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SCU Magis  2014On a beautiful Sunday evening in mid May 2014, hundreds of social entrepreneurs, mentors, funders, leaders, professors, and faculty members gathered for a gala to honor two individuals in the social enterprise space as well as to further the global dialogue about mission-driven ventures.The inaugural dinner named Magis—the Latin term for “more” (i.e. as in more strategic, or better) highlighted the work of the Center for Science, Technology, and Society (CSTS) and its long-running Global Social Benefit Institute which has over 200 alumni social enterprises that have positively impacted nearly 100 million lives since the program launched over a decade ago. It also recognized and honored the work of Graham Macmillan, former Sr. Director of VisionSpring ( social enterprise dedicated to ensuring the distribution of affordable eyewear) and Sally Osberg, President and CEO of the Skoll Foundation (one of the institutions that support GSBI).Santa Clara University is no newcomer to social enterprise. As learned through an Innov8Social audio interview the Center of Science, Technology, and Society Director Thane Kreiner—-the Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) has a rich history in the space, and Thane’s own experience as a serial entrepreneur in the health sciences arena informs and inspires his work at CSTS. The department also hosts an annual GSBI Accelerator Showcase, which features pitches from current participants. (Coverage of the 2013 GSBI Showcase here.)

Though the Magis showcase & dinner evening was seated in elegance and dressed to the nines, one of its most glimmering accessories was the humility of its participants. From Master of Ceremonies Thane, to featured speakers, and award recipients, to the esteemed guests, there was an honesty and authenticity in engaging in value-driven work, understanding the reason behind the work, and the long and often challenging road in launching ventures that seek to improve lives in addition to employing an entrepreneurial mindset. In this space, just as with any niche, there can be a tendency to gild individual contributions or the sector itself, or brush past known challenges and failures. But the tone of Magis, perhaps due to its firm roots in the Jesuit tradition or because the presence of so many active social entrepreneurs in the evening’s program, was one of engaging in dialogue, of furthering conversations, and of finding ways to help each other better understand and support the space.

Photo Essay: Santa Clara University Hosts MAGIS — Celebrating Global Social Entrepreneurship

Sunday, May 18, 2014

 

SCU Magis 2014
A pre-event slideshow featured various GSBI and social enterprise projects and initiatives.

SCU Magis 2014
Final touches before attendees are seated.

 

SCU Magis 2014
One of the social enterprises featured at the tables was WE CARE Solar— a portable solar-powered off-grid electric system to power electricity in hospitals that do not have steady electricity. Co-founder Dr. Laura Stachel spoke about her experience in starting this organization on a panel at Kiva in 2013.

 

SCU Magis 2014
Mexico-based social enterprise Prospera, a 2014 GSBI participant, empowers female-led micro businesses with consulting and training and connects them to conscious citizens and consumers looking to create a more equal and engaged society. See the beautiful video they created to explain their work.

 

SCU Magis 2014
Solar Ear, a Brazil-based social enterprise, tackles the daunting World Health Organization statistic that over 6000 million people worldwide have some form of hearing impairment. It develops high quality and affordable solar-powered hearing aids, produced by deaf people to hearing impaired ones in deprived areas.
SCU Magis  2014
GSBI mentor Amanda North has turned social entrepreneur, with Artisan Connect— an online marketplace for quality home goods made by artisans in developing countries. Read about how witnessing the 2013 Boston Marathon explosion shifted Amanda’s focus from her corporate work to starting this social venture.

