Monday, January 24, 2011

Part 2/4: A Social Business Plan for Serving the #socent Community: Co-creating how we present ourselves

A key cornerstone to developing the unique consultancy practice I've written about will be the quality of our database of social entrepreneurs who are vetted, willing and available to be deployed on short term consultancy assignments related to their skills and sectoral/issue based knowledge.

When it comes to initially recruiting potential consultants, the prestigious "labeling" networks such as Ashoka, Skoll Foundation and Schwab Foundation offer existing vetting processes and profiles that we can hopefully build upon.  Asking those agencies' input on identifying their Fellows who fit the "post-late-stage" description comes to mind as a great place to start approaching those important standard-setting organizations with value we can help them to add to their Fellow's experience. 

However, we will need a scalable framework for effectively tapping into an even broader range of dynamic social entrepreneur talent pools than the "big" labeling networks alone can offer.  To that end, I am proposing a database development process that includes at least 6 months of gathering direct potential stakeholder input as described below.

Engaging our potential consultants in designing how we present their experience to potential clients will enable us to explore a variety of ways we can plan to leverage the value of the database we build, for maximum impact on the growth of all of our consultants' primary activities. It will also give us the knowledge of our consultants capacities we'll need to begin developing differentiated pricing models and quality control systems for the kinds of value added services we can confidently claim to offer.  

The inspiration to serve

After a presentation I recently gave at a #140confBrussels gathering, another of the speakers persuaded me of the "black hole of information" that he told me futurists are saying will exist around the recorded history from our time. As I understood his argument, too much valuable new information is being created in digital age real time that we are not yet capturing and sorting for historical knowledge sharing purposes.  Even powerful tools like the amazing wayback machine are having trouble keeping up with the pace of new online content growth in a self-sustaining way.

So here's how I see it: If we want today's stories of social change to matter in the world, it is incumbent upon us to start building our history, and keeping a clear record of what we are gaining experience in and collectively achieving in the global changemaker space. I have been feeling a need to redefine how we profile ourselves for many years, and am thrilled to see that new online mapping tools like are finally making it easier to imagine creating profiles for social entrepreneurs that, I believe, can add considerable value to our unique professional potential.

The big idea

Building a successful commercial consulting practice will involve developing an up-to-date database of the relevant experience that our workforce of consultants has to offer, which reflects the variety of current operational expertise we have to draw from in designing and deploying consulting teams to meet our clients' needs.  The internet offers us increasing shapes and forms of content to link to in evidence of that operational experience. Mapping technologies like what is able to render make it possible now (finally) for individuals within a community to seamlessly and effectively consolidate a broad range of online content activity from different platforms, into a single profile and archive building interface.

If we begin to use that kind of technology to deliberately build upon the value of an individual changemaker's big and small cutting edge activities and achievements - historically and in real time - we will have also created something more. Our database of consultants, which is also in effect a trust based network with a high propensity of face-to-face connections, becomes a unique platform for showcasing what our experts' endeavors are achieving, have achieved, and even need help with right now.  Our database of links to the full range of a Social Entrepreneurs activities that are visible online becomes an "online superstore" of social change-related activities that can serve to invite repeated stakeholder and fan engagement.

In the consulting database of social entrepreneurs I am imagining, we would be encouraged to configure our profiles to automatically keep our resumes up to date with active links that offers a full picture of our operational experience, expertise and output. For example:
  • video media about our projects
  • business & community services our projects offer
  • books we have written that are for sale
  • socent competitions we participate in
  • awards & distinctions we have received
  • physical products our projects are selling 
  • crowdsourcing campaigns we are spearheading
  • other funding models we are experimenting with
  • financing campaigns we have recently contributed to
  • reports we have submitted from completed assignments 
  • social media channels we are using to tell our ongoing stories
  • feedback from our clients and teammates about our work on completed assignments
A collective digital space that pulls together links to this kind of content from a collection of the world's leading social entrepreneurs would not only give us a powerful platform through which to find, deploy and share about operational expertise, but would effectively serve to increase the visibility of every campaign, product for good and other kind of fundraising initiative listed in it.

Who benefits, how?

Our consulting practice will benefit from using technology that can tap into a wide range of evolving activities that our consultants are engaged in to create & demonstrate their impact;

Our partners and clients will benefit from the ability to see, find and personally invest in the ever changing landscape of social change that's emerging around people they personally know and trust;

The current and past Social Enterprise projects our community of senior experts has launched would all benefit from visibility within an online superstore of social change-related initiatives that invites engagement with each individual experts' current, past and future endeavors.

