How VR Will Reshape Social Media

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by Michael Volkmann

TEXAS, United States, April 1, 2018  Virtual reality is already dominating traditional forms of entertainment. With VR you can participate in films as if you’re one of the characters, venture forth into fantasy lands or even roleplay as a cubicle-confined office worker. These applications of virtual reality aren’t too surprising. Augmenting entertainment with VR seems like a natural next step for these mediums. We’re already seeing hundreds of video games utilizing virtual reality headsets, from AAA titles like Resident Evil 7 to indie gems like Everspace. But VR could have a much more far-reaching effect on your everyday life — it could even reshape how we socialize. That’s right: VR is finding its way into social media and has already begun to alter it.

Facebook wasn’t looking to get into video game development when they acquired Oculus Rift for $2 billion in 2014. They were investing in a technology that could transform social media in a meaningful way. Two years after the acquisition, we’re starting to see Facebook apply VR in novel ways with the aim of providing a truly social experience. They’ve provided the public with demos of social VR, in which participants are rendered as avatars that emote, interact and even play games together.

The idea is that virtual reality puts people first. It’s all about who you’re with. Once you’re in there, you can do anything you want together — travel to Mars, play games, fight with swords, watch movies or teleport home to see your family,” Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook about his demo of the social aspect of the Oculus platform.

The social app allows users to swap between simulated and live locations. Users are able to snap selfies, go on fantastical adventures or simply hang out with friends in a virtual lounge and listen to music.

This is wildly different from any existing form of social media in that there is real presence. So while tweets may provide us with a small window into someone else’s perspective, social VR allows us to enter into each other’s worlds. It provides users with an immersive rather than passive experience, which may foster stronger connections and promote greater interactivity among social media friends.

Facebook isn’t the only company on the forefront of social VR, either. Ambitious apps like vTime are also paving the way for social virtual reality. vTime is pioneering communication and interaction by innovating on the same technologies employed by Facebook. Stunningly, as your avatars converse, they also make eye contact, bringing a distinctly human touch to the virtual world. Like Facebook’s social app, vTime allows for users to meet up in simulated or real-world locations. Friends can gather to watch movies in a virtual living room or parade around the streets of Paris; whatever suits their fancy.

Social media’s transformation is inevitable. Both Facebook and vTime’s social VR apps are more akin to going out on dates with friends than they are to our current version of social media. As social media becomes more immersive and provides users with more significant and sincere connections, we may see the peculiar strains of voyeurism and narcissism often associated with social media diminish considerably or even disappear completely.

This also presents an interesting challenge for social VR. It may be too immersive. At present, switching between Facebook messaging, your WordPress dashboard and your Twitter stream can be done without diverting your attention away from any one task. Facebook’s latest demo showcased messaging within the VR app itself, perhaps providing an early solution to this problem. Managing traditional social media might be done within the new platform itself. It’s quite possible, however, that this old form of social media may not persist in popularity in the face of social VR.

VR is already reshaping social media. Now it’s only a question of how deeply virtual reality will become intertwined with our daily lives. VR software continues to advance and the hardware needed to power it continues to decrease in price. As it becomes more affordable, the amount of developers and designers utilizing virtual reality technologies will certainly increase. Inevitably, VR will become ubiquitous, and this ubiquity will bestow VR with the power to alter Internet culture. What’s more, VR has the power to alter our social reality by blurring the line between virtual and real social interactions.

Featured Image:  Image by Tim Savage, CC0 License via Pexels


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Gates Offers $80M to Close Gender Data Gap

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By Sunny Lewis

SEATTLE, Washington, May 31, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – Compared to the lives of men, little is known about the lives of the world’s women – how much time they spend on unpaid work, if they own land, if they can get credit, if they die in childbirth, which programs meant to help them are succeeding and which are not.

To narrow these gender data gaps and accelerate progress for women and girls throughout the world, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has committed to invest US$80 million over the next three years.

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Melinda Gates, who co-chairs the Seattle-based foundation with her husband, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, announced the new funding in her keynote speech at the Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen earlier this month.

Gates and the foundation’s team have concluded that if the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are to be reached by 2030, the world must expand its knowledge about the lives and livelihoods of women and girls, their welfare and well-being, and the contributions they make to their communities, countries and economies.

By adopting the SDGs the world agreed to achieve gender equality by 2030. But we cannot close the gender gap without first closing the data gap,” said Melinda Gates.

“We simply don’t know enough about the barriers holding women and girls back, nor do we have sufficient information to track progress against the promises made to women and girls,” she said. “We are committed to changing that by investing in better data, policies and accountability.”

“Data holds power,” explained Gates. “It demonstrates the size and nature of social or economic problems, and brings clarity around who is falling through the cracks. Through reliable data, women and girls’ lives can become visible and counted, helping to inform programming and hold leaders to account.”

Yet, despite the need and the power, there is still a lack of comprehensive, current information about women and girls, especially in developing countries, hindering efforts to advance gender equality.

The Gates Foundation‘s new $80 million commitment will support efforts intended to fill critical gender data gaps. One example would be learning much time women and girls devote to unpaid work, and how this affects their ability to complete an education, get a job or start a business.

The Gates funding will be directed to improving the accuracy and reliability of data collection, which can reveal who owns assets like land, property or credit.

The funds are expected to equip decision makers with more timely and clearer evidence about programs and interventions that are working and those that are not.