 

SCU Magis  2014
Gemma Bulos, Director of Global Women’s Water Initiative, a nonprofit and GSBI alumnus, explains the organization’s work in training and building a movement of local women water experts to address water issues, that affect them the most. GWWI focuses on Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania and has trained over 200 women to build over 30 rainwater harvesting systems, that provide over 300K liters of clean water to their communities. (see their impact infographic)
SCU Magis  2014
Sankara Eye Care Institutions, a 2014 GSBI participant, aims to eradicate preventable and curable blindness in India by providing free high quality eye care to millions of rural poor. Over the span of 35 years, Sankara’s network has grown to 11 eye hospitals, 120+ doctors, 600 paramedical professionals, and over 250 support staff–that have collectively impacted an estimated 40 million people.
SCU Magis  2014
Launched in 2010 and a GSBI alum of 2013,  Ilumexico is a social enterprise comprised of a for-profit and nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting development in rural areas through solar-powered electricity systems, with a focus on last-mile distribution.

 

SCU Magis  2014
The Magis showcase evening program started with statistics outlining some of the world’s most pressing issues.

 

SCU Magis  2014
Statistics and initiatives from organizations such as the World Wide Hearing, based in Jordan, were featured in the slideshow. WWH, a current GSBI participant, provides provides access to affordable, high quality hearing aids to children and youth with hearing loss in developing countries.

 

SCU Magis  2014
Thane Kreiner, Executive Director of Santa Clara University Center of Science, Technology, and Society served as Master of Ceremonies for the evening.
SCU Magis  2014
A brief video outlining innovation and social impact was shared.

 

SCU Magis  2014
Jim Koch, the founding Director of CSTS introduced the first Magis award.
SCU Magis  2014
Thane and Jim presented the award to Graham Macmillan.
SCU Magis  2014
2006 GSBI participant and former VisionSpring Sr. Director Graham McMillan accepted the inaugural Magis Award for his work in field and his continuing work within the social enterprise sector, now in a funding role. To date, 2 million people have access to affordable eyewear as a result of VisionSpring’s work. He related the near-death experience he faced in the wake of 9/11 and how it changed his view on everything and inspired his work in social impact.  “We are aspirationalists” said Graham of his fellow social entrepreneurs.  You can see a NextBillion video interview with Graham here.

 

SCU Magis  2014
Kirk Hanson, Executive Director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics  introduced second Magis Award recipient, Sally Osberg.

 

SCU Magis  2014
Sally Osberg,  President and CEO of the Skoll Foundation, spoke about her experience and pragmatism in supporting the social enterprise space and the honor and “shame” associated with the term “social enterprise”. You can watch a Skoll video featuring Sally here.

 

The dialogue continues! Catching up with social enterprise attorney Barbara Krause after the event.

 

As an avid viewer of NBC’s “Shark Tank” —- my interest was piqued during a recent episode when one young entrepreneur mentioned his passion for building a social enterprise after reading David Bornstein’s book, How to Change the World. The book was one of the inspirations for Innov8Social and my interest in this space.
By way of context, Shark Tank gives entrepreneurs the chance to pitch their startups and seek funding from  celebrity millionaire and billionaire investors including Mark Cuban, Barbara Corcoran, Kevin O’Leary, Lori Greiner, Robert Herjavec, and Daymond John.

Jason’s company, iReTron, buys back used electronics for a cash value, and then re-furbishes and re-sells or recycles the products.  (See below for a video where Jason and the iReTron team explain the concept).

Jason was successful in raising his ask of $100K through an investment by Barbara Corcoran and Mark Cuban, for a 20% equity stake in his company plus 20% of any company he starts in the next five years.

Meet Jason

Jason’s family immigrated to the US from China when he was 6. He observed their work ethic and discipline as they started a small business in northern California.  And as he shared on his show, one of his early passions was judo, which he has been learning since he was five years old. He had been actively competing in the sport until he broke his back in high school.

It was at that time that he began reading about social enterprise and social entrepreneurship, which helped spark his idea to launch a company that pursued profit as well as impact.
Jason has been featured as a TEDxTeen speaker, was named “Next Teen Tycoon” for his work with iReTron, and has presented at events such as the Green Festival, all prior to his successful pitch at Shark Tank.

