Social Entrepreneurship In The News- Venture Capitalists Are Investing in Educational Reform

The NYTimes recently ran a piece titled “Venture Capitalists Are Investing in Educational Reform,” (sub. req.) which discusses John Doerr’s role in founding the New Schools Venture Fund in San Francisco. Although New Schools has been covered pretty well by the press, this article is a good piece about social entrepreneurship:

Unlike Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the venture capital firm where Mr. Doerr is a partner, New Schools does not earn the standard three to five times its investment in five years. It earns nothing, because it is “a philanthropy held accountable by the rigors of venture capital financing,” as Mr. Doerr describes it. The financial professionals of the fund oversee the business operations of the schools it backs.

The article goes on to describe how New Schools works and what its done so far in California. Its an informative piece, but the most interesting parts to me are the quotes of Doerr on social entrepreneurship. The article ends with a good one:

“The education entrepreneurs have it harder. They must overcome massive institutional resistance,” he said. “And if the high-tech entrepreneurs succeed, they get rich. The educators’ rewards will be more important in life, but they’re not going to get rich.”

Investment in Biofuels

Renewable energy
Cnet reports that Xerox PARC, a technology research powerhouse, and Kleiner Perkins, a venture capital powerhouse have increased their commitment to “the emerging field of clean technologies.”

Kleiner Perkins has created a $100 million fund dedicated to green technologies, and Xerox PARC announced a collaboration with a venture called SolFocus, to develop and improve solar panel technology.

Cnet also reports that this has been a field of growing interest in the past two years from investors and entrepreneurs.

Its great to see more interest and money being directed towards socially responsible causes but what’s important to note here are the economic forces that are driving investment into “socially responsible” energy sources. Lets face it, venture capital firms, like Kleiner Perkins, are aware of the profit opportunity in energy– all the big oil companies are reporting record profits.

Although high fuel prices have hit all of us, the profit opportunity that comes along with it is the only motivation that seems to spur meaningful interest and investment into alternative fuels.

Tech Resources for Non Profits/Social Ventures: TechSoup

I recently found out about TechSoup through this CNet Blog post covering TechSoup’s new project called NetSquared.

Before we get into NetSquared, I think I need to cover TechSoup first because it could be helpful to many of you out there running your own non profit or social venture.

TechSoup offers “nonprofits a one-stop resource for technology needs by providing free information, resources, and support.”

Its has a great little community section, how-to guides, and programs to “[connect] nonprofits with donated and discounted technology products”

This website is a great resource and I don’t think I can cover everything it has to offer so make sure you check it out yourself.

I’m adding it to my “Resources” section over on the right.

Negroponte Steps Down From MIT Media Lab to Pursue $100 Laptop Initiative

$100 Laptop Initiative
It looks like Nicholas Negroponte has stepped down as Chairman of MIT’s Media Lab to pursue the $100 Laptop Initiative.
I’ve covered the $100 Laptop Initiative fairly well on this blog– here are a collection of links to previous posts:

Hal Varian Plugs the $100 Laptop In The NY Times

Technology Review Defends the $100 Laptop

UN body backs $100 laptop for world’s kids

It seems to me that this initiative is really picking up momentum!

Google and Social Responsibility in China

Google and Social Responsibility
A few weeks ago, Google made an agreement with the Chinese government to remove specific websites from its search engine in return for getting unblocked access to China’s internet users. You can read more about it in this BBC News article from Jan 25th.

Since the announcement, there has been significant “buzz” in the blogosphere protesting Google’s decision.
Here is a link to the blog of a well known venture capitalist, Brad Feld, who points us to two links:

1. A link to an image search for Tiananmen Square on Google US,
2. A link to an image search for Tiananmen Square on Google China

The results speak for themselves– the US engine returns images of tanks and student demonstrations, while the Chinese engine returns some pretty pictures of the square.

Each day, this Google/China issue seems to get bigger. I just found this parody logo that represents the sentiments expressed by many people online. This logo seems to be catching on and it was recently spotted at demonstrations by exiled Tibetans in India.
Google and Goolag

This is a tough issue to grok, and I think Usher Lieberman says it best in the comments section of Brad Feld’s blog:

I am personally conflicted in my thoughts about Google. On the one hand, I’m a big believer in constructive engagement as the best way to see other societies liberalize. On the other, there’s a really good argument that American companies, NGOs and government in absolutely no way contribute to the suppression of human rights anywhere in the world as doing so limits our own credibility and ability to speak with moral authority. On the moral authority piece, the Chinese government certainly believes (and not without justification) that we are in no moral position to preach to them about human rights and constructive engagement.

In this case I think Google is helping the forces of evil even as it does the admirable work of opening more of the world’s knowledge to more of the world. In so doing, Google risks its brand reputation on a gamble that clearly has great potential rewards (and perils). Only time will tell if this roll of the dice was the right move.

