Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Photographer Martin Rietze got to within 250 metres of the lava fountains to capture his stunning series of images
Lava hits the sea from the volcanic eruption between the Myrdalsjokull and Eyjafjallajokull glaciers, east of Iceland's capital Reykjavik
Only around an hour old, this lavaflow is falling from a steep cliff a few hundred metres from the main eruption
Lava spurts out of the site of a volcanic eruption at the Fimmvorduhals volcano near the Eyjafjallajokull glacier
Close-up: The dark cloud of smoke coming from the Icelandic crater as seen by an Icelandic Coast Guard helicopter
The plume from the Icelandic volcano - seen as a grey-brown streak drifting across the middle of the image - is visible from space. It was imaged by the Modis instruments on two Nasa satellites as it blew towards the Shetland Islands
Coating: Researchers at Sheffield Hallam University collected these particles of volcanic ash (seen here under a microscope) which fell on cars in the centre's grounds earlier today
Frozen: Ice chunks carried downstream by floodwaters caused by volcanic activity lie on the Markarfljot riverbank in Iceland yesterday
Dusty: A car in Iceland drives through the ash from the volcano
Widespread: Ash from the erupting volcano sweeps in an arc across the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, and Russia in this image from NASA yesterday
Spectacular: A satellite image of the volcano under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in Iceland
A man surveys what is left of the main Icelandic coastal road after it was washed away by flood water following the volcano eruption
Around 800 people have had to be evacuated and 70 tourists were rescued after they were trapped by the rising flood waters
Spectacular: Plumes of smoke shoot up from a volcano under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in Iceland today which has erupted for the first time in 200 years
The Eyjafjallajokull eruption is the second in less than a month and has seen hundreds of international flights cancelled
Workers have been forced to smash holes through roads in Iceland to allow the surging flood water to escape out to sea
Part of the glacier has melted under the ferocious temperatures causing the flood swell to pour down the mountain
Experts are concerned the recent eruption could trigger another more powerful one from the nearby Katla volcano
The eruption has caused travel disruption across Europe as airspace has been shut down
Monday, April 12, 2010
On January 12 of this year, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti, causing destruction and suffering on a scale so massive as to defy description. Days passed before death toll estimates were released, and even now, months later, those figures remain educated guesses, as do the number of Haitians whose lives have been forever changed, how long it will take to rebuild Port-au-Prince, and whether Haiti will emerge from this catastrophe stronger or more fragile. What is certain, however, is that one organization, Partners in Health (PIH), has been absolutely critical throughout the crisis. Founded by social entrepreneur Paul Farmer and four of his friends in Haiti more than two decades ago, Partners in Health is now the country’s largest health-care provider. Had its 100 doctors, 600 nurses, and 4,000 employees working out of 12 facilities not been on the ground, fully operational and functioning as the spine of Haiti’s healthcare system when the quake hit, there is no doubt that the number of casualties and sheer extent of human suffering would have been far greater and the country’s chances of eventual recovery far less. When asked by journalists and donors just how many lives Partners in Health has saved in Haiti, to say nothing of the additional 12 countries where the organization also works, Paul Farmer defaults to medical shorthand: TNTC, too numerous to count.
To the question, then, of whether social entrepreneurs can create “large-scale change,” my answer is an unqualified yes. Frankly, I’m really pleased to have the chance to address the question framed in this way, rather than having to swat away that pesky, more common version, whether social entrepreneurs can “get to scale.” Still, I can’t resist a bit of a rant on that point, given that the phrase “going to scale” has become something of a shibboleth in social innovation circles—leading even smart people to compare the Googles of the world with ventures like those in the Skoll Foundation’s portfolio. The question of scale, I have argued, should not focus on an organization’s size or budget, but the scale of its impact: its ability to transform systems, right injustices, and demonstrate that it can solve even the most intractable problems. This isn’t to say that social entrepreneurs shouldn’t grow their organizations, but only to restate my thesis; that how big you are is in no way a measure of how good you are at driving change. On that basis, Grameen and Google can be legitimately compared!
