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Be It Women In Tech Or Women In Social Sector, The Call For Change Is Same

Be It Women In Tech Or Women In Social Sector, The Call For Change Is Same

With my background in tech journalism and recent experience of working with Miller Center, where I lead our women-led affinity group that has 25 women running their social enterprises, I had a chance to reflect on the issues, problems, and opportunities of both sectors.

Last month, I attended The Next Web Conference in Amsterdam and represented Miller Center For Social Entrepreneurship at their The Next Women track. The conference brought together 12,500 attendees and 3,500 companies from all over the world. For me, it was a delightful experience to meet and greet women from the tech sector, women social entrepreneurs who are using tech to solve social issues, and other stakeholders who all share the vision to make this world a better place to live.

The conference also hosted 2019 Chivas Venture – a social startup competition that gives away $1m in no-strings-attached funding to businesses who blend profit with purpose to have a positive impact on the world. From 20 global finalists, Mexico’s Xilinat walked away with the largest amount of funding, receiving $310,000, following a live pitch at the conference.

Xilinat is on a mission to convert agricultural waste into a natural sugar substitute that looks and tastes like normal sugar yet is low in calories; helping tackle obesity while providing a sustainable alternative for diabetics and the health-conscious. 

During multiple discussions with social entrepreneurs who pitched at the conference, investors and general attendees, I curated some high-level conclusions of the problems and issues after that conference. 


Women Representation in Social Sector is Far Better

The serious underrepresentation of women in the tech industry is always in the news. All big companies in Silicon Valley are fighting for it but the stats are much better for the social sector. The social enterprise or non-profit model has women representation in ever-greater numbers: 38 percent of social ventures are now led by women, while there are more than twice as many men than women in conventional business. In other news quoted by Independent, More than 90 percent of companies that are tackling social problems have at least one woman on their leadership team, as opposed to almost half of small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that have all-male directors. 

The numbers are not surprising, though. Due to their compassionate and empathetic nature, women tend to start a business that is close to their heart, have more passion involved and/or tackle any global or local issues of their country or community. These traits are certainly not gender-specific but they create a pattern. 

By leveraging women representation in the social sector, we can also fix the gender gap in the tech industry. More technological solutions to solve the world’s problems is just one way to do it.


Access to Capital

As per Kauffman Research, women entrepreneurs face three challenges for their firms: a lack of mentors, their view of success and failure, and a financing gap. Access to capital in both sectors is an issue. It’s not just in the United States— last year, in Europe, 93% of technology investments went to all-male founding teams. On the other hand, despite the fact that women tend to run more social enterprises with a non-profit model as compared to men, a significant issue has been overlooked – namely, investment in women-led social enterprises. According to studies, 45% of women entrepreneurs report access to capital as one of the major barriers to sustaining an enterprise, compared with 36% of men.

Over the years, impact investors and gender-lens investors emerged as strong beneficiaries to help women entrepreneurs raise the capital but the gap is still too big in both sectors.


Access to Mentors and Role Models

While having a candid discussion with representatives of Startup Genome who released their Global Startup Ecosystem Report based on primary and secondary data from over 10,000 founders and more than one million companies across over 150 cities worldwide, we discussed the barriers on why women representation is still a question mark in many countries and sector. 

One of the highlights of the discussion was the inaccessibility of mentors and role models in respective industries. You don’t become what you don’t see. In the United States, only 43 percent of managers are women and less than 19 percent of corporate board members are women. The mentorship comes from someone who has been through the journey and the leadership gap is one of the main barriers for women entrepreneurs to access mentorship and role models.

Having men mentors in your entrepreneurial journey is not wrong but having role models and mentors who have been through the same journey, helps them get acclimated and gives a feeling of being connected on a level where they can bat around strategies and also get some counsel on their personal and professional goals.


Self-Confidence

This issue takes us back to where we all started gaining knowledge about things, i.e, childhood. As a kid, girls have always been pinkified with the gifts that sometimes only include dolls, dollhouses, make-up products, cutlery sets and what not. Whereas, the gifts boys get are toy cars, hoverboards, and gadgets. Psychologically, men are pushed from an early stage to ‘be a man’ and take risks whereas girls are taught to ‘act like a girl’ and be more submissive.

