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Can you make a business model around volunteering? The co-founders of GoVoluntr have put their bets on yes.I met M.J., Kevin, and Young when they served as judges of a panel for New Leaders’ Council Silicon Valley Startup Saturday in the Fall of 2012.   They provided insightful input from a social entrepreneur perspective to current fellows who pitched potential fundraiser ideas. They also introduced their work to make volunteering opportunities social, easy to find, and company-friendly.

Meet Young

Co-Founder and GoVoluntr’s CEO Young Han also led a session on social entrepreneurship Young Han(along with GoodJoe founder Nathan Pham) and participated in the informal social innovation unconference we organized in Spring 2013. The events provided a whole new snapshot on his passion for this work, his depth and breadth of experience in entrepreneurship, and the dynamic qualities that help him articulate GoVoluntr’s broader vision.

Young is a serial entrepreneur with the title of “Professional Do Gooder”, he helped launch GoVoluntr in 2011.

Listen to the Interview

 

GoVoluntr: Creating a Business around Volunteering

What makes a social entrepreneur unique is adopting a mindset of impact + enterprise. Adding layers of impact to the already-challenging task of creating a business is a puzzle all its own. As Young explains in his interview, it can help to be passionate about a problem or cause.

The founders of GoVoluntr saw a need in volunteerism. They saw potential to build a community of do gooders by making volunteer opportunities easy to find, creating ways to easily track and reward volunteers, and finding ways to centralize and encourage volunteering by companies.

Their innovative platform does these things in an easy-to-use format. A new user can select to create a volunteer, nonprofit, business, or school profile and login using Facebook. From there the fun begins by finding volunteer opportunities—which include one-time events (like local film, music, and art festivals) as well as ongoing needs (such as mentorship, math/reading tutoring, or museum volunteering). Sign up for an event and you receive a reminder by email as well as an automatic tracking of hours. In case you volunteer outside of the offered opportunities, you can submit “missing hours” to continue tracking your total.

To gamify the experience, volunteers receive rewards and badges for their service to the community. And companies can encourage employee participation by providing ways to track hours and share unique volunteer experience internally.

Read Interview Responses

Q | Innov8Social:  You have a rich history in entrepreneurship, tell us a little about your path to your current startup GoVoluntr.

A | Young Han, GoVoluntr:  I don’t think a typical person would call my entreprenuerial journey “rich” but it does sound much nicer to say that than saying, I’ve failed several businesses prior to GoVoluntr. (LOL). I think that there are a lot of experiences that have helped me to land on GoVoluntr. Including my various business ventures, community service roles, and my time at Starbucks and Apple. I know that I’ve always had a desire to be an entrepreneur since I was in high school and was able to leverage my experiences in the last decade to realize and bring together my passion for business and volunteerism through GoVoluntr.

Q | Innov8Social:  Do “social” and “entrepreneurship” mix—-or does it create more challenges for the social entrepreneur?

A | Young:  I think they mix wonderfully. I believe that with societal changes that have been trending, the next iteration of businesses will be inherently socially conscious business model. Partly due to the demands coming from future “paying” customers as well as the the future workforce looking for more and more responsible business operators to work for. Currently there are some challenges in overcoming the initial misunderstanding of what constitutes a social entrepreneur and we face the inability to understand how we are a for profit social good company. We are bridging our monetary gain with our social impact, creating a fairly unique model where the more money we make the more good we do and vice versa. It is becoming increasingly more popular though with great social good startups like Tom’s shoes and Causes leading the way.

 

Q | Innov8Social:  Tell us a little about GoVoluntr—how does it work, what inspired this startup idea, how is it structured, have you rec’d initial funding?

A | Young:   GoVoluntr is an online platform that brings together volunteer, nonprofits, and businesses to engage in doing good. We enable volunteers/employees to quickly and easily find the right volunteer opportunity, register for specific shifts, positions, times and dates, then work with our nonprofit partners to track and verify their service hours. Once the hours have been added by the nonprofit the volunteer starts to earn virtual recognition through Volunteer Pins. They can earn VPins the more they volunteer and each VPin comes with Points, that they can then go to our Volunteer Rewards store to purchase goods and services from businesses that support community service.

