Archive: social enterprise -

22 March 2012 | Posted By: Ilana Martin

World Water Day 2012 day of service – in Denver today, March 22!

I’m sitting here at Green Spaces Denver, campaign headquarters for our Water4Food 2012 day of service in honor of United Nations World Water Day, which this year is focused on food security. As our readers know, that’s iDE’s main focus.

There’s a lot of excitement and momentum from volunteers showing up to help spread the word in our local community.  We’re going out and hitting the streets with postcards, stickers, tee shirts to share facts like these:

Did you know that it takes 635 gallons of water to produce one hamburger? Or that 397 gallons of water are needed to produce 35 oz of cane sugar? The truth is, without water there is no food. Water scarcity already affects every continent and more than 40 percent of the people on our planet. This year’s International World Water Day focuses on the critical relationship between water access and food security.

iDE, along with Card Gnome, Green Spaces, and our event sponsors, brings Water4Food 2012 to the Denver area to raise awareness for this issue and money to prevent famine for families in West Africa.

What can individuals do?

  • follow a healthier, sustainable diet;
  • consume less water-intensive products;
  • reduce the scandalous food wastage: 30% of the food produced worldwide is never eaten and the water used to produce it is definitively lost!
  • produce more food, of better quality, with less water.

Join Us
There’s still time to volunteer! If you can spend a couple of hours taking stickers and information sheets to Denver area businesses, sign up at All volunteers are invited to join us at the Water4Food 2012 party tonight at 5:30pm at Green Spaces.

Can’t volunteer?
Purchase a Water4Food 2012 greeting card plan at Card Gnome, and 50% of the proceeds will provide families in the Sahel region of West Africa with the tools and knowledge needed to create and sustain a sustainable income from small plot farming, enabling them to increase food security and lift themselves out of poverty.

Your plan allows you to send 25 cards throughout one year. You choose the perfect card from Card Gnome’s selection of thousands of cards for all occasions; write your personal message and Card Gnome mails it for you. You can even schedule cards for delivery a year in advance.

With the purchase of a card plan, you gain a ticket with a guest to the party at Green Spaces tonight. Just show up and we’ll have your name on a list along with others.

If you would like to donate directly to iDE, please click here.

There are many ways to get involved in this issue, no matter where you are!

Visit the U.N.’s World Water Day site ( to find World Water Day events all over the world, downloadable informational materials and more.

Twitter: Join the conversation using #Water4Food and #WorldWaterDay and give a shout to @CardGnome and @ideorg or any of the other great sponsors listed below.

Facebook: We love sharing water4food information and you can visit our pages to access videos, pictures, blog posts and other items we’ve been sharing recently:

Our Sponsors:

Green Spaces
Silver Bullet Water Treatment, LLC
Colorado Water 2012
Colorado Public Television 12
Elephant Energy
Inspire Commerce
Edge of Seven
Ellen Bruss Design
Conscious Coffees
Sticker Giant
Rage Unlimited
Runa Tea Company

I’m incredibly inspired by all of these volunteers who are taking time out of their busy days to help us tackle this issue.  Thank you to our sponsors, partners staff, volunteers, and news media who are working hard to spread the word on this very important day.

11 January 2010 | Posted By: Ilana Martin

Securing the Prosperity of Nations

To start IDE’s blog on an inspirational note for 2010, we give you an excerpt below from an analytic essay written by IDE’s founder, Paul Polak along with Peggy Reid and Amy Schefer for the forthcoming special edition of Innovations Journal, “Tech4Society: A Celebration of Ashoka-Lemelson Fellows” to accompany a live conference in Hyderabad, India next month.

It seems self-evident that we should care about helping 2.4 billion people raise themselves out of poverty. But really, why should we? Most of us working in the field of development fall into that fortunate few: the richest 10 percent of people in the world. Is it altruism alone that motivates us to care about the fates of billions of individuals whose lives we know relatively little about? For some of us, perhaps. But for most, recent history has made it painfully evident that the fates of all nations are connected. As economic institutions and markets have become ever more globally linked, the peace and security of our nation and of all nations are inextricably interwoven. And the widening gaps between the “haves”and the “have nots” are not simply morally questionable—they also lead to greater violence and instability and further economic stagnation. As President Barack Obama cautioned the world in his Nobel Peace Prize speech in Oslo, Norway,“Security does not exist where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine they need to survive.”

As we slowly recover from the worst economic downturn in nearly a century, we would be wise not to ignore the spectacular opportunities to create jobs and profits and to spur more rapid economic growth by giving birth to dozens of Henry Ford sized new markets that serve 90 percent of the world’s customers. By investing in income-generating enterprises that provide access to basic human needs, we are investing not only in prosperity but also in education, health, and greater global security.