All these psychological conditioning have impacted the way we see entrepreneurship trends these days where self-confidence is a major issue faced by women entrepreneurs. Women founders see themselves less capable of running a company and hold themselves off many times. Whereas, Men tend to grab more risk-oriented business opportunities, are more likely to start a business with profits in mind, and have higher expectations for their business in terms of money, size, and rate of growth. Thinking big and embracing risk is more common among male entrepreneurs.

Social entrepreneurship still has a better rate of women entrepreneurs gaining momentum as compared to the tech industry because women often launch their businesses to gain growth instead of wealth. Women social entrepreneurs prefer lower risk opportunities, smaller returns with better impact, and a more localized customer base.

Conclusion

The more I talk to entrepreneurs (men and women) from both sectors about the issue of gender equality and bias, the more I stand firm on the point that it is an issue regardless of which sector you work in. The call for change in both sectors is the same hence the collaboration between them is necessary. In some countries, women entrepreneurs are only mentored but not funded. In some parts of the world, access to funding and funding itself is nowhere to be found.

If we increase the share of women representation in leadership positions in both sectors, make funding accessible and easy, create a strong pipeline for mentors access and last but not the least, make our girls bold, brave and risk taker from an early age, we will see tangible rewards that will benefit not just women but the entire society.



About the author

Hira Saeed joined Miller Center in July 2018 through a partnership with the US Embassy in Islamabad and Atlas Corps. Hira works as a GSBI Women’s Economic Empowerment Fellow to implement new research, initiatives, and projects to help advance women’s economic empowerment through GSBI programs globally and with a specific focus in the Middle East.

5 Social Entrepreneurs and VCs share why Gender-lens investing is important for the ecosystem

5 Social Entrepreneurs and VCs share why Gender-lens investing is important for the ecosystem

The term ‘gender lens investing’ coined in early 2009, is now being used heavily in the VC world. Throughout the years, women-owned businesses have suffered due to lack of capital, funds, support, and resources. According to an Ashoka global survey, 9% of their fellows reported experiencing gender-specific challenges while attracting funding and investment for their businesses.

In 2005, when Valeurs Feminines fund, created by the French money-management firm Conseil Plus Gestion, started investing in women-owned and women-led European businesses, it led to many other venture capitalists joining the league. Now, some of the famous gender lens portfolios include Morgan StanleyMerrill LynchGoldman SachsRoot CapitalVeris Wealth PartnersIlluminate VenturesTrillium Asset ManagementGray Matters CapitalGolden Seeds, and the Calvert Foundation.

Gender lens investment yields many benefits to the ecosystem and also contributes to our sustainable future. As times are changing and if we look back, the return on investment or equity of women-owned or backed businesses has never been low. Over a five-year period (2011-2016), U.S. companies that began the period with at least three women on the board experienced median gains in return on equity (ROE) of 10 percentage points and earnings per share (EPS) of 37%.

What other benefits does gender lens investing bring to the table? I had the opportunity to talk to five social entrepreneurs and VCs to share their opinion on it. Let’s hear it from them.

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Reema Shah - Investor and Managing Director, Golden Seeds

“Gender investing is absolutely necessary for the ecosystem since women entrepreneurs have been tremendously underfunded around the world, whether it is in Silicon Valley or in an emerging market. Yet, research has shown that companies consisting of at least one female senior executive are more likely to have favorable outcomes than those with an all-male senior executive team. It is also important from a societal impact perspective to invest in women entrepreneurs, as they are significant contributors to innovation and economic growth.”

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“Any serious shift towards more sustainable societies must include gender equality. At Green Box, we really believe it is high time to fully invest in ‘her’. Integrating a gender lens in social and corporate businesses can empower women especially young girls in developing countries. We need to remember that they are key to critical, sustainable development challenges: talent acquisition, workplace culture, and the need for holistic innovation.”

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Renata George - Managing Director, Zenmen VC fund; Founder, www.women.vc and www.VC.academy

“As a tech VC investor, I can say that many of my fellow colleagues have been missing out on the opportunity of getting better returns from women-led businesses. On the one hand, we cannot blame the men for not having any clue about what women need. However, that brings us to the other issue - the lack of female venture investors who are more than capable of recognizing high-potential tech solutions targeting females that can provide good returns.