Listen to the Interview

More about Jason and iRetron

 

What does change look like? As much as we would like to think of it as an artfully directed four-minute video montage, complete with action shots of initial struggle, hard work and ultimate success—all scored to an inspired soundtrack—in reality, change can be adamant, demanding, and at times, unyielding. It can inch along, threaten failure at every turn, and require monumental perseverance.That is why was such an honor to meet and interview Nileema Mishra, an innovative leader who works through the odds, to achieve social impact, and continues to find new ways to serve, sustain, and succeed at the projects to which she has dedicated her life and career.

Meet Nileema Mishra, Founder of BNGVN, Womens’ Initiatives, and Microfinancing Efforts in Maharashtra, India

Nileema Mishra, Leading Change in Womens’ Empowerment and Microfinance in Rural India

Nileema Mishra, social innovator and  recipient of Magsaysay Award (2011) and Padma Shri Award (2013

Nileema Mishra was the 2011 recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award, sometimes referred to as the Nobel Prize of Asia. She is the recipient of the 2013 Padma Shri Award, one of the India’s highest civilian awards recognizing distinguished contribution in various spheres, including social service.

Nileema’s accolades and recent recognition only tell a part of her story. After she decided to dedicate her life to serving the poor in her village and surrounding villages at only thirteen years old, she went on to spend over a decade engaging in her work before receiving such esteemed national and international recognition.

Her journey with her organization, BNGVN—dedicated to empower “everyone willing to work for earning his/her living must get an opportunity to do so”—has spanned:

13 years.
200 villages.
25,000 families+

Her reputation for initiating change made her a go-to resource for leading microfinance initiatives in her region of Maharashtra. And, when farmers in nearby villages began committing suicide when they struggled to re-pay steep bank loans in the face of continued famine—Nileema answered the calls for help by farmers in her village by raising funds to be able to loan funds directly to the farmers. Then, similar to BNGVN’s microlending initiatives, she instituted microfinancing for farmers.

Learn more about Nileema’s work, her next immediate goals, and how she has elected to structure her organization in her interview below.

When asked about what advice she has for emerging social entrepreneurs, Nileema emphasizes engaging in work that would benefit not only an initial cohort, but that would create benefit for the last person.

“If our work is only for us,” Nileema reflects, “the soul will not be there.”

Listen to the Interview

What better way to start of the new year than by joining social innovators, social entrepreneurs, and non-profit leaders for a day dedicated to applying lean methodology to the social sector!Innov8Social is proud to be a media partner for the Lean for Social Good Summit on Wednesday January 24th 2014.

Join in for sessions including:

  • Introduction to Lean, by Lean Startup Machine
  • Incubating Social Change
  • Funding Panel – How to talk to your funder about Lean, with Code for America

2 For 1 Discount: 24 Hours Only!

And for the next 24 hours, you can grab a 2-for-1 discount to the event using code: LEAN2FOR1

 

Join other thinkers, thought leaders, and social innovation explorers at this unique event focusing creating impact and value.

It is always fascinating to follow the ideation story of a social enterprise.

The Ideation Behind a Social Enterprise

Sometimes, the catalyzer is a clever innovation (i.e. “what if there was something that could do both…), or connecting to an untapped market (i.e. “If millions of people are already using mobile money, what if we…”). Still other times it is identifying a noted gap in what is available (i.e. “I can’t believe that they don’t have access to clean water…”)
In speaking to Zack Rosenberg, Founder/CEO of DoGoodBuy.Us it was clear that his social enterprise story started with a realization of what was missing–i.e. a robust online e-commerce platform to buy socially good products and support charities with each purchase. You can hear Zack recall the details of  the story behind DoGoodBuy.Us, more about the legal structure and business model behind his website, as well as his tips for social entrepreneurs in his audio interview below.