In addition we help Nonprofits effectively source, track, manage, report, and reward their volunteers. For businesses we offer a turn key employee volunteer program, cause related marketing program and robust reporting. They all fit together to create a mutually beneficial ecosystem around doing good.

We have raised an initial seed round to get us started and will be working on subsequent rounds as we work towards further building out the ecosystem and platform.

 

Q | Innov8Social:  What advice or tips do you have for new entrepreneurs who are trying create value but also make a positive impact?

A | Young:   Be unbelievably passionate about your impact and laser focused on the value you are creating. It’s not necessarily harder to be a social entrepreneur but like anything, it has it’s unique pros and cons, but being a social entrepreneur will require a certain amount of creativity and resourcefulness as it’s not a path that has been tread as much as other fields and industries.

 

Visit D-Prize.org and your bound to do a double take when posed with the question:

“If you were awarded $20,000, how would you fight poverty?”

I had a chance to learn about this innovative program that identifies and funds promising social ventures that are still at an idea phase through a conversation with Nicholas Fusso. Nicholas serves as Program Director of D-Prize.

Q & A with Nicholas Fusso, Program Director of D-Prize

Nicholas FussoWhat is D-Prize?

[Nicholas Fusso] D-prize is a competition program to identify top social entrepreneurs focused on innovative initiatives for distribution.

It was launched by Andrew Youn, of One Acre Fund. Andrew has been working with African farmers to help them become more sustainable. Since One Acre fund started in 2006 it has expanded in scope and scale, now serving over a 100K families.

Through his work at One Acre Fund, Andrew became increasingly frustrated because he saw easy solutions to major problems but they were not being scaled & distributed effectively. He and a few co-founders launched D-Prize to focus on the distribution end of the social enterprise equation. The “D” in D-Prize stands for “distribution equals development”.

How does D-Prize work? Is it an accelerator program?

[Nicholas] D-prize is not necessarily an accelerator program. It is a mechanism to fund ventures that are at the idea stage.  Entrants are considered based on: (1) distribution-focused venture; 2) that can radically scale up (i.e. create massive amounts of impact). Ideal candidate will read the description and come up with concept that meets (1) and (2) and then can apply for D-Prize.

D-prize applications are generally accepted on a rolling basis. Our first round of applications was due April 30, 2013, and we received over 300 applications.  The next deadline for applications for the Fall 2013 cohort will be November 30, 2013.

What are the requirements for candidates? U.S.-based? Proven Model?

[Nicholas] There is no geographic requirement, however, solutions have to be launched in developing areas. The organizations that D-Prize looks to fund are generally highly proven, and just need innovative methods of scaling and distributing solutions. The other skill we look for is the ability of the founders to listen and find out what people need in the area.

How is D-Prize funded?

[Nicholas] By the co-founders & colleagues.

How is D-Prize structured?

[Nicholas] It has applied for non-profit status.

Tell us a little about yourself

[Nicholas] I have been in the role of Program Director since February 2013. When I started, D-Prize had already  published and launched the first competition program, and interested applicants had about 5 weeks to submit an idea. We had an aggressive schedule but were able to identify entrepreneurs in that space.

A little about me…I studied political economics in college and had a lot of friends with idealistic goals pursue nonprofit and ngo-work. I was one of the few to go into business. My first social enterprise was right out of college, called “Sustainable of Sexy.” The mission was to educate people of coffee-drinking habits, especially sustainability of coffee-related goods, such as coffee cups. We took the problem on from a business perspective, trying to show how reusable coffee cups could be better for business all-around. We had a blog, and received some great press coverage. The whole experience really excited me about entrepreneurship. D-Prize was a great fit and has been an exciting experience.

