Posts Tagged ‘Google’

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

Getting SIYLI: A Compelling Call for a Peaceful World

Posted on: April 28th, 2013 by social venture network No Comments

Guest post by Mike Rowlands, Principal at Junxion Strategy@mrowlands

“Hi. I’m calling from Google. We have a project we’d like you to work on, and we haven’t capped the budget.”

Not a bad way for Marc Lesser, long-time Social Venture Network member, and well-loved resident mindfulness trainer to be launched into his newest venture. Along with his colleague Rich Fernandez, a Senior People Development Lead at Google, Marc shared with SVN’s Spring Conference, gathered this year at Paradise Point resort in San Diego, insights into the content and program that resulted from that amazing phone call a few years ago.

For over three decades, Marc has practiced mindfulness, as steward of a Buddhist monastery who observed that running a business could be a part of his spiritual practice. “Naturally,” he says, “my next step after running a monastery for 10 years was to go and get my MBA.” As a serial entrepreneur, and then a consultant to social ventures, Marc connected to Google through SVN, and it was Chade Meng-Tan, Google’s 107th employee, who called Marc to talk about bringing mindfulness into Google’s employee development programming.

Meng had been fortunate to share in Google’s initial public offering, and looking about at his life, quickly realizing that he no longer needed to worry about money, decided to focus his work and efforts on spreading mindfulness as far and wide as possible, setting his sites on the aspiration to achieve world peace in his lifetime. He and his colleague, Rich, quickly became clear on the starting point: “We can’t create world peace, unless we start with inner peace.” And so began the program that has become the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute.

Designed initially as a seven-week training program for Google employees, SIY draws on the sciences of psychology and brain physiology to each five distinct domains of knowledge: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and leadership. The ultimate goal is to expand the personal capacity of each program participant, along three core practices:

  • Attention-training, which aims to help people find the space between stimulus and emotional response, and notice their capacity to control their responses.
  • Self-mastery, which affords people the opportunity to separate their reactions from their natural response.
  • Changing mental habits, which creates the potential for more considerate, open, and compassionate people.

Fundamental to the program’s design is the science of neuroplasticity—or our own ability to shape the structure of our brain by focusing our attention. Marc cited the famous example of London taxi drivers who must learn ‘The Knowledge’ in order to earn their license to drive London’s iconic black taxis. The knowledge consists of some 25,000 street and location names that must be memorized. On average, each applicant takes four years to learn the material, and twelve tries to pass the exam. Remarkably, MRI exams have recorded significant changes in brain physiology among those who have passed The Knowledge, and the change—growth in particular brain regions—continues as the cabbies work and continue learning more about the city.

Rich explained that through development of higher brain function and mindfulness, we can learn to override the instinctive responses of the amygdala, that portion of the brain responsible for ‘the four Fs’—”fight, flight, feed and f… reproduce.” By learning to calm the mind during moments of perceived (or real) threat, we can learn to create space for productive responses to even the most challenging of situations. This in turn of course gives us opportunity to consider and communicate mutually valuable solutions to our challenges.

After proving the program within Google, a new non-profit, Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute has been formed to disseminate the program more widely, starting with training of individuals inside companies, then moving to teams, and ultimately to a train-the-trainer model.

Many of us were inspired and impressed by how quickly we were able to move from consideration of our own breath, to the confidence-inspiring aspiration to find world peace. Naturally, what is simple in conversation is not at all easy in the real world. But isn’t that the way all great and valuable change happens?… One small breath at a time?

The Story of Earthbound Farm? It Started When Drew met Myra…

Posted on: November 16th, 2012 by social venture network No Comments

It’s a wonder Hollywood hasn’t optioned the story of how Myra and Drew Goodman met and built their hugely successful Earthbound Farm. Growing up as New York City kids and deciding to wing it as small farmers before going for real jobs has all the makings of a doomed venture.  And yet their gamble, which started with the purchase of a 2.5 acre patch of raspberries 25 years ago in Carmel Valley, California, ignited a drive to build an organic farming model so successful Earthbound Farm has become America’s largest grower of organic produce.

The Goodmans shared their story with an enthusiastic lunch crowd at Social Venture Network’s 2012 Fall Conference. Interviewed by communications expert Eric Friedenwald-Fishman, the resulting banter between husband and wife – casually interrupting each other, cracking jokes, and laughing – had all the lively energy of a Nora Ephron screenplay.

Following is a highly arbitrary version of the highlights.

Drew on why the Goodmans became organic farmers: We got a quick six-hour tutorial on farming from the guy who had sold us our raspberry patch where I think I learned how to start the tractor. Once he left I opened the barn door. The fumes were so bad I told Myra we’ve got to farm differently.

Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Farming was our Google. We set off on a journey of trial and error and along the way got so excited about organic farming we began to think it belonged in the supermarket.

Myra on landing their first big deal: After a few years we were still packing bags of salad in our living room and had tons of teeny clients. Then we saw that Costco would be at an upcoming tradeshow and I said, “Honey, go get Costco!”

D: And I said, “okay.”

M: He’s an Aries and he’s really a ram – he’s got a thick skin.

D: That means I have a great capacity for rejection.

M: The guys from Costco came in their suits and briefcases…Our baby starts crying during the biggest meeting we ever had and I start nursing him. They left, and we just laughed. But later we learned we got the deal!

Drew on the importance of compromise: Costco agreed to work with us on one condition – we take “organic” off the bag. They thought the consumer would read it to mean poor quality and overpriced.

We decided not to let perfection get in the way of progress and so we printed up some bags for them. In 1999 they realized that organic salad is what the customer wants.  This was the turning point in the mainstream thinking of organic – when changed from the shriveled apple in a 1980s health food store to beautiful produce in grocery stores.

Drew on making success happen: There was one guy who bought for a chain of stores in Northern California who I kept calling. I decided I’m going to call him until he buys from us. Five years ago he shows up at a trade show and tells me, “I’m responsible for your success. You called me 300 times before I bought your product.”

I think the Earthbound story shows that persistence and determination can really go a long way.

-Clare Ellis, Media Chief, Good Food Media Group

Entrepreneurs Lead the Way at 2nd Annual TEDxPresidio

Posted on: September 10th, 2012 by social venture network No Comments

Written by Evan Coller, Social Venture Network

The 2nd annual TEDxPresidio, co-hosted by Deb Nelson of Social Venture Network, and William Shutkin and Jennifer Taylor of Presidio Graduate School, attracted over 700 attendees eager to hear from an array of inspiring speakers on their vision of capitalism, reinvented. SVN members were well-represented as their innovative entrepreneurship, activism for social justice and business leadership found a fitting arena to collaborate on a vision of a better world through business.

Van Jones, former Green Jobs Advisor for the Obama White House, and longtime member of the SVN community, kicked off the event by exposing the ‘trapdoors’ of poverty that are preventing the growth and expansion of the middle class. Van told the story of his father whose college education was an opportunity for social mobility. Jones said, “The ladders that were once pathways out of poverty are now trapdoors back into it.” His most valuable lesson was that this isn’t a fight between “us and them”, but rather how can we work together to overcome the isolated self-consumption that prevents our collective progress.

Gary Erickson of Clif Bar stressed the importance of removing yourself from your work in order to get a clear picture of the values and motives that are driving the success and identity of your business. Playing with the idea of being 120 million dollars richer, Gary shared that the most critical action he took before deciding not to sign away his company was stepping away from his desk to take a walk outside. Reconnection to the outside world helped him realize the risks of selling his social enterprise to a company that doesn’t look beyond profit to find its core values.

Van and Gary’s innovative thinking inspired the crowd to ask how we can empower ourselves to be better leaders and better citizens. As SVN Hall of Fame Honorees, their successes over the past three decades show that creating new social, environmental, and economic paradigms will lead us to a more just and sustainable economy.

Just as important as the big ideas are the small steps we can take to create change. Session two at TEDxPresidio focused on the qualities that define a values-driven entrepreneur and how reinventing ourselves is a key step in reinventing capitalism. SVN Member and former member of the Board, Marc Lesser, shared the stage with Google’s Jolly Good Fellow, Chade-Meng Tan. The mission of their venture, Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI), is to help business executives and employees incorporate meditation into their decision making process. Marc and Chade-Meng are strong advocates for patience and the value it brings to the business world. In their talk they offered important steps toward a better world: start with ME, make meditation a field of science and align meditation with leadership. For more their work click here.

2012 marking SVN’s 25-year anniversary, we are well down the line in the creation of a more just and sustainable economy. In today’s financial distress we are facing an opportunity to continue to push boundaries in the business arena to scale up the social impact of business. The SVN members at TEDxPresidio spoke not only of ideas that will reinvent capitalism, but action we can take to direct a successful social enterprise. SVN members Marc Finser of RSF Social Finance, and Alejando Velez and Nikhil Arora of Back to the Roots took the stage in afternoon sessions to be an example for emerging social entrepreneurs and capitalists that want to become leaders of socially responsible business.

For more on the 2nd annual TEDxPresidio event visit

Special thanks to TEDx, Presidio Graduate School and all of the viewers in attendance and online for sharing the ideas that will help reinvent capitalism.