On the political level, the Gates funds will support civil society in holding leaders to account for the commitments they make to women and girls, fostering the political will to achieve gender equality.

Finally, the new money will amplify and strengthen organizations and platforms that keep gender equality at the center of global and national development efforts.

At the conference, governments, nonprofits and funding organizations agreed on a new statement of principles regarding gender data and its importance for accelerating development outcomes.

Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, chief executive of the children’s rights organization Plan International, told reporters that there is a huge data gap when it comes to recording the number of girls under age 15 who give birth each year.

Globally it is estimated over two million girls younger than 15 become mothers each year, and an estimated 70,000 girls aged 10 to 19 die from birth-related complications every year. But the figures are uncertain as official data usually tracks births by women aged 15 to 49 although girls can get pregnant from approximately age 10.

At the Women Deliver conference, Plan International launched a partnership with the International Women’s Health Coalition, the accountancy firm KPMG, ONE Campaign and Women Deliver, to find ways to compile better data on women and girls.

The Gates funding for gender data came just before the first World Humanitarian Summit held May 23-24 in Istanbul, Turkey, where women’s empowerment was a central part of the discussion.

The summit gathered 9,000 participants from 173 UN Member States, including 55 heads of state and government, hundreds of private sector representatives, and thousands of people from civil society and nongovernmental organizations.

In its outcome document, Summit delegates overwhelmingly affirmed an approach that engages communities, civil society and youth, “and for the equal participation of women in leadership roles and peace-building processes.”

There were widespread calls at the Summit for gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s rights to become pillars of humanitarian action. Participants committed to increased programming to enable women and girls to take on roles as leaders and decision-makers.

New methods and new financial support for creating accountability to gender equality programming were announced.

Plans to end tolerance of gender-based violence against women and girls were launched, and commitments were made to ensure the right to sexual and reproductive health care is fulfilled for all women and adolescent girls in crisis settings.

Several participating government officials pledged national measures to enhance the protection of women and girls against sexual violence.

The Summit pledged to leave no one behind in the quest for sustainable development for all.

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World leaders and participants across the board affirmed that those most at risk of being left behind – the more than 60 million displaced, particularly women and children, will receive the global attention and support they deserve to live in safety and dignity, with opportunities to thrive.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of the agency UN Women, said the Gates Foundation’s support for data enhancement will be to the benefit of women and girls around the world.

“The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development aims ‘to leave no one behind.’ To bring all women and girls to the finishing line in 2030 at the same time as everyone else, we must be able to target them and their needs, and see what progress we are making,” she said.

 “Through our new flagship program initiative, Making Every Woman and Girl Count, pledged Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women commits to supporting countries to improve the production, accessibility and use of gender statistics.”


Main Image: UN Women offers computer training to Internally Displaced Persons living in the Protection of Civilians site 3 in Juba, South Sudan. Students are taught to type, to organize and file computer records, to access and browse the internet, and to send email. (Photo by United Nations Mission in South Sudan) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Image 01: Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, at the Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen, May 17, 2016 (Photo courtesy UN Women) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Faetured Image: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (center right) and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with two young participants during the closing ceremony of the World Humanitarian Summit, May 24, 2016, Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Eskinder Debebe / United Nations) Posted for media use.

SOCAP15: Bigger Than Ever & Leading the Conversation About Money and Meaning

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Tomorrow sees the start of, SOCAP, the leading conference on social enterprise and impact investing, where an expected 2,500 attendees will be part of the biggest SOCAP yet, taking place October 6-9 at Fort Mason Center, San Francisco, CA.

SOCAP15 will feature more than 140 sessions for learning, connecting, and meeting peers and potential partners, as well as uniting global innovators in business, finance, tech, international development, philanthropy, and more.

Maximpact‘s social media team will be attending this years SOCAP15 and live tweeting on key events throughout each day, follow us at @Maximpactdotcom for these updates.  For more tweets on SOCAP15 follow @SOCAPmarkets and keep up with the action via the hashtag #SOCAP15

It’s not to late to join us at SOCAP15

Conference Schedule, Gratitude Awards Finalists, and Tips for SOCAP15

In addition to the main stage speakers that have been announced, over 400 changemakers, social entrepreneurs, impact investors, and related thought leaders will share their perspectives and invite collaboration with the broader SOCAP community to build the market at the intersection of money and meaning at SOCAP15.

SOCAP15 Schedule

For the list of speakers and attendees, check out the full schedule for SOCAP15, now available on the conference app, Pathable. Conference attendees can join the SOCAP Pathable community to schedule meetings, explore the conference schedule, participate in discussions, and continue to build on conversations and collaborations that start at SOCAP15.