Most importantly, participating Social Entrepreneurs will benefit. 

In fact, an evolving profile is one of the things many Ashoka Fellows I know have wished for the most loudly during the 10 years since I was named a Fellow. Unfortunately, our Ashoka profiles are (by Ashoka's design) a static snapshot in time of where we were with our plans at the moment when Ashoka chose to invest in us. One could argue that what really matters is what happened after that investment, but our continued evolution as social entrepreneurs is not well reflected in how Ashoka (and other competitive award networks) have tended to present the work of social entrepreneurs to their stakeholders. 

The face-to-face client and teamwork relationships Social Entrepreneurs can build through occasional consulting assignments can fuel new levels of viral engagement with each of our ongoing and past activities. Pointing my client in the Corporate Social Responsibility department where I am deployed to an easily sharable professional profile that always offers them automatically updated ways to consider supporting or engaging with my other work in the world could be a very, very good thing. 

A one stop page that gets automatically fed with fresh content as we continue to blog, upload videos to youtube and participate in social media platforms and competitions as usual can also help to streamline the use of a social entrepreneur's promotional time. Instead of breaking our time up around promoting specific links to new opportunities as they arise, our consultants' profiles will offer a full picture of what each is actively engaged in right now to make the world a better place.

The consultant's profile should be designed to be equally useful to the potential consultancy client who is considering expertise proposed for a job, to the former client or teammate who is looking to support or engage with the work of a changemaker they now trust after completing a job together, and to the online contact or family member who sees it in our email signature.  Our evolutionized profiles will become the one place where everything we Social Entrepreneurs do in the world can be seen, in a coherent, evolving, career-history documenting picture. 

A community co-created plan for supporting social entrepreneur careers

To begin transitioning Social Entrepreneurs' skills from our own projects to transferable skills that can be deployed in a social change consulting workforce, we need to first take stock of what we are currently doing and learning to do with new and old tools that we all have available. Technology will enable us to let what we are doing speak in the present and create a historical marker, so that what we have done can eventually start speak for itself. The question now is, which tools and systems are Social Entrepreneurs using to achieve what they are doing in the world, that our database should be sure to capture?

I am currently talking with a number of partners about what's emerging as a +/-6 month plan toward the development of a professional changemaker database with high impact value. The plan includes 3 basic activities:
  1. Prototype an online collaborative process for developing a useful, trust-based community designed platform which serves senior social entrepreneurs in a specialized sector with new kinds of career-building support, visibility and potential to connect with new opportunities. 
  2. Develop and test an offline series of seminar events for guiding Social Entrepreneurs at various stages in their careers through a process of building a reframed and expanded vision of their professional value. The process methods will be tested with small groups. 
  3. Work with partners and potential consultants to co-create the consultancy vetting, training & certification process (and related database needs) that will provide a backbone in the quality control systems we put into place for pricing our consultants' services, coordinating teams, and guaranteeing the delivery of value.  
Existing groups of Social Entrepreneurs within easy reach for engagement in this exploratory process through existing partnerships over the next 6 months include: 
  • Groups of regionally connected, self-identified social entrepreneurs who are members of the HUB Network in the Benelux region (Brussels, Amsterdam, Rotterdam) and possibly the UK;
  • Groups of actively connected changemakers and Social Enterprise support networks who gather at open space industry gatherings such as OxfordJam and SHINE UK. 
  • Groups of senior late stage changemakers (Ashoka Europe, WomenChangeMakers Foundation)
Where to now?

I am in active conversation with a Social Entrepreneur support partner on developing a trust-based web community that offers high value to their soon to be appointed first round of Fellows later this year, and see clearly how that experience could serve as a prototype for building a broader database that taps into other kinds of specialized, issue-oriented operational expertise. 

As a Board member of the HUB in Brussels, I have recently been stepping up my engagement in helping to initiate a stakeholder engagement strategy in 2011 that - among other objectives - will aim to strengthen the HUB's community identity as a global and local network of self-identified social entrepreneurs. I will be looking seriously this week at the feasibility of incorporating the Social Start up Labs model in what I hope to develop with and for HUB members, and will continue to pursue discussions with on how to use their mapping technology to build on the currently evolving HUB member information systems. 

I was thrilled to learn in detail last week about Ashoka Europe's plans to hold a Europe-wide collaborative gathering of Fellows and key stakeholders in the social change space in late June of this year. The most exciting new thing I learned in the presentation was that one of the main themes in the programme agenda is building social entrepreneurs' professional competencies. You can be sure I'll be exploring potential synergies with those developments in more detail with some of my Ashoka contacts this week. 

