Thursday, May 21, 2009

The End, The Beginning

Greetings all,

This semester has exposed us to a wealth of information, insight and experience, but there are two things overall that really resonated with me.

First, learning about - and experiencing - the "other side" of social entrepreneurship, namely the philanthropic and social venture aspect to the whole endeavor, which I had previously been ignorant of. Frequently- as speakers and faculty alike have noted all semester - Social Entrepreneurs are associated with an individualistic, glorified Heed to a Calling (much like how I considered traditional entrepreneurs in my early teens). So much is forgotten with that glorification though: first, the myriad contributions from family, friends and colleagues which enable a social entrepreneur to reach for the stars, or reach at all; and the second, the philanthropic piece we've all come to know and appreciate. Learning about social investment has been a real pleasure for me, not least because it gives us the opportunity to know social change from yet another angle.

The second thing which resonated with me was the insight, observations and achievements of us, the Student Directors. If the rest of you are at all like me, then you've been dismayed/disenchanted/discouraged by the (higher) education system more than once - it is a great privilege to live within it, without a doubt, but it is by no means perfect.* So it was a real treat for me to be part of an engaged and enthusiastic class comprised of dedicated people who will no doubt be a part of the shift we are all experiencing, as well as a part of FFF's future.

The end of this semester marks the conclusion of a few things: the first round of Student Directors for the Fast Forward Fund; the Spring 09 semester of Bard College's Globalization and International Affairs Program; and (of course) the first 100 days of the new administration.

However, if we're so inclined, this can also mark the beginning of extended engagement with FFF for each of us, in our respective towns, cities, colleges, countries and lives. Though I lived in Brooklyn this semester, and thus was unable to be as much a part of the BGIA community as I would have liked, I am confident that this bond between us that GSE&SP, FFF, Diana, and all the stellar speakers have wrought will keep us in touch for years to come.

All the best,

*Though we're not all from the same institution, or the same country for that matter, no system is perfect; it remains a great privilege nonetheless.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Action Center and Media Use in Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy

The Action Center website really brought home an idea I have been thinking about lately: the importance of media savvy in social entrepreneurship and philanthropy. The Action Center website is well constructed—it utilizes video and images as well as a sharp interface. This can make all of the difference whether on a conscious or subconscious level to an investor. A well-produced site gives an air of professionalism and caring—essential qualities for entrepreneurs.

This even was true in our pitch session. The video on Public Stuff’s site proves this. The video made the organization seem more in touch with the audience they may be trying to reach. The ability to tap into an increasingly technologically smart public will become an essential tool for these entrepreneurs.

In addition, the use of video—such as that on the Action Center website—allows investors to really feel a connection to their giving. It puts a human face and voice to a social problem. This is important as issues and giving becomes increasingly global.

Friday, May 15, 2009

End of Semester Reflection

The final selection process was an interesting and educating experience because we had to take a lot of factors into account before making our final decision. We had to review the nominations that stood out and carefully go over our notes from the investor pitch. We had to make sure we understood the project and the goals they were hoping to accomplish with our donation. The Health Portfolio Team chose the Mali Health Organizing Project because we believe it will have the most impact in the field we want to make a difference in. Supporting primary care health services for 60,000 people, maybe more, is a great way to make a difference somewhere. The FFF has surprised me in many ways and has contributed to my development as a social entrepreneur. We started off not knowing much about the subject and ended up being able to effective determine who should get a rather large sum of money to develop their project. I did not feel that it would be possible in a semester but through the course (site visits, readings, blogs, and other homework assignments) we were able to pick a venture. It has been an absolute delight working with the Diana, Natalia and others, and I hope to continue to work with them and the FFF in the future.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

FFF Reflection

Often you, or somone you know, has an amazing idea but there is a sense of isolation--especially among young entrepenuers. It is heartening to be able to connect with such a diverse group of people, this was especially evident in the investor pitch sessions.

While I enjoyed the virtual pitch sessions, I think being able to interact face-to-face was really useful. These interactions allowed me to see the passion the entrepenuers had as well as ask some vital questions. For instance, some of the key elements of Girl Guides USA was lost on paper. By speaking with the entrepenuer I was able to understand the depth of the project.

The virtual pitch sessions worked to really convey the global nature of philanthropy. While we could not feel the distance the live investors had travelled it was tangible in the virtual pitch format.
-Rachel F

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

To end with something means to start with something new

Every end is a new beginning! As Diana said, that bitter-sweet taste is so strongly present these days. At the same time excitement and discussions about decisions that we made, and that tomorrow we will present to others. They all had the same experience but at the same time different one, because we all concentrated mostly to our portfolios; and tomorrow will see the whole semester work of all of us. Final preparations are still on, and no matter how long we work there is always certain feeling of unknowing what is waiting for us and our chosen Social Venture.