Having women investors don’t necessarily automatically lead to a proportional increase in funding for female entrepreneurs because the ratio of them among all entrepreneurs is still low. So unless the investment theses mandate funding female entrepreneurs, the organic share of startups with at least one female founder in a portfolio won’t exceed 15-20%, however, VC firms with female investors do have better chances of attracting female entrepreneurs to their portfolios. It is a fragile structure that needs to be carefully built by all the participating parties with a great share of attention shown to it over time.”

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“Less than 10% of venture capital goes to women founders. This system-wide failure presents a huge opportunity for capital deployment. Women founders, while being underestimated, are working on innovative solutions and building scalable products. Polyvore, Glossier, Canva, and Houzz are great examples of companies that were started by women to solve a need in the market that no one else was tackling. If we don't invest in women and LGBTQ founders, while building emerging ecosystems, we're essentially defueling the rocketship of change as it's trying to take off.”

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Asma Salman Omer - Co-founder, Marham

“For the last 3 years, Marham grew exponentially as a healthcare startup in Pakistan and one of the core reasons behind it is women. The power and passion of women on our team has moved mountains. Do you know who has benefited the most? Those women who couldn't find the right treatment for themselves. And who played the role in our massive organic growth and word of mouth? Those women who were helped and wanted to help others. What I know for sure is, women can grow and catalyze everything - from revenue numbers to the impact we created - I must say if we want to grow, gender lens investing is a decision every investor should make to thrive in the ecosystem.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Hira Saeed joined Miller Center in July 2018 through a partnership with the US Embassy in Islamabad and Atlas Corps. Hira works as a GSBI Women’s Economic Empowerment Fellow to implement  new  research,  initiatives,  and  projects  to  help advance women’s economic empowerment through GSBI programs globally and with a specific focus in the Middle East.

Will the social impact community be any different in our engagement of #MeToo conversations?

Will the social impact community be any different in our engagement of #MeToo conversations?

“We can shift how we talk about it, we can shift how we respond to it, we can shift how the culture understands it—because it’s going to make a difference in the number of sexual assaults that we see. It’s going to make a difference in the way people respond to survivors of sexual violence, and that difference is really everything.”
- Tarana Burke, #MeToo Movement Architect,
The Cut

A year ago at SOCAP17, Karen Runde Senior Program Manager of Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship heard a #MeToo story that exposed harm in our community. A former student had experienced a sexual assault at SOCAP years ago and was continuing to experience harassment from someone who had been well respected within the community of social enterprise change makers.  This conversation had a profound impact on the team that runs Miller Center, and thanks to the leadership of Karen, this experience had a ripple effect across the organization - and now the field of social enterprise. At the session, Executive Director Thane Kreiner, Ph.D. shared, “I was shocked. I thought our community was different.” Are we different? Is there a different standard when we are working for justice and to support social enterprise around the world?  Or is our community even more likely to attract the wolf in sheep's clothing —those who are attracted to a community and workforce that are willing to sacrifice so much in the pursuit of their mission, vision, and passion?

This year at SOCAP18, Karen hosted and organized two discussions on “Collective Voices Beyond #MeToo.”  She brought together a wide range of voices and perspectives from our field—-from funders, technology innovators, restorative justice practitioners, and those who have experienced their own public #MeToo experiences—-showing how this movement has impact across the entire field of social enterprise and impact investing.

“We explored our stories of feeling powerless—-and powerful—-and the paradox that arises when we realize how each of us exists on a spectrum in our relationship to power.”

“We explored our stories of feeling powerless—-and powerful—-and the paradox that arises when we realize how each of us exists on a spectrum in our relationship to power.”

Our first workshop focused on the relationship between #MeToo and Power.  We explored our stories of feeling powerless—-and powerful—-and the paradox that arises when we realize how each of us exists on a spectrum in our relationship to power.

We opened the workshop with stories shared by courageous members of the community—-I cannot share those stories as part of what made our discussion on Wednesday so effective was the promise of confidentiality that we may share and connect with others in a way that we are rarely afforded at large big tent convenings like SOCAP.  However, I can share some of the high-level insights and takeaways from that conversation.

“Because the hard truth is that we all have times—-often within the same day—- where we feel both powerless and powerful."

“Because the hard truth is that we all have times—-often within the same day—- where we feel both powerless and powerful."

