01 Mar 2013
Social Entrepreneurship Fellows are putting the HBS mission into actionby Margie KelleyTopics:
Since 2009, HBS has given special recognition to seven social-impact organizations
by awarding Social Entrepreneurship Fellowships (SEF) to their young alumni founders. Here's a status report on how the fellows and their ventures are doing.
Brian Elliot (MBA 2008)
Friendfactor — SEF 2010 honoree
Friendfactor is a social-action nonprofit that aims to educate and engage the straight community to act on behalf of their gay friends and family members to end discrimination.
I graduated from Harvard feeling privileged for having received an incredible education. But unlike most of my classmates, I wasn't a full citizen of this country. Just for being gay,
I could be legally fired in 29 states and evicted from my residence in more than 30 states, and I couldn't marry the person of my choice in
all but a handful of states. I knew that at the current pace of change, it could be years before I would have the same rights as my straight classmates. I pulled together my friends and colleagues and asked: What would it take to dramatically accelerate our course to reach full equality? The answer was that it would take more straight people standing up for their LGBT friends. That's how Friendfactor was born.
We've raised $1.5 million in just over two years. In 2010, we enabled more than 10,000 people to call their representatives in support of the successful campaign for marriage equality in New York State. Our social media campaigns have reached 14 million people, and we've won awards for the innovative advocacy technology we've created and built.
What has been most surprising?
What's most surprising is how much a start-up has to fail
in order to be successful. It took us several iterations to get there. I was also surprised at the degree to which the private sector accepts or even values start-up failure compared with the nonprofit
sector, which is much more risk-averse.
Abigail Falik (MBA 2008)
Global Citizen Year — SEF 2009 honoree
Global Citizen Year is disrupting the traditional path to college and creating a new generation of global leaders through a "bridge" year of service learning and leadership training in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.
After high school, I was hungry for experiences to test my limits and spark my sense of purpose. When the Peace Corps turned me down (it typically requires a college degree), I moved to Latin America. The experience blew open my sense of self and what I wanted to do with my life. Ever since, I've been fixated on a single insight: A defining experience before college can unlock a lifetime of potential.
After a decade of experimentation in education and global development, I enrolled at HBS to develop the skills and strategy to bring Global Citizen Year to life. Winning the 2008 Social Enterprise Conference's "Pitch for Change"
competition and finding allies in several HBS professors bolstered my confidence to take the leap.
When I graduated, I had nothing but a business plan and the $3,000 pitch prize. Then came the $25,000 HBS fellowship in 2009. Today, we are a $3 million operation with 20 staff across four countries. We have 100 alumni and nearly 100 fellows in the field. We have doubled in size each year, and plan to engage 1,000 fellows in the next five years.
Is there something you're particulalry proud of?
I am most proud of our commitment to diversity: To date, over 80 percent of our fellows have received financial aid.
What's been most surprising?
As with most entrepreneurial plans, the projections in my original business plan were orders of magnitude more ambitious than what was realistic. I'm learning that sometimes we must
"go slow to go fast."
Down the road, what will
success look like?
One day, success as a Global Citizen Year Fellow will be as distinctive an achievement as completing Teach For America or a Fulbright. It will become a badge of leadership potential, global fluency, and unmatched resilience.
Rakhi Mehra (MBA 2009)
micro Home Solutions — SEF 2011 honoree
Using a combination of consulting, advocacy, design, and construction services, micro Home
Solutions works with communities, financial institutions,
government, and multilateral agencies to address the housing needs of India's urban poor.
In 2009, I was a second-year student at HBS, about the same time that the affordable housing buzz started in India, along with the Indian president's call for a "slum-free India."
Apprehensive about both government and real-estate developers, my husband, an architect from Italy, and I moved to Delhi and set up micro Home Solutions, aiming to do things differently. We envisioned an interdisciplinary social enterprise, with a mission to create inclusive cities where poor and low-income people had greater housing choices.
At mHS, we emphasize three principles: community, design, and affordability. We have five full-time members, two of whom are American India Foundation Clinton Fellows. Part-time, we also have an urban planner working on policy and an architect. Our annual budget of about $200,000 is part grant-funded and part fees-generated from consulting assignments.
What makes you most proud?
I'm proud that we erred toward action and moved from paper to the ground
as quickly as we have. Designing and building modular shelters accommodating over 200 homeless people in Delhi and influencing the World Bank project to take into consideration housing design and safety when financing incremental home loans also makes me proud.
What has been surprising or disappointing?
We work despite the government. There is no experimentation, and we're often told we might be too early for our time.
What lies ahead for you?
For 2013, mHS will help
people access technical
construction assistance to self-construct their homes. Our longer-term plan is to go international, to other developing countries and to Europe, where there is a growing housing problem.
Darren Brehm (MBA 2007)
AbilityTrip — SEF 2010 honoree
Founded in 2008 by husband-and-wife team Darren and Faith Brehm, AbilityTrip is a centralized online resource for accessible travel information for disabled travelers
and their companions.
In 1993, Faith and I were seriously injured in a car accident that left me with a high-level spinal cord injury resulting in quadriplegia. We were determined not to let this injury define or limit us, and we've continued to live life to its fullest, working and traveling around the world. But early on, we found it very
difficult to plan trips, as information
on the accessibility of hotels, activities, and related logistics of a destination is scattered or nonexistent. We created AbilityTrip in the hope of making information on accessible travel easy to find and update for every destination around the world, and for individuals with all types of physical challenges.
We launched the venture with a founders' contribution of about $10,000
in addition to our 2010 HBS fellowship award of $25,000. Our revenues are about $2,000 annually, and the site gets approximately 100 visits daily. We have a staff of four and make an effort to hire qualified disabled individuals.
What makes you most proud?
