Brand Souls

Posted on: April 1st, 2014 by social venture network No Comments

Written by SVN member Jared Levy, Owner & Chief Digital Officer, Neighbor Agency


Several years ago the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are to be treated as individuals in the eyes of the law. I certainly don’t agree with that as it pertains to campaign donations and other issues of democracy, but when it comes to the new age of marketing I couldn’t agree more.

Corporations, more than ever, need to become brands. Brands that are individualized. That have souls and stories that people (aka: consumers, targets) can get invested in. Brands are now being morphed and pressured into becoming content creators, media publishers and thought leaders.

This is the logical evolution of our society where those sitting in the tallest buildings feel the obligation to lead. From Nation States to Religion to Business it has been an organic movement through the ages. This is a natural role for business to take and I believe brands are up for the challenge, but to keep the relationship with their loyalists symbiotic their voice must stay authentic, must provide some sort of value and they must not lose their soul as they carry out their role.

The form must fit the function. The content must be true to who you are as a brand. If you have nothing to say, then say nothing. We are knee deep in an age of information oversaturation and as we navigate this challenging landscape those brands that will win will be “conscious businesses that find their dharma,” said best by the great mystic Ram Dass from the Love, Serve Remember Foundation and Social Venture Network.

An Open Letter to Larry Page

Posted on: March 28th, 2014 by social venture network No Comments

Guest post from SVN member Mal Warwick, Business Solution to Poverty, @MalWarwick

Dear Larry,

Paul Polak speaks about commercialization and scale at Cornell University

In your recent conversation with Charlie Rose at TED, you said you’d rather hand over your cash to Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX, Solar City) instead of donating it to a philanthropic organization.I understand the sentiment. The nonprofit sphere has generally proved itself incapable of solving many of society’s most intractable problems. In particular, 2.7 billion people left behind in the most extreme poverty—40% of the world’s population, living on $2 per day or less—while global wealth concentrates in fewer and fewer hands, putting humanity on an unsustainable course.

But for all of us, it’s a practical challenge, not just a guilt trip. The poor drive the population explosion with high birth rates; they represent a catastrophic waste of human talent; they contribute to global warming through deforestation, habitat destruction, and systemically wasteful use of the planet’s resources. Meanwhile the poor partake only minimally in the market economy that enriches the rest of us.

Poverty’s persistence, despite hundreds of billions in nonprofit and NGO resources vaporized trying to “solve” it, remains one of humanity’s greatest failures.

But poverty can be ended—in precisely the way you suggest—by designing and deploying a new breed of for-profit business that address critical human needs while making a profit.

downloadI offer Google an audacious challenge: select a region or a country with a population of, say, 100 million, which has a huge endemic poverty rate—perhaps in South Asia or sub-Saharan Africa—and bring Google’s resources to bear on a project to end poverty decisively in that region in 15 years. And you wouldn’t have to give away a dime, just invest. The result? A model for ending poverty planet-wide.

I’d like to suggest a framework for deploying a set of these new breed businesses based on my thirty years of work using market mechanisms in some of the world’s poorest countries to launch 20 million people permanently out of poverty.

The key to meeting this challenge is to build businesses in the target region around a common core of enabling technologies you already have at hand, including:

  • Low-cost or no-cost ubiquitous wireless connectivity in the region (Project Loon, etc.)
  • A set of relatively low-tech Android devices, emphasizing text-to-speech and speech-to-text alternatives, to create digital access for the illiterate
  • A generation of ultra-low cost digital devices emphasizing ruggedness, replaceable batteries, and low power consumption
  • A fair, secure, and very low-cost ubiquitous micro-payment system

Carried by that core, incubate a suite of rapidly scalable businesses that address critical needs of the ultra-poor, including:

  • Distributed healthcare, including low-cost diagnostics and treatment of curable diseases at the village level
  • A village “power station” driven by radically affordable solar, which provides low carbon-emission energy to recharge batteries, pump irrigation water, power post-harvest processing, and support LED-based home electricity
  • A high-quality pay-as-you-go childhood education system, drawing on digital resources such as Khan Academy and priced at $4 to $6 per month per child
  • Agricultural information services delivered digitally which are proven to raise incomes and nutrition levels dramatically among small-hold farmers
  • Companies to distribute safe drinking water, upgrade and build new housing, rationalize food distribution, provide insurance and financial services, and possibly many others: the opportunities seem endless.

