If you step in the shower, You’re going to get wet.

October 29, 2012

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Embrace it

As entrepreneurs come to find out, there are lots of inherent risks to starting your own business. Social entrepreneurs working in the developing world know that they’re about to face challenges and risks unlike any other. And yet they jump in head first. Seemingly.

Maybe not every entrepreneur is like that. While you need a fearless leader to guide your team, not every entrepreneur is ecstatic about the possibility of being left without money and a job if things go sour. The risks to your personal, financial, and professional lives can be frightening but can also become a source of negative energy once IN the startup phase.

You cannot just assume “some” of the risk in front of you. Whatever is your share is yours whether you like it or not. So rather than occupy much of your mental energy worrying about the risks that you’ve (already) taken, embrace the risk and turn it to positive energy.

You can’t solve your latest product conundrum when you’re constantly thinking about the future. You can’t sell your idea to others when your voice sounds fearful. You can’t reach your potential when you’ve (unbeknownst to you) tethered yourself to the ground.

The phrase “throwing caution to the wind” comes to mind here. Yet this is not to say that one should be reckless or without fear.

The fact remains: you’re going to take risk. You can’t predict the future. You don’t know that you’re going to succeed. But you don’t know you’re going to fail. You can’t step in the shower without getting wet. Make the best of it.

- Chris

What’s your fallback?

October 8, 2012

As humans we have a tendency to fall back on what we know or are comfortable with in times of difficulty. When times get tough, our true character shows. The same is true for businesses, especially social enterprises.

Just as a trip home to spend time with family can help to rejuvenate, refocus or reprioritize our lives, so too can businesses get a “jump start” from their fallback. What is that fallback for you and your business? Might it be a chat with your advisors? Maybe it’s a company meeting to dust off your mission statement and realign current projects.

But why do we need this? As business progresses, efforts can sometimes be more focused on the details than the bigger vision. Now don’t get me wrong, living in the details is a necessity for companies, but that’s where leaders come in to provide guidance and a sense of calming to ensure that we still are moving towards the greater vision.

Yet at times we may diverge from our values – this is not unusual. This is where our fallbacks come into play. They serve as a healthy reminder for who we are, why we’re doing this, and can sometimes provide a unique perspective to which we’ve become blinded. Read more »

Give people a way to make the right decision

September 17, 2012

Shortcuts are generally risky. Just ask anyone who has seen the financial crisis unfold first hand, opted for medical tourism, or run a business with environmental concerns.

Yet why do we take them so often? Well for the obvious reasons that our decision could end up being cheaper, quicker, and less of a hassle. Many times the decisions are made easier by the lack of oversight and dishonest regulators who might not only allow shortcuts but encourage them. Many times, the downstream effect of our choices is so far from view, that the consequences of taking product shortcuts don’t seem real. Read more »

A Path Away From Pride & Prejudice

September 13, 2012

When Dreams Alight
2009 was a seminal year in my life.  That was the year that I took my first step.

Looking back on the path of my life, I can see clearly that I grew up dreaming of making a difference in a world that didn’t feel quite equitable—even if I didn’t understand why.

My dreams shaped my choices and my choices shaped my experiences, but until 2009, I had yet to diverge.

Chris and I started Rising Pyramid three years ago because we were dissatisfied with the level of difference we could make at our day jobs.

Back then, we were high-fiving when we got over 10 viewers in a day.  Reflecting back, at first, Rising Pyramid was more about us than about the outside world; we were learning and inspiring ourselves as we wrote.

Three years ago when we published our first post, we pivoted away from the normal path.  That action was significant, not because it mattered to the rest of the world, but because it was a choice that mattered within. Read more »

The Many Angles

September 10, 2012

Many times the word “entrepreneur” is code for “jack-of-all-trades”. From setting up a wireless printer to editing financial models to navigating tax code, entrepreneurs have to do it all at one point in time or another.

Our backgrounds and experiences are major parts of what shape the ways in which we approach problems – or, said another way, “the angle” in which we view them.

Our schooling, home life, prior work experience, social adventures, and values are ingredients that create various angles for us to understand problems, tasks, and solutions. Read more »

As MFIs take one step forward, Bangladesh takes one step backward

August 27, 2012

The recent actions by the government of Bangladesh should be condemned in the strongest of manners. Despite Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s repeated attempts to discredit the record of Professor Muhammad Yunus, she has only succeeded in validating the attractiveness of a well-run microfinance organization.