Diggin’ Out of Snow

New York City Snowstorm
We just had a record snowstorm over the weekend here in New York City. The snow started about mid afternoon here in Midtown Manhattan but didn’t start sticking until after midnight on Saturday night. The next morning when we woke up, it was still snowing and the accumulation was pretty high. At that point you could we were about to break some records.

So we were stuck indoors on Sunday so I spent a nice chunk of my day playing around with this blog. I learned a fair amount about the technology that powers this blog and how all the pieces work together. PHP, MySQL, CSS. I’ll try to piece a little tutorial on how it all comes together and post it here.

In the meantime, if you guys are dying to get yourself a WordPress blog, just email me at john at at I’ll give you a quick tutorial via email.

Hal Varian Plugs the $100 Laptop In The NY Times

The NY Times published (sub. req.) a piece today by Hal Varian, a well known economist based out of the University of California at Berkeley.

I can’t seem to get off this topic, because I think its an interesting case study on approaches in social entrepreneurship (I’ll go into more detail in a moment). But before I get into that, let me do a quick link round up and give some background on what I’m talking about.

The $100 Laptop concept was around for a little bit, but seemed to really take off after it was presented (and commented on) at the World Economic Forum in Davos just a few weeks ago.

Here are my previous posts on this:

Tech Review defends the $100 Laptop
UN Body back $100 Laptop
Social Entrepreneur Focus: Negroponte and his $100 Laptop (Introduction)

There have been a flurry of articles about this but to summarize, there seems to be two camps forming around the idea of providing the world’s poor (particularly children) with computing and internet technology– those backing Negroponte and the $100 Laptop, and those backing Craig Mundie’s (CTO of Microsoft) view that using cellphones are a better and more economically sound technology.

From my vantage point, I completely agree with Hal Varian on his assessment– that both sides are right, but because both sides have different priorities. Negroponte has a strong focus on “revolutioniz[ing] how we educate the world’s children” while Microsoft believes that “cell phones are a better way than laptops to bring computing to the masses in developing nations,”

Its simple to see that the two camps have different values/priorities, and thats why there is disagreement on the approach.

Inefficiencies– The Bottled Water Industry

Many investors have identified investment in water rights as the next big thing and it makes sense– as the population grows, we need more drinking water. More future demand means rise in price.

Here is an article that shows us just exactly how much “waste” today’s bottled water market produces.

Its an interesting read and I feel like there is a huge social entrepreneurship opportunity here and I want to blog it to get it on everyone’s radar.

Technology Review Defends the $100 Laptop

Last week in Davos, Microsoft’s Craig Mundie commented that using cell phones might be a more sustainable approach than the development and deployment of the $100 laptop project for solving the digital divide problem .

A new Technology Review article defends the laptop, and offers some opinions of researchers and professors involved with the project.

John Perry Barlow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation comments that:

“Cell phones make a lot of sense from a certain standpoint,” says John Perry Barlow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation advocacy group. “They’re great for calling and for a certain kind of e-mail. But if you want to experience cyberspace in any meaningful way you can’t do it with a cell phone.”

Also in support is Seymour Papert, Professor Emeritus at MIT:

“If we think of technology as purely access to information, and education as access to information, you might start making a case for the cell phone,” he says. “But education is not just access to information. It’s doing things, making things. You can’t program on a cell phone.”

However, in the end, Tech Review says that its all about creating value and closing the digital divide, so whichever proves to do that better should deserve to be the winning technology:

Whichever device ends up being most useful in third-world cultures as a conduit for information and education, the entire world will benefit, as millions of minds are stimulated.

Global Discovery Contest– Calling All Social Entrepreneurs!

I can’t believe it February already– I just got my Feb. edition of the NetImpact Newsletter and boy are there lots of things going on this spring! Starting with the most important, NetImpact and Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit at Case Western Reserve University is inviting all social entrepreneurs to enter the Global Discovery Contest. The contest is sort of an inquiry to discover innovative business practices and models that:

re-define the role of business in society and provide alternative profitability models of mutual benefit.

Why? Because:

In September 2000, one hundred ninety-one United Nations Member States signed the Millennium Declaration, which challenged the world to reach seven diverse goals spanned across such issues as poverty, health, education, ecology, gender equality, and cooperation, by year 2015. To date, much work has been done by various organizations and agencies to move towards the targets. However, little attention has been paid to the role of business in achieving the Millennium Development Goals

So find a business that is working to address one of the items in the Millennium Declaration list, conduct an interview with the social entrepreneur to learn more about the business, and then write it all up in a nice article. The article with the most votes wins $500.

The competition, in many ways, is trying to do the same thing I am with this blog– shed more light on to the works of social entrepreneurs and get the word out about this movement!

There were a few other interesting things in the NetImpact Newsletter which I’ll blog about in my next post.

Have a good weekend!