Panel Preview

Here’s a sampling of some of this year’s most anticipated SOCAP15 panels, across the content themes of Impact Investing, Meaning, Divest/Invest, Financial Inclusion, Neighborhood Economics, 21st Century Talent, Living in the Future, and Sustainable Supply Chain:

At the Tipping Point: Risks and Opportunities of Impact Investing Going Mainstream

Speakers: David Chen, Equilibrium Capital; Abigail Noble, The ImPact; Wayne Silby, Calvert Social Investment Fund; Jackie VanderBrug, US Trust; Mark Newberg, Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, LLP

Impact Investing in 2015: a Panoramic View of the Field

Speakers: Cathy Clark, Director CASE i3 at Duke University; Fran Seegull, Chief Investment Officer ImpactAssets

Neighborhood Economics: a Whole Portfolio

Speakers: Ross Baird, Village Capital; Bryce Butler, Access Ventures; Dr. Ann DeRosa PhD, Chilton Capital Management; Kevin Jones, SOCAP

Building Financial Capability

Speakers: Timothy Flacke, D2D Fund; Daniel Rogers, Moneythink; Ben Mangan, Center for Social Sector Leadership at Berkeley; Shalu Umpathy, IDEO.org

Exploring Segmentation: Breaking Down Impact Investing to Build it Up

Christina Leijonhufvud, Tideline; Lauren Booker Allen, Omidyar Network; Debra Wetherby, Wetherby Asset Management; Clara Miller, Heron Foundation; Gil Crawford, Microvest

How Environmental Investments are Generating Social Outcomes

Speakers: Taryn Goodman, NatureVest; Craig Wichner, Farmland LP; Bettina von Hagen, Ecotrust; Debra Schwartz, MacArthur Foundation

The Results are In: Impact Funds are Outperforming

Speakers: Maya Chorengel, Elevar Equity; Dave Kirkpatrick, SJF Ventures; Jessica Matthews, Cambridge Associates; Nancy Pfund, DBL; Wes Selke, Better Ventures

Funding Fair Trade: Gaps and Opportunities in the Supply Chain

Kate Danaher, RSF Social Finance; Les Szabo, Dr. Bronner’s; Scott Leonard, Indigenous Designs; Benjamin Schmerler, Root Capital; Chris Mann, Guayaki Yerba Mate.

Gratitude Awards Finalists Announced

Nine finalists for the 2015 Gratitude Awards were selected from over 550 applications representing 30+ countries around the world in the categories of Community Development, Education, Sustainability and Environment. Of these, four Gratitude Award winners will be announced live on the mainstage at SOCAP15.

The 2015 Gratitude Awards finalists:

CareNx Innovations

CityTaps

Vendedy

Library for All

The Reset Foundation

ZanaAfrica

CASSA

Carbon Analytics

Waste Ventures

Tips for Getting the Most out of SOCAP

The SOCAP15 team spoke to Minhaj Chowdhury, the co-founder and CEO of DrinkWell, about how he works to overcome challenges in social impact work. Chowdhury was a 2014 Echoing Green Global Fellow, a 2014 Gratitude Award recipient, and was named one of Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs for 2015. His venture, DrinkWell, works to solve the global crisis of arsenic-contaminated water by supplying filtration technology and business tools to a network of entrepreneurs who sell arsenic-free water within their local communities.

Read Chowdhury’s tips on how to get the most out of SOCAP as an entrepreneur.

Sponsors & Partners

Each year, SOCAP welcomes new sponsorship from a variety of institutions who believe that business and investment can have a positive impact on social and environmental challenges. This year, they are excited to work with a record number of sponsors and partners in what will be the biggest SOCAP yet. SOCAP15 would not be possible without the financial and in-kind support of these wonderful partner organizations.


Images: courtesy of from SOCAP15 website

Biggest Banks Back Strong Global Climate Deal

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Image: Bank of America Tower in the fog, New York City, May 2014 (Photo by David Phan creative commons license via Flickr)

 

By Sunny Lewis

NEW YORK, New York, October 2, 2015 (Maximpact News) – Six of the largest U.S. banks have called for a strong, legally-binding universal climate agreement to emerge from the United Nations Paris climate conference in December.

The big six – Bank of America, Citi, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo – said in a joint statement released Monday, “While we may compete in the marketplace, we are aligned on the importance of policies to address the climate challenge.”

“Over the next 15 years, an estimated $90 trillion will need to be invested in urban infrastructure and energy,” the banks stated. “The right policy frameworks can help unlock the incremental public and private capital needed to ensure this infrastructure is sustainable and resilient.”

Matt Arnold, managing director and head of social and sustainable finance at JPMorgan Chase, said, “Significant investments in urban infrastructure and energy will need to be made over the next two decades.”

“Governments need to take the lead in sending clear and timely policy signals to ensure these investments support and enhance sustainable economic growth and development, which includes addressing climate change,” said Arnold.

From November 30 to December 11, France will be hosting and presiding over the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21).

COP21 will be a crucial conference. There, world leaders are expected to achieve a new international agreement on the climate, applicable to all countries, with the aim of keeping the increase in global warming below 2°Celsius as compared to pre-industrial times.

“We call for leadership and cooperation among governments for commitments leading to a strong global climate agreement,” the American banks stated jointly. “Policy frameworks that recognize the costs of carbon are among many important instruments needed to provide greater market certainty, accelerate investment, drive innovation in low carbon energy, and create jobs.”

“Morgan Stanley believes that the capital markets can and must play a positive role scaling solutions to global challenges,” said Audrey Choi, managing director and CEO of the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing.

“The demand for financial tools that address climate change is strong and growing,” said Choi, “and we are committed to continued leadership across a range of climate-focused capital markets activity, including financing for clean-tech and renewable energy businesses, underwriting green bonds, and ensuring our wealth management clients have options to align their portfolios with their environmental goals.”

As the bank executives offered their views of a universal climate agreement to be signed in Paris and take effect in 2020, the word “opportunities” arose repeatedly.

“Climate change presents enormous challenges for global business, but addressing it also offers tremendous opportunities,” said Alex Liftman, global environmental executive at Bank of America.

