Weekly Roundup: GOOD Buys Jumo, The CSR Debate Continues, and Sustainability’s Potential For Economic Salvation
Every week, we round up the SocEnt news and discussions you need to know.
GOOD-Jumo merger shakes up social enterprise
The big news in the social enterprise world this week: media conglomerate GOOD acquired do-gooder social network Jumo, the brainchild of Facebook co-founder and Obama’s online campaign director Chris Hughes.
GOOD sees the merger as an opportunity to strengthen their ability to connect organizations with individuals. 15,000 nonprofits and over one million individuals are registered with Jumo, while GOOD’s content platform currently receives 3 million unique visitors per month.
Ben Goldhirsh, GOOD’s CEO and co-founder, said in an e-mail to GOOD members, “It’s an experiment. It’s evolving.” The public will likely see the partnership’s first outputs late this fall.
In the meantime, reactions to the merger have been mixed. Philanthro-tech blogger Beth Kanter pointed out to the New York Times that no platform has yet to establish itself as a leader “in the world of online intermediaries set up to help nonprofits.” Many wonder if the GOOD-Jumo team could lead the way, and nonprofit tech expert Amy Sample Ward (who criticized Jumo upon its launch) called the merger “probably the best thing that could happen [to Jumo].”
However, the terms of the deal are a bit shady. GOOD is a for-profit company. Jumo is not, and was seeded by $3.5 million in grants. According to the Times’ article, this partnership thus has some legal obligations; the money paid to Jumo must be reinvested in charitable purposes, and there’s also the matter that a for-profit venture may now be making money off grants originally intended for a non-profit enterprise.
Not to mention that no one’s actually sure how much GOOD paid. Tech site BetaBeat claims to have learned that the deal went through for a whopping $0 and a seat on their advisory board for Hughes. NBC Bay Area reported the same story. However, in all of the articles listed above, no one from GOOD is talking. According to Goldhirsh, the New York Attorney General must approve the deal before they can release the numbers.
Bradford Smith, president of the Foundation Center, took the merger as an opportunity to question whether or not foundations need to re-evaluate qualifications for their grants. Most demand their funds be restricted to “charitable, scientific or educational purposes,” but, as this merger shows, the lines between for-profit and non-profit have blurred. Most commenters agreed.
Sean Stannard-Stockton took it one step further on his blog, pointing out that for Millenials, there often is no distinction between non-profit and for-profit, between work and life, between this nonprofit or that. It’s all connected. Something that GOOD, he argues, seems to understand.
The CSR debate continues
Last week, we wrote about an article in The Guardian that spurred quite a bit of debate over the point of CSR.
And it’s still going.
The big announcement this week was Google’s purchase of Motorola Mobility, for $12.5 billion cash. That’s about a third of the information giant’s reserves, and what credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s (yes, the same S&P that downgraded the US) thinks is a bad move. Days later, they downgraded Google from a “buy” to a “sell.”
However, former UN advisor Christine Bader pointed out that this is an excellent opportunity for Google to show its support for conflict-free technology. Many of the minerals included in cell phones come from the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. People call them “Blood Phones.”
But Bader thinks that Google’s unique propensity for innovation, and corporate motto of “Dont’ Be Evil,” puts them in prime position to lead the way to a solution. ”Perhaps it is naive to think one company can solve a problem others have been working on for years,” she writes. “Has a single company ever had such a profound impact on people’s lives? Hang on, let me Google that…”
There was a bit more CSR news that’s been buzzing for weeks, but is still worth pointing out. The first is that Ford’s new electric Focus will come with rooftop solar panels for the owner’s home. The idea is that this will help offset the price of having to actually charge the car, and reduce the irony in the fact that you’re charging an electric car with fossil fuels in the first place. With this move, Ford joins General Motors in the class of “auto companies going solar.”
FastCompany also ran a piece on the Sanya Skypump, a wind turbine for your car, and CNN highlighted Steve Katsaros’ solar light bulb – which he decided to sell via a for-profit model after reading Paul Polak’s acclaimed 2008 book, Out of Poverty.
And finally, it’s interesting to view all this news in context with corporate consultant Dr. John Izzo’s think-piece on Walmart and the ultimate value of CSR. He acknowledges that companies, Walmart included, often adopt CSR to save face and increase efficiency. And concludes that shouldn’t matter.
“[Walmart's] intent was less about saving the world than saving their image (and dollars),” he writes. “But, to this I add a large “so what?”…While it is easy to criticize companies like Walmart for having less than pure motives, the truth is if Walmart’s team can save hundreds of millions of dollars while improving their reputation, the lessons they learn will reverberate through their supply chain. Personally I care less about their motives than I do about their results and so should you.”
Can sustainability cure our economic woes?
There’s been quite a bit of buzz this week around sustainability issues.
First up: this week in Aspen, thought-leaders from various sectors have gathered to discuss solutions to climate change at the eighth-annual American Renewable Energy Day (AREDAY). The focus of this year’s summit is monetizing carbon in the global economy, and it’s brought together everyone from Ted Turner to General Wesley Clark to James Cameron to oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle.
Though the conference doesn’t end until Sunday, videos of some keynote speakers have already gone up on the AREDAY site. Conference founder Chip Comins (who seems to be posting about AREDAY on genConnect) also said that this year’s conference will present a Road Map of their finding at the Clinton Global Initiative in September 2011. For instant gratification, you can follow the #AREDAY hashtag.
Next up is a story in the New York Times about universities across America that are now using sustainability as a recruitment tool. Turns out, students now consider sustainability as important as academics or athletics. Princeton Review even released a “green rating” last month for universities, evaluating them based on their “environmentally-related policies, practices and academic offerings.”
And finally: a must-read article in The Guardian by green guru Simon Zadek, berating rating agencies and governments for failing to acknowledge that sustainability is a proven element of long-term economic success.
“The fundamentals of the US economy remain mired in the practice of overconsumption, under-investment in public infrastructure and services, and an unsustainable environmental footprint,” he writes. He compares it to “building wealth on quicksand” and continues to point out a slew of reports correlating sustainability with economic success.
Some commenters questioned whether or not Zadek has a solid understanding of ratings agencies. Others took issue with Zadek’s assertion that China “and others” are on track to create more sustainable economies than the United States. “If only this line hadn’t been included, the argument might have had stronger validity,” said one commenter.
On the other hand, one of the latest panel consensus from AREDAY is that China has renewable energy policies that can’t be beat.
Either way, in an economic environment so tumultuous that the Wall Street Journal is now live-blogging the markets, Zadek’s article is worth a read.
Worthwhile weekend reads
A few tidbits for your August vacations…
- If you’re not tired of following the reactions to Warren Buffett’s controversial NY Times op-ed, you’ll be interested in this explanation of why his name trended on Twitter and how this indicates the democratic potential of social media.
- The NYTimes ran an interesting series of thought-pieces on how to fix the economy. Look for reactions on Twitter at @roomfordebate.
- Could “charter” cities, enclaves that are open to refugees, be a solution to humanitarian crises?
- Why the for-profit social enterprise ShoreBank was forced to close after over thirty years.
- The NY Times reported on how mobile phones can improve rural health care services in in Kenya.
- Thinking about B-school? Watch out for these ten biggest lies about an MBA program.