Ideas for Innovation in Underserved Communities

I Recently attended Santa Clara University’s Boot Camp for social entrepreneurs, the Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI) — which never misses ‘wowing’ audiences as to how innovativeindividuals can be when confronted with a pressing societal need. Withsupport from the Tech Awards, Presented by Applied Materials, the GSBI has been mentoring and training would-be entrepreneurs how to make their vision come alive profitably.

Each participant must have a clear product or service and assemble asolid business plan that shows the venture can be sustainable. A team of successful, experienced social and business entrepreneurs acts as thereview panel and provides insightful comments after each presentation.

‘Inspiring’ and ‘real hope for the future’ were two reoccurringcomments from audience interviews. After more than 20 presentationshaving to do with mobility for the disabled, renewable energy,communication and learning, sustainable agriculture and creating moreefficient markets, what follows is my summary of three of the mostintriguing ideas I heard at GSBI:

“Using capitalism as a force for good”, World of Good employs low-cost technology to workers in areas where reports of humanrights abuses exist to get unfiltered, confidential data about workingconditions. The innovative technology platform allows buyers, suppliers, and certifiers access to real-time information and enables educationalcontent back to the individual. The current model in the semiconductorindustry is for responsible companies is to join industry consortia andsign up to a Code of Conduct (Applied is a member of the ElectronicsIndustry Citizenship Coalition and requires all of the companies in ourglobal supply chain to comply with the Electronics Industry Code ofConduct). Audits of suppliers are conducted and reports are provided.However, the potential issue with this approach is getting real,unbiased information which is where World of Good matters.

“Mobile for the Next Billion” – Movirtu is reinventing the way mobile phones are used so that the rural poorcan benefit from mobile technology. Currently, people in rural areas who cannot afford a phone (an estimated 1 billion people below the povertyline) must go to a business/village phone owner to make an expensivecall. Village phone owners can be miles away. Movirtu provides a cloudphone system accessible through shared phones through mobile serviceproviders to rural poor, helping people access jobs, reach familymembers, and transfer money at a much lower cost than traditionalhandset or SIM-cardonly solutions.

Hands-down, one of the top presenters of the day was Hugh Whalan, CEO of Energy in Common (EIC). Hugh has a background in economics and the renewable energymarket. EIC has developed a model which can profitably use market forces to bring micro-energy to millions of households in developingcountries. Even a $10 LED lamp that saves enough energy to pay foritself within a few months can be an up-front cost affordabilitychallenge. EIC works with existing micro finance institutions (MFI) as a solutions provider, connecting them to energy companies and capital toenable the scale up of energy loan programs, thereby increasing theaffordability of green energy devices including village-scale solar forthe poor.

Next year’s GSBI teams are forming and will be at the University ofSanta Clara in August 2011. Mark your calendar to be inspired.