Social Entrepreneurship

Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia

Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia
W. W. Norton & Company

Anthony M. Townsend
10/07/2013

An unflinching look at the aspiring city-builders of our smart, mobile, connected future.

We live in a world defined by urbanization and digital ubiquity, where mobile broadband connections outnumber fixed ones, machines dominate a new "internet of things," and more people live in cities than in the countryside. In Smart Cities, urbanist and technology expert Anthony Townsend takes a broad historical look at the forces that have shaped the planning and design of cities and information technologies from the rise of the great industrial cities of the nineteenth century to the present. A century ago, the telegraph and the mechanical tabulator were used to tame cities of millions. Today, cellular networks and cloud computing tie together the complex choreography of mega-regions of tens of millions of people.

In response, cities worldwide are deploying technology to address both the timeless challenges of government and the mounting problems posed by human settlements of previously unimaginable size and complexity. In Chicago, GPS sensors on snow plows feed a real-time "plow tracker" map that everyone can access. In Zaragoza, Spain, a "citizen card" can get you on the free city-wide Wi-Fi network, unlock a bike share, check a book out of the library, and pay for your bus ride home. In New York, a guerrilla group of citizen-scientists installed sensors in local sewers to alert you when stormwater runoff overwhelms the system, dumping waste into local waterways.

As technology barons, entrepreneurs, mayors, and an emerging vanguard of civic hackers are trying to shape this new frontier, Smart Cities considers the motivations, aspirations, and shortcomings of them all while offering a new civics to guide our efforts as we build the future together, one click at a time.

Information for Impact: Liberating Nonprofit Sector Data

Information for Impact: Liberating Nonprofit Sector Data
Aspen Institute (January 2013)

Noveck, Beth Simone and Daniel Goroff
01/01/2013

This report addresses the challenges to obtaining better, more usable data about the nonprofit sector to match the sector’s growing importance. In 2010, there were 1.5 million tax-exempt organizations in the United States with $1.51 trillion in revenues. Through the Form 990 in its several varieties, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) gathers and publishes a large amount of information about tax-exempt organizations. Over time, versions of the Form 990 have evolved that collect information on governance, investments, and other factors not directly related to an organization’s tax calculations or qualifications for tax exemption. Copies of these returns are available one at a time from the filers or from other sources. The IRS creates image files of Form 990 returns and sells compilationsof them to the subscribing public for a fee. Several institutions, particularly GuideStar, the Foundation Center, and the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS) at the Urban Institute, use this IRS data to analyze and present information about individual nonprofits and about the sector as a whole.

Like other important data collected by governments, information contained in the 990s could potentially be far more useful if it were not only public but “open” data. Open data are data that are available to all, free of charge, in a standard format, published without proprietary conditions, and available online as a bulk download rather than only through single-entry lookup. Making the Form 990 data truly open in this sense would not only make it easier to use for the organizations that already process it, but would also make it useful to researchers, advocates, entrepreneurs, technologists, and nonprofits that do not have the resources to use the data in its current form. We argue that open 990 data may increase transparency for nonprofit organizations, making it easier for state and federal authorities to detect fraud, spur innovation in the nonprofit sector and, above all, help us to understand the potential value of the 990 data.

Not so Fast: The Realities of Impact Investing

Not so Fast: The Realities of Impact Investing
America's Quarterly

Jonathan Morduch
09/01/2011

At the beginning of 2010, the Indian microfinance sector was a hotspot for impact investors. The promise of impact investing could be seen in the number of investors lining up to participate in the IPO of SKS Microfinance. 

SKS had ballooned from 603,000 borrowers in fiscal year 2007 to 6.8 million in fiscal year 2010.  Most were women in South Indian villages. The founder of SKS, Vikram Akula, had been saluted by Time and the World Economic Forum, and his Harvard-published memoir told the story of an “unexpected quest to end poverty through profitability.” 

But by 2011, the Indian microfinance sector was mired in bad press and political controversy.  Newspapers accused lenders of putting poor villagers in debt and causing suicides. State-level legislation in late 2010 capped interest rates and scared away equity investors.  Borrowers ceased to repay, and SKS’s share price plummeted, dipping below 200 rupees in late August 2011 (from an IPO price of 985 rupees in August 2010). As summer 2011 ended, BASIX—a pioneering competitor of SKS-- very publicly searched for funding to stay afloat.

Both the achievements and challenges in India hold lessons for impact investors. 

Impact investing has been widely touted, with microfinance as a leading example.  The temptation to attract capital by promising macro-impact at a micro-cost is difficult to resist—and India continues to be one of the most important and innovative microfinance markets. But getting the equation right is more complicated than most advocates admit.

Here are seven lessons on challenges, risks and realities drawn from three decades of microfinance ups and downs.

Microfinance and Social Investment

Microfinance and Social Investment
Annual Review of Financial Economics, vol. 3, ed. Robert Merton and Andrew Lo. 2011: 407-434.

Conning, J. & Morduch, J.
04/08/2011

This paper puts a corporate finance lens on microfinance.  Microfinance aims to democratize global financial markets through new contracts, organizations, and technology. We explain the roles that government agencies and socially-minded investors play in supporting the entry and expansion of private intermediaries in the sector, and we disentangle debates about competing social and commercial firm goals. We frame the analysis with theory that explains why microfinance institutions serving lower-income communities charge high interest rates, face high costs, monitor customers relatively intensively, and have limited ability to lever assets. The analysis blurs traditional dividing lines between non-profits and for-profits and places focus on the relationship between target market, ownership rights and access to external capital.

Brandraising: How Nonprofits Raise Visibility and Money Through Smart Communications

Brandraising: How Nonprofits Raise Visibility and Money Through Smart Communications

Durham, Sarah
01/01/2010

In the current economic climate, nonprofits need to focus on ways to stand out from the crowd, win charitable dollars, and survive the downturn. Effective, mission-focused communications can help organizations build strong identities, heightened reputations, and increased fundraising capability. Brandraising outlines a mission-driven approach to communications and marketing, specifically designed to boost fundraising efforts. This book provides tools and guidance for nonprofits seeking to transform their communications and marketing through smart positioning, branding, campaigns, and materials that leverage solid strategy and great creative, with a unique focus on the intersection of communications and fundraising.

The Search for Social Entrepreneurship

The Search for Social Entrepreneurship
Brookings Institution Press

Light, P.C.
01/01/2008

Research on social entrepreneurship is finally catching up to its rapidly growing potential. In The Search for Social Entrepreneurship, Paul Light explores this surge of interest to establish the state of knowledge on this growing phenomenon and suggest directions for future research. Light begins by outlining the debate on how to define social entrepreneurship, a concept often cited and lauded but not necessarily understood. A very elemental definition would note that it involves individuals, groups, networks, or organizations seeking sustainable change via new ideas on how governments, nonprofits, and businesses can address significant social problems. That leaves plenty of gaps, however, and without adequate agreement on what the term means, we cannot measure it effectively. The unsatisfying results are apple-to-orange comparisons that make replication and further research difficult. The subsequent section examines the four main components of social entrepreneurship: ideas, opportunities, organizations, and the entrepreneurs themselves. The copious information available about each has yet to be mined for lessons on making social entrepreneurship a success. The third section draws on Light’s original survey research on 131 high-performing nonprofits, exploring how they differ across the four key components. The fourth and final section offers recommendations for future action and research in this burgeoning field.

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