When sharing our stories of feeling powerless, part of the paradox was uncovered as some felt powerful in being able to share their stories and in being able to listen deeply to others, while others felt powerless in hearing the stories and not being able to do anything about it.  Across the room the variety of contexts and the recognition that we all have stories to share—-regardless of our race, gender, orientation, or economic status.  This shared experience provides each of us with an entry point to empathy and recognizing our shared humanity.

When we flipped the question of sharing stories of when we felt powerful, the entire energy of the room changed.  People were animated, smiling, laughing, leaning in. One participant shared she “felt a different feeling of intensity—-like a kick of energy as opposed to feeling weighed down.” Because the hard truth is that we all have times—-often within the same day—- where we feel both powerless and powerful.  Recognizing the dynamic nature of our relationship to power is one of the first steps to owning and doing more to responsibly steward our power to shift the culture of the impact ecosystem.

Click image to visit  Conveners.org

Click image to visit Conveners.org

One of the reasons I was asked to join this conversation came from a conversation we hosted with our members of Conveners.org to explore the responsibility of Conveners in light of the #MeToo movement.  As conveners, we wield immense power from whose stories are told, who has a voice from the stage, and who is invited to participate in the conversation. We also have power in how we handle incidents of assault and harassment that occur at our events, as many of our events blend the line between personal and professional, between networking and socializing.

On Thursday we hosted the second session with our incredible panelists sharing their stories and perspectives.  We framed the discussion around the spectrum and paradox of power - from enablers who keep predators protected and allies who help us to find our voice, to the power that comes from funding relationships to positions of power within an organization, to the power we have with others when we raise our collective voices to the power that we have over others—-and that others have over us.  We also explored if we as the social enterprise/impact investor ecosystem are above #MeToo.

We were joined by Ayla Schlosser, co-founder of Resonate, who is working on leadership development with women in Rwanda.  She shared her stories of the dynamics that are raised when fundraising—-especially for the first time—-and the importance of having resources available to help others.  Part of the predatory nature of power in our space is when young women and men who are new in their careers and new to fundraising are exposed to abusers of power who leverage their financial assets to physically take advantage of others.  

Click image to visit  projectcallisto.org

Click image to visit projectcallisto.org

Jess Ladd the founder of Callisto, a recent Skoll Awardee and SheEO-supported ventureshared her history of growing up during the AIDS epidemic and seeing the risks from when sex becomes stigmatized and we no longer celebrate healthy sexuality.  She also saw the trauma that comes from the reporting process and the continued loss of agency harmed parties face when telling their stories. Callisto’s technology empowers survivors, providing options and allowing disclosure in a way that feels safe. Their unique matching system securely connects victims of the same perpetrator to identify repeat offenders and connects them to pro bono legal services to better understand their options.

We were also joined by Jackie Rotman of XSeed who is building a new fund focused on intimate justice.  Jackie supported the conversation as we explored the challenges and opportunities in incorporating restorative justice models into the process.  One key insight raised in the conversation was the structural challenges presented when restorative justice processes require the responsible party to own that they caused harm and cannot begin until that is admitted—-which runs directly counter to our criminal justice system.  There are little to no repercussions for those who drop out of the restorative justice process, and Jackie shared the specific challenges presented by institutions who are primarily concerned with protecting the institution—- not the person who has been harmed.

Thane Kreiner of Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship spoke to the organizational perspective—-especially when working in a university context to respond, prevent, and help shape the dialogue.  A lot of the choice lies with the harmed party - whether they want to be public about their story or share the name of the person who harmed them.  One key question that Thane raised was about the responsibility to protect other students and entrepreneurs whose safety is in the hands of Miller Center?  What do you do if the person wants to access the space? This did come up and was handled accordingly, but in some ways, it was easier as the person was not a faculty or staff member.  Universities face a great deal more complexity when the person causing harm is part of the institution.