People continue to thank us for the information we provide, which confirms there is a real need out there.
What's been most surprising?
Even with a good idea, it's hard to figure out how to make money.
What's the biggest takeaway?
There's never enough cash to try all the things you want to, and it is difficult to do any entrepreneurial venture on a part-time basis, as we do. Also, you have to be passionate about what you are doing to persevere through the tough times. Regardless of what happens, I've learned so much that I can take with me to the next challenge.
What lies ahead?
We just completed a mobile application. We currently offer destination information on Washington, D.C., Chicago, Boston, and London on the mobile app and hope to cover as many
as 150 places.
Sidhant Jena (MBA 2011)
Jana Care — SEF 2012 honoree
Jana Care is in the business of reversing "diabesity"—the twin epidemic of diabetes and obesity that is engulfing the developing world. Jana Care aims to do so by building sensors
and apps that can transform a mobile phone into a personal lab
and lifestyle coach.
I managed a cancer-screening project in southern India as part of my summer internship while at HBS. We used community health workers armed with mobile phones to take pictures of oral cancer patients in rural areas and send them to Bangalore for diagnosis. The results were staggering: In six months, we screened nearly 10,000 patients at less than 50 cents per patient. The experience
convinced me that the
future of cost-effective health-care delivery in developing countries, especially for chronic diseases,
is through the mobile phone. My cofounder, Michal Depa, had similar thoughts, and we realized that it was time to translate ideas into action. Thus began Jana Care!
We are a year old and a team of six—two engineers, one MBA, one designer, one diabetes educator, and one physician. The past year was spent on R&D for our core sensor technology and establishing partnerships with some of India's top medical centers. We've raised $500,000 through private angels and grants from the government of India and the NIH in the United States.
What's been an important move that you've made?
Building the core team has been critical because diabetes is not just a medical problem, it's a lifestyle problem rooted in rapid urbanization, sedentary lives, and bad diets. It requires a holistic approach where engineers, designers, and clinicians work together.
What lies ahead?
We have a clinical trial
coming up to validate our technology, and a series of
market pilots lined up with early adopters.
Esther Hsu Wang (MBA 2009)
IDinsight — SEF 2012 honoree
IDinsight aims to transform how the global social sector innovates, learns, and improves by giving its practitioners impact-measurement tools to continually improve their social programs.
IDinsight's founders—Andrew Fraker, Buddy Shah, my husband, Paul Wang (MBA 2011), and I—have complementary consulting and research backgrounds and a shared passion to serve the global poor. Together, we decided that IDinsight was the best way for us to make an impact.
This year, we will have 20 employees helping governments and nonprofits around the world. In our work, we aim to make rigorous impact-measurement approaches, like randomized controlled trials, practical and accessible to practitioners. In India, we are helping the State of Bihar improve a $200 million nutrition program. In Zambia, we are partnered with the Clinton Health Access Initiative and the Ministry of Health to test new policies to improve infant HIV testing. Similar initiatives are under way in Uganda and Cambodia. We are a fee-for-service nonprofit and have received start-up support from the Echoing Green and Rainer Arnhold fellowships.
What makes you most proud?
In each engagement, we must learn the ins and outs of a specific client, sector, and geography. This involves understanding how decisions are made, the culture of the decision-makers, and the historical context of the topic. We learn to push boundaries and adapt our services.
What has been most challenging?
Managing geographic spread. We often receive inquiries about interesting projects but have to balance that with our capacity. We are also working to build a strong culture and set of values across our teams to ensure that IDinsight is a great place to work.
What's the biggest takeaway?
It's inspiring to see the sophistication in thought regarding social-sector impact—a major change in recent years.
What lies ahead?
IDinsight will apply its model in a wide variety of contexts to enable our clients to improve as many lives as possible. We intend to push the boundaries of what is possible and expected in the social sector.
Elizabeth Scharpf (MBA 2007)
Sustainable Health Enterprises — SEF 2009 honoree
Sustainable Health Enterprises serves as a platform for market-based approaches for improving the well-being of communities in the developing world, particularly by
tackling problems that are overlooked or avoided because of cultural norms.
I founded SHE in 2008, and its first initiative, SHE28, was created to stem the significant costs to the health, education, productivity, and dignity of women and girls in the developing world caused by their lack of access to affordable menstrual pads. Having begun operations
in 2009, SHE, with a staff of 10 and aiming to reach 3,000 girls this year, has developed a
franchise model to manufacture and distribute low-cost, eco-friendly menstrual pads by sourcing local, inexpensive raw materials (e.g., banana fibers) and leveraging existing networks. Coupling these new businesses with education and advocacy for public health and hygiene will have a significant and sustainable social and economic impact on communities.
What aspect of your organization makes you most proud?
People from around the world—from Ethiopian
textile engineers, to Indian public health advocates, to Wall Street executives—
have helped us accelerate our growth. Also, in our main operating country, Rwanda, we have an all-African staff that's involved in all aspects of our work, including strategy and thought leadership.
What's been disappointing or remains a work in progress?
Tackling the taboos around our first initiative is still an obstacle.
Do you expect to remain in the social enterprise realm or might you move to the private sector or philanthropy?
SHE will likely stay hybrid, both nonprofit and for-profit, though we'd like to grow our for-profit arm into Southeast Asia, maybe Central America, or other African countries. We'd like to create partnerships with budding entrepreneurs globally to start a SHE28 in their communities. After that, I'd like SHE to launch other initiatives similar to SHE28 that tackle unaddressed, taboo issues that have a huge socioeconomic impact.
Class of MBA 2007, Section I
Class of MBA 2009, Section D
Class of MBA 2011, Section J
Class of MBA 2007, Section A
Class of MBA 2009, Section F
Class of MBA 2008, Section E
Class of MBA 2008, Section G