Inevitably, though, any and all questions of scale force us to consider numbers—what we count and what that information tells us. At the risk of voicing yet another earnest caution about the role of metrics, I readily admit that numbers only get us so far on the proof-of-impact imperative. Think, for example, of one of the most famous acts of philanthropy ever: Andrew Carnegie’s initiative to build public libraries, carried out between 1886 and 1919 through a “matching” grant program. More than 2,500 libraries were built as a result of this effort, the first in Scotland, most in the United States, but also across England, Canada, New Zealand, and even Fiji. Now, library buildings are easy to count, as are the books that fill them; circulation data—how many people are checking out how many books—tells us a bit more, giving us information about how many people are using libraries and what they’re reading. What’s much harder to measure is the arguably more important impact of those libraries on communities—whether their citizens are better educated and more informed due to the libraries. Common sense tells us they are. Common sense also tells us that Carnegie’s philanthropic intent was not simply to dot the landscape with libraries, but to ensure the people he believed to be a society’s “most industrious and ambitious” and “most capable of helping themselves” were afforded the means to improve their lives and their communities. Today, empowering those with the greatest stake in benefiting themselves and their communities continues to be core to the work of social entrepreneurs achieving order-of-magnitude impact. Within the Skoll Foundation’s portfolio, Amitabha Sadangi provides a case in point. International Development Enterprises (India) (IDEI) helps turn subsistence farmers into income-generating producers via easy and cheap irrigation tools. Over the organization’s 20 year history, its treadle pumps and customizable KB drip irrigation units have generated more than $1 billion in wealth, leading in turn to significant increases in health, education, and dignity for rural farm families. Beyond these direct impacts, Amitabha’s work has also helped counter two interrelated and increasingly threatening trends—groundwater depletion and climate change. IDEI’s products are 50 to 70 percent more efficient in their use of water than their competitors’ offerings, while simultaneously boosting crop yields by an impressive 50 percent. In addition, because IDEI’s hand-powered pumps have displaced gas-driven pumps, they reduce carbon emissions. Typical of a social entrepreneur, Amitabha has seized on this measurable benefit to obtain carbon credits under the European Union cap-and-trade system, bringing in additional revenues to support his work. IDEI is doing for poor rural producers what Grameen did for poor borrowers, literally design-building the field of micro-irrigation. The Gates Foundation’s recent decision to invest $27 million in IDEI to bring its model to Africa is just one more sign of the organization’s growing impact.
Back to Partners in Health, this time with an example of what I think of as the David effect: how social entrepreneurs tackle giants. Relatively early in its history, PIH came face to face with an epidemic of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) in the shanty towns of northern Lima in Peru. Treating the disease and arresting the epidemic required both providing drugs and administering them to an exacting protocol. To the World Health Organization (WHO), Goliath to PIH’s David, dispensing this kind of treatment in impoverished communities was “impractical and unaffordable,” even though MDR-TB is known to kill more than 2 million people a year, with most deaths in the developing world. Refusing to give in, PIH raised the funds and got the medicine on its own, and then, using the community-based treatment model it had developed in Haiti, succeeded in stopping the epidemic. Moreover, it achieved an 83 percent cure rate for MDR-TB, one of the highest ever reported, conquering not only the twin scourges of disease and poverty, but the giant WHO and its skepticism. Based on this proof of impact, the WHO and others involved in the fight against TB, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have now adopted the PIH model. Armed with evidence of what can and does work, the organization also raised its ambition: its new approach was accompanied by a plan “to increase the number of MDR-TB patients receiving treatment worldwide from 16,000 in 2006 to 800,000 in 2016,” dramatic evidence of large-scale change, with the potential to cut MDR-TB mortality rates in half.
I could provide many, many more examples, drawing proudly from our Skoll Foundation portfolio. Mitch Besser and Gene Falk have led mothers2mothers, which works to halt pediatric AIDS transmission, on a growth of impact trajectory that has the organization now reaching one in five pregnant women with HIV worldwide. A 20 percent global market share of a target audience is a phenomenal achievement for any company, the more impressive in this case for being a market of mothers who are now able to protect their babies from AIDS. Soraya Salti of INJAZ al-Arab now reaches hundreds of thousands of students across the Middle East with life-skills and entrepreneurship training because she’s been able to get entire public school systems to embrace her program. Ann Cotton’s Camfed, the Campaign for Female Education in Africa, has developed a community-based model so powerful that the hugely influential Linklaters international law firm is documenting its principles and strategies in order to transform how aid is deployed in the developing world.
For medical professionals, TNTC, too numerous to count, is usually used in connection with measuring microbes. White blood cells that are TNTC, for example, spells trouble, indicating major infection; colonies of bacteria on the agar plate that are TNTC make it hard to distinguish one pathogen from another. But when Paul Farmer falls back onTNTC to answer the question of PIH’s impact, he’s talking not about microbes but about human beings. His use of the phrase is paradoxical, suggesting not only the vast number of lives he and his PIH colleagues have most certainly saved, and lives he has transformed, but that the impact he’s after really can’t be reduced to a number—no matter how big. For Soraya Salti as for Paul Farmer, for Ann Cotton as for Amitabha Sadanghi, and for those of us lucky enough to support them, large-scale change will always mean bringing about that more just, peaceful, and sustainable world we know is within reach. In the meantime, we will continue to rely on markers and evidence that tell us whether we’re on course…and on the inspiration of social entrepreneurs who prove what’s possible.
