Collaboration, Social Media: They're Happening Already

Synergy: That's the word that comes to mind when I read about the new micro-finance program to help women businesses here and abroad that brings together the knowledge and skills of a nonprofit, a for-profit, social media, and public figures who generate a lot of buzz.

collaboration, FITE, integrity, Kiva, micro-finance, social media, women entrepreneursSynergy: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

With luck, that's what Financial Independence Through Entrepreneurship, or FITE, will achieve.

The parts:

  • Kiva.org, a 5-year-old nonprofit that has disbursed $185,232,575 in micro-loans to low-income, under-banked people. The loans help them start businesses. The money for the loans comes from online donations by individuals. Kiva has the experience to screen and select borrowers and a social media presence that engages donors and facilitates donations.
  • Dermalogica Skincare products, sold in beauty salons and online. Since 1999, it has had a foundation whose money and efforts go toward programs for women. Dermalogica is packaging some of its product with codes the consumer enters on Facebook to trigger a donation to Kiva. Its website raises awareness of the need for micro-loans to women.
  • Eileen Fisher, Nicolas Kristof, and Geena Davis are advocates for improving the lives and ensuring the rights of those at the bottom of the economic pyramid. They provide the high-visibility and credibility that will encourage other companies to join FITE
  • Facebook, the ever growing social medium that facilitates donations.

Put 'em together and what have you got? A powerful example of partnerships, collaboration, and new ways of raising money. And note: No silo here. This is about reaching across sectors to harness the varied skills of each sector. What you've got is a new model for financing social good.

Two of my watchwords for 2011 are clearly visible in this venture: collaboration and social media. The third – integrity – will come, I hope, through Kiva's involvement.

But it's not clear yet how FITE will avoid the abuses now emerging in other micro-finance ventures: exorbitant interest rates, bullying collectors, loans for TVs instead of business development, new loans to repay existing loans, and loans unaccompanied by training in financial literacy.

Synergy may solve that problem as well. Kristof has a unique, well-informed view of economic need and remediation. Kiva has experience with micro-lenders and borrowers. The founder of Dermalogica is a hard-headed business woman, as is Eileen Fisher who is also a social entrepreneur with heavy experience in the roadblocks to implementing workers' rights in developing countries. Together they have a mix of experience that none could achieve alone.

Let's hear it for synergy!

And keep our fingers crossed.

Do you think cross-sector collaboration can solve social problems?

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