The governmental takeover of Grameen bank stands squarely against the principles and standards upon which it was founded, and wipes out the borrower-led model that has been a shining star through the recent turmoil in the microfinance industry.

It is a shame to see the work of Prof. Yunus and the Grameen team attempt to be invalidated, but what the government of Bangladesh cannot take away is the strength, reputation, success, and promise of borrower-involved microfinance.

Microfinance lives on and is moving into the next phase of development – one with technology at the forefront to push the efficiency with which information is used. In Rwanda, MFIs are teaming up with global technology and software firms to bring MFI data to the cloud.

This forward thinking (similar to the heavier reliance on mobile payments) will be helpful in ensuring that those at the BoP obtain (and retain) access to the quality financial service they need and deserve.

Lastly, I’d like to give a big congratulations to Kiva for finally breaking down the barrier and gaining access to the nation of India. We, here at RisingPyramid, have been big advocates for Kiva to be allowed and operating in India. We look forward to hearing more great stories of the lives affected in India!

- Chris

The Pipeline to WIBB

August 23, 2012

As the name implies, social entrepreneurship is about starting socially focused businesses.  Generally, in the long-run social businesses will be bought or traded, so what happens to the social mission at that point in time?

There has been a lot of debate about this; in an ideal world, social entrepreneurs create business models that rely on the social mission in order to complete the profit formula.  Personally, I’m always on the look-out for ways to better ensure that my company’s social mission will be further fulfilled with each new dollar of revenue.

In their Fall 2012 publication, the Stanford Social Innovation Review published a fascinating article about the truth behind Ben & Jerry’s sale to Unilever, and how it affects social entrepreneurs.  The premise of the article is that Ben & Jerry’s didn’t want to sell out of fear that their social mission/culture would be lost, but eventually they were obligated to sell to a large buyer.  There are some good lessons for social entrepreneurs at the end.

Naturally a few questions come to mind:
Can social entrepreneurs actually succeed in ensuring that their social mission doesn’t go away when they leave?  Yes—it is certainly possible, but this is a key challenge.

Do social entrepreneurs have exit opportunities/buyers that would prioritize the social mission & maintain it?  At present, the space is limited but socially minded investing firms (like Abacus) are on the rise and eventually there will be enough demand from investors to maintain socially minded funds. Read more »

Make it easier for customers to use your product

August 13, 2012

Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

No matter how elegant a product is or how many features it packs, if a consumer’s more basic needs are not met, you won’t get any buyers. It’s fairly obvious that you can’t sell someone a refrigerator if they don’t have electricity. But how many refrigeration companies are out there making it easier for consumers to gain access to electricity?

Oxfam International, an international confederation of 17 organizations, has stepped up to tackle to obstacles standing in front of those who want to receive an education. In Wajir, in northeastern Kenya, Oxfam has acted to eliminate the main diverter of schoolchildren to the classroom: the daily need to secure water for the survival of their family and herds. Read more »

Industry Clusters

August 9, 2012

Did you ever notice that industries & similar jobs tend to cluster in particular areas?  Tech in Silicon Valley, Film in Hollywood, Finance in New York, Oil and Gas in Saudi Arabia, Construction in Dubai, and so on.

Similarly, culturally uniform groups tend to pursue similar jobs or industries, particularly among immigrants.  These acts of clustering can be explained in part through the concepts of influence spreading through social networks, as described by Fowler and Christakis in the book Connected.

For instance, the Economist just ran an article on Thai’s travelling to Sweden for the annual berry-picking seasonal jobs.  If that isn’t a microcosm example of policy influence/clustering, etc. I’m not sure what is. Read more »

Black-out: SocEnt-in, Please!

August 2, 2012

India’s massive power outage this week underscores the need for social enterprises in the energy sector.

Like most developing countries, India is well accustomed to rolling power outages and brown-outs, but even this week’s power crash was a shock to the system.

While the power outage technically affected most of the country, the primary victims were those in poorer areas and rural villages.  However, as I said, the victims were no stranger to power outages.  Many solutions to this issue have been devised.

The most effective solution is to run a diesel fuel generator in order to power your home or business.  With fuel prices as high as they are, this is an expensive (and environmentally damaging) proposition only available to the wealthiest.

Those without fuel for generators must turn to alternate solutions or do without.  For shop-owners, doing without electricity is often not just a mere inconvenience—it means days of no income.  When you are living hand-to-mouth anyways, a few days income lost can be devastating. Read more »

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