on Green Business

Don't get me wrong: corporate America getting religion on global warming is huge. Up until a couple of years ago, company CEOs were largely silent on the subject. Then GE's Jeff Immelt came out and unveiled the "Ecomagination" initiative to kick-start the low-carbon economy. Wal-Mart followed with an ambitious effort to cut energy use and its greenhouse gas emissions. Then Citigroup, IBM and News Corp jumped in by announcing climate-saving programs --- all in the same week.

...But like a sought-after party that everyone wants to attend, we now need a bouncer so that only those who are deserving get champagne. With so many companies touting their green virtues, it's more important than ever that we able to separate what's real from what's not.

Adrian's Time Banks: Collaborative Capacity Building, Web 2.0-Style

Time banks effectively use people’s time and talents as currency for exchanges of value. It's been effectively used across the world to tackle explicit local issues, such as childcare provision or urban regeneration. It's also been used to reach those from socially excluded groups who have unmet needs, such as minority groups, single parents, and the unemployed. Time banks have been successful in delivering small but important local results because they excel at building networks of reciprocal social relations, trust, civic participation and community solidarity.

In fact, a drive towards greater community involvement is taking place in the face of dwindling participation by women, the traditional providers of unpaid community services, and the emergence of communication tools that facilitate collaboration among individuals. In the last year we have witnessed the proliferation of online social networks centered on sustainability causes, and the growth of a highly participative online communities eager to help build a better world. The synergies shared by online and real life social networks can be used to enhance the time bank model.

Rob's Kiva vs. MicroPlace - What's the Difference?

MicroPlace, a wholly-owned subsidiary of EBay, launched it's new web site today with a flurry of press releases and coverage in both Reuters and BusinessWeek. From the press release:<

"Through MicroPlace’s secure platform, everyday people can purchase investments – for as little as $100 – from microfinance security issuers. MicroPlace also enables investors to direct the impact of their investment to a specific country and microfinance institution in the developing world. The microfinance institutions use the funds to make small loans to the working poor, who in turn use the loans to start or expand small businesses and lift themselves out of poverty."

This sounds suspiciously like the Kiva peer-to-peer lending model, right? At first glance - and before my first cup of coffee has taken affect - it does. A little digging, however, illustrates some key differences between the two.

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