Valerie Smith, director of Corporate Sustainability at Citi, said, “We are increasingly working with our clients across various sectors to not only manage and mitigate risks but also recognize opportunities associated with addressing climate change.”

“Businesses across the spectrum are evaluating the risks and opportunities associated with a changing climate – and taking action,” said Mary Wenzel, head of Environmental Affairs at Wells Fargo.

The banks said they are committing “significant resources” toward financing climate solutions but that these resources are not sufficient to meet global climate challenges.

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Image: Susan Crowley of Multilateral Consulting LLC, left, and Kyung-Ah Park of Goldman Sachs (Photo courtesy United Nations Association creative commons license via Flickr)

Kyung-Ah Park, head of the Environmental Markets division at Goldman Sachs, said, “One of the critical roles financial institutions play in helping to address climate change is to harness market mechanisms to mobilize much needed capital to facilitate the transition to a low carbon future and build greater physical resiliency. Governments can help markets by establishing a clear, stable policy framework that creates value for these investments and facilitates innovation.”

Across the Atlantic Ocean, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is scaling up its contribution to the global fight against climate change with an increase in green financing over the next five years.

Endorsed by the EBRD’s Board of Directors September 30, the bank’s new Green Economy Transition approach aims for green financing to total some €18 billion over the next five years. So, the EBRD would deliver as much green financing in the next five years as it has in the last ten.

The EBRD aims to increase its green financing to around 40 percent of total annual investments by 2020 compared with a target share of 25 percent over the previous five years.

EBRD President Sir Suma Chakrabarti said, “The international community has a unique chance this year to deliver a decisive set of measures to combat climate change. With its long experience as a leader in climate finance, the EBRD is making an important contribution to this collective stand through its Green Economy Transition approach.”

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Image: Sir Suma Chakrabarti, president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in London, September 2013 (Photo courtesy Foreign and Commonwealth Office creative commons license via Flickr)

Across the Pacific Ocean, Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Takehiko Nakao announced September 25 that his bank will double its annual climate financing to US$6 billion by 2020, up from the current $3 billion. Nakao said ADB’s spending on tackling climate change will rise to around 30 percent of its overall financing by the end of this decade.

Featured Image: City lights of the United States, December 2012. Keeping the lights on while limiting greenhouse gases emitted by burning fossil fuels to produce electricity is the climate challenge. (Photo courtesy NASA Goddard Flight Center creative commons license via Flickr)

Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

Investment Court Could Restore Trust in Dispute Resolution

By Sunny Lewis

BRUSSELS, Belgium, September 25, 2015 (Maximpact News) – Europeans no longer trust the way the EU resolves disputes between investors and states, says European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström. The Swedish politician proposes to restore that trust by establishing a “modern and transparent” Investment Court System to replace the existing investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) arbitration model.

The Investment Court would be part of all Europe’s ongoing and future trade negotiations, particularly the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the European Union and the United States now under negotiation.

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EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström debates with Members of the European Parliament the best dispute resolution system for investors in the context of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. (Photo © European Union 2015 – European Parliament creative commons license)

 

The existing ISDS system enables an investor to bring a dispute before an arbitration tribunal. It operates on an ad hoc basis with arbitrators chosen by the disputing parties.

Instead, Malmström proposes a permanent tribunal of 15 publicly appointed, highly qualified judges and an accompanying six-judge appellate panel.

ISDS provisions appear in trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and in such international investment agreements as the Energy Charter Treaty, but there is widespread disatisfaction with the ISDS system.

“From the start of my mandate almost a year ago, ISDS has been one of the most controversial issues in my brief,” blogged Malmström on her official site last week. “I met and listened to many people and organizations, including NGOs, which voiced a number of concerns about the old, traditional system.”

“It’s clear to me that all these complaints had one common feature – that there is a fundamental and widespread lack of trust by the public in the fairness and impartiality of the old ISDS model,” she wrote. “This has significantly affected the public’s acceptance of ISDS and of companies bringing such cases.”

Malmström has her eye on eventually establishing a permanent international investment court.

But a senior U.S. trade official has criticized the proposal.

Stefan Selig, U.S. undersecretary for international trade at the Commerce Department, told Agence France Presse in May that the United States prefers the ISDS mechanism because it “increases the security of companies willing to make investments…”

EU investors are the most frequent users of the existing system. To Malmström this means that the EU must take responsibility for reforming and modernizing the system.

“Some have argued that the traditional ISDS model is private justice,” she wrote. “What I’m setting out here is a public justice system – just like those we’re familiar with in our own countries, and the international courts which Europe has so actively promoted in the past.”

In crafting the proposal, Malmström has engaged in extensive public consultations, followed by detailed discussions with the 28 EU Member States, the European Parliament, national parliaments and stakeholders.

Setting up an Investment Court System would create trust, Malmström believes, if it is “accountable, transparent and subject to democratic principles.”

Judges, not arbitrators, would decide cases, and the judges would be publicly appointed. “We will guarantee there is no conflict of interest,” wrote Malmström.

Proceedings would be transparent, hearings open and comments available online, and a right to intervene for parties with an interest in the dispute would be provided.

And an Appeal Tribunal would form an essential part of the Investment Court System.

On September 16 Malmström made the proposal public and sent it to the European Parliament and the Member States.

EU First Vice-President Frans Timmermans likes the idea, which he says breaks new ground.

