Category Archives: leadership

Priming the pump for mainstream investors

money

Kiva has launched a remarkable employee giving strategy that enterprise companies like Google, HP and Deutsche Bank have taken advantage of, and with strong executive leadership, these companies have delivered significant results.

CSR programs work towards lifting morale by demonstrating support for communities in need. Traditionally, these employee activities have included out-of-office hands-on volunteer activities on personal or professional time working directly with a charity’s beneficiaries.   Kiva’s Team crowdfunding platform has created a low-risk opportunity for companies to engage employees in the act of lending. Recipients are not charity cases and the employees need not leave the office.

 Not only are the results measurable and the funding recyclable, but the experiential influence of the lending process has an end-to-end productivity spectrum that leaves the employee feeling satisfied and wanting more.  

Premal Shah, President of KIVA led a panel at SOCAP last week that gave us more details.   Ranging from $25-$75, each of these companies created a program whereby their employees could lend the maximum value. Participation has been anywhere from 43-60% with HP clocking in at 120,000 employee participants to date.   Google even created an online visual map that shows in real time, where the loan originated and the country it went to.  

Here is a CSR program with unique and real potential to unlock awareness for the value of socially beneficial business platforms.

The founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman took the entire concept a step further by issuing a challenge in 2012 by providing $1M outside of his organization. Kiva was instructed to distribute certificates delivered through social media to introduce new would-be investors to the concept. Over the course of 14 months, not only was $994,000 returned to Reid but in incremental $1.2M got invested by newly indoctrinated investors and entrepreneurs received loans at 10x’s the normal rate.

Like all CSR efforts, the question is what comes next. Crowdfunding is changing financial markets and millennials are seeking to be a part of the solution.  Google invested in Oakland’s Impact HUB where Kiva Zip recipients can operate and Googlers can invest their time to assist in capacity building consultation.   CSR is a valuable company perk but where can these well-meaning efforts drive real market change?

Photo credit: Sharyn Morrow

CSR or Real Innovation

Yesterday Dan Schulman, Group President of Enterprise Growth at American Express opened SOCAP’s third day in San Francisco by talking about the company’s work to address the issues of financial inclusion for the underserved.  

 Globally 2.5 billion are excluded from traditional financial systems. One third don’t have access to bank accounts resulting in precious time and money wasted to seek out facilities simply to access cash from their own hard earned paychecks. With 2-4% taken as a service fee in addition to interest and other fees, the figure that the underserved pay was $89 billion in the U.S. alone last year.

Since the market’s collapse in 2008, financial platforms incorporating both technology and addressing inherent lifestyle challenges have been a burgeoning industry for entrepreneurs.   Backed by the Omidyar Network, Mango now has a presence in 6 countries that empowers underbanked adults by offering a complete set of online and offline services that are convenient, low-cost support lifestyle decisions that affect financial decisions.

Given the market opportunit ,the question is whether American Express’s launch this summer of the documentary “Spent: Looking for Change” produced by Davis Guggenheim and the announcement of American Express’s Financial Innovation Lab, are just CSR window-dressing or indeed reflective of a deep brand pivot within the company. For American Express, a brand that has long stood for exclusivity, this type of shift to inclusivity would be significant. But there are reasons to believe, despite the absence of a non-binding legal framework that requires both social and financial value to shareholders, that this indeed is a deep company-wide pivot.

The primary reason is that the Great Recession showed us that the status quo of our financial eco-system was essentially destroying the customer base.   The second is that the hallmark of a great brand is demonstrating a leadership position in driving marketplace change. And the third is that American Express was founded some 160 years ago as a freight-forwarding business. Hardly a brand for the high-minded but certainly demonstrative of a company that knows how to read the market and succeed.

Great brands will pave the way for sustainable business-based solutions to our growing social challenges and there is every reason to believe that American Express has been gearing up to lead real marketplace change.

MDG Mania


It’s going to be a big week in New York City.  With five years left in its charter, the General Assembly of the UN will meet at The Summit on the Millennium Development Goals on September 20-22 to discuss and identify opportunities to accelerate progress of these ambitious, yet critical obligations for our global human welfare.  Across town the Clinton Global Initiative, established just five years ago, will also be holding a conference with its members on the progress they’ve made toward their annual commitments, many of which support the efforts of the MDG’s.  Climate Week kicks off as well – a regrouping of those involved with the disappointing talks in Copenhagen last December. And sprinkled throughout the city, NGO’s will be conducting their own meetings and work sessions to bring business leaders, non-profits and ordinary citizens together to address the critical challenges and requirements necessary at every level of society if we are to meet the goals set to be achieved by 2015.