Meet Zack Rosenberg

Zack is not a first-time entrepreneur. He has founded websites such as Gimme20, which became a social & sharing network for Zach Rosenberghealth and fitness enthusiasts and SixDegreesofZR, which connected jobseekers and available jobs within Zack’s network. While the sites do not appear to be active, there are a number of references to them online.  His work also spans roles at WebMD, Buzzfeed, and SmartBrief and he regularly writes and speaks about startup entrepreneurship.

Zack may be an encore entrepreneur, but his latest venture has taken him to new realms including social enterprise and ecommerce. He noted that as he dives deeper into ways to empower his platform to do good and do well, he has started becoming more aware of the broader social innovation community. When he attended his first Social Venture Network conference in New York earlier this year he was pleasantly surprised to engage with the strong community of social entrepreneurs who participated.

DoGoodBuy.Us

The tagline for DoGoodBuy.Us is “the marketplace for social good/s”. The site lets users search products using various parameters including, by the cause that the product supporters, by type of gift you are looking to give (i.e. for teachers, clients, babysitters) as well as by price point and type of item. Up to 50% of proceeds are donated to support poverty-eradication, access to food, healthcare, and environmental sustainability measures.

In his interview, Zack talks about his decision to form DoGoodBuyUs as a for-profit and the reasons for doing so. He also explores what is ahead, introducing the concept of crowdcommerce—which allow groups to support specific initiatives.

Listen to the Interview

Thane Kreiner, Executive Director of SCU Center for Science, Tech, Society

Thane Kreiner founded, led, and developed multiple life sciences startups before joining Santa Clara University as Executive Director of the department that houses its prestigious GSBI program for social entrepreneurs.

A neuroscientist by training, Stanford Business School graduate, and an experienced serial entrepreneur himself, Thane brings a pragmatic optimism to his role at the helm of the Center for Science, Technology, and Society at SCU.  Listen below to is interview to learn more about GSBI, what kinds of social entrepreneurs should apply, past successes, and his advice for those thinking about launching a social innovation venture.

What is GSBI?

Piloted in 2003, Santa Clara University’s Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI) applies Silicon Valley acumen to help scale proven early-stage impact innovation for-profit and nonprofit ventures. It does this through offering 2 curriculum programs: the GSBI Accelerator is a nine-month program that combines online modules with mentor meetings and culminates in a in-residence bootcamp at SCU’s campus in California’s Silicon Valley.  Social entrepreneurs can also engage through the GSBI Online program—which provides more general startup training through an exclusively online medium.

Both GSBI programs focus on startups that have progressed past early ideation (i.e. blueprint) and validation stages of their startup and are in the ‘prepare to scale’ stage of startup development, as articulated in From Blueprint to Scale.

Alumni of the program include Kiva, WE CARE Solar, Husk Power Systems, World of Good and over 200 other social innovation ventures with entrepreneurs spanning over 50 countries.

Applications for GSBI are open now and due this Thursday, October 31st 2013.

Meet Thane Kreiner

I had a chance to catch up with Thane about GSBI and his own experience and views on the importance of resources for social entrepreneurship. He is articulate and passionate about social innovation, and incredibly well-versed on the Silicon Valley startup experience.

Thane’s education spans a B.S. in Chemistry from University of Texas, Austin to a PhD in Neurosciences from Stanford School of Medicine, to an MBA from Stanford GSB. His professional portfolio includes a number startups that he has founded, led, and guided through development, such as:
Second Genome, Presage Biosciences, iZumi Bio, Inc. (now iPierian).

Listen to the Interview

On the third Tuesday of September, as on many 3rd Tuesdays of most months, MIT-Stanford Venture Lab (VLAB) hosted a panel on an emerging, disruptive technology. On the docket for the month of September—and fittingly nicely with back-to-school overtures at your favorite retail outlets—was titled “Education Technology Tsunami: Common Core Disrupts K-12”.The event focused on education technology opportunities and innovation (edtech) geared toward students in grades K-12 amid widespread adoption of Common Core standards.Now, in the off chance that the preceding sentence contained multiple words with which you are not used to seeing in the same sentence—you’ve come to the right place. This post is just the trampoline to provide both a soft landing and willing launch you deeper into this expansive field.

