June 15, 2012
This originally appeared in Dowser.org
Adam Brotman serves as Chief Digital Officer at Starbucks and attended the UN Social Innovation Summit recently. He speaks to Dowser about Starbucks’ Create Jobs campaign and how the company is using the digital space for social impact.
Q: As Chief Digital Officer, how can you help implement digital strategies that have social impact, not just convenience?
Key aspects of our digital strategy involve telling our story and engaging with our customers. This includes digital storytelling and engagement around our history and current efforts in the areas of community involvement, job creation, ethical sourcing and environmental responsibility. We are able to activate our social channels, our Starbucks Digital Network and our web and mobile platforms to share these stories with our customers, engage them to learn about our values and our efforts, and invite them to participate alongside of us in areas such as raising money to create jobs, serving alongside our partners (our word for our employees) in community service activities, and to see what we are doing in our new store designs centered around environmental stewardship.
Q: Can you provide an update of the Create Jobs project that Starbucks initiated earlier? What stage is it at now and much support/ funds has it been able to garner?
Since the November 2011 launch of our Create Jobs initiative, we’ve raised more than $10 million in donations, thereby directly supporting approximately $70 million in new financing. Part of the goal of this program was to bring in other like-minded companies so that we can amplify the good we’re doing and ultimately create more jobs. Both Google Offers and Banana Republic recently joined us in their support of Create Jobs and each held special programs to engage their customers. Google Offers hosted a special social gifting offer whereby people could purchase a $10 Starbucks Card eGift card for $5, and for every offer sold, Google Offers donated $3 to the Create Jobs initiative. Banana Republic introduced special shopping events where customers receive 25 percent off their purchases, and Banana Republic donated 5 percent of total purchases to the Create Jobs for USA Fund. Together these efforts have contributed more than $2 million to Create Jobs for USA.
Q: How do you think Starbucks can use the digital realm to have a broader conversation with consumers about social issues – whether it is sustainability, free trade, jobs, etc.?
We’re fortunate to have very passionate and engaged partners (employees) and customers throughout our social media and digital channels, and this is a natural place for us to have conversations around social issues and using Starbucks’ scale for good to make a positive, relevant and enduring impact. We get incredibly energized to see the feedback and ideas from our customers and partners, and then put them into action in ways that are meaningful and personal to them. For example, we pay close attention to our customers suggestions on MyStarbucksIdea.com, and we empower our partners and customers to engage in community service projects and share their experiences at community.starbucks.com. And we both listen and engage with our customers and partners at scale on channels such as Facebook and Twitter.
Q: Was the Create Jobs project a shift away from general corporate philanthropy and a more innovative approach to bolstering existing organizations that are addressing some hard hitting issues, such as unemployment?
We know that the unemployment rate is 8.1 percent, and it’s been at more than 8 percent for more than three years (since Feb 2009). That translates to more than 12 million unemployed people, and that doesn’t even account for the people that are discouraged and have given up looking for work (1+ million people), or those who are working part-time due to the economy (8+ million).
To address this, we weren’t seeking to shift away from anything, but rather to extend our existing community efforts where we are lucky enough to be partnered with organizations that already have a strong infrastructure and knowledge base in area that we want to make an immediate impact in. For our community stores in Harlem and Crenshaw, for example, we teamed up with Abyssinian Development Corporation and the L.A. Urban League to help make quick impact with the donations from our customers purchases in those stores.
And in the case of having an impact on the unemployment crisis, Starbucks teamed up with Opportunity Finance Network (OFN) to introduce a program that would empower and activate Americans to help create and sustain jobs. Given OFN’s existing infrastructure and relationships with its member CDFIs, the Create Jobs for USA program is able to immediately put to work 100% of received donations to provide capital grants to select Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) across the country. In turn, these CDFIs provide loans to community businesses that need financing in order to create or sustain new jobs. These community businesses include small businesses, microenterprises, nonprofit organizations, commercial real estate, and affordable housing. By providing them much-needed financing, we’re helping to get the jobs engine in America moving again.
Q: Where do you feel that Starbucks has shown the lead in terms of social innovation? And where can it continue to improve?
We are constantly learning from our customers, our partners and ourselves about how we can best impact the communities where we do business. We know that to create lasting change, we cannot do it alone, so we are excited to be working with like-minded organizations and with our amazing partners to have the right impact on our communities. We have been fortunate to have been able to harness the power and passion of more than 200,000 global partners (employees) in more than 17,000 stores to mobilize and be a catalyst for change – equal to more than 1 million hours of community service. But, we are continually learning and improving, and are by no means are we done.