Designing businesses that address the critical needs of poor populations while turning a profit has been the focus of my life for the last 30 years. There are numerous examples of this type of initiative, some of which I have started personally. They all treat the poor as partners and customers, rather than victims and helpless consumers of charity

I would be very happy to sit down with you personally to explore these ideas. In 30 minutes I can explain to you simply and directly how you could make this vision work.  Bringing it about would be a strategic accomplishment for Google, and it would put the world on a steady upward path much more surely than hoping we can colonize Mars. Google could pioneer this effort and make a profit by doing so.


Paul R. Polak

Author, The Business Solution to Poverty: Designing Products and Services for Three Billion New Customers

Prospering in Common

Posted on: March 12th, 2014 by social venture network No Comments

Written by G. Benjamin Bingham, 3Sisters Sustainable Management, @GBBingham

Stuart Williams is back on the international conference scene and instead of his very successful SRI firm, Strategic Research Institute, that created conferences for 300,000 global corporate executives, he is bringing together environmentalists, corporate sustainability experts, indigenous leaders, social change architects and financial managers to reinvent the new SRI, Socially Responsible Investing, from the bottom up. As an international environmental consultant now focused on creating green financing for a sustainable transportation system in Paraguay, Stuart is a practical visionary who understands that mutual prosperity is a necessity. In other words, when all the cells of the planet are healthy, the whole planet will be healthy. This includes surprising interrelationships from the fate of grizzly bears in North America to the emergence of eco-farmers in the virgin forests of Rumania; and from the call of indigenous people for control of sacred lands to the call of investors for a new definition of fiduciary responsibility that includes the protection of our shared natural resources.

The first of a series of conferences designed by Williams and friends called Beyond Sustainability was held on the beautiful Kiawah Island, SC, which in itself is a microcosm of the global struggle to marry ecological necessity in the form of a conservancy, holding together the extraordinary lush forests and wildlife, with the desires for material comfort in the form of ever more and bigger condos and PGA standard golf courses. The purpose ostensibly was to reframe the interests of the various contingencies represented in some universal language which might then affect change globally. What could one say or write that would spark change universally and bring about health, enlightened education and prosperity? Obviously, this was a daunting task, which was not taken lightly nor belabored.

Many players in the room have been at this for decades and have heard slogans for change many times before. “Yes We Can!” for example, has done a great deal of damage in terms of sound bite credibility. That said, we all can testify to the power of language in fostering change and surely we sit at an unprecedented turning point with more people, more natural degradation, more technology for change and more information at our fingertips than ever. Reframing language is a worthy effort that may, at a time like this, spark dramatic change. This is why I write.

The verbal link between conservatism and conservation was not to be missed. Ultra-high net worth networks were represented whose conservative side could easily see that conservation of the wildlife and conservation of wealth are extremely interrelated. No one laughed when I told the joke about the two trustees looking down on a burning earth and the one says: “ At least we did our fiduciary duty.” And the other replies: “ Yeah, but dammit, look at all that oil going to waste!” They know that the Arctic ice cap is almost gone and understand the dire situation of the bears described by Chris Morgan.

Prospering in Common

On the other hand, as value investors the advisors for these family offices have sat and watched any number of times when the next big thing promised to change everything only to fizzle. So we may be wary of saying that this time it is different. And yet the message of the conference was that we are at a unique point in history and that our investments in aggregate may just be enough to stave off the worst of a critical transition. At the same time there is much opportunity for profit through innovation to meet the problems of our time.

There were many refreshing initiatives presented and new possibilities showed up:

  • What if The Willow School  in New Jersey expanded its ethical, place based model moved on to guide and grow other sister schools globally?
  • What if Vital Systems became a network connector to all things local and down to earth?
  • What if a network of ultra high net worth investors decided to “put care first” in all their investments?

Hazel Henderson with her mini-multi-national: Ethical Markets Media conglomerate, described the good news that nature has already solved whatever problems we seem to have dreamed up. The amount of solar energy available to us dwarfs any other resource if we would but focus on it. Alisa Gravitz, founder and CEO of Green America shared the good news that solar production has grown exponentially in the last two years dwarfing nuclear production. She also described the power of opinion on big corporations and how Cheerios was the first of a number of cereal producers who have recently sworn off GMO’s. A kind of tide seems to be turning.

