“Kitchen – Networking” or “How to teach a man how to fish”

Posted on January 22, 2012 by

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From a kitchen-talk to a blog post: how I got there

 A couple of weeks ago I went to a birthday party and as usual, the kitchen was once again the central contact point of the flat, where spontaneous conversations with complete strangers took place.

This is exactly what happened to me; I had an encounter with a guy, it turned out he was a social entrepreneur and as I study business, we had lots of things to talk about. He told me about some of his next plans and projects, which sounded totally interesting and a couple of days later I started researching about social entrepreneurship.

Therefore I decided to dedicate my next post to the domain of social entrepreneurship. To be more concrete: I want to write about a project, called “Infinite #1” which has been realized in 2008 by social entrepreneurs working in the non-profit organization “Infinite Earth” and I assimilated the steps in the realization process of “Infinite #1” to the Toyota A3 business model.

Why you should read this

After reading this post you will have an idea what social entrepreneurship is about and why it is useful. As well you will read about a really interesting and successful project in India of internationally active social entrepreneurs that should show how a project of social entrepreneurs could be realized.

 Background

What is social entrepreneurship all about?

Most of you probably know this Chinese proverb: “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”

According to Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka, social entrepreneurs are the guys who are not content, until they revolutionize the whole fishing industry. And in order to create this kind of revolution, the social entrepreneur wants to understand a bunch of things, such as “Why does the man not know how to fish?“ or “Why is the focus on fishing?“ Like this a social entrepreneur tries to understand the cause of the problem before trying to think of creative approaches to address the problem and create social value.

Stated by Brett Smith on his blog, social entrepreneurship can be defined broadly as developing innovative solutions to persistent social problems, while social entrepreneurship adapts the creativity and imagination from entrepreneurship, but applies them to address social problems, such as hunger or poverty.

Greg Dees states in his paper that there are various definitions of a social entrepreneur, but in general he or she can be described as someone who identifies opportunities, marshals resources and creates value, but in comparison to business entrepreneurs it is not only economic value but also social value that should benefit the society.

Now I want to present you the project “Infinite #1”, realized by the non-profit foundation Infinite Earth in 2008.

 Current Conditions 

At that time, Infinite Earth chose India as a place to work on, as it is one of the regions where many of the world’s products and services are outsourced, but where many fundamental needs are still unmet and many people live below the poverty lines without any hope for improvement.

 Goals/Targets of the project

 Infinite Earth wanted to create self-sustaining facilities for communities in need. More precise, they wanted to improve the working conditions in a hand-looming center in the north Indian village of Chamba in Uttaranchal, India, with a special focus on the sustainability of their social value creation and independency of further beneficial programs. So to say, teach them how to fish.

 Analysis – what is the status quo

The next step for Infinite Earth was analyzing the current situation. Larissa and Lucas already talked about the importance of (self-) observation in their blog posts and why it is crucial for a business’ success and also in the course of this project it was the essential key to success to see where we are, what can be done and how it could be done.

Luckily the foundation was able to cooperate with Dr. Prabhavati Dwabha, who was the director of rural development projects in northern India and had lots of experiences in the fields of establishing and running clinics, primary schools and vocational programs in below-poverty-line villages and so her knowledge and expertise served as an invaluable resource in the realization of the project.

 Countermeasures – how to improve the situation

 The actual actions taken by Infinite Earth were the construction of a new building and the replacement of two existing dilapidated looms with 20 new looms.

Plan – how the project can be realized and financed

 In order to finance this project, beforehand, two of the founders of Infinite Earth, Alona Harpaz and Mika Rottenberg, both highly paid and famous artists, worked together to make an edition of 30 prints of an collaborative photograph, called “Infinite #1”, named after the organization and their task.

In May 2008, the prints then were sold at an auction in the Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery and the money was used for the project.

Follow-up

The outcome of the project was an immense improvement of the working conditions for the local women in the hand-looming facility. The centre is now owned and operated by a local women’s initiative in the village and overseen by a local manager who was appointed by Dr. Prabhavati Dwabha and Infinite Earth.

The women of the Chamba looming centre are developing skill sets that will enable them to become increasingly self-sufficient and as well they organize a class where they teach young women how to properly use the looming machines.

The centre supports independent projects and also proceeds to go towards improving the living conditions of women and their children and the products they produce are fabricated in a process that is human and animal safe and environmentally responsible.

Summary

For every project it is really important to develop a business plan, no matter if we are talking about social entrepreneurship or for-profit businesses like Toyota.

In the case of Infinite Earth it becomes clear that also for social entrepreneurs it is important to be able to apply business know-how in order to guarantee that projects are successful and self-sustainable. Social entrepreneurship needs skilled business people that are creative and motivated and it needs supporters, who are willing to cooperate.

 AHA-Experience

 In the course of researching the domain of social entrepreneurship, a totally interesting field opened up to me and I felt myself inspired to dig deeper and learn more.

Do you know the feeling when you get confronted with a topic you haven’t gotten in contact before and after that confrontation you see it pop up everywhere?! This is what happened to me. Once after starting to blog about start-ups and now once again after a spontaneous kitchen conversation about social entrepreneurship: it seems to be everywhere.

When I started my studies of IBMAN, I didn’t know at all in which field I want to work later on. I had many ideas and interests, but they seemed not to match at all and now, step-by-step, the puzzle seems to make more sense to me and I start to discover domains I am interested in I never knew they existed.

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