“The new Investment Court System will be composed of fully qualified judges, proceedings will be transparent, and cases will be decided on the basis of clear rules. In addition, the Court will be subject to review by a new Appeal Tribunal,” Timmermans explained. “With this new system, we protect the governments’ right to regulate, and ensure that investment disputes will be adjudicated in full accordance with the rule of law.”

“I’m convinced that this system will also benefit investors,” Malmström wrote. “These changes will create the trust that is needed by the general public, while encouraging investment.”

An overview of the proposal Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership  and a reader’s guide to the proposal Guide to the Draft text on Investment Protection and Investment Court System in the (TTIP) is also available.

Featured Image: Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström discusses the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership at a breakfast with women of the ALDE party, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group, July 9, 2015 (Photo courtesy ALDE Group via Flickr creative commons license)

Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

 

Donor Checklist Improves Odds of Doing Good

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By Christopher Purdy

Americans continue to be a most generous people, ranking Number 1 in the World Giving Index 2014, the only country to rank in the Top 10 for all three kinds of giving covered by the Index – helping a stranger (1st), volunteering time (5th) and donating money (9th).

In 2014, Americans’ giving to charitable organizations exceeded $350 billion, according to Charity Navigator, equivalent to 2% of Gross Domestic Product.

No doubt, that largesse does a considerable amount of good. But this generosity could have even more impact if prospective donors would consider a few issues before writing a check or punching in their credit card number. Here’s a checklist for prospective donors looking for outstanding investing opportunities in social good:

  • ___ Measurable Results and Transparency: Organizations should rigorously measure and report results that are transparently presented on a consistent basis by yardsticks such as contraceptive prevalence and maternal and child mortality. This ensures greater accountability and engenders trust by partners and donors. Look for an annual statistics recaps, like this example, on their website.
  • ___ Cost Recovery: The best programs mimic the best for-profit companies and recover a significant portion of their costs through revenues collected, and do so without sacrificing the quality of its services or the ability of poor people to use them. It’s important to ensure that programs are financially sustainable and have the financial health to endure beyond a donor’s gift. This article talks about the three steps to financial sustainability – cost recovery, cross-subsidization and profitability.
  • ___ Check Out Their Finances: Their audited financial statement and Form 990 should be easily accessible on their website. “Savvy donors ask the charity for copies of its three most recent Forms 990,” according to “Top 10 Best Practices of Savvy Donors” of Charity Navigator. “Not only can the donor examine the charity’s finances, but the charity’s willingness to send the documents is a good way to assess its commitment to transparency.”
  • ___ Entrepreneurial Spirit: Look for an entrepreneurial spirit where managers are empowered to use social marketing or others tools of the commercial marketplace to achieve a social purpose. This entrepreneurial tendency generally results in less bureaucracy and more focus on bottom-line health impact using the commercial infrastructure already in place.
  • ___ Decentralization: Look for a decentralized approach, ensuring that strategic and programmatic responsibility is delegated to field offices or employees on the ground. This allows for fast decision-making that is based on the realities of the environment. It also means fewer headquarters costs. DKT International, which I run, spends 2% of operating costs on a headquarters of less than 10 people; less than 0.2% is spent on fundraising.
  • ___ Domestic vs. International: Many people subscribe to the credo that “charity begins at home” and tend to favor domestic charities over international ones. Certainly, there are great needs in the U.S. But I believe that there are tremendous opportunities to make more impact with less money by donating to organizations working in developing countries. This article, “Your dollar goes further overseas,” explains this concept.
  • ___ Follow Up: Don’t just fork over the money and then forget about it. Check back a year later and see whether the organization has met its objectives, says GiveWell, a nonprofit dedicated to finding outstanding giving opportunities, in their “6 tips for giving like a pro.”

When giving to charity, following your heart feels good. Using your head and your heart feels even better.

Chris Purdy is CEO and president of DKT International. From 1996 to 2011, he served as DKT country director in Turkey, Ethiopia, and Indonesia, where he managed the largest private social marketing family planning program in the world.  He served as executive vice president from 2011-2013. His professional interests center on advancing the cause of social marketing for health and socially responsible capitalism.

Images: 123RF

Three Ways Fear Gets in the Way of Nonprofits’ Decision-Making Processes

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By Steve Scheier

Whether you’re an executive director, board member, funder, staff member or even a volunteer in a nonprofit, chances are you feel frustrated with the inefficiency of your organization’s decision-making processes.

“Our fear of failure hampers our decision-making and results,” I’ve heard many people at nonprofits say. Or, “We take a long time to mull over decisions, and we constantly revisit decisions we’ve made.”

Indeed, the mere act of making a decision can be time consuming. However, nonprofits face great challenges to their decision-making because they often grapple with a relative lack of clarity about who has power and who makes decisions.

The underlying reason is implicit in these statements but is rarely acknowledged aloud:

Fear.

Think about it. Mulling over and revisiting decisions reflects a fear of failure. Worrying “If someone questions what we’ve decided, we immediately think we’ve done something wrong” – as I’ve also heard many people at nonprofits say, reflects a fear of making mistakes. Other commonly expressed sentiments, such as “Everything is a group decision. We like consensus. We don’t want to disagree,” show that fears of upsetting organizational harmony, of challenging authority and of stepping on other people’s toes also run deep.

Because making decisions is at it’s essence an act of power, it’s natural that it provokes a slew of emotions for many people, including fear. There are three major fears typically connected with decision-making in nonprofits: Fear of failure, fear of conflict and fear of rejection.