VLAB Edtech panelThe event took place on the Stanford Graduate School of Business School, in the expansive Cemex Auditorium. It brought together over 400 educators, entrepreneurs, developers, investors, students, and those simply interested in learning about the topic—and, as you might suspect there was a broad spectrum of familiarity with the topic.

This talk was a perfect opportunity to seek depth by gaining introduction to key concepts, topics, questions, and challenges in the edtech space.

Instead of providing a summary—this post outlines a few recommendations, factoids, and topics imparted.

 

The Panel

 

1. Buzzword: Common Core Standards

As explained in the introduction, and in the brochure, “The Common Core Standards, adopted by 45 US states imposes learning and testing which adapts to a student’s ability in real time.”

You can read the full Common Core curriculum requirements here:

 

2. Issues with Adoption of Common Core Standards

Moderator Tina Barseghian outlined a few issues with the adoption of Common Core that have been raised:

  • Some schools don’t have the necessary technology to implement it.
  • Some teachers don’t want to be held accountable for its implementation.
  • Some question its adoption saying that teachers weren’t part of designing it.
  • Conservatives say its a liberal conspiracy.
  • Some call its adoption a “Trojan horse” introduced in order to let corporations profit

She also articulately noted that the merits of Common Core as a concept were not necessarily the focus of the panel discussion. But hearing them helped add depth and color to the conversation.

 

3. How will Common Core Impact Edtech?

One statistic presented estimated that $60B will be spent on edtech by 2015. This slide provided a helpful, visual overview of current players in the edtech space:

 

4. Book suggestion: One World Schoolhouse

This book by Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, was mentioned a few times throughout the evening. It was brought up in the context of Benjamin Bloom (see below for more on Bloom’s Taxonomy) and the effectiveness of “mastery learning”. Washington Times did a review of Khan’s book last year, here.

 

5. Buzzword: Formative Assessment

The panelists easily agreed that trendy buzzword “formative assessment” has multiple definitions. One definition presented seemed to appease and empower, was that formative assessment is “actionable assessment happening in real time.”

The New York City Department of Education dedicates a page of their website to formative assessment strategies, and this is a topic that a number of edtech startups (including panel startups MasteryConnect and Illuminate Education) are focusing on.

6. What do Large Education Companies like Pearson look for in edtech startups?

Panelists Scott Drossos (Sr. VP at Pearson) and Karen Lien (from Imagine K12) were on-hand to provide a perspective on acquisition and funding potential for edtech startups.  It was mentioned that Pearson actively seeks to partner and invest in promising enterprises that address needs in the education space. In evaluating edtech startups, large education companies like Pearson evaluate factors such as:
  • Is the business sound?
  • Is the leader stable, driven?
  • Has the startup addressed monetization?

 

7. Buzzword: Bloom’s Taxonomy

For those unfamiliar with the study of education and teaching theory, the work of Benjamin Bloom was referenced. He led groundbreaking work in the field of education and mastery learning over the expanse of five decades up until his death in 1999.  One topic that was raised during the panel discussion was “Bloom’s Taxonomy”. Here are brief descriptions and depictions of this concept:

Wikipedia: Bloom’s Taxonomy is a classification of learning objectives within education.

NWLink.com: Bloom’s Taxonomy was created in 1956 under the leadership of educational psychologist Dr Benjamin Bloom in order to promote higher forms of thinking in education, such as analyzing and evaluating, rather than just remembering facts (rote learning).

image credit: PSA-NW

[full disclosure: I serve on the Executive Team of VLAB as the Outreach Chair. Fuller disclosure, I became involved as a VLAB volunteer after covering an event for Innov8Social!]

