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Innovation In Social Entrepreneurship

R.S.Ayyar
08/23/2006

The Social Entrepreneurship SIG of TiE-Boston organized an invited talk by Vanessa Kirsch, President and Founder of New Profit, Inc. at the Tang Center, MIT on August 17, 2006. Welcoming the audience, Raj Melville – Chairperson of the Social Entrepreneurship SIG – outlined the goal and action plan of his group. He informed that the main aim of the group is to focus and identify innovative ideas in fostering social entrepreneurship programs which will not only achieve the predicted target but also maintain sustained growth. He informed that SESIG has 50 Chapters and more than 500 members in the Boston area.

The guest speaker, Vanessa Kirsch, President and Founder of New Profit, Inc, explained how the idea of forming the company was generated, the portfolio management and projects initiated and the growth of each with its future horizon monitored. She mentioned that she drew inspiration from the famous words of John F. Kennedy “The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics and cynics whose horizons are limited to the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were and ask why not.”

Explaining the goal of the company, she said that it is working to build a world-class venture philanthropy fund to support social entrepreneurs and their organizations as they navigate the growth process. To achieve this, the company provides multi-year financial and strategic support to a portfolio of organizations focused on a range of social issues. Uniting funding and intellectual capital from individual investors, the company seeks to create a favorable environment fro all social entrepreneurs by tapping their experiences to address key problems in several cases. These areas range from policy change, organizational capacity building, talent recruitment and development, and creation of a social capital market.

She then proceeded to list the company’s portfolio organizations which deploy best-in-class innovation to create transformative social change nationwide. She highlighted the fact that in 2004, the compounded annual revenue growth was 27% while the compound annual lives touched was 45%.

The first portfolio organization is ‘Citizen Schools’ which addresses the downward spiral in public schools through dropouts of underachieving students. This is attempted to be remedied by recruiting a nationwide corps of ‘Citizen Teachers’ to teach hands-on apprenticeships through out of school sessions. Starting with 24 campuses spread in 4 states, the project aims at setting up 80-100 sites during the next 5 years to serve more than 100,000 children.

Jumpstart is an organization which through an innovative program of one-to-one adult-child interactions helps pre-school children to build language and literacy, social and initiative skills that will provide the necessary ground work for later academic and social success. With 2100 college students serving 8000 children in 2004, Jumpstart has received $1 million grant front the Smith Family Foundation to widen its scope.

‘Working Today’ is a national organization which harnesses technology to reach large number of independent workers at low cost. It also has low-cost insurance plans which are affordable for a large number of independent workers.

‘Teach for America’ is a national corps of outstanding college graduates who commit two years to teach in low-income urban and rural communities to expand opportunities for children. Their ongoing leadership is sure to act as a dynamic force for social change.

‘New leaders for new schools’ recruits exceptionally talented principal candidates from diverse backgrounds and provides them with intensive training in instructional and organizational leadership, a year long residency ad three years of coaching and support. It hopes to provide 700+ new leaders serving 300,000 students by 2008.

‘College Summit’ is a program which focuses on building support systems in the crucial transition from grade 12 to 13 by mobilizing teachers, parents, schools, colleges and communities to support students to continue their education. It expects to serve more than 200,000 students by 2009.

‘Computer for youth’ is a project to improve the prospects of low-income students by providing them and their families with home computers and skills to use them. ‘Kids voting USA’ is a national, non-profit, non-partisan organization devoted to serve the future of democracy by preparing people to become conscientious voters.

Among other ongoing project, ‘Kickstart’ develops and markets new irrigation technologies which are affordable, durable and easy to operate for poor farmer in Africa. ‘Yearup’ is one which combines marketable job skills, stipends, apprenticeships, etc. to place young ones on a viable path to economic self sufficiency. ‘Right to play’ is one which develops and implements sports programs for children in refugee camps and slums. ‘Peer health exchange’ trains college students to teach a comprehensive health curriculum in public schools that lack health education.

Vanessa answered a number of questions clarifying the mission, the growth potential and the strategies planned by her company. On the whole, it was an enlightening talk giving a new path finder for social entrepreneurs.



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