Organization Spotlights

POP & Social Media

May 17, 2012

Have you heard of Pencils of Promise?  Does the name ring a bell?  Maybe, or maybe not but Pencils of Promise is a budding example of the power of social media & the role it can play in the social enterprise world.

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Pencils of Promise is an NGO focused on building schools in developing countries.  Though the organization is only a little over three years old, they already have 50 schools up & operating, with 30 more on the way.

According to their annual report, in 2011 Pencils of Promise operated off of $1.2M in contributions, plus in 2010 they received $1.1M.   These are no small sums, especially when you consider that they only received more than $100K from two donors.  This was a grassroots effort.

I’m sure you’ve guessed what their secret is: social media connections.  Adam Braun, the founder of Pencils of Promise, is quite lucky: he has a strong personal connection with Justin Bieber’s manager, but that doesn’t mean other social enterprises can’t learn from the example. Read more »

The Forgotten Step of Marketing: Behavior Alignment

March 1, 2012

Need Alignment: The first step of marketing a successful product is to build something that your customers need or want.

Price Alignment: The second step is to convince customers that they actually need or want your product so much that they should be willing to pay for it.

I would argue that most companies stop there—which is a large part of why so many products fall flat when it comes to sales.

At the bottom of the pyramid, the challenge of setting the price low enough to pass step two is incredibly difficult…which is probably why it is a rare gem that can pass step three.

Behavior alignment, the third step of marketing, requires you to build products that either fit seamlessly into the consumers’ current lifestyle or that challenge them to change behavior in a way that they aspire to.

If you are from the developed world, there is no doubt that you are accustomed to changing your behavior in small ways to use products.  Consumer culture means that we are more exposed to new products which require new behaviors.

Yet, sometimes even small behavior changes are enough to keep you away (I’m still fighting with my new kettle because it requires me to pour in a funky way). Read more »

Sanergy: Sustainable Sanitation in the Slums

October 20, 2011

Here’s a stinky idea: what if you could create a business that provides clean sanitation to those in the slums, empowers micro entrepreneurs and makes a profit?  Oh, and I forgot to mention…produces renewable energy.

Smells like a win to me.  Introducing Sanergy: a sustainable solution to sanitation issues in the slums of Africa (for now).

I had the lucky chance of meeting David Auerbach, the founder of Sanergy earlier this fall & was quite impressed.

Sanergy is the first sanitation solution that I’ve seen that provides an end to end solution across all components of the value chain, from building toilets to generating renewable energy and productive bi-products.

How do they do it? 4 (seemingly) easy steps: Read more »

Visiting Akilah: A Girls’ Education Success Story and More

September 1, 2011

There is a sign at the entrance of the Akilah classroom that reads “From wherever you are, enter and be welcome,” which is exactly how I felt as I settled in to a desk to observe the ‘hospitality’ course review for finals.

The Rwandan based Akilah Institute for Women claims to “prepare students to find meaningful employment and launch ventures in the fastest growing sector of the Rwandan economy.” But Akilah is so much more than that.

On the same wall there is a poster that reads:

“A Woman as a Metaphor for Leadership…Women are:

  • Smart workers
  • Organized
  • Passionate
  • Talented
  • Influential
  • Caring
  • Responsible
  • Good managers
  • Inspiring
  • Multi-purpose” Read more »

Three Lessons From Housing Microfinance in Mexico

July 8, 2011

Last week reported big news for nearly a million prospective homeowners in Latin America: Patrimonio Hoy, a housing microfinance scheme, is expanding to four new countries.

Through a unique financing strategy the program makes it possible for low-income families to build or renovate their own homes.

Patrimonio Hoy was developed in 1998 by CEMEX as an attempt to sell construction materials to the low-income populations.   The initiative has been wildly successful and is often referenced when describing how large businesses can adapt to small incomes.

CEMEX’s Patrimonio Hoy is a poster child for market-based solutions to poverty, but the program & this recent investment offer three general lessons about social enterprise:

Read more »

The IMF now has a chance to change directions, but will it?

May 26, 2011

With the sudden plummet of DSK (Dominique Strauss-Kahn), the International Monetary Fund is looking for a new leader.  As we turn the pages, I’m full of suspense: will the next chapter unveil a golden age in development or is it true that an old dog can’t learn new tricks?

Two steps forward, One step back
Reflecting on DSK’s time at the helm, The Economist wrote “Whatever his personal failings, Mr. Strauss-Kahn was an outstanding head of the IMF.  Before the financial crisis, the fund risked irrelevance.  With him there, it has again played a central part in managing the world economy.”  Naturally, with a mission statement that includes “foster global monetary cooperation”, “secure financial sustainability” and “promote high employment”, its clear that the IMF had a key role to play during the recession.  The IMF has done the hard work of balancing the need to assist debt-ridden countries such as Greece while playing tough on policy and underlying symptoms.

