Building Bridges Through Conscious Endeavor

By:Jan Mazotti Issue: Conscious Capitalism Section: Building Bridges

Three Men on a Mission to Make an Impact

Conscious Endeavor

"I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestioned ability of a man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor." -Henry David Thoreau

There was this little blue building that served as a hub in the village of Punjabi, India…

It served as a “bridge” for local organizations, collaborating with innovative socially conscious entrepreneurs and investors, to address the healthcare chasm that so often occurs in rural, developing areas of the world. Their core belief: Healthcare is a fundamental human right. While millions of the world’s poor face health crises regularly, many common diseases of poverty are preventable and treatable. In India, for example, there are less than 0.6 physicians per 1,000 people and the average life expectancy is only 64 years. Something had to be done to tackle these rural healthcare issues.

E Health Points is a project being incubated in India through the efforts of Ashoka, The Naandi Foundation, Healthpoint Services, and invested in by Uhuru Capital, aims to prove that innovations in technologies and business models can transform the sector. To use technologically-advanced methods of communication coupled with high quality, efficient medical care was the goal. So far it is working. Villagers have access to cutting-edge healthcare and basic diagnostic services, while obtaining clean drinking water at affordable prices.

“We don’t call what we are doing philanthropy, we call it having an impact,” said Peter Kellner, managing partner of Uhuru Capital Management and the Uhuru Sustainability Foundation, and an investor in the above referenced for-profit social business. Justin Rockefeller, Vice President of Uhuru capital says, “If Uhuru can provide funding to organizations like this, then that’s a real game changer.”

Rockefeller went on, “What’s interesting, should Health Point do very well, and we certainly hope that it will, the returns from that initial investment would come directly back into the Foundation and that capital would then be reallocated out to other social businesses.”

Uhuru Capital is an investment management platform designed to enable investors to pursue financial returns while facilitating global economic and social development. Uhuru is a, “Fund of hedge funds that will share 25% of its partnership fees to entrepreneurial ventures in developing markets. It combines the financial model to achieve with the desire to do good," said Kellner.

Bill Drayton, CEO and Founder of Ashoka and social entrepreneur since elementary school, spoke with us about how his organization is bridging the gap to make everyone a changemaker. Peter Kellner, a venture capitalist committed to supporting social entrepreneurs, shared the work of Endeavor, a non-profit that he co-founded that fosters entrepreneurship in developing countries, as well as his work at Uhuru Capital Management. And then, Justin Rockefeller, another bridge builder, shared his perspectives on how he works to build bridges between millennials in both the social giving and political arenas. Collectively, these three men are on a mission to make a global impact. Who Are These Guys?

Founded by Bill Drayton, Ashoka is the world’s working community of more than 2,000 leading social entrepreneurs. It champions the most important new social change ideas and supports the entrepreneurs behind them by helping them to get started, grow, succeed, and collaborate. As Ashoka expands its capacity to integrate and connect social and business entrepreneurs around the world, it builds an entrepreneurial infrastructure comprised of a series of global initiatives that support the fast-growing needs of the citizen sector. Ashoka’s vision is to create change today so that an Everyone A Changemaker™ society can become the reality of tomorrow. Bill Drayton

“Social entrepreneurs are problem-solvers, not idealists. We’re driven by innovation not by charity. And we don’t believe in hand-outs. We use entrepreneurial strategies to achieve social change.”

As a junior at Princeton in 1990, Kellner met Drayton for breakfast on a Sunday morning. They remained acquaintances while Kellner studied as a Fulbright scholar in Hungary. Kellner traveled around Latin America with Drayton where he was heavily exposed to Ashoka’s model and Fellows.

“Endeavor was born from a very simple observation. After living in Central Europe and Russia, having traveled through South America, it donned on me that in these emerging countries business entrepreneurs needed support,” Kellner said.

So, in 1998, and in partnership with Linda Rottenberg (at that time working with Bill at Ashoka), he founded Endeavor. “You had microfinance and microcredit which were just coming of age. You had big multilateral projects in these countries, but then you had this massive missing middle and there was really no one out there searching for the entrepreneurs who would transform their economies, create jobs, and create inspirations. So that’s what we did,” said Kellner. So far, the organization has helped build businesses with 330 entrepreneurs who now employ 86,000 people globally. According to Kellner,

“We believe that by removing barriers and increasing support for future business role models, we will move the macroeconomic needle of these emerging economies forward,” commented Kellner. Out of Endeavors work, Kellner went on to form Uhuru Capital Management. “It has surpassed my expectations,” he said.

GenerationEngage, co-founded by Justin Rockefeller, is a non-partisan youth civic engagement initiative that connects young Americans at community colleges to one another, to political leaders, to other civic organizations, and to meaningful conversations about the future.

Building Bridges… One Social Entrepreneur at a Time

“Peter was finishing at Princeton. He had the same values as I did and was an extraordinary entrepreneur. I wanted him as a friend,” said Drayton. “He is generous and has extraordinary talents. He’s introduced me to very valuable people.”

“Collegial entrepreneurs, brilliant people who provide leadership to bring major change and support an Everyone A Changemaker™ world, are imperative to make Ashoka’s work. They will bring fundamental transformation,” said Drayton.