Behind all this is an inherent human love for Nature and our intimate feeling of oneness with it. Katherine Collins was the former head of Equity Research at Fidelity, and continues independently, centered on investing as service. She posed the question: “What if we invested not in nature but as nature?”  Her forthcoming book The Nature of Investing will tell all.

Lessons Learned from Enterprise Opportunity Trip to Cuba

Posted on: March 11th, 2014 by social venture network No Comments

Written by Erin Roach, Social Venture Network

Cuba rockface

Mural de la Prehistoria, painted by Leovigildo Gonzalez Morillo, 1961

Stately old movie houses from the ‘40s dot Havana. Films are everywhere, but the titles I see advertised are mostly Italian, Cuban, French. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that the only American film I see on the marquee is Elysium, a story about a dystopian universe where the rich enjoy one perfect planet and the rest of the living beings in existence are relegated to virtual slavery in service of it. Matt Damon and a few brave others see through the guise and vow to break out and take it down. And so it goes with the Cuban revolution, a promise that all Cubans may enjoy the same privileges, the same access to resources no matter what their vocation.

But has it worked? That’s what I and a group of Social Venture Network (SVN) members spanning decades and a breadth of experience related to socially responsible business were there to find out.

The trip to Cuba was organized by SVN member Eric Leenson of Sol Economies, who for half a century has been committed to social justice and the economic development of Latin America. We were there to learn how Cuba is opening up its economy and how this once great hope for an ideal system of human coexistence can jibe politically with private interests and environmental welfare. A new economic system that Eric and his partners economist Rafael Betancourt and lawyer Gregory Biniowski envision as the “social and solidarity economy” driven by socially responsible business.

Our group of 17 consisted of eight SVN members (Ariane Van Buren, Erin Roach, Garry Spanner, Judy Wicks, Claudia Viek, Mecca Franklin, Matt Patsky, Omer Rains) and three of their family members, a Googler, two sets of philanthropists and an academic.

BarberiaCuban FarmersEric planned an itinerary packed with thought-provoking lectures and cultural highlights. On the six-day trip, we met with sustainable farmers and workers from all types of cooperatives; we witnessed burgeoning social enterprises where profits made from services like cutting hair restored vitality to an entire neighborhood in Old Havana. We toured a tobacco farm, took in excellent live theatre and music, soaked up mojitos and salsa-danced at an adult day care center (Cuba has a notoriously aging population). We cruised the coastline in vintage convertibles from the 1950’s. Overall, the trip was a great mix of camaraderie, fun and enrichment.

As much as I wanted to witness the dream of a consumer-less society with wealth equally distributed to all, my observation was that it hasn’t worked. People are hungry, buildings are crumbling, resources are scarce and spread unevenly. There is virtually no manufacturing and 75% of their food is imported. Nobody is rich and there is not abject poverty, but there is still the problem of haves and have-nots, if not the problem of rich and poor. There are certainly many poor, but no more pronounced than the country itself. It’s totally broke – there’s no money at all for infrastructure or to support a decent standard of living. In fact, for a country that produces more doctors per-capita than any other, it is noteworthy that one cannot reliably wash ones hands after using the lavatory.

Is this to say that I am anti-socialism? Absolutely not. It is only to say that Fidel Castro’s vision seems to be unrealizable in the context of a society that aspires to be beyond a subsistence level of sustainability.

I’ve seen successful villages that actualize what the Cubans call solidarity. An equal sharing of resources—the young taking care of the old and visa-versa. No one having more than they need—or their fair share—to get by. Surpluses stored away for when needed and never hoarded by any one individual. But this was in the most rural areas of the Amazon, where most people had never been exposed to the excess of the outside world, and therefore knew no different. Most people there had no more than a primary education, if that.

It’s not clear to me that the vision of equally shared resources is scalable when any one person or group of individuals is aware that another person, or another group has more. Inject aspiration into the mix, and the house of cards collapses. Why? There are so many reasons:


1. Human nature
2. A great surplus of any one thing, even education, requires a larger market to absorb it.
3. An economy doesn’t have to rely on consumption, but scalability requires demand from somewhere.