Fear of failure

Nonprofits take on huge goals — ending hunger, eliminating homelessness and advocating for people with disabilities. These are challenges that no for-profit company would ever attempt. However, while for-profits are “successful” if their profits are increasing and their market share is growing, nonprofit organizations are rarely satisfied with their progress. Why? Because there’s always another client to serve, another problem to solve. The needs are seemingly never-ending. This is a perfect recipe for encouraging environments that fear failure. People who lead nonprofits also fear the potential failure of disappointing the people and institutions that have given them time and money.

Fear of conflict

People generally don’t enjoy conflict, but in nonprofits, an aversion to conflict can be a by-product of the familial atmosphere of the organization. As J.B. Schramm, Chair of Learn to Earn at New Profit and formerly College Summit Co-founder said, “Looking at my own experience as a leader, there were times when I handled staff with kid gloves, concerned because they were working very hard for less money than they could make in the for-profit sector. Upon reflection, I realized that was a myth—and a little patronizing”.

On the staff level, consensus and harmony are important in the familial nonprofit atmosphere and no one wants to feel ostracized from the group for violating the established norms. Staff are slow to question the existing process, and even more reticent to take on decision-making roles unless they are explicitly encouraged to do so.

These feelings can be further complicated by the unresolved and often awkwardly, if ever, discussed issues of race, gender, class, age and sexual orientation and their effect on decision-making in nonprofits. Whether we want to admit it or not many nonprofit leaders have implicit and unspoken biases about who should be making what decisions in their organizations and these biases are rarely if ever addressed or even acknowledged.

Fear of rejection

A particularly raw emotion, fear of rejection confuses discussions of nonprofit power and stymies decision-making by limiting the issues that people are willing to discuss. Exclusion from an organization can have a devastating effect on an individual, and this is particularly concerning for people outside the dominant white culture. In our observations, people who work in nonprofits are consistently loyal to their organizations and committed to the mission they serve. None of them wants to be seen as uncommitted, and many are willing to stay in untenable situations in order to be faithful to and advance the needs of their constituents.

This tenacity and faithfulness combined with the anxiety over potential loss of affiliation often makes people hesitant to bring up the uncomfortable topics that might cause them to be ostracized. Thus, fear of rejection limits the issues–however important–that people are willing to discuss.

Taken individually or together, these fears have the undeniable effect of complicating decision-making processes in nonprofits.

But there is a remedy. Quite simply, talking about power and decision-making openly within an organization will go a long way toward diffusing fears. To do so, it’s necessary to have a common language that helps navigate the worries that will inevitably spring up during the course of conversations.

Ultimately, the goal of talking is to help move past fear and enable the members of your organization to work together to make the decision-making process more efficient. One important step will be learn how to speak up and advocate for those decisions affecting your job that you would personally like to make.

Here are some ways accomplish this:

  • Be aware of the biases that guide beliefs about who should be making what decisions in organizations. Dare to challenge them – beginning with your own.
  • Manage your fear of rejection and conflict. Often people hold back from asserting themselves because they fear what others might say. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen if I’m honest about the decisions I want to make?” Is that answer a worthy reason to not be true to yourself?
  • Take a careful inventory of the decisions that affect your job. Identify the decisions you’d like to make and if you are not currently allowed to make these decisions, advocate to do so.
  • In advocating for a decision-making role, approach your boss and say, directly and compassionately, “this decision is important to my job and I want to make it. I’m willing to take the responsibility for making this decision if you will only trust me to take it on. Are you willing to let me do so?

If you’re a leader, doing so will translate into gaining the ability to focus more on high-impact decisions that will make a difference. If you are a team member at the staff level, you will gain the power to use more of your natural decision-making capacity to help move your organization forward in a meaningful way.

Steve_400x400

About Steve Scheier:

Steve Scheier, author of Do More Good. Better. Using the Power of Decision Clarity to Mobilize the Talent of Your Nonproft Team is the CEO and Founder of Scheier+Group, a consulting firm dedicated to helping organizations distribute power differently so they can do more good. Prior to founding Scheier+ Group in 2010, Steve was vice president of human assets  and training at College Summit, and president at Entrepreneurs Foundation.  On the private-sector side, Steve has served as a vice president of human resources at Food.com and at CKS Group, and worked in marketing at Apple, Inc.  He is a an occasional contributor to the North Bay Business Journal.

 

Social Investors vs. Social Businesses: Who will win the struggle for the future of SRI investing?

little box boxer knocks out dad boxerBy Marta Maretich @maximpactdotcom

We all like to talk about how the social, responsible and impact (SRI) investing sector is growing—and current research indicates that it is flourishing, with more capital and a wider range of investors now entering the field.

All that is good—and it’s what we’ve all be working for. Yet if there’s one thing experience has taught us about deploying the new market approaches to generating social and environmental benefit, it’s that the detail matters at least as much as the big picture.

A closer look at the way the sector has developed in recent years reveals more than just growth: There’s been an important shift in the story we’re telling ourselves about SRI investing. A movement that began with an emphasis on social entrepreneurs and social businesses serving the needs of beneficiaries has become preoccupied with investors and the mechanisms of the marketplace. What caused this shift to happen? And is it necessarily a bad thing for SRI investing?