In an MBA world, I remain an unreconstructed, unrepentant MPhil. And that degree was in city planning in the last century, not business management in this one. Still, I have now spent 35 years helping CEOs and other leaders wake up to—and tackle—the new risks and opportunities thrown up as a series of societal pressure waves have pounded, shaped, and powered markets.
Time and again, against a seemingly chaotic backdrop, I have found myself defaulting to a standard MBA device—the 2×2 matrix—in an attempt to extract signal from noise. Another tic is to populate the matrix cells with sharks, orcas, sea lions, and dolphins (mapping stakeholder engagement in the mid-1990s) or locusts, caterpillars, butterflies, and honeybees (when exploring 21st-century economic models as the new millennium launched). There’s method to the apparent madness, however, in that the visuals can help engage a wider audience.
So here I go again—in an attempt to answer the question, “Can social entrepreneurs create the necessary large-scale change?” A simple question—and a simple answer: no.
That may strike you as unexpected, misguided, unfair, or even schizoid, given that I have spent so much of the past decade working with—and celebrating—social entrepreneurs and their intrapreneurial cousins within mainstream companies.
Don’t get me wrong; I still believe that, in the right circumstances, many of these extraordinary innovators, entrepreneurs and investors will drive potentially transformative solutions to scale. But the fact is that our current trajectory simply won’t take us to where we need to be by 2050.
And, yes, I admit it; I have followed the standard politician’s ploy of changing the question asked to one I wanted to answer. The key word that I quietly added to the McKinsey question is necessary. Necessary is a slippery word, its meaning morphing over time.
Once they have gained traction, no question, social entrepreneurs like Muhammad Yunus of the Grameen Bank, Fazle Hasan Abed of BRAC, Dr. G. Venkataswamy of Aravind Eye Care System, Wangari Maathai of the Greenbelt Movement, or Tim Smit of the Eden Project can move mountains. But generally the benefits they provide are far from ubiquitous even in their own countries, let alone globally.
The uncomfortable truth is that the nature and scale of the economic, social, environmental, and governance challenges we face are unparalleled. Humanity is headed towards 9 billion people by midcentury, with more than half of our species already concentrated in seething urban areas—and billions more destined to follow. Add to that the growing risks related to abrupt climate change; pandemics; and energy, water, and food security. Expecting social entrepreneurs to solve these problems is both unrealistic and a misreading of the real value they bring to bear.
To get a better sense of the benefits and challenges of social entrepreneurship, Volans released a report a year ago at the 2009 Skoll World Forum, largely funded by the Skoll Foundation. We offered the following simple five-stage model to map and explain the pathways social and environmental innovators, entrepreneurs, and intrapreneurs must take to replicate and scale their solutions:
- Stage one spotlights the eureka moment, whether it be Archimedes in his bath, Edison in his lab, or Craig Venter advancing synthetic biology.
- Stage two sees intensive experimentation, as when the Wright Brothers tested heavier-than-air flying machines on the sand dunes at Kitty Hawk.
- Stage three involves the formation of new enterprises to carry forward the new technologies or solutions—many of which fail, but a small proportion of which seed the future.
- Stage four sees a more urgent focus on economic ‘ecosystems,’ with growing efforts being devoted to creating clusters of activity in such areas as renewable energy, cleantech, or sustainable urbanism.
- Stage five is reached by achieving truly systemic change across the entire economy.
It’s easy to identify innovators and entrepreneurs who have fought, blagged, or elbowed their way through those first four stages—but tough to think of anyone from the latest crop of entrepreneurs who has yet made it into stage five.
For that to happen, we must now raise our collective sights from technologies and business models—important though they are—to psychological, social, and even civilizational change. Social entrepreneurs perform a crucial role in stage one and stage two—and a fair few go on to develop significant enterprises, with ecosystems that, in a small but growing number of cases, include major corporations. This stage can be double edged, however. The strength of social entrepreneurs is that they connect with the community, the culture. When they form strategic partnerships with corporations, the risk is that they, too, become more corporate—and come to see those they help as customers or clients, with all that goes with that.
In recent months, as I have tried to think this through, I sensed a new 2×2 struggling to be born. This distinguishes on one axis between change that happens at the individual and collective levels, and, on the other, between change that affects thought and action.
I have been absorbing (if not always reading cover-to-cover) a trailer full of books. They include the fashionably monosyllabic Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein (required reading in the early days of the Obama administration), Connected by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, and Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. Such books tackle the deeply taxing question of how to drive transformative social change. And their very existence is a lead indicator of where this whole area is now headed.