Miller Center’s Karen Runde introduces panelists for the “Collective Voices Beyond #MeToo” session on Thursday at SOCAP18,

Miller Center’s Karen Runde introduces panelists for the “Collective Voices Beyond #MeToo” session on Thursday at SOCAP18,

Anika Warren Chief Organizational Effectiveness and Talent Development Officer at Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation joined us from both the perspective of a funder as well as in her work as a psychologist working on intersectionality.  Anika shared the duality of power in both voice and silence around the world—-while tech can be a part of lifting voices, there is also a deep need for in-person connection.  While talk therapy is typically held up as a solution, it can also be retraumatizing. As funders in the space, it is important to take a nuanced response in our approach if we learn of sexual harassment or abuses of power within grantee organizations.  Simply cutting off funding would likely have the unintended consequence of silencing voices even further.

Finally, we were joined by Sara Schacht Principal Consultant at Smarter Civic who has one of the few public #MeToo stories in our community. Sarah emphasized the impact that these stories—-and going public—-can have on our careers.  Foundations do have a responsibility to understand when they are supporting a serial predator and rather than enabling, or even worse, actively creating additional harm to those who have already survived the victimization of assault.  

Sarah raised the point that there are other ways to track and see warning signs without requiring those who have been harmed to step forward.  Through simple data scraping of teams and tracking career transitions on LinkedIn, you can start to notice trends. “Why do women ages 24-30 only last less than one year on this team, but the same demographic is averaging 3.8 years on another team?”  Too often when women (and sometimes men) are harmed by harassment,they leave either the company or the entire field, if that is what is required.  This has a compounding impact on the earning potential of women who are unable to unlock the full growth potential that comes from growing a career over time. “When people leave it is the canary in the coal mine.”  Foundations would just have to ask for staffing lists and demographic data to be able to track these changes over time.

This was only the beginning of a conversation, and we recognize it can feel overwhelming. Thanks to the increased visibility from the press, it can feel like there are stories of harassment arising everywhere.  However, there is hope. There are new tools and resources available to individuals and organizations who are grappling with sexual harassment and assault including https://metoomvmt.org/ and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and tools like Callisto.  Those who have experienced harm are coming together to support one another, and in hearing one another’s stories, we can draw strength from our shared experiences.

We can also each commit to better understanding the nuance and impacts of power in our relationships.  Are you an ally or an enabler? The system can only keep going when we enable perpetrators of harm to stay in positions of power.  Do you have power over who receives an interview? Who receives a promotion? Whose voice is heard in the room? By staying mindful of all the ways in which we have power in our lives, we can start to be more mindful and equitable in how we use that power.

Thank you to Karen and the team at Miller Center for bringing this conversation to the table, thank you to the organizers at SOCAP for including these conversations, thank you to our courageous panelists for sharing their stories and for our incredible participants for being open and engaging.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Avary Kent is a serial social entrepreneur with expertise in bringing ideas to life. She is the Founding Executive Director of Conveners.org building the impact ecosystem through more effective convening, accelerators, and mapping initiatives. She is a leader in experience design to support her clients in the development of participant focused events integrating human centered design techniques that deliver outstanding feedback and results. As an on-site facilitator she has worked with politicians, academics, cyber security experts, factory owners and workers, investors, and foundation leaders. She is adept at navigating challenging conversations and supporting groups towards productive dialogue and action. She has designed and led the Convening17 initiative to identify urgent, important, and actionable next steps to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. She was also the co-founder of ImpactAlpha, The Happiness Institute, and Puzzlebox LLC. She received a BS in Genetics and Geobotanical Field Ecology from George Washington University and an MBA in Sustainable Enterprise from Dominican University.

Banner photo courtesy of Santa Clara University

CocoAsenso: Reflections from Launching a Social Enterprise in the Philippines

CocoAsenso: Reflections from Launching a Social Enterprise in the Philippines

The rural Philippines: hot, wet, lush. Though I wasn’t exactly sure where I would end up after graduating from Santa Clara University and hiking the Pacific Crest Trail for 4.5 months, I’ve come to settle in at Paranas, Samar, my home away from home. Don’t get me wrong, living in the Eastern Visayas has not come without its challenges—never quite “fitting in”, sweating—always, and living to the cacophonous soundtrack of roosters—but behind the curtain of this small provincial town, innovation is brewing in the coconut industry, and I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of it.

