Category Archives: Economic Development

Runa – A sustainable beverage business from the Ecuadorian amazon

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A few weeks back I wrote about Cuyana an interesting social impact business model with a Quechua name.  I recently came across another such company listening to a Good Life podcast. This one is called Runa which means “human being” in the native language of the Andes.  It is a perfect name since  Runa, is a Brooklyn, New York based agribusiness with a grounded human-centered approach to profitably and sustainably make a difference in the world.  It does this by providing alternative livelihoods for indigenous Kichwa people in the Ecuadorian Amazon while at the same time providing the US market with a healthy new caffeinated beverage alternative called Guayusa. Runa has grown quickly from its small beginnings of importing the tree-leaf using personal luggage and doing homemade packaging and distribution to family and friends.  Today it can now be found across the United States, most notably in the popular Whole Foods supermarket chain.  In doing so its approach of bringing business ethic to social work has been praised by Richard Branson’s in his book Screw Business as Usual and its founders have even made their way onto Bloomberg TV. Read on to find out more.

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Samasource – creating jobs for the rural poor by impact sourcing microwork

samasource

Have you ever wondered who does those annoyingly repetitive tasks of data validation, number checking and content moderation?  I may have found the answer.  This week I’d like to profile a technology company which has come up with an innovative “win-win” solution to connect some of the world’s biggest and most sophisticated tech companies with the jobless poor in developing countries.  The company Samasource which means “equal” in Sanskrit does this through a concept called microwork or the division of big tasks into smaller ones which can be performed by unskilled labor online.  It is a brilliant idea that proves people from villages and urban slums can be reliable parts of the global knowledge economy supply chain.  It is so good that it has as the Financial Times described really taken off and thrust the company and its creator into the limelight being labeled Wired magazine as one of the 50 people who can change the world and by the Wall Street Journal as one of businesses rising stars.

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Instiglio – Bringing social impact bonds to developing countries

Instiglio

Over the last few years we have seen the emergence of a new model for public-private partnership which innovatively allows private financiers to help public sector or non-government actors to achieve needed social goals.  That model is the social impact bond (SIB) – or as the Economist magazine calls it a new way to link commerce and conscience.  It is a model which allows the private sector to finance social programs and get paid back with interest by the government if and when a pre-determined social target is met.  Started in the UK in 2010 it has since caught on around the world being used in places like New South Wales, Australia, the state of Massachusetts in the US and notably by the New York City government in conjunction with Goldman Sachs in an effort to help troubled teens avoid going back to jail.  More recently a new company, Instiglio, started by a bunch of bright young Harvard Kennedy School grads has decided to take the model to developing countries starting with Colombia and now also India.  Read on to find out more.

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GiveDirectly – A mobile cash transfer model changing the way aid is delivered in Africa

give directly

This week I would like to profile a non-profit model that deserves notice not only because it was started by a former classmate and friend of mine but also because it is an inspiring new model for development aid that may well be a new benchmark by which all poverty-alleviation interventions and philanthropy will be measured.  GiveDirectly a recent winner of a Google Global Impact Award is a non-profit devoted to providing unconditional cash transfers (i.e. cash with no strings attached) directly to the impoverished in Kenya.  You may be asking what is the difference between this and just giving money away?  Not much, except that with technology from M-Pesa and rigorous randomized impact evaluations they can guarantee that money is being received by intended beneficiaries and is having an impact on those who need it most.   It is a simple tech-enabled and data-driven model  that has caught the world’s attention and has recently been featured by the likes of Harvard Business Review, The Atlantic Magazine and NPR.  Read on to find out more. 

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