Therein lies the difficulty with the United States. Because we won’t trade with Cuba on any level, we are greatly resented by many people there. We will not absorb its goods or allow even our philanthropic support. But I don’t believe that we are Cuba’s problem.

I liken Cuba’s situation to a parent that doesn’t believe in vaccination: They won’t take the health risk involved with inoculating their own child, but it’s okay as long as everyone else is inoculated. This is a fundamentally self-centered approach and it is similar to what is going on in Cuba: All their problems are blamed on the US’ refusal to trade with them.

But what if the US adopted the same standards for our own society and also became a socialist economy? What if we, too, chose not to inoculate? Who would buy our goods if not ourselves? As it stands, the US has been made out by itself and every other country to be the consumers to the world, and as we at SVN know too well, that vision is also not sustainable.

What the US and Cuba have in common is a need to find a better balance between collective and individual interests, an aim central to the work of SVN for the better part of three decades. The Cubans have a unique opportunity to find a way out of their economic quagmire by thoughtfully constructing a new economic model that equally serves the needs of people, profit and planet. And so many SVN member organizations show that it can be done successfully.

Eric is planning future trips to Cuba for SVN members and Cubans to continue dialoguing about the possibilities of socially responsible business. It’s a rare moment in time for Cuba and I highly recommend the opportunity to take part.


Shopping Free or Slave? Nelson Mandela and Freedom as a Choice

Posted on: January 7th, 2014 by social venture network No Comments

Guest post by SVN member Ben Bingham, 3Sisters Sustainable Management, @GBBingham
Originally posted in the Huffington Post.

This holiday season, I am wondering if it is possible to feel good about the workers in our “free trade” world. I was picked up and driven to the train by an Albanian taxi driver, and I asked him what it was like there nowadays. “It’s like everywhere…” he said, generalizing a bit.

“No,” I replied, “but is it better than it was under communism?”

He paused and stared at me in the rearview mirror before answering, as if to check out if I was an undercover agent: “For some better, for some worse… depends… You would be thrown in jail for saying ‘[screw] the President!’ back then. Now you can say what you want.” He paused again then turned the tables, staring at me, “Can you say: ‘[screw] the President!’ here?… Not really.”

I was reminded of Solzhenitsyn’s famous address to the graduating class at Harvard with his shockingly ungrateful attitude to America after being granted asylum from Soviet Russia. In short, he felt freer as a prisoner in the Gulag than he did here, trapped by public opinion.

Watching the movie 12 Years a Slave recently put some perspective on that. Actual slavery, with all its horrific physical and mental abuse, cannot be compared to the intellectual limits, subtly imposed by the media and society. Nevertheless, I tend to believe that true freedom is only found within, no matter what your circumstances.

My thoughts moved to the death of Mandela and his legacy relating to freedom, when the taxi driver started telling me a story to explain his ambivalence to the capitalist dream: “So when I lived in Italy for a while, I had a friend who was stealing every day, and I warned him to stop before he gets put in jail! He said, ‘Why? You want me to work eight hours a day for $50? If they catch me, I get a free room and board for awhile!’”

I was reminded of the McDonalds workers on strike for living wages and the Swiss referendum to stop bitty welfare programs, and just give everyone a “basic wage” whether they work, can’t work or choose not to work. What if work were something you did because you wanted to — a free deed? He interrupted my thoughts: “I made $17 since 5 a.m., you think I will become a millionaire in America? No way! But I work so my daughter can go to college, and maybe she won’t have to suffer like me!”

I guess this is as close to a “free” deed as it gets: He works for his daughter. This freedom is internal — it is a choice not to give up and to work for someone besides yourself.

Nelson Mandela surely asserted himself on Robben Island, confined all those years. His rigorous self-discipline kept him in shape: body, soul and spirit — so that he emerged like a coiled spring, held back and then released with that calm smile that exuded peace and confidence around the world. He developed his capacity to lead within himself as a free choice.

It is our free choice to express ourselves, even in the way we shop for presents or, if we are so fortunate, through your investments. The story of seven Chinese slave-workers caught in a fire may again shock us awake, like the collapse of factories in Bangladesh. These fine craftspeople that died are among many thousands stranded in Italy and elsewhere, making high fashion clothing for the wealthy. Perhaps ignorance is bliss, but it is hard to avoid knowing.

