Category Archives: Weekly Ponder

Weekly Ponder #9 – The Philosophical Blind Spot Of Technology or: “Cool! But What FOR?”

Weekly Ponder #9

The Philosophical Blind Spot Of Technology or: “Cool! But What FOR?”

If every person could be characterized by a single question that defines their interests or outlook on life, I feel sometimes that the word most appealing or fitting to the vast majority of our generation would be “what?” As a person who would mostly characterize his outlook on life with “why?” that would put me in the minority then, I suppose.

One area where this applies is our popular celebration of science and technology as that which makes us as a species the best and greatest since the dinosaurs died off. A little while back, I saw two TED talks, one by University of Pennsylvania professor Vijay Kumar, and one by Regina Dugan of DARPA. Both made me think about this topic of whats and whys. The first talk was essentially a celebration and discovery of nothing short of amazing technology that Kumar and his students had developed to show off little flying robots that could hover (like humming birds), fly formations with advanced AI, and even play the song from James Bond in their own band. The second talk was also about humming bird robots (that even looked like humming birds) and also about a new Mach-20 flying supersonic glider.

In both cases, my first impression was “wow!” My second was “why?” My third was “what for?” Not sure if in that order, actually…

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The Importance of “Impact Offtakers” – Why Growth Is NOT The End Goal Of Social Enterprises

As a corporate strategy person, I totally get why traditional for-profit companies seek to grow: to make ever more money for their shareholders. Fine. But what I don’t get are social enterprises – however you define the term – when they talk about the “do-good equivalent” of the word “growth”, which is often referred to as “scale”. If the end goal of a for-profit corporation is to make as much money as possible (infinity + beyond $$$), what is the end goal of a nonprofit or for-profit social enterprise?

As a famous person once said: It’s the impact, stupid! And so the discussion becomes, in every single conference since the term “social enterprise” entered the mainstream a decade ago, about how we in fact can scale the impact of such organizations over time. A recent session during the 2012 Skoll World Forum, for example, was focused exclusively on the idea of how to envisage scaling beyond initial seed funding and “exit strategies” for social enterprises.

Although the panelists in this session touch on the subject, I feel not enough space in today’s literature is dedicated to a question that has somewhat plagued me for a long time – in fact, it has plagued me ever since I got interested in social enterprises.

The question is this: why the heck does everyone seem (so obsessively) to equate the scaling of impact with the scaling of the actual organization? In this post, allow me to make an argument for the importance of finding an “impact offtaker” as a critical scaling mechanism that supersedes that of organizational growth when it comes to social enterprises.

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Weekly Ponder #8 – Rage Against the Ordinary: How To Save The World If I Have to Do Dishes?

Weekly Ponder #8

Rage Against the Ordinary: How To Save The World If I Have to Do Dishes?

Take this scenario: You are inspired. You want to change the world. Perhaps you already have an idea. Perhaps you are just waiting for something (you know that “signal”) until you can get ready to go. You are on the internet every day, reading news stories, learning about the success and daring leadership of other social innovators. That will be YOU one day, following your calling, maybe even becoming famous!

But then you realize it’s Sunday and your house is a mess. You haven’t cleaned up in a while, you haven’t taken out the trash, you haven’t cleaned the bathroom, you haven’t done much of anything actually, come to think of it. Why would you? Every moment counts! Every moment that you spend mopping or doing boring chores is a moment you cannot indulge in reading, e-mailing, and doing all those things that extraordinary people tend to do, right?

Did I forget to mention that you also have a day-job that starts tomorrow on that dreadful Monday and that means you have to wait every day for nightfall before you can come home and hit the internet again? Subtract the time in commute, the time you have to spend with the wife/husband and kids, maybe time for working out, eating dinner, washing clothes, etc. Before you know it’s very late already and you need to go to bed so you can wake up on time tomorrow to be on time for the office or class. But before you do this, you notice you are completely out of clean dishes and unless you do something now you won’t have a cereal bowl to eat out of tomorrow (and neither will your spouse and family).

For some of you, it sounds like Sophie’s Choice: wasting precious time with boring, ordinary work, that could otherwise be spent with EXTRA-ordinary work (to the betterment of humanity, etc.)… or not having dishes and go hungry tomorrow morning. Meanwhile, Monday is edging ever closer and closer, while your despair grows.

Is this you? Do you suffer from “rage against the ordinary”? Today, I am pondering how to deal with this quite common condition among ambitious people like you.

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Good Archives #1 – Law vs. Justice, Respecting the Poor, Sustainable Entrepreneurship, Do Good Career Choices

If it’s true that the blogosphere is really skin-deep and that we tend to stay only on the first page of any blog, then perhaps there is some value in the ancient respected work of excavation and restoration.

To that end, I thought it might be useful to periodically dig up some previous posts and put them on a little list. Since most of the themes and questions on GG tend to be not time-dependent anyway, no dusting required! Also, some recently joined folks may find interest in them but would never in a million years bother to click through the history of this blog.