Q: What was a big takeaway for you from the UN Social Innovation Summit – what idea/ speaker/initiative intrigued you the most?
Jeffrey Swartz, former CEO of Timberland, was simply amazing. He talked about “moral capitalism” and the importance and practicality of balancing doing well with doing good. He was inspiring, as were so many of the speakers and attendees. I was humbled to be there, and I was very impressed with the summit. I came away inspired and educated, with a hunger to do even more.
May 26, 2012
A little over a year ago, I got up to work on a dreary, cold, snowy morning in London and ran into some students making a ruckus, blocking the streets and chanting heavily.
As I sat in the office, I kept hearing them, making more and more of a ruckus on the main streets of the city. Later, that afternoon, they clogged the “tele” as every channel covered the protests, which had engulfed the city.
They were complaining that education, which had been granted to them as a right, was now becoming a burden. U.K. institutions, known for offering education to its citizens, had now decided to charge them.
The university that I had attended earlier that year in London was notorious for accepting more international students than U.K. students. Something they prided themselves on as a way to build “diversity.” Or perhaps, it was to build their bank balance since the international fees were quite hefty.
But the students were frustrated. They’d been told that education was available to all. And now that reality was slowly dissipating.
Recently, I had the opportunity to serve on a scholarship committee granting funds to students in the local area for their higher education. This was for a mishmash of students — some barely out of high school, others seeking an adult education. But, they were all struggling financially in some way.
Most of us on the committee, when we started doing interviews, didn’t have exact figures in our heads as to how much does a UC education, a Cal Poly education or a private university cost these days. When we did our research, we were silenced. Just in the past decades, tuition fees had tripled to some of these institutions, making even community college too expensive for some families.
So, when I met the students aspiring to receive the scholarship, I was humbled by their efforts. They did multiple jobs, they put aside their educational careers to make money first, support their families, toiled away to receive grants, scholarships — all in hopes that they could afford a college education.
What was striking to note, though, was that it’s not just a problem for low-income families. There are those who come from modest middle-class families as well; they’ve been accepted to solid universities, whether private or public. And yet, even though they have two working parents or a viable family income, the weight of a college tuition is too much for their parents to bear. So, students resort to loans.
The domino effect of the loans is something that we’ve started to come to terms with as a society. The loans keep inflating, the debt keeps accumulating and the options after college start narrowing.
Chatting with a friend recently, he said to me, “Esh, I’m going to have to do that job. At least for a few years. I don’t really have any options.” He was referring to a consulting gig — one of the most common options for ambitious bachelor of arts graduates.
He came from a single-parent home. He took on loans and worked while in school to achieve his college education. “I can come back to it later. Or I can try to start doing some of it on the side. But I’ve got to do this. I don’t really have any other option. What do you think?”
He wants to work in the nonprofit sector, addressing social issues. But his loans are bearing him down. So, he’s going for the better paying job. The one that will liberate him of his debts. What I thought was intriguing was how he kept repeating, “I don’t really have any other option.”
Education is designed to give you options. In developing nations, when nonprofits provide education or professional skills, they often term it as “empowerment.” It paves the way for a better tomorrow. Ironically, here, I was hearing a smart, young graduate talk about how his education had limited his options — to careers that paid well, but ones that he didn’t necessarily care for or ones that didn’t work so closely with local communities, which he was hoping to do.
Had he not taken on the loans and the debt, he said, he’d be happy to live in a cubby apartment, live frugally, own just one work suit instead of three, but be able to explore jobs that paid less in dollars, more in stories and experiences.
There are effects to the rising cost of education that are being overlooked. Not only are we losing some people to higher education because it’s simply too costly, we’re also building a cycle of debt for 20-somethings that’s unseen. Their professional pursuits are being affected by their loan repayments, not by their passions.
It makes it harder to do the jobs with the smaller salaries, i.e., in the public sector, a small nonprofit or as a teacher in small communities, even if you have the zeal for it. And, yet, those are the sectors that need more support, more young, innovative minds.
When I saw the protests on UC campuses earlier this year as the Board of Regents hiked fees again and accepted large numbers of international students this past year, I remembered the British students blocking the streets of London.
How do we address this education challenge without simply resorting to the checks from international students? How do we alleviate the burdens for American students?
After all, American higher education, at the college/university level, is still considered to be among the best in the world. How can we make sure that students in our communities still have access to it?
Perhaps it’s time to use a little modern-day crowd sourcing to seek solutions.
