March 3, 2009

Supporting Social Entrepreneurs

On February 27, 2009, I had the honor of serving as a judge at the Fifth Annual Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition (GSEC) is organized by the University of Washington’s (UW) Global Business Center at the Michael G. Foster School of Business, with the support of Microsoft (GSEC Grand Prize sponsor) and the UW Department of Global Health (Global Health Prizes sponsor). (Everyone involved is very appreciative of all GSEC 2009 contributors.) The "GSEC unites the business, non-profit and academic sectors in learning about and supporting innovative and financially feasible solutions to global poverty."

14 teams from around the world presented their business ideas to judges and the UW community where they competed for $20,000 in prize money. The 2009 GSEC team members came from 9 countries and 15 different academic institutions. Their double-bottom line business plans seek to create commercially sustainable solutions to issues of poverty in the developing world. The 2009 business ideas include water sanitation in Nepal, solar ovens in Africa, networks for NGO donors, microfinance in Ghana, healthcare and biofuel programs in India, education in Rwanda, and pedal-powered phones in Nicaragua.

GSEC plans must clearly demonstrate the Social Return on Investment (SROI) in addition to the financial return on investment. In addition, GSEC plans must be for a low or lower-middle income country and the plans are evaluated on three criteria:
  1. Effect on the quality of life and poverty alleviation in the developing world;
  2. Financial sustainability; and
  3. Feasibility of implementation
GSEC plans may cover a broad range of subjects such as healthcare, education, the environment, energy, information and communication technology, social services, agriculture, and manufacturing, and plans may be entirely private or a public-private partnership.
For the preliminary round, judges were assigned to evaluate a number of grouped teams. My group judged the following entrants:
  • Youth Education Farms for Swaziland (University of British Columbia; Face of Today Foundation, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) is a project that will develop farm land near schools in rural areas. Local students will work alongside full-time farm employees on a part-time basis throughout their elementary to high school tenure. Profits from the sales of farm produce will be used to fund the students' tuition fees and fund university tuition or local business initiatives created by the students. The plan's vision is to provide an environment for the sustainable development of idle orphans and communities in rural Swaziland through farming, while funding their future education and endeavors;
  • Aahar: Meals for Poor at 10 Cents (Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies University, Mumbai, India) whose mission is to provide full nutritious meals to slum dwellers at 10 cents in a ready-to-eat packet consisting of rice, pulses, and vegetable peels. Each of these packets provide 800 calories. In addition, this business will empower local women by hiring them to compile these packets while providing a higher wage rate and food packets for their family at no cost;
  • SolarCycle (Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA), whose mission is to respond to the need for alternative cooking technologies in Africa by manufacturing and distributing, at cost, simple and sustainable solar ovens made from locally available waste materials. A variety of solar ovens are already in use in a patchwork of locations across Africa; however, these ovens are too expensive and their distribution too localized to address the massive scope of the energy problem in rural Africa. Their ovens contain two principal innovations, one structural and one material, that will allow Solar Oven Systems to provide a sustainable and scalable solution to this challenge; and
  • Bright Credit Bright Credit (University of Washington, Seattle, USA) is a Seattle-based non-profit organization that offers secondary education loans to the children of micro-finance beneficiaries in Ghana. Their mission is to leverage the microfinance industry to instill the value of secondary education to loan beneficiaries and their families. By utilizing advanced social networking tools, Bright Credit connects members of the developed world directly to Ghanaian children in need of funding for their education.
The five teams who emerged from the preliminary round and competed in the final round were Youth Education Farms for Swaziland, Text for Health, Aahar: Meals for Poor at 10 Cents, MiNGO, and SolarCycle. Here are the 2009 winners:
  • GSEC Grand Prize ($10,000): Aahar: Meals for Poor at 10 Cents;
  • GSEC Global Health Grand Prize ($5,000): SolarCycle;
  • GSEC Global Health Second Prize ($2,500): WAPGrid; and
  • GSEC Investor’s Choice Award ($2,500): WAPGrid.
This was my first experience participating in the University of Washington Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition. I found the experience very rewarding, personally and professionally. I enjoyed the experience of meeting my fellow judges who hold a myriad of experiences in sustainable global development. In addition, I greatly enjoyed interacting with many of the team members (social entrepreneurs) who have a vision to make a measured and sustainable difference in the world. I look forward to participating in future GSEC events.

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