[Since the time of this interview, Doug Park has taken on a new role. He is now Director of Education at SASB – Sustainability Accounting Standards Board]

Sometimes you can learn as much about people by what they ask as by what they say. I learned that early when meeting Doug Park. Read his bio– showcasing his success as a student, attorney, professor, and leader—and you might be surprised by his thoughtful curiosity and desire to continue exploring when you meet him.In addition to sharing his own experience, he asks nuanced questions, poses hypotheticals, and probes into issues of relevance to the social enterprise.I had the pleasure of meeting Doug Park a few months ago at an event showcasing the potential of social entrepreneurship, and recently sat down with him for an interview about his journey to the social enterprise space and the his tips for entrepreneurs.

Meet Doug Park

Doug ParkDoug specializes in problem-solving related to corporate governance, securities law, and responsible investment. He is an attorney partner and Chief Sustainability Officer at Rimon PC–a law firm dedicated to innovation and community that is a certified B corporation as well as a benefit corporation.
Most recently, Doug has ventured into the social enterprise space as as a co-founder of ThinkTomi. ThinkTomi is an education platform combining the innovation of online education with the benefits of live/group learning. It is aimed at sharing the learnings of Silicon Valley entrepreneurship across the country and globally. Doug serves as General Counsel and the primary education architect and professor.
He studied at Harvard (BA), University of Michigan (J.D), and Stanford GSB (Ph.D. in Strategy and Organizations) and has taught courses at Stanford continuing education  on entrepreneurship.  Doug is President of the Harvard Club of Silicon Valley and is active in the community.
Beyond his stellar academic credentials, Doug has been a long-time blogger. He sat down recently to share his journey, wisdom he has gained along the way, and his thoughts about what is in store ahead for social enterprise.

 

Listen to the Interview

Continue Reading

In case you want to learn more about Doug and his work, you can take a look at the articles below:

The photo used above has been adapted from LinkedIn.

#WSIC2013: Wharton Social Impact Conference 2013 in SF

On a sunny Thursday afternoon, over 150 people packed an auditorium at the scenic Wharton San Francisco campus to hear about relevant issues in the social innovation space.

The event—The Wharton Social Impact Conference—was held on April 4th 2013 and featured two lively panel discussions by impact investors and social entrepreneurs.

#WSIC2013: Wharton Social Impact Conference 2013 in SFThe conference was organized by Wharton SF business students and was attended by colleagues, thought leaders in the field, aspiring social entrepreneurs, and members of the community interested in the topic.

 

#WSIC2013: Wharton Social Impact Conference 2013 in SF

Panel 1: The Impact Investors

The first panel brought together four prominent leaders in the impact investment space.  Geoff “Chester” Woolley of Unitus, a VC firm that invests in scalable businesses serving East Asia that address poverty. When asked about what kinds of social enterprises his firm funds, Mr. Woolley said that Unitus is more focused on funding great entrepreneurs rather than financing individual ideas. He emphasized the importance of having a talented, cohesive team.




Next up was Ed Marcum of Humanity United, that funds efforts to give voice to the underrepresented and advance human freedom. He was followed by Penelope Douglas of Social Capital Markets (SOCAP)–which oversees HUB co-working spaces as well as the SOCAP conference. She emphasized that markets + business are crucial levers of change in social enterprise. The final speaker of the panel was Raj Gollamudi of Omidyar Network who spoke about various forms of capital and the increasing importance of patient capital or slow money—to fund major innovation.

#WSIC2013: Wharton Social Impact Conference 2013 in SF

Panel 2: The Social Entrepreneurs

After a brief networking break, the event resumed for an engaging second panel.Oftentimes, there’s a certain electricity that is generated when you get a group of social entrepreneurs in a room. It’s as though their energy, passion, and perseverance radiates to those around them.This panel was no different.

Each successive speaker brought more to the table and delved into a particular unique facet of their social entrepreneurial experience. Leila Janah of Samasource was poised, articulate, and eloquent in explaining her non-profit’s commitment to alleviating poverty through job creation.