Cultural revolutions, deservedly, got a bad name because of what Mao did in China in the decade from 1966 to 1976. But what we need now is a sustained, global cultural evolution that takes us from a “Cornucopian” paradigm, in which the world is ours to pillage in pursuit of consumerist lifestyles, to a “Gaian” paradigm, in which national and regional economies may take different pathways to sustainability—but where our planetary footprints and responsibilities are internalised, becoming second nature in a critical mass of economies.
Cultural revolution in four steps
Change starts with individual beliefs and behavior, then spreads to the wider community.
So what’s the recipe for transformative change? Let’s work our way around the matrix, cell to cell. In the first, mind-sets, the emphasis is on changing our mental operating systems at the individual level. The last century taught us that brainwashing doesn’t work very well, so how do we rewire our brains? Well, happily, there is some evidence that leading social entrepreneurs are helping CEOs and other C-suite leaders –and a growing spectrum of intrapreneurs—to spot new market risks and opportunities, prototype innovative business models and test out novel leadership approaches.
Great, but even the best-intentioned leaders can hit the wall when attempting the transition from cells 1 to 2. They make the announcements, but their behaviorremains unchanged: critically, they fail as models of the new behavior. Still, if you get this bit right, the process can go viral.
Those who do make it into cell 2, must then make the even tougher transition to cell 3. Here the focus is on integrating new values into corporate, urban, national, or globalcultures.
Culture is the new frontier—and we’re going to have to get dramatically better at cultural engineering, or perhaps catalysis would be a better word. As we probe the margins of cell 4, the spotlight shifts to paradigms. The emerging paradigm we’re groping our way towards draws on the work of people like James Lovelock, whose thinking around what he calls geophysiology—which treats the earth as if it is a living organism—feels like a critical building block for the coming decades.
True paradigm shifts take decades, generations to work their way through—partly because those infected by old paradigms have to retire and die, clearing the way for the new order. Without wanting to sound Millennial about this, my sense is that we are at least 50 years into a shift toward a Gaian paradigm. And it is accelerating towards some sort of systemic transformation in key world regions by the late 2030s. Social and environmental entrepreneurs will be crucial facilitators in this process. Picture social innovators and entrepreneurs as scout bees returning to the economic hive to perform the waggle dance in Davos, at Clinton Global Initiative or TED events, signalling where the new opportunities are emerging. But they can’t do the heavy lifting solo: they typically achieve solutions that are local and remain vulnerable to economic and political cycles.
Going back to the stages I outlined earlier, what we need next are stage-four ecosystems and clusters designed to build towards stage-five transformations. Among other things, this means catalyzing the shift towards a Gaian paradigm built around transparency, compassion, reciprocity, intergenerational equity, accountability, evolution, resilience, and sustainability. And it means brokering fair and high-performance partnerships between innovators and those able to bring their solutions to scale.
Squint and you can already see bits of the new order forming, like a new solar system out of a dust cloud. It’s encouraging, for example, that Yunus and Grameen are partnering with Danone, producing fortified dairy products for poor children in Bangladesh.
But I’m even more interested in General Electric’s global Ecomagination and Healthymagination initiatives. Or in GlaxoSmithKline CEO Andrew Witty’s announcement of radical cuts in the pricing of critical pharmaceuticals for poorer countries—and GSK’s impending move into branded generics. Or in Nestlé’s offer to open out its new Creating Shared Value approach to other companies (full disclosure: I am on the relevant Nestlé advisory board)—and Nike’s similar offer with its GreenXchange. Such initiatives have the potential to deliver change at much greater scales than even the most energetic social enterprises.
What is needed to switch my earlier no to an unqualified yes is not increasingly vigorous assertions of how insanely great social entrepreneurs are. Instead, we urgently need not just a revamp of corporate-citizenship strategies or stock-market algorithms, but way smarter mindsets, behaviors, and cultures—all drawing on (and helping shape) that new economic paradigm.
Not a trivial task. Indeed, even if every social entrepreneur were a Yunus, a Smit, or a Maathai, we would still struggle to scale fast enough. So in trying to get a fix on the future, perhaps our motto should be a line attributed to Peter Drucker, a change agent who operated across the stage 4–5 boundary. It ran thus: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
What matters? Well, social entrepreneurs have been pointing the way for some time. Wangari Maathai served as a government minister in Kenya, for example, while Muhammad Yunus considered running for president in Bangladesh. It’s time to do the politics, locally and globally. Wrap in geophysiology and we potentially have a new form of geopolitics—and not before time.