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return to sound bytes?

The American public is upset.  All they’re getting from our President is the truth and after a year, it’s getting kind of hard to digest. Call in the marketing teams.  The U.S. government needs a marketing makeover!

Just when I was ready to give the American population credit for recognizing substance over sound bytes, I have become increasingly aware of the media attention devoted to the Presidential drop in popularity credited specifically to Obama’s pragmatic and cool-headed response to the quagmire of issues that surfaced within the months preceding the change in administration.

It is no surprise that his popularity is down; any President’s approval ratings would be down given the groundwork that had been laid in the prior years and the decisions that were required to be made immediately to stop the bloodletting.  A government funded rescue was already underway, the auto industry was in crisis, the unemployment rate was gathering speed, the terrorist threat had increased in volume, the military conflicts in Afghanistan and Iran were already in evolved states of unsatisfactory policy, and the healthcare debacle had been simmering for near a decade.

Many of these issues took on new twists when Obama took office.  All of them have required urgent attention.   These are issues that require dissection, discussion, council, collaboration and political navigation.  Yet the media is now scolding Obama for the same attributes that I thought we overwhelmingly chose him for – thoughtful resolute problem solving and honest communications.

Instead of providing the vague sound bytes similar to those our previous administration took refuge under and utilized to a frustrating degree – and to which we ultimately came to characterize as a reflection of the inability to understand and resolve our problems – President Obama has provided thoughtful arguments and insights that give context and a narrative assessment of the factors coloring the discussion.  He doesn’t hide behind rhetoric but creates an open dialogue built on refreshing candor and submission to the facts.   He doesn’t leave us with vague promises but honestly transmits that the answers are not clear.  And that seems to be the ironic downfall of his popularity.

Hillary Clinton was herself a re-vitalizing candidate during the presidential campaign process because she was also knowledgeable and engaged in real conversations.  But she was never able to package herself quite the way the Obama campaign did.  In an ironic twist of fate, it turns out that the brilliant “Yes we can” slogan, complete with its now iconic imagery of Obama’s silhouette emblazoned with the words “HOPE” across a red and blue background, was the rallying cry necessary to get the “change” president elected..

What the media seems to be telling us is that as it turns out, we are not a nation of intelligent minds hungry for justice and the truth, we are a population who prefers pre-packaged messages that we can digest and track to.  Much like our high school football games, we are not looking for true leadership  but rather  cheerleaders with a microphone to lead us in familiar chants that will create community and a spirit of collegial agreement, regardless of the coach’s ability.  We don’t want difficult facts and realities.  We want someone to act as our spiritual leader, do the digesting for us and then provide a singular message that we can believe in, regardless of its alignment with reality.

As it turns out, the American population and the media that represent us, are looking for a marketing engine to package the President’s cool discernment of the facts and craft a short emotional story that we can “believe” in.  There are a significant number of pundits who openly (and rightly) derided the increasingly delusional rhetoric used by the last administration in the face of sometimes totally opposing factual realities.  And yet we are now asking for short messages that demonstrate a “clear vision”  so that we will feel better about the uncertainty of our future.  We finally came to grips with the fact that we had been mislead from 2000-2008, but in our own desire for a fairy tale with a near-term happy ending, we are once again looking for someone to just make us feel better.

Can we handle honesty or do we just want another “Yes we can”?

Intrapreneurship

circle of planningA not-so new term is emerging again as an efficient driver of external change. The concept of  intrapreneurship was first introduced in 1976 by a writer for the Economist who described future dynamic corporations as ones who would have internal competitive mechanisms.  By 1986, John Naisbett was defining this as a method for identifying new markets and opportunities and Steve Jobs cited the development of the MacIntosh as an intrapreneurial venture.

Fast forward to our issues of today and social intrepreneurship stands to reason as a critical driver of real impact by taking an inside-out approach.   As Josh Cleveland points out on nuPOLIS about the research he conducted for Making Your Impact at Work, the opportunity to create impact is tremendous.  “Social intrapreneurs have access to the social, intellectual, and financial capital of existing firms that can be leveraged in the pursuit of their social endeavor”, he writes.

Oftentimes social entrepreneurship requires a cultural shift which requires leadership and education.  Social intrapreneurs have the credibility to drive this change which inherently  influences thousands of touchpoints as it travels through the channels of interdepartmental and partner implementation.  Not only do social intrereneurs become ambassadors of change but they create lasting (sustainable) opportunities by opening up the dialogue for the intellectual and operational development of change.