Photo Courtesy of Khanna
This interview was done for Dowser.org.
In this series we interview thought leaders on the big concepts in the week’s news. Below we examine the G8 and global governance issues with Parag Khanna.
Parag Khanna spends most of his days on a plane, whizzing around from one global capital to another, and getting into the nitty gritty of countries in remote corners of the world. He’s penned two books that look at the messiness of global politics, The Second World, a discussion about the “middle” countries that are forming their own alliances, and How to Run the World, which tackles global governance and the new players leaving a global footprint. He serves as a Senior Research Fellow at New America Foundation, where he led the Global Governance Initiative till recently.
Dowser: TIME did a breakdown of some of the topics that would make this G8 Summit a heavy hitter, ‘the most interesting in a decade,’ as they put it. On the table was European economics, helping farmers in Africa, Syrian dissent, retreat from Afghanistan, and a missing Putin (who couldn’t make it to Camp David). Do you think it was one of the ‘most interesting’ G8s in the past decade?
Not really. Just because the world is turbulent and exciting, it doesn’t mean that diplomatic summits are. We should keep our attention on the places where things are happening – Syria, Afghanistan, Russia, etc. – and only pay attention to summits if they actually achieve something. In this case, it doesn’t look like much.
The Guardian reported, ‘In reality, the summit was largely a disappointment for the developing world.’ A TIME reporter also said, Helping poor farmers in Africa is tough when every extra cent may be needed to bail out Europe. How do we make these summits more productive for the developing world?
The G8 has long been giving with one hand and taking away with the other. Aid budgets have been slashed drastically since the financial crisis. So increased food aid and schemes for African farmers, while very important and a good idea, are no longer part of a comprehensive development assistance approach. That is unfortunate. It’s not summits that need to be more productive for Africans, but policy. The policies have to shift towards cutting internal (European) farm subsidies, for example, and supporting more agricultural productivity and supply chains in Africa.
There are so many global governance meetings – G20/ G8/ BRICS, etc. Are any of these productive and fruitful? What do you see as a productive form of global governance? Is there a particular platform that you’ve been impressed with?
The sum of all these summits is a constant global dialogue and conversation which is cross-cutting if not comprehensive. That’s an important development in itself, but it doesn’t solve problems. I would like to see these meetings be much less about “agreement” and much more about sharing best practices and lessons, and then watching those spread. I am impressed with the development of regional development banks, as a good example of concrete financing mechanisms for development in emerging regions.
Summits are known for pledges. But the frustration is that, after the commitments, the money is not dispensed quickly enough. Sometimes, its years before aid money is actually granted from the donors. How do we get global governance structures to have more concrete, tangible results that they’re held accountable to?
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are a great example of such a failure. The focus has been on pledges and goals, not on actions and delivery. We should not have to wait to measure accountability, but demand it in real-time. Success has to be measured by immediate investments in finance, technology, and other kinds of capital that are actually delivered to those who need it. The World Bank did rapidly expand its support to poor countries hurt by rising food prices in recent years. That was an important move.
Does the location of these summits hold significance? Much has been said/written that the vast majority of these meetings are held in the North, not South – what impact does it have? Any?
I think we place too much importance on the location, even if these are rotating. There are many meetings going on in and across the South too, for example between Latin American and Arab leaders and businessmen, or Indian and African. These are extremely important drivers of globalization today and receive too little attention.
Do you find any difference between those that have public and private sector present such as the WEF vs. G8 which is just public sector? Are the former more dynamic or illustrative of the modern world?
I believe all important global events and summits should be multi-stakeholder the way the WEF is, but with more emphasis on immediate actions and constant pursuit of an agenda than the WEF does. There is no global problem today than can be solved without public and private actors.
What one change do you think would have a strong impact in global governance?
The greatest change would be if we focused organizations on functional lines irrespective of whether their members or participants are governments or companies or NGOs. I believe in an “all hands on deck” approach. Anyone who can contribute should be encouraged.
Photo Courtesy of Subject
This originally appeared in dowser.org.
Shivani Siroya, an Unreasonable Institute fellow, is tackling the cash-based economy with a new investment model and mobile technology. After a career in finance and development that took her to India and West Africa, Siroya set up InVenture, a social venture that aims to help the “middle gap” – businesses that fall between micro-loans and the traditional banking sector. The solution: “quasi-equity,” which bridges these micro-entrepreneurs with equity-like instruments, or InVestors. After a successful launch with InVenture, Siroya and her team set up a mobile-based tool, InSight, to track the financial workings of this cash-based economy, enabling them to earn a “credit” score and providing data on an informal economy that’s been largely neglected.