What can YOU do? 

Inspired by some of the very practical new technologies for changemakers recently launched by people I've worked with and been watching for a while in the social change space, such as, and wonderful initiatives like Amy Sample Ward's #commbuild chats, I am currently collecting guest-written articles about the latest developments online that support the social change spaceThese articles will feature prominently in a plan to bring the blog back to life this spring. If you are a Social webpreneur developing online tools for the social change space, you are invited to introduce your tool, tell us your story, and tell us specifically how you see it building project and career level value for today's Social Entrepreneurs. 

Please let me know @ChristinasWorld or in the comments below if you would like to contribute a blog post about a tool for #socent mapping, project financing, product sales or career building that you'd like professionals in the social entrepreneurship space to know is now launched, launching or growing. I will look forward to finding ways to connect further around your ideas for Internet4Change article submissions, and will be seeking an initial 12-20 articles to fill a pilot content schedule in the Spring.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Part 1/4: A Social Business Plan for Serving the #socent Community: Developing a Commercial Consultancy Practice

The inspiration to serve

The real inspiration for this component of the Evolutionize It business plan came from the amazing group of late stage social entrepreneurs I had the honor to work with when I led the WomenChangeMakers Foundation launch workshop last spring. The purpose of the workshop was to let social entrepreneurs in the field of gender equity inform the newly forming foundation about how they should conceive of a great fellowship support package. We all learned a lot, and my hat goes off to the WomenChangeMakers foundation for how they are incorporating what they learned into the new support programs for social entrepreneurship in gender equity that they are developing.

One of the most intense moments of the workshop came when the participants and I collaboratively coined the term “post-late-stage social entrepreneur,” and started revealing, crying about and discussing what that meant as a condition we all shared. Collectively, these 8 women from around the globe had impacted the lives of over 10 million people. They had all won multiple awards for their work. They were awe inspiring in their abilities to make magic happen in the world, and in their persistent effectiveness for the security and wellbeing of others. At a certain point, they all understood, however, that they all shared a really terrible and serious set of professional and personal weaknesses in the structure of their lives:
  • Not one of them was financially secure.
  • They all knew that they would have to transition away from the projects for which their lives had gained some recognition in the public eye, and yet, not one of them could visualize a plan for what was next for themselves.
  • Those who had ideas about new projects they would like to start were not finding any resources to back them.
And of course, there I was right in that spot they were afraid of finding themselves in. Starting over after having stepped away to allow what I had started in Uganda to continue growing on it's own, and completely dependent on just my own creativity to figure out what was supposed to come next. For me, it was a transformational moment of realization that our experiences represented a critical gap in the social change space that needs to be filled. 

While I will be forever grateful to my delightful WomenChangeMaker friends for being the first to so bravely help me start to see and understand our professional condition, ventures further abroad in the social enterprise sector have confirmed that this condition extends beyond just women who are changemakers, and beyond just social entrepreneurs who are working for gender equity. It’s a sector-wide phenomena among the best social entrepreneurs that we must transition, that we have skills that are extremely valuable to society, but that we find ourselves in need of support in making “what’s next” happen.

Embracing that even the most committed social entrepreneurs must eventually transition out of the primary leadership role in the projects they create in order to rightfully claim the term "sustainable," the primary aim of the commercial consulting practice I am now collecting partners to co-create, is to identify and develop relevant and useful career building opportunities for social entrepreneurs - starting with those who have been vetted and recognized as noteworthy by the growing number of social enterprise support networks and agencies around the world.

The big idea

From 25 years of experience in the international development aid industry and as an occasional consultant in the corporate sector, I am 100% certain that there are many interesting commercial opportunities to source short-term consultancies for governments, corporations and international aid agencies from among experienced & acclaimed social entrepreneurs, on competitively tendered and paid assignments related to:

  • community event facilitation, 
  • stakeholder engagement strategies, 
  • facilitation of community dialogue & decision-making processes, 
  • the use of online communication tools for social change, 
  • project development, assessment & feasibility studies, 
  • proposal writing and specialized text editing
  • innovative approaches to assessing and leveraging the impact of ongoing development projects and programs,
  • etc.

I have some concrete ideas about how to find assignments like this. One of the things I used to do professionally was sell & manage international development consulting services to multilateral and bilateral aid institutions. Lately I have been making some unanticipated but interesting inroads into the world of CSR, which lead me to believe that there could be a broader range of potential clients to explore for the kind of expertise that (especially) late stage social entrepreneurs have to offer.

Who benefits, how?