What do you see as the connection between enterprise and impact?

[Nicholas] I see entrepreneurship as the surest path to sustainable development.

How is funding disbursed?

[Nicholas] People submit a 1st round application, then if its a good fit will invite them to a final round. Selected finalists will receive $10-20K funding. Payment method will be Lump sum or in parts, based on what makes more sense for the concept and work. It’s important to determine what type of venture to figure out how to fund. (i.e. build website, market, etc.). D-Prize does not necessarily take an equity stake. The amount of funding is partially based on the budget that applicants must include as part of the final application.

What are you looking for in D-Prize candidates?

[Nicholas] Measurable impact, and lots of it. Whether applicants are non-profit or for-profit, we look at whether they are committed to creating responsible change—that it part of their core business, and not just a consideration. Finally, we are look for ideas that are transformational in their approach to meeting the distribution challenge.

How does a team apply?

Visit the D-Prize competition page for deadlines, etc. and download the application packet.

[Note: This post has been updated to reflect that D-Prize may not necessarily take equity stake in startups.]
As social innovators focus on ways to create, optimize, and measure impact, a natural question arises as to what kind of impact should be pursued. Should you set goals that are attainable and within reach? Or should you strive for impact that is far-reaching and is perhaps beyond what your startup or organization even has capacity to meet with its current resources?Darcy Winslow, a systemic change expert and visionary who introduced key sustainability measures within Nike, explained the nuances between planning for change and designing for transformation. She spoke at the inaugural Strategic Execution Conference hosted by IPS Learning and Stanford University on April 24, 2013.Her talk was impassioned, intimate, and impactful in sharing her personal narrative in sustainability as well as her commitment to creating a culture for sustainable innovation within organizational infrastructure.

 

Darcy’s experience at Nike & the Shambhala Initiative

Darcy spoke about her 20 year career at Nike, which included a number executive roles. When her team was approached to define the impact Nike shoe production was having on the environment and landfills—she was surprised to hear that the equivalent of one shoe of waste was created with the production of each pair of shoes, and that over the course of a year millions of gallons of oil were used to produce Nike’s various lines of athletic gear.

She set forth to shift the company from the inside. Forming a team to address social impact, they established the Nike Shambhala Initiative–an ambitious strategy to re-think Nike operations centered around aspirational sustainability goals.

The goals that Nike set were not intended to reward or recognize themselves for picking low-hanging fruit. They demanded 0 waste, 0 toxics, 100% closed loop systems and other key sustainability deliverables by 2020.

I found myself noting that the plan was markedly ambitious, increasing the chance of failing to reach those high-level goals. Darcy reframed the issue as she explained the power of transformational change.

What is makes change transformational?

Darcy shared her view that any change that seeks less than an all-or-nothing results is not transformational–and is just a matter of degree. For a leading company such as Nike, she knew that a change of degree of impact was not enough. If Nike was going to get into the corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement, it would have to do so in a transformational way.

How social innovators can incorporate transformational change goals

Darcy’s talk introduced the concept of a transformational change mindset.
When we seek to transform, rather than just gradually alter ourselves or our ventures there is a different approach, mindset, and energy that is employed. It is as though we must change from within to create change in results—and the process can be transformational at an individual as well as organizational level.
The goal of creating zero waste rather than reducing waste by 50% creates a different purpose, easy measuring stick, and clearly-defined goals. These can trickle down throughout the organization. If the goal was instituted in manufacturing setting, each team of engineers would be clear that their stage of production should yield 0 waste versus and intermediate amount of waste.
Of course, sustainability is often a product of evolution and iteration. So in addition to setting transformational change goals, it is essential to provide enough time to work to that change. When the Shambhala Initiative was introduced, the goal set was 2020–giving two decades to evolve innovation and internal practices to meet the aspirational milestones.

Video of Darcy Winslow, Nike Foundation

You can take a look at Darcy speak briefly at her role with Nike in this short video.