Dowser: What do you feel as a social entrepreneur has been the toughest phase: getting capital, fine tuning the idea, putting together a team? Any advice for others taking on a similar journey?
Siroya: I think putting a team together is challenging because you’re looking for people with specific skill sets, willing to travel, be committed to working at a startup, work hard/long hours and also who are passionate about the mission of the organization! We’ve been trying to hire individuals first as interns or otherwise have a three month trial period.
What is still lacking in the SE space? Is it a shortage of funding, human capital, or something else?
I actually think its collaboration and mentorship. It would be really great to see more organizations/SEs working together. I feel like in some ways we still work in isolation and a lot of times we are reinventing products and services – rather than working together to improve existing products and services. I also think personally that we need mentors or leaders in this space who can break down their own successful best practices and how they’ve been successful specifically at implementation.
What are you hoping to achieve with InVenture? What kind of change do you want to see?
I hope we can provide access and choice of financial services to low-income individuals. Through – the use of InSight - we are able to create credit scores for low-income individuals via SMS. InVenture’s goal is to provide a credit score for each individual thereby revolutionizing the financial services sector. It will increase the total available capital by improving efficiency, reducing risk, and lowering interest rates – thereby increasing overall financial inclusion within developing communities.
How does InVenture distinguish itself from other similar SEs?
We try our best to collaborate and partner with existing NGOs organizations that are already working within the communities that we are targeting. We realize that they already have built a foundation with the community – so it makes sense to gain their support first. We also try our best to understand our customer’s behavior and values – so that we can design our trainings, product and services around their needs and the incentives they need to use InSight. I think the biggest strength is our ability to constantly improve, learn and adjust our model based on what is working in the market and what our clients/end users want.
You’ve incorporated a mobile component to your organization. How critical is the mobile aspect? What difference do you see in mobile use in India vs. here in the US?
The mobile aspect is our core service and the way that we help facilitate financial inclusion for our end users. I think the biggest thing that we’ve seen is the regulations around mobile in India – there was a lot of spamming happening and so now there are a lot of regulations that make it complicated to build applications and market to users. But it is amazing to see the innovation and creative use that is happening in India around using SMS specifically.
How plausible is it to take some of the work that you’re doing in India and apply it here in the US? You’ve ventured into that space. Tell us about it.
Very plausible! We are in fact running a small pilot in NYC in the South Bronx with immigrant cash-based businesses using InSight. It is interesting to see that even here, these businesses owners prefer SMS (text-messages) rather than smartphone applications. It is interesting to see the similarities in the use case for SMS accounting and the need to create simple tools that people can easily access regardless of what country you’re working in.
One book, article, talk…. that you’d recommend to aspiring social entrepreneur, something that you’ve found useful.
I think one of the best talks I’ve ever heard is — Simon Sinek’s TED talk on Starting with Why. It’s always inspiring to me and makes me realize you always have to remember why and what you’re solving, regardless of the industry you’re in.
SF’s Mid-Market gets tech aid to lift its fortunes
Saturday, May 19, 2012
A public-private San Francisco group wants to harness the city’s tech savvy and use it to improve the quality of life in the Mid-Market area.
Creative Currency, a partnership among the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, Hub Bay Area, American Express and the Mayor’s Office of Innovation, is challenging participants over the next six months to come up with ways technology can stimulate local employment, coordinate social services and chip away at the digital divide.
“We haven’t seen this level of civic engagement since the ’60s and ’70s,” said Jake Levitas, research director for the arts foundation. “It’s time to use the digital and technical world to help us deepen that engagement and address issues that really need to be curated.”
The effort kicked off in April with a “hackathon” to get the creative juices flowing among members who will develop projects and compete for $15,000 in seed money and a chance to exhibit at SOCAP12, an international conference of social-impact innovators to be held in San Francisco in October.
That amount happens to be more than the household income of more than 31 percent of homes in the Mid-Market area, where about 39,000 people live, according to Creative Currency’s research.
It was just that digital divide that prompted the project, said Jay Nath, chief innovation officer for San Francisco.
“There are concentrated populations within our own city that don’t have access to the digital tools that most of us have become accustomed to,” he said.
San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim said she is hoping to integrate new companies with the existing community.
Airbnb, an online, peer-to-peer marketplace for short-term stays, is one such company that has joined the effort.