The opportunity to engage in the kind of short-term consulting assignments I believe we can find will allow social entrepreneurs to:
  • penetrate and influence thinking in diverse sectors of the global economy with their experienced innovator skills and social insights,
  • gain practical experience working together collaboratively
  • take planned breaks from their projects to gain new perspectives on their interests in new contexts 
  • practice leaving others in charge of their projects for short periods, with support from other social entrepreneurs who've done it;
  • earn meaningful personal income with low levels of annual time commitment,
  • invest in developing a personal long-term and global professional value that will outlive their role as leaders of their current projects, and offer some long term financial security.  
Of course, all of that assumes that clients will actually benefit from the expertise that social entrepreneurs have to offer.  To that, all I can say is that personally speaking, through my interactions with Ashoka Fellows and likeminded #socent groups in countries around the world, I have become convinced that social entrepreneurs are among the smartest, most cross-dimensionally thinking people on the planet. I nurture a personal belief that within the minds of our systemic thinking changemakers lies our greatest hope for the future of our global development systems. Enabling ways for talented social entrepreneurs to influence projects and systems beyond their own projects feels like a noble and worthy pursuit. 

A commercial, for profit practice? Oh my!

While this will operate as a commercial practice, Evolutionize It is a non-profit making association, which means that profits are not distributed among owners but are reinvested into mission related activities. The net revenue that Evolutionize It earns thru successfully developing this commercial consulting practice will be reinvested in, for example:
  • creating jobs related to building the practice, including a solid consultancy marketing and global management support structure, 

  • developing a broader range of professional coaching & career development support services for social entrepreneurs,

  • establishing a start-over seed fund for post-late stage social entrepreneurs who have transitioned away from their original structures and are now starting new projects.
Where to now?

Key in making this work will be getting the right people and partnerships on board to help grow it operationally - I’m not talking about starting something that Christina can run from home, but that will take on an organizational form of operations early on.

There are a couple of current and former business partners that I have scheduled discussions with in January to discuss ways we might work together in mutually beneficial ways to get this idea off the ground at an appropriate scale. At least one short term contract for a team of wisdom crowdsourcing experts to be recruited by Evolutionize It is already in late stage negotiations for late 2011.

The development consulting firm I used to work with has also recently been in touch - in a small assignment to review their web copy I livened up the descriptions of their experience with new language from the social change sector, and was inspired to think about how doable it could be to deploy social entrepreneurs on the kinds of EU funded projects that they bid for.

Explorations continue - I should have further news on this component by the end of January.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Introduction: A Social Business Plan for Serving the #socent Community (4 parts to follow)

During the last month of 2010 I went decidedly offline and did some reflecting on how to re-frame everything I've been investing my energy in during Evolutionize It's start-up year, into a coherent business plan for a diversified social enterprise model that serves the emerging social enterprise sector in meaningful ways.

As 2011 begins, I am excited to feel my entrepreneurial spirit restored. Last year's explorations in facilitating supportive relationships between social entrepreneurs are connecting with my decades of other professional experience in new and exciting ways, creating a pathway to Evolutionize It's future as a social enterprise support institution that feels comfortable, and easily within reach.

Under my continued leadership for the next 1.5 years, Evolutionize It will be pursuing a diversified and growth oriented social business plan for serving social entrepreneurs in some very concrete and practical ways, including:

  1. Development of a commercial consulting practice that sources global teams of short-term consultants from among seasoned social change agents
  2. Co-creative leadership on designing a cooperatively owned platform of premium business building services for social entrepreneurs, specifically targeting (but not indefinitely limited to) self-identified social entrepreneurs who are vetted members of the global Hub co-working space communities.
  3. Modeling the establishment of effective, trust based online support networks for groups of social entrepreneurs with specialized needs, and
  4. Establishing career development services and a "start-over" seed fund for accomplished social entrepreneurs who are transitioning from one brilliant project to another.  
In the coming days, I will be using this blog space to share where I'm currently headed on each of these components with the plan that's in my head and real conversations that are already taking place. 

What's most exciting to me is that while this reframing of my eclectic collection of professional activity since Evolutionize It was incorporated feels new and ambitious, things are already rolling in these directions, and these have been activities/ideas that I have fantasized about developing for quite some time (no - this list is not exhaustive!)   Identifying these 4 components of a plan that's tangibly doable right now is making it easy for me to see how I can build on everything I've already got in place to be able to get Evolutionize It where I'd like it to go. 

What I'd like it to be - what I have always hoped it would be - is a new kind of social enterprise model that meaningfully serves the growth of the social enterprise and grassroots innovation movement worldwide. 

Stay tuned for details.

First impressions welcome in the comments!