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Social Business and Microeconomic Opportunities for Youth Conference: A Social Entrepreneur’s Perspective (Pt 1)

March 24, 2008

The Social Business and Microeconomic Opportunities for Youth Conference inspired and motivated me. I learned from Muhammad Yunus and John Hatch as they described how microfinance has helped over 133 million households. Listening to stories about the over billion people who still live on $1 per day challenged me to join the fight against global poverty.

My favorite story was Yunus’s description of meeting with an illiterate woman (Grameen Bank borrower) proudly standing with her doctor daughter (Grameen Bank scholarship recipient). While he was thrilled to see the educational level go from illiteracy to medical school in one generation, he was saddened that the mother could have been a doctor too if she had the resources to attend school. Through microfinance and social business, we can use financial capital to help people improve their health and education resulting in expanded human capital.

Bob Sample’s posts did a great job highlighting several key speakers and panelists, so this article will cover the youth entrepreneurs, social entrepreneur panel and breakout sessions.

There was an impressive number of youth in the audience. When John Hatch asked audience members who were 30 or younger to stand, I was among the approximately 20% of the audience who stood. A reception allowed finalists for the Social Business Plan Competition to show their products to conference attendees.

Social Business and Microeconomic Opportunities for Youth Conference: A Personal Reflection (Pt 2)

March 21, 2008

For me, the truly life-changing contributor to the conference came in the person of Emmanuel Faber, co-Chief Operating Officer of Groupe Danone, a French-based multi-national corporation that produces many food and beverage products, such as Evian water, Dannon Yoghurt, and Lu cookies, to name a few of their many brands. Danone is one of the top 100 largest corporations in the world, with 100,000 employees in 40 countries.

About two years ago, Danone entered into a partnership with the Grameen Bank to form the Grameen Danone Foods company. The company has created a new form of small-scale factory in a village in Bangladesh, set up a process for buying milk and hiring all staff on the local market, and designed a new highly fortified yoghurt product aimed at providing 30% of the daily nutrition requirements of impoverished Bangladeshi children. The new company also implemented an innovative marketing strategy using Grameen borrowers as the sales force. Another breakthrough was the establishment of a new financing company in France called the Danone Communities Fund to attract investment capital through the French stock market for this project and other Social Business projects.

Emmanuel Faber is the man who organized the international project to design, build, and finance the Grameen Danone factory, as well as to design and develop its tasty and nutritious yoghurt product. He also personally designed and achieved rapid regulatory approval for the Danone Communities Fund financing vehicle.

Social Business and Microeconomic Opportunities for Youth Conference: A Personal Reflection

March 17, 2008

Bob Sample

The Social Business and Microeconomic Opportunities for Youth Conference was an amazing success. Some are calling it a life-changing event!
“This has been the best conference on microcredit I have been to in 18 years. It’s a truly historic conference that will be a great accelerator of the movement to end poverty!” - John Hatch, Founder of FINCA

I was privileged to be one of the organizers of this remarkable event - one of the “Friends of Microcredit”, an informal group of eight individuals representing organizations involved with microcredit in Colorado or elsewhere in the world. For about four months of breakdowns and breakthroughs, we produced a 2 1/2 day major national conference - the first in the world on Muhammad Yunus’ idea of Social Business as introduced in his landmark new book, Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism.

Over 500 people travelled from all over the U.S to attend the conference, and over 50 speakers contributed their wisdom, the Governor and First Lady of Colorado and the Mayor of Denver participated. We got some great press.

I am attaching the flyer from the conference, a brilliant paper by John Hatch, and a copy of last Friday's major article on the front page of the business section of the Denver Post.

At the conference, Muhammad Yunus brilliantly put forth the case for a new version of capitalism that recognizes the complexity of human motivation, not just monetary motivation. He is calling this new form "Social Business" - a non-gain, non-loss for-profit business where profits are recycled in the business and the primary purpose is to do good in the world.

Social Businesses in China

March 10, 2008

Muhammad Yunnus’ book Banker to the Poor opened my mind to a new type of philanthropy – venture philanthropy – where donations to a Microfinance Institution are loaned out, repaid at an extremely high rate, and then reinvested. The thought that my small donation not only made a significant impact to the loan recipient but also was recycled appealed greatly to my entrepreneurial bent. After all, I wanted my hard-earned cash to be well-spent.

Now the Nobel Laureate has written a new book – Creating a World Without Poverty – which I hope will open the minds of business people around the world as his first book had done for me.

In the United States particularly, we have come to assume that a business’ mission must be to “maximize shareholder value”. Yunus defines these as PMBs, or Profit-Maximizing Businesses. In his new book, he shows us there can be another way, “Social Businesses” which are “cause-driven” instead of profit-driven.

This concept may be seen as radical, or even heretical, because it conflicts with our US point-of-view favoring free market capitalism. In a Stanford VTSS (Values, Technology, Science and Society) class, I learned that changing society’s values is perhaps the hardest and slowest thing of all, often lagging science and technology advancements by 10 or more years. We cling to our values and customs, not necessarily because they are right or the best, but because we are afraid of change; we are comfortable with the status quo.

However, in China, this concept of Social Business is not so radical because the relics of the Communist infrastructure, the State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), are similar in result, though not in purpose. In other words, SOEs were not created for a socially-minded cause, but they were one of the last social safety nets, the “iron rice bowl.” But due to foreign competitive pressures from China joining the WTO (World Trade Organization), these inefficient dinosaurs are being dismantled and/or restructured, causing millions of workers to be laid off. Currently, China has an estimated 220-300 million people under the poverty line. The poor people are a powerful destabilizing force, and thus the Chinese government strongly supports, and sometimes even demands, businesses to accept social responsibility.

Be Part of the Remaking of the World

March 03, 2008

At Federated Church, United Church of Christ, in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, we brought a biblical parable to life this past fall. We lived out the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. There, a master lends three servants varying amounts of money. Two of them invest their money and double it. One simply buries it and makes nothing. The master is thrilled with the investment of the first two and commends them for it.

We lent everyone in the church $50 and invited them to invest that money in some way and to make more with it. Someone bought hens and sold eggs. Another person offered rides on his Harley-Davidson and asked for donations. Still another recorded a song she’d written and sold CDs of it.

For us, the parable became an opportunity to encourage the various gifts with which we’ve all been blessed. Not everyone is LeBron James or Beyonce. We’ve all been endowed with particular gifts and abilities, though, and we’ve been invited to use those gifts to make a difference in the world.

Can Social Business Significantly Impact the Microfinance Industry?

February 06, 2008

Muhammad Yunus is blazing another trail in his constant search for new and often unconventional ideas for confronting poverty, head-on. Just as Grameen Bank revolutionized banking with its bottom-up approach, I believe his latest initiative—social business—has the power to transform the way societal problems such as poverty, ill-health and even environmental degradation are addressed.

Help us create a world without poverty

January 09, 2008

When he asked for a meeting with Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, Franck Riboud, CEO of Group Danone, a global corporate giant (whose American brand name is Dannon), didn't realize that his concept of doing business was about to change forever. A few hours and a hand shake transformed the hard driving, profit-motivated executive, into an unwavering advocate of 'social businesses'. Barely a year later, Riboud joined Professor Yunus in Bangladesh to launch Grameen Danone, with the mission of producing and selling specially-fortified yogurt to improve the health of poor Bangladeshi children.

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