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Weekly Roundup: World Water Week, For-Profit Hybrids and Protesting Big Oil

,    /   Aug 26th, 2011Environment, New York City, Weekly Roundup

Didn’t have time to read the news this week? Every week, we report on the conversations surrounding the big issues in the world of social entrepreneurship and change. (this week by Rachel Signer and Blair Hickman)

World Water Week proposes new solutions to the global water crisis

This week, global thought-leaders gathered in Stockholm for World Water Week, a forum for exchanging ideas and strategies to solve the global water crisis. This year’s focus is “Water in an Urbanizing World” – no small matter, since cities are expanding everywhere.

Throughout the week, participants emphasized community engagement and participation as key to maintaining water development projects. They also focused on the intersections between water and food production. Alexander Mueller, the assistant director-general for natural resources at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, emphasized the need for innovations in irrigation and farming techniques.

This argument was reiterated by the release of a report made by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and the UN Environmental Program (UNEP). The study concluded that innovative solutions to the water crisis could boost agricultural production and protect the environment simultaneously, what the authors call an “ecosystems services approach.”

The implication is that food and water security are closely tied (as the current drought and famine crisis in Somalia has shown). ”Sustainable intensification of agriculture is a priority for future food security, but we need to take a more holistic ‘landscape’ approach,” said Eline Boelee of IWMI, the lead scientific editor of the report. In other words: a solution to the worldwide water crisis should be part of a larger “green economy.”

Meanwhile, in an article in the UK’s Independent, Andrew Wigley argued that people and organizations need to be as concerned about their water footprint as they are about their carbon footprint. “Companies which innovate not only to reduce their water consumption, but also the water footprint of its products, will be best placed to face the consumer and regulatory front,” he writes.

Away from the conference, social entrepreneurs made news with their efforts to resolve water problems around the world. The philanthropic branch of ITT Corporation, which partners with Mercy Corps to implement disaster response in developing countries, unveiled six new water-related disaster risk-reduction projects. Additionally, a new consortium created by the World Resources Institute is creating a global water risk database, meant to provide access to information about water crisis situations across sectors. It’s more of a solution for businesses than it is for humanitarian crises.

The conference will continue until the 29th, and you can follow by watching the livestream or tracking the hashtag #wwweek. Dispatches from the conference came from the Twitter account @world H2o. A video of a two-hour panel discussion on social entrepreneurship and water solutions during the conference is available here (though you have to sign up on the 2degrees website and wait for your free membership to be approved to access the video).

For-Profit or Non-Profit: That is The Question

This debate isn’t exactly new, but on the heels of last week’s GOOD-Buys-Jumo news, a few new interesting pieces came out.

First of all, on the for-profit side of things, many prominent business thinkers have begun to pinpoint social enterprise as a potential fix to the global economic mess. Many doubt the sustainability of capitalism, at least in its current form, which is characterized by what they call a dangerous disconnect between business and society. Or, as Roger Martin, dean of Toronto’s Rotman School of  put it “in danger of rotting out its moral core and destroying itself from within.”

Simon Caulkin has produced a nice explainer in Management Today that rounds up the key critics and their opinions.

On the flip-side, some excellent case studies came out this week highlighting non-profits that realized they more effective as for-profits. Kevin Short covered two on NextBillion: the Mexican-based Echale a Tu Casa, formerly Adobe Home Aid, and Argentinian forest conservation organization EcoMadre. “By fusing the efficiency and flexibility of market mechanisms with the conscious and equity of philanthropy,” Short summarizes, “these regional actors have found unprecedented success – especially when guided by advisors and intermediaries.”

And on the Harvard Business Review, Pierre Omidyar, founder of EBay and the Omidyar Network, outlined how he transformed his philanthropic foundation from a non-profit to a hybrid organization. This was circa 2003, before the term “impact investing” became vogue, and he says his lawyers had never seen such a structure. But, he says, the move was a “no-brainer,” especially when he looked at EBay’s profound social impact. “If we want to make sustainable change, we have to put all the tools at our disposal to their best possible use,” he says.

Bradford Smith, founder of the Foundation Center, is a little wary that some organizations may start to see 501(c)3 as an easy way to collect seed capital, pointing to the GOOD-Jumo deal as a recent example. He supports hybrid organizations, but he says we need to think carefully about the process.