The 4-year-old San Francisco site is rethinking its platform in terms of social impact and how unused items can be shared between neighbors.
Molly Turner, company director of public policy, said she envisions local service groups using Airbnb to share information on available shelter beds, cars, bikes, tools, cooking materials – even volunteer time.
Twitter and Square also are on board.
Each company will play a different role, said Jonathan Axtell, co-organizer of Creative Currency and strategic adviser to the Hub. Some might offer mentorship, access to developers and technical expertise, while others will build employee volunteering programs.
The Gray Area Foundation for the Arts previously conducted a similar project in New York, the Great Urban Hack.
“We are playing the role of the connector, a translator, the central node, bringing together this collaboration,” Levitas said. “And looking at a community that is a meeting of cultures, what happens at the edges, at these meeting points, is fascinating.”
That point of exchange is what inspired the name, Axtell said.
“Currency implies transactions. That is how people pay each other, the systems of exchange,” he said. “We’re trying to get people to think differently about how communities interact, how they value what they exchange between each other.”
The project is expected to develop into a crowdsourced model where the best solutions for the Mid-Market area will be supported and funded.
The first step was a community brief that surveyed 155 residents, 37 businesses and 16 service groups in an attempt to gather “citizen-driven data.”
Aside from the four principal partners, Creative Currency has sparked engagement from other Bay Area businesses and nonprofits such as Omidyar Network, Kiva.org and Eventbrite.
Ultimately, Axtell said, Creative Currency could serve as a tech-savvy model for other cities to fight urban inequalities around the world.
Photo Courtesy of New Yorker Magazine
May 12, 2012
The number of conferences that I receive notices about these days is staggering. It seems that we’ve found a new pastime — talking action. It’s fashionable to dress up, look sharp and professional, and discuss the world’s greatest needs — be it environmental degradation, poverty, food security or global public health.
The plenary sessions are followed by workshops, which are followed by smaller workshops, which are followed by working dinners. And the chatter is endless. The schmoozing is at an all-time high. The exchange of cards, the empty cups of coffee, the cigarette breaks, the clatter of high heels.
All of us attend conferences at some point in our professional careers. And some of them are useful for our businesses, connecting us to others in our industry, linking like minds and hopefully, spurring business along.
Lately, I’ve seen a new kind of conference emerging — offshoots of the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conferences. They are playgrounds for innovators, thinkers, writers, entrepreneurs, “do-gooders.” They’re symposiums, not conferences, meaning that they’re a platform to share ideas more so than business cards.
They’re fantastic for building your knowledge base, meeting inspiring and fascinating people and feeling as though you’re leaving a footprint on the world.
But sometimes, as I stand amid these great minds, innovators and thinkers, I wonder if we miss an opportunity. Why bring together so many brilliant minds without any plan of action? How many more ingenious solutions can we hear about? Should we not be trying some of them?
We’re a creative country, brimming with ambition, compassion and innovation. Yet, the feedback that I hear most from young social entrepreneurs is we’re not collaborating enough. It’s not enough to bring together great minds, we must end these five-day sessions with tangible solutions.
If that means bringing in more public-sector representatives or private-sector participants, we must do so. So that the creativity is not just bred in a vacuum or simply the digital realm of YouTube videos, but in reality as well.
These symposiums can be new grounds for cross-sector interactions. To discuss global public health is easy. To remedy it is tiresome. To spur local entrepreneurship is a noble thought. But to do so requires tenacity. Thus, conferences or symposiums should consider different formats.
Why not assign different challenges to teams and encourage them to come up with solutions? Why not give them the tools to reach out to public officials, the business community and civil society to make it happen? Why not fund the ideas that are plausible? These are feasible, not just on a global stage, but also on a local one.
Global public leaders convene regularly for such conferences — be it the G-8, G-20, World Economic Forum, U.N. summits, etc. But, the public outcry is generally of frustration at what many describe as just a photo op.
So, how can we use TED-like platforms that are insightful and provoking to build more holistic events — ones that don’t just talk action. Silicon Valley has adopted these models, forcing young entrepreneurs to develop business models and launch them within 48 hours. The startup culture emphasizes performance. How about infusing some of that “just do it” attitude into other sectors?
One symposium participant said to me recently, “Think about all the money wasted on food, drink and paraphernalia here. What if we used those funds to jump-start our ideas? What if we voted on the most feasible ideas and injected that money into solutions, not just more chatter?”
I couldn’t agree more with her. Enough with the pens and free coffee mugs. Let’s start building dynamic symposiums that let us get to business, not just talk business.