That is where Drayton, Kellner, and Rockefeller see eye to eye. That is where each of them brings their talents.

At Ashoka they look at what the Top 200 social entrepreneurs are doing in any area and whether they are bettering the lives and causing change in their communities. Then they run a very core process looking for the best ideas, bringing those entrepreneurs together, identifying universal patterns and top ideas. Only then do they shift into collaborative entrepreneurship efforts.

Each pattern must have a collegial entrepreneur in charge of it. “That isn’t going to happen with a bunch of managers. It’s going to require a really brilliant entrepreneur who can help the group work together to tip the world to that idea. Every role requires high talent,”says Drayton.

According to Drayton, Peter Kellner is one of the best at finding those kinds of people. “He is an extraordinary community builder and networker. He brings a level of sophistication and understanding that is very hard to find.”

The attributes of a successful social entrepreneur, according to Kellner are, “persistence, creativity, a vision-based single mindedness, and being prepared for action. They are flexible enough to bob and weave to get there. They’re not dogmatic about their strategy. They’re naturally inspiring to others. And, they are natural collaborators.” He goes on, “Great social entrepreneurs look for win-win outcomes. Since Adam Smith it’s been ‘your loss is my gain.’ But we’re moving into a world where ‘your gain is my gain.’ Great social entrepreneurs have wired into their DNA a win-win thinking. They are non-zero sum thinkers Great social entrepreneurs have wired into their DNA a win-win thinking. They are non-zero sum thinkers, even though we’ve been taught to be zero sum thinkers by our schools and our capital markets.”

Besides finding those global “changemakers”, Kellner and Rockefeller are pressing the frontier in social investment. Uhuru is an example of innovation that was created to address, “An inflection point in history that is being driven by the field of social entrepreneurship,” said Kellner. “In my small little capacity, if I’m able, I’d like to have some kind of impact on the world of financial management and how it advances the field of social entrepreneurship.”

When Rockefeller joined Uhuru, Kellner said, “we sat down and figured out what role he would have. We, at Uhuru, wanted to expose the next generation - Gen Y and the millennials - who are really thinking differently about high impact philanthropy and careers where they’re making money. We know that they want to do both concurrently. Justin will focus on next generation strategies with Uhuru and its partners. He will bring people into this new possibility, this new network, of high impact capitalism. It’s a natural fit for him.”

Conscious Endeavor

Then there is the Hybrid Value Chain™ (HVC™) model from Ashoka that is advocating and supporting systematic transformation of relationships between the business and citizen sectors based on the creation of mutual economic and social value. At the core of this new approach is the assumption that social entrepreneurs require inventing a new form of doing business and an unprecedented level of business-social congruence. It is important to note that HVC™ partnerships are distinct from typical philanthropic and corporate social responsibility collaborations. Instead, they are based on profits for all partners to ensure long-term sustainability based on the premise that companies and social entrepreneurs can interact as equals. It assumes that we must, “design products and services that tap into the wealth of the poor, change the logic of traditional business models, and leverage the power of communities as consumers and producers,” said Drayton. Where is Social Change Going?

“The millennial generation is pretty extraordinary in how different we are from previous generations in terms of values. Millennials are the consumer activist generation. They are willing to vote with their wallets and their feet,” said Rockefeller. In fact, 86% of millennials worldwide and 92% of millennials in the U.S. would leave an employer if corporate social responsibility values didn’t reflect their own. 89% of millennials are likely to switch brands if the second brand is associated with a good cause. Rockefeller describes millennials as the, “Barney Generation,” identifying and solving problems in short periods of time. He said we have to, “Prove a model that others will adopt. We have to build one Grade A commercial product after another so that the bottom line is sound.”

Ashoka, through the Youth Venture Program, provides youth the opportunity to create and build something. “If you give a young person the opportunity to build something of consequence, it will transform their lives. We all believe that,” said Kellner. When asked about Ashoka’s Change Your City campaign, Kellner said, “Everyone has changemaking DNA, many people just don’t have it turned on. Through engagement, particularly with young people, maybe we can create catalysts to weave all parts of community together to create concepts of social entrepreneurship.”

Ultimately the goal is to “embrace the frustration,” says Rockefeller. “We all suspect that the status quo could be done more efficiently. It’s no longer okay to just recognize that that’s true. Increasingly, millennials are starting programs that challenge the status quo at all levels. The end game is to provide more competition to big companies and non-profits and move the needle. The smaller goal is that it is great practice for young people to start a program, even at a club or school. It is where you learn about leadership, empathy, and creating an organization. That is the skill set that will be valuable for the rest of their lives.”

When asked about their individual roles in changing the world, Rockefeller said that the bridge will include, “Millennials who think differently about business and alignment of values-based investing. I’m trying to build a bridge among generations. I’m trying to build a bridge from the old way of thinking about business and philanthropy.”

Kellner laughed and said, “I’m a small participant in a much larger mosaic. There is a lesson I learn everyday from Bill Drayton and that is, ‘humility of purpose and design to empower other people to empower other people.’ But I don’t know how great I am at it. He taught me that, ‘to enable someone else is not just rewarding, but it has exponential impact and spread strategy,’ and that is the most rewarding thing to me."