Companies like Indigenous Design, on the other hand are setting aim-high goals for fairness, in their case supporting workers in Peru and Ecuador with living wages. One day consumers will decide to freely choose fair trade products, and another day, investors will follow suit.

Freedom may begin with an internal shift of attitude, even for those enslaved, but as brothers and sisters, when we begin to shop and invest with our conscience, we will all feel more free and at peace.

Heather White is Keeping Fast Fashion in Check with Her Boots on the Ground

Posted on: December 5th, 2013 by social venture network 1 Comment

Written by Evan Coller, Social Venture Network, @SVNetwork

Photo credit Luigi Casentini

Photo credit Luigi Casentini

Another garment factory fire, this time at a Chinese-owned clothing factory in the town of Prato, Italy, has cost the lives of 7 workers trapped in a dormitory built onsite.

The New York Times reported this week that Prato is a town with one of the highest concentrations of Chinese immigrants in Italy, a town with more than 4,000 Chinese-owned businesses. Many of these immigrants are believed to be living in the city illegally, working for a network of wholesalers and workshops turning out cheap clothing for the export market as well as well-known retail chains.

SVN member Heather White has been doing extensive research on global working conditions and has spent two years focusing on the city of Prato. She happened to be in Prato at the time of the fire and reported on her experience.

“I originally came here on the weekend to scout fast fashion brands for an Al Jazeera show – and it just happened the fire had occurred Saturday night. I was at a special meeting of the Prato city council last night to address the fire and what can be done to prevent future disasters like this.”

In a recent study through the Harvard Center for Ethics, Heather states that dangerous working conditions for Chinese immigrants have been present for over a decade.

Our favorite U.S. brands are engaged in a new business model called Fast Fashion that was first pioneered by Chinese factory owners operating outside of Florence, Italy 10 years ago. Using illegal trafficked workers from China who had been snuck into the country (they paid $13,000 to scary middlemen called snakeheads who guided them step by step overland from Central China). Chinese factory owners would accept an order from local Italian garment firms and not stop production until the order was completed. Most factories employed 50 workers or less, which meant there were no shift replacements. Workers put in 30+ hours at a time and people literally died at their sewing machines…there’s a saying in Italy, “No one from China ever dies here.” Meaning if a Chinese worker dies in Italy, someone else immediately appears to take their identity papers and their name, and if they die, someone else appears, and so on.”

This vicious cycle isn’t unique to Italy. Extreme working conditions due to fast fashion and pressure from large American companies are a global issue. Recently, Heather has reported on the factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed over 1,000 workers, the forced silence of working women in India and the unregulated use of student interns in China at Apple manufacturer Foxconn.

We can count on new technologies like Indigenous Design’s Fair Trace Tool and grassroots movements like Greenpeace’s new Detox campaign to keep the pressure on companies from the consumer side, but it’s encouraging to know that women like Heather White are traveling around the globe to hold companies to higher standard.

You can learn more about Heather in this interview with SVN. Look out for her upcoming film exposing global working conditions from her research in the field.

Bigger Than You Think: The Economic Impact of Microbusiness in the United States

Posted on: November 22nd, 2013 by social venture network No Comments

SVN member Connie Evans is the President and CEO of the Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO), a national membership organization and leading voice of microbusiness development in the United States. Connie recently spoke at SVN’s Fall Conference about Tilt Forward, a marketplace to address the current gap between demand for and supply of capital and services to Main Street businesses.

Bigger Than You Think Cover Website


With the generous support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, AEO embarked on a two-year study to build the data and the evidence base that documents the economic impact of microbusiness in the United States. This report, Bigger than You Think: The Economic Impact of Microbusiness in the United States, is one of a series from that research.

The evidence gathered through AEO’s efforts goes far in filling the gap in the paucity of data on microbusinesses and paints a compelling portrait of a remarkably vigorous microbusiness community that plays an essential role in American economic productivity. Furthermore, in the current economic slump, microbusinesses have demonstrated a surprising resilience that contains lessons for accelerating the national economic recovery. And not least, microbusinesses demonstrate great success in spreading business participation and productivity across the economic spectrum, nurturing opportunity across gender and race barriers.