She was followed by Alicia Polak of the Bread Project whose candor and openness about creating a local job training & culinary program was disarming, instructive, and entertaining.

Always a crowd favorite, Back to the Roots co-founder Nikhil Arora recapped his journey into social entrepreneurship and touched on the remarkable growth and media their gourmet mushroom kits have garnered. Next up was Jill Vialet of PlayWorks who enlightened the audience about the importance of play and her company’s innovative approach to facilitate play-inspired recess sessions.

Erin Gruwell of Freedom Writers literally brought the crowd to tears with her story of her work challenging her inner-city high school students to write a book. Her passion for her work and her students touched not only the audience in the room but many thousands who watched the Hollywood movie based on her story, Freedom Writers (She was played by Hilary Swank)

In asking one of event organizers, Raghavan Anand about what he took away from the event, he shared his 3 key takeaways, “1) There is value in attaching meaning to money and seeing what impact it can make rather than the raw purchasing power; 2) As the quote goes, ‘Success does not drive happiness but happiness drives success’,” and he pointed out the passion that was felt when the social entrepreneurs explained their work. Finally, Anand noted “3) Happiness is not the end-game. Meaning is, as Viktor Frankl said. And you derive meaning by giving to others, and leaving your impact on the world.”

Storify: Wharton Social Impact Conference (#WSIC2013) in Tweets, Photos, and Posts

To get an even better snapshot of the day, below is a storify compiled to with images, twitter comments, and articles and posts.

[View the story “Wharton Social Impact Conference (#WSIC2013)” on Storify]

How do you manage your charitable giving?

For many people donations are impulse investments—a friend is running a race to fund cancer research, you see a photo of animals being mistreated, a natural disaster impacts thousands of individuals and you want to do something, you strongly support a cause on principal and want to vote with your dollar.

Bright Funds, a New Way to Manage Charitable Giving

Bright Funds, an innovative social enterprise startup launched in 2012, takes an investment portfolio approach to charitable giving. Bright Funds is an online platform that makes the process of donating more like investing—where you can create an individualized portfolio, diversify your giving according to interests and causes, and research relevant non-profits within your selected “Bright Funds”.

Julie StreuliMeet Julia

Innov8Social had a chance to catch up with Julia Streuli, Head of Communications of the lean Bright Funds startup team to talk about the inspiration behind the idea, how the platform works, and what’s ahead for the company.

Read the Interview

Q1 | Innov8Social: What problem is Bright Funds addressing?

A1 | Julia Streuili, Bright Funds’ Head of Communications:

In talking to Julia her enthusiasm for the concept behind Bright Funds and its potential to shift how we think about charitable giving is immediately apparent.

Julia highlighted the fact that high net worth individuals and philanthropists often hire people to research nonprofits to receive donations, noting however; that there are not many tools available for the average individual to track, research, and design charitable giving.

credit: brightfunds.org
She explained that Bright Funds provides an investment approach to individual giving to ensure that donor dollars are channelled to non-profits that are highly impactful. There is a certain pattern in giving: 1) choose where to give and, 2) give; however, missing from the usual equation is 3) find out what impact your giving had on the cause. Julia noted that Bright Funds closes that “feedback loop” between donating to a nonprofit and following up on the impact of your donation by featuring non-profits that have a track record of being highly impactful in certain core sectors.

Specifically, Bright Funds uses multiple lenses to identify impactful nonprofits including assessments from platforms such as: CharityNavigator, Charity Watch, Universal Giving, GiveWell, and Philanthropedia.Individual donors (i.e. Bright Fund investors) choose the percentage of giving for each of four broad sectors: water, poverty, environment, education, health, or they can choose their own fund of non-profits not included in the Bright Funds list.  They can then research and select specific non-profits that serve their interest in the sector.Julia said that creating a portfolio based on sector was by design—because it shifts the focus from charities to the causes they champion. By aligning yourself with causes that are important, you can better assess impact on the issue, rather than the organization.