Read more »

OPIC to Offer Life Jacket to Impact Investors

May 5, 2011

Despite coming to existence in 1971 at the dawn of an oil crisis, OPIC is quite the opposite of OPEC, its notorious homophone.  While OPEC seeks to control production of oil to maximize its own members’ profits, OPIC’s mission is to make it as easy as possible for organizations other than itself to make a profit.  Might impact investors benefit?

Finance geeks are well aware that the value of a business proposition is dependent entirely on the risk involved.  Higher risk demands higher return—or its just not worth it.  Given the degree of market stability in the US, American firms have long been reluctant to dip their toes in the choppy waters of emerging markets.

Suppose I’m starting a high stakes baseball team. Read more »

Moving Beyond Microcredit – While Keeping Lending Costs In Check

April 21, 2011

Editor’s Note: Recently, Bryan Farris spoke with Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President and CEO of Women’s World Banking, one of thought influencers and industry leaders in microfinance with a focus on female entrepreneurs and customers in 27 countries. As WWB notes, the organization not only provides women access to financial services but “also control over their assets.” This post is the second of several topical discussions centered on the many financial, cultural and societal issues facing women in developing markets (earlier posts can be found on here and here).

The microfinance sector has realized the need to move beyond microcredit, however new services are expensive to offer.  And yet, critics often cite high interest rates when claiming that microcredit exploits the poor.  In this discussion, Mary Ellen Iskenderian and I grapple with these issues and more.  How can the MFI sector reduce costs and expand offerings? How will MFIs encourage the poor to save for the long run? Can subsidized programs, like match savings and financial education programs, have an impact on behavior?

Rising Pyramid: There has been a lot of discussion lately about whether high interest rates in microfinance are ethical.  I’m more concerned with whether they are effective.  From the point of view of a CFO, any debt that a business takes on should be put to use in an activity that earns a return higher than the cost of debt.  The cost of microfinance debt is extremely high, which makes it very challenging for small businesses to earn a sufficient return to actually climb out of debt using the loan.  The business may be able to pay off the loan, but may not be retaining any earnings or accumulating capital.

There are several stories, like the one you described in your interview with Dowser, in which a woman takes out and repays several successive loans and is successful in growing a business.  Clearly the loans have been beneficial to some, but it seems to me that the high cost of debt will make it challenging for most businesses to deploy that capital in a way offers a return sufficiently high enough that the financial instrument is accretive to capital.

How do you solve the problem of high interest rates? Should we be looking for a way to provide subsidies to high rates?  Or, is it better to encourage transition to savings as a vehicle for asset accumulation? Read more »

Please Call Me: An Interview with the Praekelt Foundation

February 1, 2011

The following is part 3 of 3 in an interview series put together by guest writer Josiah Filler on mobile solutions in South Africa.  Please refer to part 1 and part 2. Josiah had a chance to sit down with Praekelt Foundation’s Chief Engineer, Simon de Haan and here is what transpired:

Josiah, Rising Pyramid: Any other innovative things you’d like to highlight?

Simon: Yeah, we’ve done things with the “Please Call Me’s”. Have you seen those here while you were? Everyone in South Africa gets five free “Please Call Me’s” a day. It’s a South African invention because people here didn’t want to spend their airtime just to tell someone they had arrived or were out of airtime. So in the past they would beep them as in like ring and hang up. That’s far more expensive than just sending a text message because they’re plugging the network.

So, South Africa invented this “Please Call Me” system where they say, okay, you can send five free SMS’s a day to ask someone to call you, which for the bottom of the pyramid is fantastic because they have a phone and they can reach out and have people call them even though they may not have airtime. There are millions of “Please Call Me’s” being sent daily.

What we did as the foundation was to approach MTN, the mobile network operator, with the idea of using 5% of their  “Please Call Me” inventory and to add HIV related advertising at the end of the message. We put in an HIV “call to action”, like “are you HIV positive and are you scared to tell your relatives? Dial the national AIDS helpline XX-XXX-XXX”. On day one when that started the calls that came in went up to 300%.We’ve also done a similar “Please Call Me” campaign for malaria on the MTN network involving an educative quiz.

Josiah, Rising Pyramid: That’s incredible, any other cool solutions? Read more »

Young Africa Live: An Interview with the Praekelt Foundation

January 25, 2011

The following is post 2 of 3 in an interview series put together by guest writer Josiah Filler on mobile solutions in South Africa.  Please refer to the first post here. Josiah had a chance to sit down with Praekelt Foundation’s Chief Engineer, Simon de Haan and here is what transpired:

Josiah, Rising Pyramid: How do to people access the “Young Africa Live” portal you developed?

Simon: It’s running on Vodafone Live, which is the portal for everyone who’s got a Vodacom branded phone here. Whenever they launch their browser, that’s the first site.

Josiah, Rising Pyramid: And how does it work? What kind of content do you have on “Young Africa Live”?

Simon: It’s for free to access for anyone with a Vodacom SIM. So everyday there’s four articles on there, all around categories like love, sex, and relationships. Read more »

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