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Archive for August, 2010

Globalization, long-term demographic trends, changing consumer preferences, and the state of public finances are driving the emergence of an “Impact Economy” for the first time in human history.
   Analogous to the New Economy, the Impact Economy will fundamentally transform business, the public sector, and civil society: A multi-trillion dollar integrated social capital market; companies who seek authentic engagement instead of PR-focused corporate social responsibility; and private risk capital funding the design and delivery of public goods are around the corner.  
   The financial crisis and the recent G-20 commitment to reducing public debt levels will accelerate the transition.
    Many new ventures and projects are under way to cover subsets of the Impact Economy. Beyond philanthropy, take microfinance, bottom-of-the-pyramid investments, clean energy and social investment banking.
   It feels like the early days of a gold rush. As in any innovation phase, some firms will succeed and grow. Many will fail without ever reaching scale.
    Meanwhile, the Impact Economy will change the way we consume, invest, and work.
   For more thoughts on the Impact Economy, see paper.

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“If you had $100 million to give away, what cause would you give it to? And why?”
   This was the closing question that moderator Jenny Santhi of UBS posed to the panel at a UBS-INSEAD Forum on Philanthrocapitalism this past April.
   It was an interesting question. It was totally unplanned and our responses were equally spontaneous.
   Matthew Bishop, author of Philanthrocapitalism: How giving can save the world, said he would invest the money in data. Coming from the number-crunching financial world, he finds a dearth in the quantity and quality of data in the social sector. He believes that such data, if readily available, can make a significant difference to the quality of giving and the actions taken in the philanthropic and social space.
   Pushan Dutt, Associate Professor of Economics & Political Science at INSEAD, said he would use it to fund causes that are “less glamorous” and therefore attract less attention. He suggested oral re-hydration tablets for diarrhea.
   Mathias Terheggen, global head of UBS Philanthropy Services, said he wouldn’t tell anybody that he had $100 million to give away. He would get a professional to advise him and he would spend considerable time trying to figure out what he really cares about and wants to focus on in a targeted way. In doing so, he would also think about what else he can bring to the table, beyond the money, in terms of skills and capacity to make his effort impactful and sustainable.
   Me? I said that rather than a specific cause, I would put it into a fund that I would name the St. Jude Fund, after the patron saint for desperate cases and lost causes. I have seen far too many worthwhile causes such as human rights and migrant workers (both of which were mentioned by the audience earlier) that continually struggle to get the necessary money to operate. I would then find a few smart and empathetic people, put them in charge of the Fund, have them make a call for applications and let them distribute the money to those they deemed most worthwhile but that are unable to find funds from other sources.
   Of course, I am also hoping that the Fund trustees will give me some money if I need, since, as my wife will vouch, I, too, am a lost and hopeless cause.

