Posts Tagged ‘design’

Social Vs Enterprise

January 11, 2009

What should be the primary motive of a Social Enterprise – Maximizing social impact or ensuring enterprise sustainability or both? The debate is still on but I do sense this growing tendency amongst many of us (including me) to be more concerned with enterprise sustainability. We believe that if the enterprise is made sustainable, then it’s ability to create social impact automatically goes up. Nothing wrong with that, but shouldn’t we also be thinking of the of the “social” side of the enterprise?

The other day David Kuria, the founder CEO of Ecotact, walked into office and said, “Suraj! We need to do a demographic based study to understand people’s behaviour around accessing a toilet. We need to ensure that everybody can access a Ikotoilet!” (the pay-per-use toilet facilities built by Ecotact are branded as “Ikotoilet”)

My immediate thoughts – “We are already building toilets and maintaining them. We are already providing access to all. Why do we need to do a study? What more could we do? We have so many more toilets to build, so many systems and processes to put in place as we scale up and grow the Ikotoilet presence in other parts of Kenya.  More importantly should we be spending our already stretched out resources on doing a study? That too now?”

David continued – “For hygienic reasons all our Ikotoilet facilities have asian-style toilets but are asian style toilets comfortable for old people, pregnant women or for people with joint pains who find it difficult to squat?”

Very valid question which had honestly never crossed my mind.  While, my thinking continued to be around – do old people, pregnant women and people with joint pain constitute a large enough population to justify re-design of our toilets, David’s thinking was totally committed to improving access to toilets for everbody. I could sense my initial thoughts and questions melting and a sense of awe taking over in my head as I saw David deeply thinking of the “social” side of the enterprise.

(Kindly note that every Ikotoilet facility already has provisions for the disabled)

The hidden value of intangible outcomes

December 14, 2007

This week I attended the seventh-annual NID Design Summit in Bangalore (more on that later).  Gregg Davis from Design Central got me thinking about the connection between the lives of designers and social entrepreneurs. It’s a work in progress; I’d love to get your feedback.

Designers and social entrepreneurs share a few things in common:
1. They think with their hearts
2. They are chronically underpaid
3. Their interests lie outside the status quo

1. They think with their hearts
Both designers and social entrepreneurship require a great deal of empathy for the condition of others.  Not everyone desires the opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes but both of these groups have created careers around immersing themselves in other people’s problems. 

Deciding to live in uncomfortable circumstances when you don’t need to is not a “rational” exercise.
Seeking to create desire rather than need is not a “rational” exercise.

2. They are chronically underpaid
Design and social impact outcomes are difficult to track.  The designer’s work is conceptual.  The value she creates is realized often years in the future.  The social entrepreneur’s work is distant from infrastructure.  The value she creates is often a public good or too expensive to quantify.  Since these outcomes are intangible, the economic value of the work is hidden and neither designer nor social entrepreneur can capture the maximum remuneration for their personal sacrifice.  But, like real estate: Labor costs what people are willing to be paid.  The non-financial benefits must make up the difference or the industry would not exist.  (I’m sure lots of people have written about this.  If you have any reading suggestions, please let me know.)

Recently, Acumen collaborated with Google to create a beta database that keeps track of the financial and social impact of their investments.  This is ground-breaking work because now impact data will be sharable and comparable.  Acumen can track the value it creates across investments, across time.  Acumen can learn more rigorously about its portfolio’s performance and communicate its impact more effectively. Once Acumen opens this database to other organizations, it can start a dialog about effective change. Might the design community also benefit from mechanisms that track the intangible value design creates?

3. Their interests lie outside the status quo
Designers and social entrepreneurs spend their days thinking beyond established systems. For the designer, it is in the unrealized future of goods and services.  For the social entrepreneur, it is what has fallen between the cracks of the public and the private sectors.  If all the problems of the world were systemically solved, neither designers nor social entrepreneurs would be needed.  We could all be artists and philosophers.