Changing the subject

As we’ve tracked the growing body of research documenting the exponential growth of the SRI marketplace, we’ve noticed something strange:

Once most of the literature in the field came from social investors, like Root Capital, and accelerators, like the Skoll Foundation, who were actively engaged in developing socially beneficial businesses.

Today the focus has shifted away from social businesses and their beneficiaries. Instead, sector bodies, like the WEF, the G8 Social Impact Investment Taskforce, UK SIF and USSIF, as well as big financial advisory firms (EY, Deloitte, Citi to name just a few), are turning their analytical lenses on investors and markets in an effort to demonstrate (and, in some cases, capitalize on) the potential of the new SRI investment approaches.

In a sector that has its deepest roots in social entrepreneurship, microfinance and microlending, this change may seem surprising, even worrying. Why has it happened?

1. Investors demand attention

First, investors are driving the market for SRI investing and this has lead financial firms and other analysts to study them, and their investment habits, more intensively.

As one example, a USSIF trend report for 2014 tells us that: “Money managers increasingly are incorporating ESG factors into their investment analysis and portfolio construction, driven by the demand for ESG investing products from institutional and individual investors and by the mission and values of their management firms. Of the managers that responded to an information request about reasons for incorporating ESG, the highest percentage, 80%, cited client demand as their motivation.”

This is one more piece in a growing body of evidence that shows personnel in financial firms finally waking up to the fact that their clients are interested in SRI investing. At the same time, they’re realizing that the ability to use these approaches is likely to be an important selling point for their businesses in the future.

This realization comes rather late in a sector that saw small, socially concerned family offices, like Omidyar, pioneering the practice of impact investing back in 2007. But with a new generation of private investors, led by wealthy young millennials and women, now asking for SRI investment options, the message is finally getting through. Mainstream financial firms are focussing more of their attention on socially-motivated investors and promoting SRI offerings to attract what they now realize is a growing client base.

2. Mainstreaming forces a market focus

The second reason for the focus on investors and markets has to do with the recent raft of mainstreaming initiatives for social investing.

In an effort to draw larger investors into the SRI marketplace, these initiatives sought to gather sector information, such as existed, into reports aimed at larger investors. The reports were designed to demonstrate that social investing is, in fact, a real market.  They presented their case in the language of the mainstream and included statistical data, graphs, tables and pie charts—the works. Everything about them was engineered to convince the heavy hitters that SRI investing was something they could engage in securely, responsibly and even profitably.

Several of the most important reports in this vein have been produced by the WEF as part of a series aimed at large institutional investors, including insurance firms and pension funds. The G8 Social Impact Investment Taskforce and its various working groups also produced material aimed at the largest investors including national governments thinking of entering the SRI market.

All this is a world away from the early literature on social investing, which emphasized its impact on social entrepreneurs and beneficiaries, often people in emerging economies and those at the bottom of the pyramid.

Yet the motives behind the mainstreaming push were good. They reflected the commitment of a few far-seeing financiers, like Sir Ronald Cohen, who realized the potential for scaling social and environmental benefit through using the powerful mechanisms of global finance. And, to judge from the buzz around ESG at Davos this year, the approach has been successful in getting mainstream finance to take SRI more seriously.

Aren’t we forgetting something?

This suggests that the shift of focus to markets and investors was needed to get bigger financial players to engage with social benefit. Yet in other ways the rush to mainstream may have been a distraction from some of the most important challenges still facing our sector.

These include fundamental questions about the role of business in society and the role capital plays in supporting the development of companies.

The mainstreaming of SRI investing, though it may be beneficial, doesn’t challenge the status quo behind the international capital markets. Rather, it works with the prevailing forces of global finance in an attempt to turn at least some of them in a more favorable direction. This approach is pragmatic—and its unthreatening nature partly accounts for its popularity at places like Davos—but for some in our sector it doesn’t go far enough toward bringing about a permanent change to the way we do business.

On a more down-to-earth level, the recent focus on investors and markets leaves out what many think is the most important element of all in this equation: Socially beneficial businesses.

We have a lot of experience in operating for-profit businesses and non-profit organizations that deliver social benefit, but socially beneficial businesses are still a relatively new kind of animal to us. Despite progress in the sector, we still have a lot to learn about how to operate companies that are financially sustainable and able to deliver extra-financial benefits at the same time.

What really matters

The commitment to pursue benefit alongside profit, when genuine, touches every aspect of a business. Leadership, governance, operations, compliance and reporting (among other things) are all affected and we need to understand much more about how this works in practice. The influence of investors, especially those that take an active role in governance, is yet another factor, still little studied or understood, in the development of social businesses.

With so much still to learn about how to “do” socially beneficial business, the recent emphasis on investors and mainstreaming markets can seem misplaced. However, it makes sense in one important way: Only by doing more socially beneficial business will we ever have a chance to find out what really works and develop effective models. And only by attracting sufficient capital will we have the opportunity to do more socially beneficial business.

Time to re-focus—again

So, should the story of our sector be one of global financial markets and canny investors, or should it be one of heroic social entrepreneurs and white-hat social businesses?

The answer is: It needs to be both.

But now that the larger markets and a more ample pool of investors are showing interest, it’s time for the sector to shift its focus back to actually making socially beneficial businesses work across a range of global contexts.