Topics in Archive #1:

  • Justice – Law vs. Justice in the Occupy Wall Street Movement
  • Poverty – Pity vs. Compassion when thinking about “The Poor”
  • Sustainability – The Right to Entrepreneurship vs. Sustainability
  • Careers – An Approach for Choosing a Do-Good Job
  • Reflections – Defining our Personal Boundaries for “Doing Good”


On Justice

Law does not mean Justice (d’oh!) – Occupy Wall Street’s Core Challenge

  • What is the viability of the Occupy Wall Street Movement? In today’s society, is it possible to ask for justice (right or wrong) in a system where legality (rules and laws) is the official decision-making factor of a country’s rulers?

On Poverty

Respecting the Poor – What You Should and Should Not Expect from “Doing Good” Unto Others

  • How should we think about “The Poor”? What is the importance of periodically re-humanizing those we call “poor” people and what is the critical difference between “pity” and “compassion”? What’s at stake if we keep referring to those we seek to help as “the poor” without thinking about what that actually means to them (and what it would mean to us if we were in their shoes)?

On Sustainability

The Dilemma of Sustainability – Should Entrepreneurship be our Natural Right?

  • If we are serious about sustainability, should we start managing or impose stricter standards on the way every day in the world new companies get started that just add to the burden of resource depletion and emissions? Should the right to economic self-actualization overrule the need for environmental stewardship? How should we manage this unbridled activity especially in developing markets where people tend to be less educated or interested in sustainability?

On Careers

4 Steps to Choosing a “Good Career” (Part 1) – Scaling of Impact

  • How should we think about choosing careers in the so-called “do-good” jobs of social entrepreneurship, NGOs, philanthropy, impact investing, etc.? How can we make the decision as individually relevant as possible to our own desires and varying needs for ambitious results? Should we care more about how much impact we are having or how we feel about what we do?

On Reflections

Weekly Ponder #1 – Defining our Do-Good Boundaries: Will my Effort ever be Enough?

  • How can we define how much we should get engaged in the business of doing good or changing the world? Should we volunteer, work part time, work full time for our cause? How much of our effort is “enough” to achieve those goals? How much is “enough” for our personal satisfaction? What does this depend on?
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Weekly Ponder #7 – The Nature of Ambition: How Serious Should We Take Ourselves?

Weekly Ponder #7

The Nature of Ambition: How Serious Should We Take Ourselves?

Last week, we concluded some thoughts on the nature of ego and the way it affects different individuals’ approach to social entrepreneurship. While we tend to speak of ego usually negatively, I pointed out that at best, it serves as a basic motivating force for us to spring to action – even if some may not like the inherent “selfish” motivation.

Today, my thoughts have been circling around this idea of motivation and its big brother – ambition. Specifically, I have been wondering about how we can reconcile the notion of ambition, which deals by definition with the future, with the notion of being at peace and content with the present. Think about all the Buddhist teachings that encourage us to reject attachment, desire and expectations, in order to diminish or avoid suffering.

I suspect that there is a good number of people in the do-good and social entrepreneurship space today that would identify with Buddhist teachings (or perhaps, not?). If so, would it be ignorant of me to think that if you are a social entrepreneur or consider yourself active in this “social” sector, you probably have a considerable amount of ambition?

And if that is the case, do you have some advice for the Good Generation on how to balance forward-looking “ambition” with present-focused Buddhism? Can you have both? Answering this question may be a non-trivial component of the quest for happiness for many folks out there in the field, fighting the good battle.

What’s further at stake seems to be this: at a time when we keep saying that we need more and more people to engage, to strive, to change the world, we are implicitly saying that we need more people to follow the call of their ambition to make their dreams a reality. Where, then, does this leave us?

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Weekly Ponder #6 – Money Talks: Should Doing Good have more Impact on Your Wallets?

Weekly Ponder #6

Money Talks: Should Doing Good have more Impact on Your Wallets?

Raise your hands if you have heard the following phrase: “Doing Good While Doing Well.” Now raise your hands if you did not know that this refers to companies and investors. Yes, the money goes to them. Not to you. That is, not to most of you, who are likely neither a company nor have the money to play impact investor. If you care about such things as “doing well” (ah heck, let’s call it what it is: money), my ponder of the week may resonate.

Personally, and frankly, I cannot imagine why we would care about how much “good profits” those responsible/sustainable corporations make or why we would care that the (already wealthy) impact investors get a little extra cash in the bank, without first talking about making “good living” ourselves. Perhaps that explains my aversion to a phrase which smells like good PR but lacks personal significance that I can relate to by any measure.