“We still live in the real world of tax codes and institutional structures, and I’m not aware of any suggestion or proposal to allow foundation grant dollars to be used for anything with the world “social” in it,” he writes. “Shapeshifting is here to stay and now is the time to think clearly, creatively, and responsibly about how to deal with it.

Meanwhile, over on The Guardian, Saba Salman tackles the practicalities of multiple funding streams. She offers a great overview on how to attract a variety of investments to your social enterprise. “How you articulate what your business is about is vital,” she says. “Grant funders and mainstream investors do not regard community-based businesses as capable of dynamic growth. Offer detailed information to funders and consider a broad investment base.”

Environmental protesters ask Obama to stand up to Big Oil

This week we saw the biggest environmental protest in recent memory, as environmentalist author Bill McKibben and hundreds of others gathered at the White House to fight a proposed 1,702 mile-long pipeline that would carry some 500,000 barrels of crude oil daily from Central Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The sit-in began on August 20, and by Friday morning, some 322 arrests had been made. McKibben himself was arrested on the protest’s first day and released three days later.

The protesters are brilliantly exploiting the power of the Internet and social media to raise support for their cause. They are posting manifestos on their official website. On Twitter, protesters, their followers and the media are posting updates with the hashtags #TarSands#noKXL and #tarsandsaction, and tweets about the protests are also coming from @TarSandsAction . The protesters plan to remain outside the White House for fifteen days total.

As the NY Times explained in an editorial, the protesters’ main objections to the pipeline are that it poses the risk of oil spills in “highly sensitive terrain,” and that petroleum extraction emits significant amounts of greenhouse gases. TransCanada must get US government approval before beginning construction. The State Department is set to give an OK to the contractors upon finishing an environmental assessment of the pipeline proposal. Once that happens, only President Obama holds the power to block the decision to drill for oil, and this moment, the protesters say, is an opportunity for Obama to show his colors as a leader – and live up to promises he made to protect the environment when he ran for president in 2008.

“If [Obama] makes the wrong decision, it’s gonna send sharply negative signals to Detroit and American consumers everywhere that we’re still heavily addicted to filthy fossil fuels” said Mike Tidwell, founder and director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network in a video the protesters made for The Nation.

New York Task Force To Investigate Nonprofit Executive Salaries

Under order from Governer Cuomo, thousands of not-for-profits are required to send data on executive and board member salaries. “[We are] conducting a top-to-bottom review, not only to audit current compensation levels, but also make recommendations for future rules to ensure taxpayer dollars are used to serve and support the people of this state, not pay for excessive salaries and compensation,” said Department of Financial Services Superintendent Benjamin Lawsky

Though technically all nonprofits are fair game in this audit, it seems to have a particular focus on healthcare, on the heels of a scathing NY Times expose on disabled abuse in state institutions and a Brooklyn-based home healthcare firm that  swindled nearly over $2 million in Medicare funds.

The Wall Street Journal reports that some organizations are already fighting back. “Some six-figure salaries are necessary to attract doctors, effective managers and other professionals to serve often low-income, underserved neighborhoods when they could command much higher wages in the private sector

Random weekend reads

  • An interview with the Knight Foundation CEO on the intersections between philanthropy and journalism asks whether media can have a “double bottom-line.”
  • A report by Social Enterprise London looks at the impact of public sector cuts on the social enterprise industry.
  • Writer and activist David Korten proposes that the economic reconstruction should focus on sustainability in business practices and citizen
  • Steve Goldberg, author of Billions of Drops in Millions of Buckets, stresses the need for intermediaries in the Social Impact Bond sector.
  • A book review examines the links between Corporate Social Responsibility, the law, and human rights.
  • The fascinating story of how Dahna Goldstein founded Philantech, a company that develops web-based applications for foundations and nonprofits.
  • This engaging FastCompany article about the annual Burning Man festival bears some surprising insights about leadership, organization, and how creativity flourishes.
  • And speaking of leaders, the NY Times published two profiles of Steve Jobs, who resigned on Wednesday as Apple’s CEO, explaining what made him such an effective leader and innovator. Prolific blogger Umair Haque also published a collection of Jobs quotes in the Harvard Business Review that could help all leaders re-think how they run their organization.

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