Rice fields and coconut in Paranas, Samar

Rice fields and coconut in Paranas, Samar

For many of us, coconuts have begun to play a larger role in our daily lives over the last 5-10 years. We cook with its oil, munch on its dried meat in our snacks, moisturize our skin, and of course, bake macaroons. Despite its wonders, the journey of a coconut and its farmer remains mystery to most. Prior to beginning my work in the Philippines, most of my coconut related thoughts revolved around devising a strategy to best chisel open the outer shell without injuring myself, this generally required moving from the kitchen to my garage to select more appropriate tools.

For the more than 15 million Filipinos who farm coconuts for a living, the coconut is more than just a guilty pleasure. Throughout its 7,000+ islands, generations of farmers and their communities have harnessed coconuts to build homes, sweeten meals, create art, and generate income. Its many uses and frequent fruit production has led to the coining of its eternal name, “the tree of life”. And with the rise of globalized markets, more people are demanding its coconut products, yet, despite this growth, 9 million of these coconut farmers still live in poverty.

 

The Disconnect

Copra drying process

Copra drying process

Understanding this discrepancy begins at the farm. In Samar, most farmers lack access to higher-value markets for their coconuts and are thus forced to produce a low-value product called copra. In the Philippines, farmers spend long hours drying coconut meat to make copra. After the moisture content is reduced to the required maximum, farmers sell copra to village-level traders who then send it to regional oil mills for energy intensive processing. This ultimately creates a low-value coconut oil called refined, deodorized, bleached (RBD) oil, used primarily for cooking. Despite the intensity of their efforts, the average farmer in Samar earns around $620 per year from copra production.

Concurrently, producers of high-value virgin coconut oil (VCO) operate large, but costly processing facilities in more industrialized regions of the Philippines (Manila, Cebu, Davao). In these areas, many high volume, multi-million dollar facilities compete for expensive whole coconuts to be shipped from the closest farmers who are able to meet their demand. These heavy whole coconuts are costly to ship and are commonly processed into dried coconut flakes (desiccated coconut) before being expelled into VCO.

Large scale coconut processing facility

Large scale coconut processing facility

 

The Opportunity

It’s at this juncture where you might be thinking: why not produce desiccated coconut in rural areas and employ farmers in the processing? With this model coconut farmers could increase their incomes by forgoing the need to make copra and access employment at a municipal-level processing facility, at the same time, the large, multi-million dollar facilities could access less expensive desiccated coconut (DC), forgoing the need to ship whole coconuts, which are 7x heavier than DC.

This is what we are doing at CocoAsenso.

For the last 2 years our team has been assembling the necessary partners, funding, and equipment to begin creating high-value coconut products in the communities where coconuts are grown. Our next challenge: can we scale this innovation beyond our first facility to make a more equitable and efficient coconut industry in the Philippines? We think so.

 

Reflections

After beginning my journey to social enterprise as a Global Social Benefit Fellow in early-2015, consulting Jibu during its early growth stages, and helping launch CocoAsenso since May 2017, I’ve assembled a few reflections to consider for those looking to create scalable ideas in the social enterprise space:

CocoAsenso’s first processing facility in Paranas, Samar

CocoAsenso’s first processing facility in Paranas, Samar

 

1. Let your community shape your model

The traditional model for starting a business or implementing a new innovation begins with the idea, then finds a financially capable market segment. While this may work for proven businesses that are trying to target established certain groups of people in new areas, new ideas seeking to solve social and environmental challenges in impoverished areas must understand its communities first. Some important questions to ask yourself during the brainstorming process:

  • How much investment is needed to carry out given solutions? How can I minimize investment while maximizing impact?

  • Has anyone pursued my idea? If yes, why didn’t it work or why couldn’t it scale? Was it a capital, human, or infrastructure problem? How will you overcome it?

  • What is the broader context I’m operating in? What resources are available locally, regionally, globally? How will I be disrupting the livelihoods of existing business owners, how vulnerable are these entrepreneurs? How will I give disrupted groups a voice?

  • What is my role in bringing this idea to fruition? How will I ensure my idea has local ownership and management?

 

2. Focus, with a broad vision

Coconut jerky during trial phases.

Coconut jerky during trial phases.

In the world of coconuts, there are hundreds, if not thousands of ways to extract value from this tree of life. Many are quite niche, and alluring along the long, lonely path to establishing a processing facility in a remote farming community. For CocoAsenso, coconut jerky caught our attention, but, ultimately proved economically infeasible. While exciting in the moment, exploring the feasibility of this products ultimately slowed our progress toward our core model.