I think most of us would agree that the pitch session (both virtual and in-person) was the most interesting part of working with the projects. To see people that came to the idea and that are leading the project changes so much in perception and visualization of projects future. Some things (as attitude and enthusiasm towards the project) are just impossible to write while working on proposal.

Working with FFF gave me an opportunity to think as an investor and to experience the difficulties and challenges that they face, and at the same time to see the beauty of knowing that your decision will make a huge difference.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Another Milestone...and we're just getting started!

I've got to say, as excited as I am about FFF's rapid development, I feel a little bittersweet as our pilot training program comes to an end with the conclusion of BGIA's "Global Social Entrepreneurship & Strategic Philanthropy" semester course. How can we be winding down? We're just getting started! The students have come so far in their study and practice of social investment. Now, all their hard work culminates this Thursday, May 14th, as the FFF Portfolio Student Directors (13 BGIA students from six countries) present the final youth-to-youth investment selections for their portfolio teams.

Seems like there've been weekly highlights and milestones:
And it seems like every week, new potential partners emerge (from New Delhi to New York), new challenges surface (from capitalizing the fund to managing growth strategy), and we're figuring out ways to do things differently (and hopefully better, next time) as we develop and refine FFF's social investment model.

Throughout their semester-long academic training program, the Portfolio Student Directors have been considering 14 youth-led social ventures for FFF youth-to-youth social investment. Nominated by four of our Pipeline Partners (this round: Clinton Global Initiative, Global Engagement Summit, NYWomen Social Entrepreneurs, and Teach for America), these investment opportunities address one or more of our four portfolio global social priorities: Poverty Alleviation, Public Health, Climate Change & Energy, and Human Rights & Peace. I can't wait to see what they come up with Thursday. And can't wait to continue working together well beyond the end of this semester. As the poet Tony Hoagland says, "What I thought was an end, turned out to be a middle." And we've only just begun!

Re: Action Center w/ Robert Sherman

Not much can be added to the poignant responses that students have already made. The Action Center is definitely an intriguing place, and one which will hopefully increase the commitments of interested children, adolescents, young adults et al. One thing I'm curious about however, is what the implications are of an action center relying heavily on internet technologies. In other words, what's the cost/benefit of a physical space using digital technologies available from home to facilitate action?

This speaks to the critique of any effort in a post-digital age that could be digitized and thus made more accessible: would it be better to auction off that space and use the funds to expand the reach of individuals' commitments? Should we be concerned that much of what goes on at the Action Center can be accomplished to varying degrees on the Action Center website? OR, does the potential of collaborative social justice really take hold in a dedicated, physical space? Does the prospect of visiting a space dedicated to ending world hunger in fact make it more accessible to school groups, college students visiting the city, industry professionals, etc?

What do you all think?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Lessons for the FFF

The Action Center is without a doubt an extremely valuable resource for the education of young people on the issue of world hunger and its underlying causes. Our experience last week was even more inspiring because we were not just another group of students, but the group of student directors of the Fast Forward Fund. Robert Sherman, the executive director, was very helpful and provided us with constructive advice.

He emphasized two aspects we should keep in mind when we make our investment decisions: projects must be sustainable, and the proposals must reflect acumen. A major problem with grants is that they create dependency on a single source of income. If projects are unable to sustain themselves beyond the funding received from donors, the investment is often not justified. Therefore, when we evaluate the proposals that were submitted to us, it is essential that we see beyond the writing and try to gauge the practical ability of the social entrepreneurs.

The mission of the Fast Forward Fund is to transform young people into successful social investors. Similarly to the MercyCorps initiative, its aim is to educate youth to take action and make a positive impact in the world. The Action Center offered visitors the possibility to contribute as much (or as little) as they were willing to. If you have only one minute, you can sign a petition to promote gender equity in HIV/AIDS relief programs. If you have a month, you can volunteer overseas. If you want to dedicate your entire life to the cause, you can become a member of the MercyCorps team.

If you want to help the Fast Forward Fund, you can take only a couple of minutes and help spread the word in your social network. If you want to support initiatives of your peers, you can donate as little as $5 with just a few clicks on the FFF website. And if you have an idea yourself, you can submit a proposal to one of FFF’s pipeline organizations.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Thoughts on the Action Center

Last week, Robert Sherman gave an intriguing talk that detailed the role and function of the Action Center to Eliminate World Hunger. It was quite an eye-opening experience because normally when you think of hunger, you think that its due to a shortage of food, maybe because of land that’s not arable. However, this is hardly the case. Not many people relate hunger to important issues like climate change, energy, war, and health. For example, there are areas of the world where large swaths of land that were previously used to grow crops have been flooded due to rising water levels. Nations in Africa that suffer from the scourge of war have fighters going around destroying farms in order to harm the other side. Diseases like AIDS leave nations depleted of human capital so there can’t be any production and growth. All of these issues create hunger and any campaign that wishes to address hunger on this scale must address all of these issues. Robert Sherman’s presentation helped us understand the link between the various issues and world hunger.