How great an impact can microbusinesses have in our new economy? A lot greater than many previously thought! As summarized in AEO’s earlier report, The Power of One in Three, “if one in three Main Street microbusinesses hired a single employee, the United States would be at full employment.”   This statement has taken the nation by storm, yet many did not fully recognize the transformative nature of U.S. microbusiness. AEO’s current research details the potential of microbusiness by examining the characteristics of microbusiness types and exploring the ways in which microbusinesses can take advantage of non-standard work arrangements and recent technological advances.

As the U.S. economy evolves, microbusinesses are well-poised to capitalize on these changes in our labor markets and broader economy. While individually small in scale, as a whole, microbusinesses play a significant role. Ninety-two percent of all businesses are microbusinesses, and in 2011, the direct, indirect, and induced effects of microbusinesses on employment amounted to 41.3 million jobs, or 31 percent of all private sector employment. Direct sales and receipts and indirect and induced economic output of microbusinesses combined to result in an almost $5 trillion economic impact. Correspondingly, microbusinesses contributed $135.5 billion in tax and fee revenues to federal, state, and local governments.

Read the full report, Bigger than You Think: The Economic Impact of Microbusiness in the United States.

Harnessing the Power of Gentrification

Posted on: November 21st, 2013 by social venture network No Comments

Written by Casey Lauderdale, Social Venture Network, @Radiant_City

Famous for her work on environmental justice issues in the Bronx, Majora Carter is now shifting her focus on economic empowerment through the use of equitable real estate development and job training programs.  At SVN’s 2013 Fall Conference she posed a familiar question: “How do we link current economic trends with local development and job creation?”  Our country has struggled to answer it successfully for decades.  In the past the answer has come predominantly in the form of industry, but as industry faded and manufacturing jobs began to relocate overseas, a declining trend emerged in the neighborhoods surrounding industrial areas.  This coupled with the banning of redlining (a practice by banks and other institutions that segregated neighborhoods along racial lines) caused neighborhoods to become more economically homogenous.

Majora aims to radically shift the status quo and bring economic empowerment through the use of real estate and through job training programs that tap into the technology era.  First, there is a dire need for better development in low-income communities.  She explains that currently only two patterns of planning are implemented: 1) plan for and accommodate the creative class, which leads to gentrification or 2) plan for the maintenance of poverty- in other words, don’t build banks, grocery stores, or mixed-income housing; rather cultivate pay day loan services, liquor stores, and subsidized housing, all leading to the concentration of poverty.  Instead of choosing between these two schemes, we need to create a third option- one that focuses on creating a localized economy to serve the existing community and that can attract residents of diverse backgrounds and incomes to the area.

The second part of the development equation is to improve job-readiness.  All over the nation, but especially in poor neighborhoods, our education system has failed to adequately prepare students for high-growth sectors, leaving behind a large under-utilized workforce.  In order to address this gap, Majora co-founded StartUp Box: South Bronx to foster a culture of entrepreneurism and technology in her longtime neighborhood.  One of the recent highlights for the nonprofit was a partnership with Nickelodeon that employed youth from the community to perform Quality Assurance testing for Nick’s games.  This pilot was so successful that Majora and her partners are seeking to expand the model to other communities and to a wider variety of tech-based industries.

With the QA market valued at $30 billion a year alone, this “insourcing” provides a dual opportunity for both low-income communities and client companies.  As the American population becomes more diverse, it will become essential for companies to reflect this shift in their operations in order to better understand the needs of consumers.  Here again diversity is at the cornerstone of success and is a key driver of economic prosperity.

What Majora teaches us is that economic development doesn’t have to be about wide-ranging government policies.  It can be done with focused, inclusive projects that act as catalysts to transform neighborhoods and create economic prosperity for all.

Hear what Majora had to say at SVN’s 2013 Fall Conference:

Creating a LGBTQ–Inclusive Business Community to Fuel Social Change

Posted on: November 12th, 2013 by social venture network No Comments

Written by Casey Lauderdale, Social Venture Network, @Radiant_City 

Social Venture Network conferences are designed to both support and challenge entrepreneurs to better the world through business.  Yet, until this Fall there was an important part of our conversation that was missing about how leaders in the SVN community can embrace diversity in all forms and be empowering to the LGBTQ community.  Fueling Social Change, a breakout session moderated by Donna Daniels (Social Venture Network) and featuring panelists Joe Steele (Steele Consulting) and J. Bob Alotta (Astrea Lesbian Foundation for Justice), opened the floor to attendees to ask how SVN and it’s community can be better conduits of social change for LGBTQ issues.