Social entrepreneurship is getting all the buzz these days but social intrapreneurship might just be the stealth agent that advances our global progress on innovating social change.

the carbon authority: part one

carbon-neutralIn a swath of green fury, there is a whole new market emerging which most consumers have heard of but for the most part, have no clue if it will ever become relevant to their daily lives.   To some degree none of us know what role our march toward a carbon neutral economy will play in our not-too-distant future yet there are signals locally and globally that the carbon market may ultimately play a significant role in our daily choices.  The question is  – who will guide us in the adoption of practices that will truly help us understand this market.

To a certain degree, it is probably too early to ask this question.  The early days of the mobile phone industry were governed by industry wide regulation, distribution and demand.  Demand drove consumers to purchase despite mass confusion over cost protocol and brand authorities didn’t emerge until the market had stabilized and penetrated the most sought after consumer – the teen.  It took us over a decade to begin to feel like we understood how to evaluate “Rollover minutes” against “Nights and Weekends Free” against “myFaves” (although one could argue we still don’t know why we’re locked into two year contracts).

So, it’s likely that we are ten even twenty years before we truly begin to understand what the outcomes of all the debate in Washington and abroad is about as it relates to understanding our role in neutralizing the carbon in our atmosphere.  This is an operational challenge that will be driven by regulation not demand.   Yet there seems to be market activity that signals this evasive concept-commodity could and actually is being productized at a mass consumer level.

Many airlines now offer individuals the opportunity to purchase carbon offsets at the point of their ticket purchase and online calculators such as Terrapass provide individuals and businesses the opportunity to purchase carbon credits to offset their output.  Termed “offsets” these credits are the product of a  financial mechanism created to regulate carbon output and including organizations naturally protecting sequestered carbon.  Most of us have begun to hear the term “offset” but will readily admit we have no idea what it really means, let alone starting to dig deeper to know what “standard” the carbon has been verified against to determine its true value.

The interesting question is,  who will emerge to be the (brand) authority in this new market?  What business and in what tier of the consumer eco-system will emerge to establish credibility and drive the standard to which we will make our assessments? And what industry can we look to previously that might shed some light on where this new market might be going?

100 Change-Makers

change-listI came across a blog recently that I hope to see replicated one day by Fast Company, Good, or another change-inspiring publication.  Instead of the Fortune 500, Forbes 100 or even BusinessWeek’s 100 Best Global Brands (thank you Interbrand), Duke Stump of The Northstar Manifesto has created The Real 100.  This list is created of companies and individuals “defined by their ability to spark a revolution of new thought and possibility.”  This list is truly a personal one (I love the fact that Eddy Vedder is on it!), but it covers rich territory.   From B Corporation, to Better Place to Van Jones to Paul Hawken – it addresses thinkers and companies committed to implementing real structural change.

To the next publishers of this list, I would submit that Duke’s list (self-admittedly) leaves out some major players who I hope to see added to the glorified, branded, newly-titled 100 Change-Makers list:

1) The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  With a $U.S. 35.1 billion dollar endowment, the scale of this foundation’s giving and thinking is fueling major reform in global health, education, poverty reduction and access to technology to spark a revolution in philanthrocapitalism.

2) The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis. Conceived as a public-private partnership financing programs to end these three diseases, it has committed $U.S. 11.4 billion to 550 programs in 136 countries.   As a financier, its role cannot be underestimated in bringing government, science, companies, the health community and its partner organizations together in a collaborative effort to effect the end of these diseases as we know them.

3) Global Giving.  Much has been credited to the for-profit micro-finance efforts of Kiva.  It definitely belongs on the Change-Makers list.  But so does Global Giving.  With a division set up to advise companies on their employee giving, GG is set up to strategically integrate a turn-key giving portal aligned with a well-suited non-profit endeavor that speaks to companies’ cultural ethics and values.  The much bally-hoo’d Wal*Mart PSP set the stage for this endeavor but Global Giving is the mechanism  to mass deliver increased CSR at the employee level.

4) (RED).  Many will disagree with me here.  (RED) has suffered and struggled.  But (RED) was the first brand to attempt to merge the world of consumerism and social responsibility.  It has suffered the way many pioneering concepts do.   But, it was the first model of its kind and it deserves credit for the revenue its generated on behalf of AIDS (US$ 120 million so far).  (RED) has hit some bumps in the road but I’m looking forward to its next steps.