The Action Center itself is a unique place because it collaborates with many other organizations. Many organizations out there see themselves as competition with other institutions that are trying to reach the same goal. The Action Center facilitates Mercy Corps actions and helps other organizations that are having impact in another area. Their system which asks you how much time you want to give (a minute to a lifetime) is also an amazing way to get people to read how they can make an impact. It works.

A key point to take away from the visit would be that addressing one issue will have a ripple effect on other areas as well. For example, if you want to end hunger, you don’t need to start a campaign to distribute free food. Helping an organizing or starting an organization that is helping war victims rebuild their lives or an organization that is trying to stop a disease that kills hundreds of thousands of people will also result in impact.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Student Director Ivelina on the Action Center

As all previous guest lectures, this one brought a lot to our better understanding of what social entrepreneurship is. All lectures have contributed immensely to the core of the class and to our knowledge in the sphere of social entrepreneurship. At the Action Center I realized how great ideas can effectively be put into action and how great efforts can make people aware of global misfortunes like poverty and hunger. I enjoyed a lot the atmospehere and the way the Center is set up - not like an ordinary educational center, but rather like a center for communicating with people around the world - in terms of their ideas, personal stories and eperience. Moreover, I enjoyed the introduction movie, the creative headphones hanging from the ceiling and presenting Human rights in several languages (I was sorry that I could listen to it in my native language) and the idea with how much time people are eager to spend on making a difference about global poverty.

I really believe that places like the Action Center should continue to exist and become more in number on a global scale because to really understand a problem and become cautious about it, people need to be well educated first. Education should come as a priori and then action. Therefore, if we want to make people active and eager to help towards making the world a better place to live, we should all first think about educating them and making them aware of places like the Action Center.

Great place, great ideas, great people, amazing work!

Lessons of the Action Center in Terms of Engagement

The lecture at the Action Center this week really seemed to finally get to the idea of what the point of all these visits have been; that your vision can become something that will be able to be replicated and active. Other lectures up to this point have taken us to interesting places and demonstrated the core values of the institutions, but none have quite shown us exactly what active engagement looks like in the sphere of social entrepreneurship. At the Action Center it was clear how great ideas can effectively communicated in a physical space, and how interaction with the end-users who seem to more and more be making up the donors of these place are really impacting issues like hunger. The building reminded me highly of the incredible Liberty Science Center, with an approach not like typical educational centers with a goal of communicating detailed ideas, personal stories and experiences of the organization. The use of headphones hanging from the was clever, though it did have some drawbacks in terms of clutter, and the institution was spot on with detailing how little amounts of time can add up with their various time-frame oriented activities. Nothing spurns donor activity quite like this, and they deserve respect for implementing it so effectively and in an appealing fashion.

The details that make the Action Center successful should be monitored closely by FastForwardFund in an effort to imitate the best aspects of the program. While the institution was able to educate individuals well, and provide intense amounts of information, it failed with some of its touch screens to present a simple enough picture to not intimidate. If Fast Forward Fund wants to engage its donors effectively, it should remember to stick to simplicity in describing its issues. People who are really interested and engaged will find the more detailed information no matter what, so putting it all up front is more of an obstacle to the casual donor than a benevolent action.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Investment pitch and “my grandpa”

Surprisingly enough, the presentations last week reminded me of my grandpa’s story in early 40’s.  At that time, a military commander for the Albanian king “Zogu”, he was forced to commute back and forth facing a tremendous responsibility of his actions and impacts that may have on his entire battalion, sometimes even their lives per se.  Every so often, he would listen to his fellow arguments and then decide on the next steps that would have to be pursued. Indeed some of his actions were enormous success while some total failures.                          

Now sixty years after and in a total different environment, it is me who was sitting and listing to my fellow arguments/presentations trying to persuade me to take a particular action; specifically vote for their idea thT will improve some aspect of the social life.

Comparing to the last century, needs and people perspectives have been changed. Now we do examine offers in total different and new environment. For instance, for better off his nation, my grandpa tried to pursue the politics of listening and then acting sometimes with even fighting in the end. In this global time, me and my colleague directors focus on listening to the young entrepreneurs and take a specific actions such as deciding on which idea we’re  going to invest in but performing everything through creative ways of questioning, talking getting external/ internal perspectives, researching. This happened last week during presentation pitch. Additionally, I tried to look on how young entrepreneurs position themselves, how do they promote, would that be something that is in demand looking from both fff mission and the idea per se.  Overall, all the entrepreneurs showed a strong maturity, passion and frankly I was positively surprised about their abilities to step back, envision the future and in the same time knowing how to not jeopardize any percentile of their idea.  Nevertheless, indeed just as in my grandpa case, have to admit that some of their idea will also face some breakdowns but I’m confident enough that this will only motivate these young entrepreneurs to be global agents for change in the future!