Tag Archives: social change

Ethos Water

On Tuesday, February 10, 2009, the NYU Reynolds Program in Social Entrepreneurship had the distinct pleasure to host Peter Thum, founder of Ethos Water as part of their ongoing Speaker Series, “Social Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century”.  I had the distinct pleasure of introducing Mr. Thum for his talk on his experiences founding Ethos, the world water crisis and what it takes to be a social entrepreneur. 

As something of a amateur development practitioner myself (I have yet to be paid in this capacity) with experience developing potable water projects in developing countries, I can say from experience that Thum hit many of the right notes in his description of experiences in the field, working on developing water projects as well as the approach Ethos takes toward development aid.  Buzz words/concepts noted:  pre-screening NGOs, working with small NGOs and then building up to larger aid organizations like UNICEF and WaterAid.  Giving Water, his non-profit, directing charitable giving to Ethos funded projects or organizations.  Concern for effective use of money, human development index compared to cost and need, decentralization and the involvement of local government to help ensure project sustainability.

The Q&A session was particularly interesting and very engaging;  Peter actually stopped  during one point to offer a gift of an Ethos brand canteen/bottle  to an audience member concerned about the inherent waste associated with the bottled water industry. This touched on the running debate on whether or not bottled water is especially wasteful considering the abundance of cheap or free water in the United States.  Obviously, a question he has come to expect at his speaking engagements.

Reynolds Scholars and Fellows had the extra benefit of a private dinner and conversation with Thum after the event.  The topics of conversation mostly centered on the question of social entrepreneurship.  Thum provided additional insight on his struggles getting his venture started, the rejections he went through, how he was able to sustain himself for so long while working toward the success of Ethos.  It was a lesson of persistence while pursuing your dream.  Thum was always comfortable, at ease, relaxed in his chair, fielding our questions and dispensing advice.  One highlight was his impromptu universe of the social venture, stuck between competing poles of non profits and for profits horizontally, activists and consumers vertically, and after some feedback, a greater circle around the subject representing society/government/media… reminding us with a smile, “hey, I just made this up.”  His advice was mostly pragmatic; when asked about Yunnis’s concept of “social business,” he started off critical, saying the investor inherently seeks financial return out of necessity, up to a point, where he/she is comfortable.  Then, as conversation developed, conceded that doing things for the social good sometimes offsets those needs, in the end almost implying, sure yeah, if someone makes a social business that works, good for them, that’s not my thing. 

In the end, that largely relates to what I took away from the conversations and presentation.   Peter Thum was mainly sharing his experience in the small space between for profit and non-profit, between activists and consumers.  Marketing a product that does well while performing well, that takes on a consumer’s need to feel a little connected to the world around us, though their donation or their being informed on issues larger than themselves.  It’s an approach Peter Thum discovered for himself and it’s my guess that if he can continue to work in that space he intends to. 

-Matt Sisul, Reynolds Fellow ’08.

What Mime (yes, mime) Can Teach Us about Changemaking

by Lizzie Hetzer

Trabian’s post got me thinking about how change happens and why we do it. Social entreprenuership is neither a motivation, a means, nor an end.

I began to make some connections in a book called “Mime Spoke Here” by Tony Montanaro – one of the most celebrated mimes. Yes, it is a book about mime, and yes, it does connect to social change. 

Premise: Feeling the “tug”

The key to being a good mime (or an actor) is the understanding of the premise of our actions in everyday life. Yes, it’s the actor’s annoying question: “What’s my motivation?” Motivation and premise determine an actor’s credibility. In mime, the premise changes how you do something. In the SE world, the motivation for doing certain work will change how you do it.

A person who has mastered mime isolations (exercises) won’t be a perfect mime until they’ve gotten the premise right. A mime attempting to create the illusion of a tug of war, needs to feel the tug before moving; if not, the movement looks fake. 

The premise is critical. As a changemaker, it’s the tug of oppression, disparity, and inequality that influences the movement. WIthout the tug, the integrity of the movement is affected. 

Your premise also affects your wider audience. Montanaro says, “My ability to believe these things, these images, determines the clarity of my gestures and the integrity of my sketch. My belief ignites my audience’s belief, and they join me in my adventures.” Isn’t that what social movements are all about?


Doing: There is no blueprint

The inventors of mime work and those great illusions that we enjoy – the tug of war, the ladder climb, the wall – didn’t read a book to figure out how to create them. Instead, the inventors of this work studied real-life situations to understand the tangible forces causing the physical effects. 

They understood the importance of understanding not only the wall, but its forces. In fact, the physical object–for example, the wall–isn’t what is most important at all in the mime illusion, but rather what that physical object does to you. Likewise, in the SE world, it’s not just about understanding systems, markets, institutions, but what those things do to people. Understanding the effects help us to better interact with the object.

Montanaro talks about the good that comes from not reading the instructions. And the ability to “trust” and “thrust” — feeling the outside force and “thrusting” against it. A just do it approach.

Character: Giving in to the work

In mime work, one has to create and thrust oneself into character. The character (like a cause or your work) has no life of its own – the actor breathes life into the character. 

Montanaro points out: “…when you do not loan all of yourself to your character, you have to treat your character as a separate entity and speculate on his/her feelings, thoughts, and behavior. While you’re busy speculating on your character’s behavior, you can never move and speak spontaneously. But if you “give in” to your character, if you let the character “get to you,” then the correct thoughts, words, and actions will occur to you, as if by magic.”

If we keep ourselves distanced from the work, we risk losing the spontaneous and invaluable actions and thoughts that can occur to us when we delve in, despite the risk.


In Short:

If Montanaro were asked about social change, I think he might say: Give in to the work and the risk, let it get to you, feel the tug, forget the instructions and use your experience as expertise.