It’s emerging that one of the dangers of mainstreaming is that social businesses can find themselves forced back into the mold of regular companies with no social benefit goals. To avoid this, they need clearer roadmaps for how to manage and develop their companies, especially as they grow to scale. Investors and markets also need to find better ways to engage with socially beneficial businesses in order for the partnership to work successfully.

More research in both these areas is needed. The question is: Who will do this work and so help write the next chapter in the ongoing story of socially beneficial business? Could it be you?

Another new definition for social investing—and why we should pay attention to this one

green shoot with ladybug growing from a sack of coins

By Marta Maretich @maximpactdotcom

Definitions—we are so over them in the social investing sector.

I mean, we wrangled over those darn meanings for years: ethical investing, responsible investing, socially responsible investing, triple- and double-bottom-line investing, green investing, sustainable investing and finally—boom!—impact investing.

We split hairs, we waved banners, we made colorful infographics to settle the matter once and for all—and then, worn out with all the talking, we got on with the work of building the social investing sector and tried to forget about definitions for awhile.

Definitions are to social investing what balance and reaction time are to surfing: You need them, but if you think about them too hard, you just can’t stand up on the board.

On the other hand…
Once in a while a new definition comes along and we really need to pay attention.

That’s the case with the definition for social investing proposed by a new report, After the Gold Rush, from the Alternative Commission on Social Investment (ACSI). Rather than splitting yet more definitional hairs, this report highlights telling developments in the practice of social investing and yields a new, clarifying meaning for the term.

handsome doctor cares for healthy green plant

The patient seems to be doing well—but is it really?

The green shoot is wilting!

Before we get down to what that meaning is, let’s take a look at the source of this report.
The ACSI describes itself as initiative established “to investigate what’s wrong with the UK social investment market and to make practical suggestions for how the market can be made more accessible and relevant to a wider range of charities, social enterprises and citizens working to bring about positive social change”.

One look at this group’s spare website and signature image—a cupped hand, full of dirt, supporting a dead seedling—tells us that the ACSI are working in a very different key to, say, the G8 Social Impact Investment Taskforce. We’re not going to get cheerleading from these people, their branding suggests; they’re going to make us face facts.

The ACSI shuns the international glamor that has recently surrounded social investing. Its focus is national, not global. Its approach is practical, not theoretical or political. ACSI intends to cut through the hype. It wants to know, specifically and categorically, whether the UK social enterprise sector, especially its largest player, state-bankrolled Big Society Capital, has delivered all that it promised for social investing.

Keeping it real

What they demonstrate in this report, with dead plant images on several pages, is that it hasn’t. The reasons behind this failure, which fill out the body of the paper, make sobering reading for anyone who wants to see the practice of social investment flourish for real.

Problems range from basic errors—such as the assumption that social sector organizations don’t have access to finance from mainstream lenders (they do) — to more subtle but potentially damaging issues, such as a mismatch between the support social sector organisations actually need and the kind of finance social investors are currently offering.

Confusion around definitions is part of the trouble. The report rounds up a range of definitions from various authorities including the OECD, the Charity Commission and the UK Cabinet Office—all strikingly different. Then it offers a new one.

Just one more definition, please

The ACSI suggestion is really less of a definition than a set of characteristics that helps us tell whether an investment really counts as “social” or not. A social investment, in their eyes:

•    pursues and accountable social or environmental purpose;
•    is autonomous of the state;
•    has the mission of the investee as the principle beneficiary of any investment;
•    is transparent about measuring and reporting the social value it seeks to create;
•    is structured to create financial value or organisational capacity over time, for example, by helping the investee invest in growth, acquire an asset, strengthen management, generate income and or make savings.

Like all definitions of social investing, this one is up for discussion—it seems we’ll never lose our taste for arguing about terms.

At the same time, a couple of things stand out about this particular definition. One is the statement that a social investment should be “autonomous of the state”, which is to say, not politically motivated or subject to state control.

That’s an interesting stipulation to come out of the UK, whose early leadership in social investing was based on the involvement of a series of governments who saw it, at least in part, as a way of shrinking the state benefits burden. It may also shine a light on why the UK seems now to have lost its position as a leader in social investing.  Perhaps state control and authentic social investing are incompatible?

The second remarkable point about ACSI’s definition is the focus on “the mission of the investee as the principle beneficiary of the investment.”

This emphasis has the effect of directing attention away from the motives of investors and the mechanisms of investment, subjects that so often, in this sector, preoccupy us. It focuses instead on the impacts and outcomes of the investment, on the mission ends, rather than the means. This has a clarifying effect, reminding us of the real reason we are doing any of this investing at all, and keeping the focus of the argument practical and close to home.

Lessons—and satire

At a time when the idea of social investing is gaining mainstream traction—with more national governments as well as mainstream finance organizations getting involved—this report holds lessons about the realities of making social investing work in practice.

One of them is that hype has the power to hijack even good ideas and prevent them from delivering results on the ground. Another is that there’s a danger of loss of focus in our sector, with the emphasis shifting away from social benefit and the organizations that can, with support, deliver it. A third is that more attention needs to be paid to the fact that, despite claims, most social investing is still subsidized in one way or the other—and that is fine, so long as it creates real benefit for real people.

But the biggest lesson of the ACSI report is probably that the presence of a dissenting voice in our sector is a very good thing. With its focus on the practical, and its satirical bent (“Social investing is dead!” reads one subhead, and another, “Long live social investing!”) it makes refreshing reading and should encourage others to pitch in and provide alternative points of view.

Now go and water your plants!