  • In short: let your competitive advantage drive sustainable revenue, then expand into other areas once you know how to do what you do best.

 

3. Strategically target financial partners

While the social enterprise ecosystem is still young in the Philippines, impact investing is continuing to gain traction among NGOs and government. More impact-oriented capital is enabling social enterprises to scale with less reliance on traditional financial institutions. CocoAsenso has raised most of its capital through competitions and grants, largely from local and regional partners. We believe these sources will continue to play a substantial role in supporting our early growth stages. A few insights from our experience:

Opening day at our first facility alongside many of our partners.

Opening day at our first facility alongside many of our partners.

  • Build resilience in disaster-affected communities: As more NGOs look to fund capacity building, target organizations who may have left over or partitioned funds from disaster response efforts. Of course one should not predate funding which helps the most vulnerable bounce-back from a disaster, but in many cases, 2-3 years after a spike in NGOs have left a disaster affected community, there will be remaining financial support best suited for establishing social enterprise. CocoAsenso has been able to access capacity-building grants by working with farming communities affected by Typhoon Haiyan which damaged much of the Eastern Visayas in 2f014.

  • Find partners to widen your scope: While much government funding & support remains excluded from for-profit social enterprises, other groups who may share your same vision can work with you to carry out your idea in exchange for ownership or repayment. CocoAsenso was able to establish its first facility by partnering with a local farming association interested in our vision.

  • Access university resources: As more universities are directing resources and attention toward catalyzing social and environmental change off-campus, utilize their capacity to carry out your shared vision. The Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit Institute is a perfect example of this: a win-win for Santa Clara University and the enterprise. Other Universities, such as the University of San Carlos (USC) in Cebu City (a Miller Center partner), are even going a step further. With the recent announcement of their new Center for Social Enterprise (CSE), undergraduates will soon be required to enroll in social enterprise curriculum. USC’s CSE will also be working to target and launch enterprises in communities throughout greater Cebu.

 

4. Consider how to prioritize your impact model

Balancing impact and growth can be a difficult trade-off in social enterprise. Founders generally want to be as impactful as possible, but market and political conditions may limit their efforts. At CocoAsenso, we’re beginning to ask difficult questions that will have a significant impact on our model as we scale. While unique to our model and the local coconut market, these questions serve as a framework to think about other challenges:

Whole coconuts ready to be delivered to CocoAsenso directly from the farmer.

Whole coconuts ready to be delivered to CocoAsenso directly from the farmer.

  • How do we best compensate farmers for their coconuts? Do we pay farmers above market rate for their coconuts? Or generate more profit to enable faster scaling? While paying higher prices for locally sourced coconut may have more immediate benefit, this leaves less money for reinvesting, paying farmer employees or funding community development activities.
  • How do we protect tenant farmers from being kicked off their land? Many coconut farmers in our community do not own their land. Some operate under an agreement with the landowner and share the revenue from selling copra. With the establishment of our coconut processing facility, landowners have the opportunity to sell whole coconuts, freeing up the needed labor for copra production. Anticipating the potential for tenants (often the most vulnerable farmers) to be kicked off their land, we must establish protective measures that are fair for landowners and tenants. 
  • Who owns my enterprise? In an ideal world, new social enterprises will always be launched and owned by the most vulnerable and capable. In reality, many are launched by people who are better resourced, may come from another country or community, and have a vision for high level change. As a committed founder, spending time, energy, and passion, you must ask how best to balance fair compensation for your efforts while maximizing benefit to the people you are working to help. It’s here where the core of your company’s “why” lies.

 

The Road Ahead

While coconuts may not have been on the top of my mind amid my post-graduation job search, CocoAsenso has challenged me to better understand the role of social enterprise in global development. Upon my completion of Miller Center’s Global Social Benefit Fellowship, I’ve thought more and more about starting an enterprise of my own, but for now I’ll be in the Philippines, working with coconut farmers of Paranas, and dreaming about the road ahead.

To learn more about CocoAsenso, and its mission to improve the livelihoods of remote coconut farmers in the Philippines, click here.

To read more of Tom’s reflections and follow his upcoming Pacific Northwest Trail thru-hike, check out his blog: wheres-wheeler.com.