Donna Daniels posed the first question, asking why this community is not as engaged in conversation around LGBTQ issues.  ”There was enthusiasm, that [this session] was happening,” said panelist Joe Steele of Steele Consulting in describing his conversations with fellow attendees, “but it was left with me to have any follow up questions.”  Could it be that there is a perception that America is becoming “post-homophobic” with marriage equality gaining favor across the nation?  Even still, we know that LGBTQ groups face discrimination not only from government entities, but in the philanthropic and business sectors as well.  As Bob Alotta explained, only 7% of philanthropic dollars go towards LGBTQ causes.  Beyond the numbers, topics of sexual identity are still uncomfortable for those who must choose whether or not to “reveal” who they are in a work environment. How can a community like SVN –one that speaks to the importance of diversity as a keystone of innovation– help end this disparity and be inclusive of LGBTQ issues when addressing the needs of social and economic justice?

One attendee mentioned that SVN organizations, who are all dedicated to improve the world through their enterprise, may be hesitant to take up LGBTQ issues as another “good fight” because they already have their resources and passion focused on another social or environmental matter.  In other words, they don’t have the capacity to be multi-causal.  Yet, as this attendee continued to explain, it’s not necessary to be so.  In order to affect positive change for the LGBTQ community, leaders need to do what is already within their power- create more inclusive, more diverse organizations.

In brainstorming some action steps that the SVN community can take, there was discussion of sharing best practices from employee handbooks to interview questions that screen for a candidate’s values.  Still, the consensus came back to the role of leadership; the most important thing SVN leaders can do is to set an example for their employees and for their peers.  They can do this by showing up to conversations around LGBTQ issues, establishing inclusive policies in their organization, and holding others in the community accountable to do the same.

With the session converging on the importance of leadership, what is the next step for SVN to move the conversation forward?  How can SVN build momentum to engage leaders in addressing diversity holistically and incorporate LGBTQ equality into their business practices?

Watch the video of the session and share your ideas:




SaveUp: Helping Americans Play Their Way to a Better Financial Future

Posted on: November 12th, 2013 by social venture network No Comments

Guest Post by Priya Haji, SVN 2007 Innovation Award Winner and co-founder of SaveUp

Priya Haji is featured on Season two of Trep Life, an original series exploring the life of an entrepreneur. The series is produced by SVN member Malachi Leopold. 

Priya_HajiSaveUp was born out of the recession. Americans were and still are dealing with some hefty financial problems, and I knew there had to be an innovative way to use technology and business to help solve them.

My co-founder Sammy Shreibati and I came across behavioral economics research on the success of prize-linked savings and lottery bonds outside of the US.  We also studied the way that gamification and new technology interaction have changed the way people interact with almost everything.

With SaveUp, we’ve taken that research and adapted it to become a new way to reward Americans for good financial choices, like saving money and reducing debt. SaveUp is free to any American and can be used with any financial institution. Users register their financial accounts, earn credits for saving money and paying off debt, and use those credits to play for prizes in a fun, daily game of merchant funded sweepstakes including a $2 million jackpot, travel, electronics and scholarships.

The most amazing part is that it’s working—SaveUp users report that the program helps them save more, pay off debt faster, and stay motivated as they work towards their financial goals. Since we launched SaveUp in 2011, our users have rebuilt over $1 billion in assets—and that number is growing every day.

The next challenge we face is sharing SaveUp with millions of Americans to build better financial habits and achieve their financial goals in surprisingly fun way.

I really enjoyed sharing our journey in the Trep Life series. They captured the real challenges of building the venture, and at the same time becoming a mom.  I hope this video can inspire other women and other social entrepreneurs to jump across the line and dive in to try to solve big problems in new ways.

Feeling inspired, delighted, or learned something new? Please share with a friend! And also be sure to check out new episodes airing every other week on For more behind the scenes footage of entrepreneur life follow Trep Life on Facebook and Twitter!