SOCAP wrap-up: Human capital, mobile madness and green jobs
SOCAP, the social capital markets conference, wound down in San Francisco earlier this week. What follows are some insights and reflections from the event.
Venture (human) capital: Jacqueline Novogratz of Acumen Fund was one of the few speakers that talked about the need to expand the talent pipeline to help social ventures go to scale. Young entrepreneurs and other change agents are flooding into social ventures, which is great, but to get to the next level, many ventures need specific skill sets that 20- or even 30-somethings might not yet have, she said.
For example, LifeSpring, a network of hospitals for mothers and children in slum areas of India, is on a rapid expansion plan, from its original site in Hyderabad, to nine facilities now, with plans to go to 30 and then 200 small hospitals (each with about 20 beds) across India.
A young Acumen fellow, Tricia Morente, is helping LifeSpring with marketing (you can see her video about LifeSpring) and has been drafted as an ad hoc human resources manager to help hire all the people needed for the expansion. She’s doing a great job, Novogratz said, but even 30 hospitals means hiring more than 1,000 people. That requires real human resources capacity. LifeSpring has all of about $20,000 budgeted for the position.
I chatted with Novogratz after her talk about enlisting 50- or 60-something corporate and other business veterans with the requisite experience who are looking for ways to transition to their “encore careers.” Some might be willing to work “low bono” for a time as they get their foot in the door of the social sector. (Full disclosure: my day job is with Civic Ventures which seeks to catalyze just such encore career opportunities and transition mechanisms.) “That’s the solution!” Novogratz exclaimed. We’ll be following up.
Mobile madness. It took 100 years for fixed-line telephones to reach the one billion mark, and only another 10 years for cell phone usage to reach five billion. By 2020, the industry expects there to be 50 billion mobile connections, meaning a lot of cell phones will be talking with each other, with no humans involved, according to Arpit Joshipura, a vice president at Ericsson, one of the biggest mobile technology providers.
“We’re witnessing a revolution,” said Benjamin Lyon, executive director of FrontlineSMS:Credit, which is combining SMS messaging (of 160 characters or less) with local mobile payment systems to enable savings, credit, insurance, payroll and other financial services. “Five years from now, the way the bottom of the pyramid interacts with the global financial system will be totally different.”
For the moment, Kenya seems to be in the forefront of the mobile revolution. M-PESA, which started as a mobile microfinance system, has evolved into a full-scale branchless banking service. Ushahidi, an open-source platform to gather mobile data, started as a response to election violence in Kenya but proved useful in the earthquake in Haiti. The U.S. State Department (and others) has taken advantage of the innovation ferment in East Africa with its Apps 4 Africa contest, which offered $15,000 for the best digital tools to address challenges from healthcare to education to government transparency.
It took Matthew Bannick, managing partner of Omidyar Network, to inject a note of realism into the discussion. “As transformative as mobile can be in health, education and elsewhere,” he said. “there is a paucity of profitable models in the developing world.”
Where are the green jobs? If mobile was riding the hype wave this year, last year’s excitement about green jobs had fallen into the valley of despair. Robin Hacke of Living Cities, Margot Brandenburg of the Rockefeller Foundation and Carla Javits of REDF all outlined their disappointment that the win-win of economic inclusion and climate protection has failed to materialize.
The mortgage crisis, high unemployment in the building trades and the failure to pass an energy bill or other incentives combined to derail the promise that energy efficiency building retrofits could provide high-quality jobs for inner-city residents. “In the midst of deleveraging, convincing people to take out loans to retrofit their homes was not the right strategy,” Hacke said. “The thing we were counting on…was not in this environment remotely approaching a viable conception.”
Amidst the gloom, Anne Claire Broughton of the SJF Institute piped up to share that SJF Ventures had made 33 green investments, representing about 6,000 jobs. They range from eRecycling Corps, which reprocesses wireless devices, to Cleanscapes, which is pioneering sustainable solid waste and recycling collection, to Sun and Earth, which sells all-natural orange based cleaning products.
Hacke did acknowledge there are specific bright spots. For example, to help low-income contractors get into the commercial retrofit market (and hire more workers) some foundations are providing funds to help them get the required bonding. Still, that’s something of a letdown from the previous high expectations. “Green jobs, very sexy,” she said. “Surety bonds for contractors? Not so much.”
Dowser is a media partner for SOCAP2010.