Talking social enterprises and partnerships at CGI

    Bunker Roy, founder and director of The Barefoot College. Roy challenged participants at CGI to actually think about the level of poverty of those at the bottom of the pyramid. Photo by: Erik Hersman / CC BY

    How can social enterprises embrace partnerships to deliver results from an early stage?

    Jacqueline Fuller, director of Google Giving offered some advice on Thursday at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York.

    Fuller encouraged the use of a “launch and innovate” model, where the company or organization closely tracks what is working and adapts quickly.

    Learning from existing models and what other organizations have done and tweaking a model appropriately is also important to maximize success, she said.

    In order to attract investors and form partnerships, the chief of Google Giving stressed the importance of collecting good data to support the need and impact for the venture.

    Organizations should partner with companies and groups that have specific expertise that they can use to advise and improve a model, said Fuller. Through those partnerships, a new company or organization may be able to piggy-back on successful programs or existing networks to reduce barriers to success.

    Reaching those at the bottom of the pyramid

    Bunker Roy, founder and director of The Barefoot College, challenged participants at CGI to actually think about the level of poverty of those at the bottom of the pyramid.

    “I have a feeling that it’s not business that is going to solve the base of the pyramid,” he said about the so-called “ultra poor,” struggling daily with the most basic challenges of water and food and businesses and microfinance lending that don’t reach them.

    The key to achieving change is partnering with the ultra poor, treating them as equals, and valuing the skills that they can share, said Roy, who engaged Western Union President and CEO Hikmet Ersek. The latter agreed that listening at the local level and treating people with respect is essential but said he sees a role for businesses.

    Ersek however admitted that the business community may need to shift mindsets somewhat: “Sometimes we define these people as poor people and not as an opportunity.”

    According to the Western Union chief executive, when companies and organizations enter a new community they should meet with community members, share plans and allow input. The focus should be on reducing dependency and developing skills for members in the community.

    “Accountability and transparency at the lowest level, at the base of the pyramid, is missing and that is vital.”

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    About the author

    • Adva Saldinger

      Adva Saldinger is a Senior Reporter at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.