The strategies to get there are surprisingly simple. We need to start by recognizing the enormous market opportunity to create products and services that 90 percent of the world will pay for instead of limiting ourselves to 10 percent of the world’s customers. We need to start treating the poorest of the poor as customers, not as charity cases. We need to listen to those customers to understand their biggest, most pressing needs and build simple, affordable solutions; ones that can be easily maintained and which create profitable businesses for local entrepreneurs. And we need to do so by relying on business models that offer attractive profits to companies and commercial rates of return to investors. Most importantly, we need to galvanize and embrace the self-interest and enterprising spirit inherent in all of us—companies, investors, and poor people.

The most effective way to reach the world’s poorest people and to give them the chance to generate wealth and lift themselves out of poverty is to energize market forces, those same forces that have fueled enormous wealth creation in developed nations for generations.

The time to begin is now.

– Paul Polak, Peggy Reid, and Amy Schefer

5 October 2009 | Posted By: Stu Taylor

Patient Capital

From Stu Taylor, Executive Director of IDE Canada…

I am an avid follower of TED podcasts. Now playing on my iPod is Acumen Fund CEO Jacqueline Novogratz, who, in her June 2009 TED address, cites IDE as an example of “patient capital” – her term for a third way between pure, market-driven capitalism and socially-driven philanthropy.

While her version of IDE’s history leaves a few gaps, her positioning of IDE in this in-between space is largely consistent with the way we view ourselves and the environment in which we operate.

One the one hand, there is a growing chorus of voices (interestingly, many of them from aid-recipient countries) proclaiming the massive failure of international aid to address poverty – especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. Economists Zambian Dambisa Moyo (‘Dead Aid’), Peruvian Hernando DeSoto (‘The Mystery of Capital’) and American William Easterly have all put forward compelling arguments for the scrapping or complete reformation of our current approach to international aid. Despite spending over a trillion dollars on aid to Africa over the past 60 years, we have seen little real growth, and in many cases even contraction and growing poverty. Aid has too often lined the pockets of corrupt officials, undermined local businesses by flooding markets with free or subsidized products and created a dysfunctional handout culture, where recipients’ ingenuity and creative energies are diverted into gaming naïve programs, rather than creating goods or services of real local value. Whether you believe in reform or wholesale abolition of international aid (if you have a couple of slack hours, check out the [June 2009 Munk Debate] in Toronto on the future of international aid), there is no question that the current system is broken.

On the other hand, while unfettered markets have tremendous power to create wealth – and are doing so for many formerly impoverished populations – they often bypass or ignore particularly vulnerable and poor populations. The truth is that many of the populations we work with – poor, rural families who depend on small parcels of marginal land for their livelihood – live with the reality of market failure. The farmers we serve are incredibly resourceful, hard-working and savvy. However, their communities are a high-risk proposition for most would-be investors and service-providers: poorly served by local communications and transportation infrastructure, subject to a variety of nuisance and exploitative policies and engaged in scattered production of low-volume, low-margin products far from major markets. This is by no means “low-hanging fruit” for businesses looking to fill a niche. At the same time, markets are where poor people already fight for survival. And we like the fact that markets, by definition, treat poor people as customers – listening and responding to their needs and priorities, rather than parachuting in ill-suited ‘solutions’ to grateful ‘beneficiaries’.

Novogratz’ definition of patient capital is investment that is risk-tolerant and long-term, seeking social return in populations – like poor rural households earning less than a dollar-a-day – that are notoriously risk-averse and focused on short-term returns. With the exception of a few, incredibly committed social entrepreneurs, willing (and able) to persevere in difficult environments and forego years of potential returns (like my friend Dan Ball of Forest Fruits Honey in Zambia), patient capital is a rare commodity in the open market. Organizations like Acumen – and IDE – stand in the gap between the social aims (but often limited effectiveness) of philanthropy and the power (but often limited social motivation) of the market.

I am often asked why – if IDE’s products are sold to farmers by local businesses and we emphasize the importance of viewing farmers as customers, not objects of charity – we are organized as a charity, seeking personal donations and grants from governments, companies and foundations. In fact, when Bill Gates visited IDE in India last year, his father asked exactly this question. Like Novogratz, we might describe the answer as patient capital. The money we receive as grants or donations allows us to invest in creating products and services for marginal populations that might be considered too risky or otherwise unattractive to businesses. We are not using the money to give stuff away, but we are able to make investments that might not be possible for a business driven by next quarter’s income statement.

These investments include research and development – designing and bringing to market new or modified products that meet the needs of poor customers, marketing – getting the word out among difficult-to-reach communities, training – helping farmers and local service providers develop the specialized skills they need to succeed, and connecting – linking farmers to better markets for what they can produce (a ‘dating service’ for small farmers and prospective buyers). We have demonstrated that, with these investments, formerly subsistence farmers can move into a thriving cash economy, creating wealth for their families and for a growing local service industry that sustains and drives further growth.

As Novogratz says at the end of her talk, this is how we “…build solutions that start from the perspective of those we are trying to help, rather than what we think that they might need.”

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