A further thought. To review a perennial bone that I love to unearth occasionally (see previous post where I mentioned the issue of compensation), I continually try to tell myself that the following is not true: that the vast majority of “do-good” jobs that DIRECTLY affect the (social/environmental) bottom line, e.g., working for social enterprises and NGOs, do not seem to pay so well. We’re not even comparing to traditional for-profit jobs here. We just have to compare that to those do-good jobs that exist more to ENABLE other change-makers, e.g., foundations, institutions like World Bank, ADB, and consultancies. If you didn’t know, allow me to suggest this carefully: the latter make (a lot) more money than the former! Today’s question is not why there is a difference and whether that is appropriate or fair, or exactly what levels of positions we are talking about here (although both may be addressed by a future post). Today’s question may be simply about why do-good pay is (relatively) low and unattractive period – and whether this is okay.

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Weekly Ponder #5 – Entrepreneurship vs. Replicaneurship: Why is Reinventing the Wheel so Popular among Changemakers?

Weekly Ponder #5

Entrepreneurship vs. Replicaneurship: Why is Reinventing the Wheel so Popular among Changemakers?

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about lately: why do so many social enterprises and NGOs start from scratch instead of replicating a previous model? By extension, does ego and the drive to be unique have anything significant to do with it? Or is it just operational challenges, resistant stakeholders (like governments) and the nature of funding that prevents most social enterprises from going “McDonalds” with their model? More profoundly, in a world where we keep touting the virtues of collaboration and doing things “together” why does it seem that the predominant social change model presupposes individual organizations growing “big and strong” rather than spreading their idea and business model seeds out “far and wide”? So instead of McDonalds, why is it less common to have more blatant “me too” brands like Burger King’s, Wendy’s, Jack in the Box, Quicks and Lotterias in the world of social enterprises, if the world is crying out for more (good) burgers?

I don’t know if this term has been coined somewhere else, so pardon me for not citing credit, but perhaps we want to consider the possibility of “replicaneurship” as another viable career option to us, rather than classical “entrepreneurship”. Immediately I am thinking of the role of competition vs. cooperation and that its premises seem to potentially conflict with the basic dual purposes of social enterprises to be somewhat self sustaining (like turning a profit) while pursuing social mission that should reach as far as possible. Well, what do you do when two social enterprises work next door to each other with very similar goals? Do they shake hands and live happily together? Do they get married (merge)? Or do they fight it out with a smile for the same world of donors and investors and let the “fitter” survive? Or do they fight and don’t smile?

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Weekly Ponder #4 – Reaching Peak Stuff: Is Growth Overrated?

Weekly Ponder #4

Reaching Peak Stuff: Is Growth Overrated?

In a previous post, I questioned the real meaning behind careers in CSR and sustainability by asking if they were indeed jobs where people actively promote or “do good”, or whether they were not just jobs where people could pride themselves for “doing less bad.” Lately, especially after reading an interesting article on Fast Magazine’s co.exist blog about whether we might have reached “peak stuff” (analogy to the fear of reaching “peak oil” or point of declining supplies), I’ve been starting to question more some of the fundamental assumptions that today’s world economy is based on. One in particular stood out, and it applies particularly to developed countries.

I am talking about the assumption that our economy’s health depends on companies producing goods and that they keep doing that until the end of time. It’s called “growth” for economics laymen. Question is, what happens if all companies keep growing?

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Weekly Ponder #3 – Ultimate Do-Good Goals: How Does Nirvana Look to You?

Weekly Ponder #3

Ultimate Do-Good Goals: How Does Nirvana Look to You?

Perhaps I am mistaken, but before this whole doing good business became an actual career option, it seems that used to be easier to define what we meant by the actual word “career,” “success” and how we envisioned our goals in that regard. One could think about the idea of moving up the corporate ladder and become an executive, or ideally, the big boss herself. One could think about the goal of making a boat-load of money, then doing whatever one felt like. For this latter piece, one could easily predict once monetary progress from position to position up the ladder. One could also think about the dream of producing an iconic product that would be used everywhere in the world, and to receive credit for this.

But what now, if you are part of the Good Generation of people talking all day and night about doing cool things for people and planet? Damn you and your ideals and gibberish about purpose! Is it that easy for you to articulate what your goal is? What is it you want in the end?

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Weekly Ponder #2 – In Search for a Cause: Do you need one or can you be a “generalist”?

Weekly Ponder #2

In Search for a Cause: Do you need one or can you remain “generally” passionate?

Whenever we see profiles of today’s changemakers, we tend to see two flavors: (1) those that champion one specific cause and (2) those that prefer the “general idea” of doing good, which can lead them to serve several causes or “issue areas”, e.g., healthcare, education, poverty, etc. Thus, as more and more young people find inspiration and motivation from their peers and idols around the world to dedicate themselves to a career of doing good, many ask themselves what their personal story will be.

It is actually very easy to follow the story of people being magnetically drawn to a particular issue, say, AIDS or illiteracy, as a matter of personal background or unique experiences. We read about it every day. Joe goes on vacation in Africa, sees some poor people, is moved, ends up staying 5 years living with the locals, eventually returns home, tells a story, raises money, starts some company, does good, gets contacted by NY Times, does interview – BAM, fame, fun, the rest is history. But what about the others? What about the rest of us without an apparent cause?

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