Q2 | Innov8Social: What tools does Bright Funds offer?

A2 | Julia, Bright Funds:

Julia overviewed the quick protyping and release of Bright Funds offerings. The startup launched a consumer-facing site in 2012 on #GivingTuesday, enabling anyone to create a profile and begin designing and tracking their charitable giving—all for free. The team is now in the midst of launching an enterprise platform.

The enterprise tool integrates with a company’s benefits system. It lets employees design and track donations and customize the list of nonprofits featured. So far, Bright Funds has seen interest in the new tool by various Fortune 500 and mid-sized Bay area tech companies. Many companies already feature allocated giving programs, but most haven’t designed a holistic approach to help employees manage their giving. Bright Funds sees potential for more-effective platform for personal giving, that can allow for efficiencies such as direct deposit (from an employee’s paycheck) as well as utilizing a company’s donation-match policies.

Q3 | Innov8Social: How does Bright Funds vet the nonprofits featured in its funds?

A3 | Julia, Bright Funds:

As mentioned, Bright Funds has identified major five major categories, each of which form a different Bright Fund (i.e. there are currently 5 Bright Funds: water, poverty, environment, education, health, or customized fun).

If donors are interested in supporting a specific cause or effort, they can read through the descriptions of the non-profits for each Fund to identify the “facets” (or focus areas) for each non-profit and can select or deselect individual non-profits to support on that basis.

Julia noted that Bright Funds strives to be objective in selecting nonprofits to be in porfolio offerings. As mentioned, Bright Funds looks at 5 different insititutional charity evaluating bodies, each of which has its own criteria to identify funds. Pooling information from various assessment platforms enables a more holistic view of non-profits—so as not to favor more-established charities over newer ones, etc.

Notably, Julia added that consumers can add any nonprofit/favorite nonprofits. For companies, if they support a group of local nonprofits, Bright Funds can build company fund portfolio.

Q4 | Innov8Social: Can individuals support social enterprises in their Bright Funds portfolio?

A4 | Julia, Bright Funds:

Julia said that at this time, individuals cannot support a social enterprise in their Bright Funds portfolio. She noted that Bright Funds has a non-profit foundation, through which donation is channelled. So it is possible that a donation to social enterprise could go through the Bright Fund Foundation.

Q5 | Innov8Social: What legal structure has Bright Funds’ selected?

A5 | Julia, Bright Funds:

Bright Funds is structured as a for-profit startup and non-profit foundation. Specifically, the for-profit entity is a commercial fundraiser– which means that it has signed contracts with all charities in the fund to act as a fundraiser for the nonprofit.

Julia noted that originally both cofounders considered becoming a nonprofit, but wanted to be able to leverage the initial investment. The decision to become a commercial fundraiser was based on idea that 100% funds should be tax deductible.

Q6 | Innov8Social: Is Bright Funds scalable?

A6 | Julia, Bright Funds:

Julia noted that since Bright Funds is a cloud-based platform, it is relatively easy to scale.

Q7 | Innov8Social: How has Bright Funds been funded?

A7 | Julia, Bright Funds:

Julia shared that Bright Funds has been backed by investor funding. It closed its first round of funding from angel investors around time when consumer platform launched in 2012. It is also a portfolio company at Hattery in San Francisco. She also mentioned the immeasurable assistance and mentorship that Leila Janah, Founder of Samasource and Bright Funds Board advisor and mentor, has provided.

Q8 | Innov8Social: How is Bright Funds monetized?

A8 | Julia, Bright Funds:

Julia explained that with its commercial fundraising status, Bright Funds takes a percentage of the raise. And noted that the amount taken is often about half of what the non-profit would budget for marketing and attracting donations.

Note: This post was edited to clarify distinctions of categories and types of Bright Funds.