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In the Singapore Straits Times recently, it was reported that there were 401 suicides last year compared to 364 a year ago – more than one a day. Samaritans of Singapore identified the 20-29 age group as “high risk” – 51 took their own lives, almost double the number from a year before. The increasing rate of suicides, especially among the young, is an increasing problem of developed societies like Singapore.
                I personally struggle with why these people who are jut beginning life are so desperate as to take their own lives. I wish I can advise them otherwise.
                Some friends of mine suggest that perhaps some are badly in debt and cannot see their future as bankrupts. Or they may be heartbroken over unrequited love. Or they may not want to face up to mistakes they have made. We all make mistakes but we should learn from our mistakes and get on with life.
                I believe that it is the feeling of self worth that makes a person do foolish things. We need to have a greater sense of self worth. The worst thing a person can do is to depend on other people’s perception for their worth. Doing that is allowing other people, including those with bad values, to define who we should be. It should always start with each of us. We should look at ourselves and start counting our blessings.
                The majority of us with the blessing of sight, hearing and mobility should realize that it places us way ahead of the many who are disabled. If persons with disabilities can face the challenges of living, then surely those of us with sight, hearing and mobility can do better.
                Do we judge ourselves by our possessions?  What is the use of having lots of material things but to be heavily indebted because of the overuse of credit? During the economic recession, the richest people were those who were debt free or had little debt. After all, one does not need much to have a decent life. It is not the material things which bring happiness. There are few things which we need in order to have a life – nourishment, shelter, and clothing are the main items. Most other things like cars, big houses, annual holidays and branded goods are nice to have, but they are not essential.
                People allow themselves to feel depressed when their relationships break up. They are heartbroken. That surely is self inflicted torture. Usually depression results from having formed a crutch on another individual and then feeling betrayed, feeling regret from that attachment. Love cannot be forced on others. We should love freely and true love should not be conditional upon the response.
                I find it tough to imagine what can possibly be so bad as to drive a person to suicide. I may go into a period of depression and desperation if I were to suddenly lose my sight. But I will eventually snap out of it and get on with life. After all there are millions of visually impaired persons coping well with life.
                I wish everyone will start off the day counting their blessings and be grateful for them. Waking up in the morning with sight, hearing and mobility should be enough to make us happy and be mentally ready to face the challenges out there. Mental states are usually a reflection of our choice of thoughts. Why choose depressing thoughts when there are so many things to be happy about. Live mindfully. Appreciate that cup of coffee, bowl of noodles, the smile of a child, the wave of a neighbour – we are surrounded by happiness. The sprouting of a new blade of grass gives hope as it is life after being trodden on. A butterfly bursting through its cocoon, tadpoles hatching from eggs almost invisible to the eyes, – there is life all around us.
                I wish I can tell those who commit suicide before they do: Don’t give up your life just like that.

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Amid the economic discontinuity, a paradigm shift toward a more equitable and sustainable future is underway.

            Leading the charge into what could be called the Phoenix Economy are 50 identified pioneering organizations. Many are leading social purpose organizations, some are mainstream companies, and a couple of them are governments.

            These organizations share a common model for scaling change: from the recognition of an opportunity, to experimentation, and then achieving critical mass—first at the enterprise level, next at the ecosystem level, and finally at the economy level.

                The Phoenix Economy can be more rapidly achieved with concerted action around an Agenda that comprises three building blocks: a Manifesto that drives necessary change in the public sector, a Prospectus that shapes investor and business decision making and strategy, and a Syllabus that informs future business education.

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 The results of social innovation—new ideas that meet unmet social needs—are all around us. They include fair trade, open source software, restorative justice, distance learning, and microfinance.

            Innovation is not just a matter of luck or inspiration. It can, and should, be managed, supported, and nurtured. There are hundreds of methods and tools for innovation, from developing the ideas to creating impact, some overlapping with those used in fields such as business and science, and some very different. These methods and tools can be grouped into a framework of six stages of social innovation. 

                More significantly, there is an increasing focus on accelerating social innovation through the development of a social innovation field, the creation of dedicated social innovation incubators and intermediaries, the emergence of “social Silicon Valleys”districts dedicated to social innovation), and increasing cross-sector collaboration. Such acceleration of the accelerator of social change is needed in a world where there is a wide gap between the scale of the problems and the solutions offered.

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The world has many problems, but civil society is rising to deal with them. While most of these civil society organizations are local and national, a growing minority are international and making waves.

            Global civil society has its own set of problems. Some of these issues are similar to those it champions against in governments and businesses: accountability, the rich/poor divide, and self-interest.

                However, the reformers understand the need for reform and are responding to the challenges. Three pragmatic solutions can help drive global civil society toward its ideal: multilateral institutions that work, multi-stakeholder campaigns that foster solidarity, and capacity building for nongovernment organizations.

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It has long been accepted that financial capital is critical to social change efforts. Yet, it is only recently that social finance has been viewed as a defined and important marketplace.       

Today, a myriad of financial instruments, ranging from the traditional grant to complex debt/equity hybrids, are available to nonprofits and social enterprises. These instruments come from a variety of sources, from the traditional grantmakers to new social investors.

At the start of a new decade and after a turbulent economic stress period, social finance offers unprecedented opportunities to innovate within capital markets for impactful investment and sustainable change.

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