Innovating for Positive Social Change at the Earliest Stage
Innovating for Positive Social Change at the Earliest Stageback

Social innovation doesn’t just happen; it needs to be inspired, encouraged, and nurtured if it is to prosper and be effective. Such support can – and now does – come from many sources:

The key is finding those off-the-wall ideas that up-end the status quo. Competitions do just that. The “wow” factor in the ideas presented is just … Wow! SIF, SIE, and Echoing Green all sponsor competitions as a way to find and support promising social innovation. Of course, I favor competitions that establish a support community because I believe that support makes success so much more likely.

SIE is starting such a community. Echoing Green has had one in place for more than 20 years. Echoing Green’s winners get some important help, including:

  • money ($90,000 for partnerships and $60,000 for individuals),
  • training (hard skills such as fundraising, board development, and marketing; soft skills such as self awareness and leadership),
  • a safe space for problem solving,
  • networking,
  • legal and financial guidance,
  • health insurance because social innovation does not exempt a business from taking care of employees.

The 16 winning organizations in this year’s competition were chosen from 1,000 applicants. Common themes among the winners: market-based solutions, and products and services targeting the bottom billion.

The most cutting-edge innovations are the early-stage innovations; they tap new and untested ideas. Here you’ll find the riskiest and boldest ideas, which is Echoing Green’s specialty. For a sample of the exciting things to come:

  • Jamie Yang, EGG-energy: In developing countries, electricity transmission lines don’t reach families and small businesses in poor neighborhoods. Instead, the poor pay for expensive and unsafe power sources such kerosene. Tanzanians will be offered an annual battery subscription service, costing about 50 percent less than keorsene, to use for lights, radio, and mobile phone service.
  • Ashni Mohnot, Enzi, Enable: Higher education leads to higher life-time earning potential and quality of life, not just for the individual but for his or her family. Many promising students cannot afford to pay for that education and can’t get a loan.  Enzi allows individual to invest in a student’s education for a share in that person’s future income for a set period of time. Multiple investors support each student.
  • Jodie Wu, Global Cycle Solutions: Designs simple affordable add-ons for bicycles that transform them into tools for subsistence farmers. The first product allows Tanzanian farmers to take the corn off cobs 40 times faster than the current method of putting the corn into a bag and beating it.
  • Deepa Gangwani, Together as One, Develop: In India, people live at landfills and earn their living by picking through trash. No surprise that they are shunned by society. Together as One converts trash into fuel, which is sold to the community, increasing earning potential eight- to nine-fold. Because workers now provide an essential service – energy – the community’s perception of the workers changes.

That’s just a sampling. Check out the other 2010 Echoing Green Fellows.

And Lara Galinsky, Echoing Green’s Senior Vice President, offered great advice to up-and-coming social entrepreneurs:

  • Failing is part of the formula of success; learn to recover quickly.
  • Take a long-term approach.
  • Don’t be afraid of the unknown.
  • Political advocacy is often needed to be effective; don’t just dip your toe in the water.

Who will reach the success levels of Teach for America and SEED Schools, Echoing Green alumni? Only time will tell. Who do you think it will be? Tell us who and why.