Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Social Entrepreneurship at TiECON 2015

I got my first limited exposure to TiECON just this year.  I was lucky enough to score a free pass to the social entrepreneurship track.  Someone told me it would also score admission to the entire conference but the check-in people told me that was not the case.  What a bummer.  I prefer free admission whenever possible.

I did not know that the UNICEF Innovation Center existed until they sent a representative to speak at TiECON.  I would like to see more success stories about how tech breaks the cycle of victimhood in humanitarian aid.  More self-reliant clients means more inefficient relief NGOs can close their doors.  I'll believe UNICEF is serious about Big Data relief solutions when it works its way out of existence.

The social investors panel dropped some gems of wisdom.  If I recall correctly, one expert said innovation, reach, impact, and determination are the preferred social enterprise success factors.  Show me the KPIs for each category so our social entrepreneurs know how to fulfill each factor.  The funders see entrepreneurial potential in Indian high school grads in the academic top 10-15% of their classes who gain admission to engineering and medical school.  I think they should refine their criteria to include personality assessments that select for people with intrinsic motivation and a low need for approval.  The funders are also big believers in personal role models for the high-potential proteges they identify in underprivileged communities.  It sure is nice when someone powerful launches a deus ex machina into a poor region.

I give bonus points for the creativity in naming a talk "Making the Elephant in the Indian Economy Dance."  Just don't dance anywhere near that elephant and you should be okay.  Infrastructure attracts capital and talent; Silicon Valley has long known this and Indians have figured it out.  I thought of Maslow's hierarchy of needs when the speaker dude said making a change in someone's life meant meeting all of their needs.  The point is that it's impossible for an entrepreneur to reach Maslow's self-actualization pinnacle if they worry about what to eat and where to sleep.  Here comes my massive revelation, people.  Short of meeting all human needs, a scalable social entrepreneurial solution lowers the challenges a disadvantaged population faces, so they can meet their own needs with less difficulty.  The solution must of course serve a large target market to be worth scaling, and India definitely has a large population of very poor people.

I had never heard of the Hinduja Group Foundation until this conference.  The controlling family's representative could certainly practice her public speaking skills before addressing TiECON.  Having family wealth grants access to the WEF at Davos but does not guarantee obvious strategic vision.  I agree with the family's advocacy for greater gender parity and maternity benefits in career tracks.  I always want to see women get ahead, especially the ones wiggling shapely behinds as they climb their career ladders.

I still cringe when minimally qualified people get a public platform through the luck of their birth into privilege.  Gall dang it, I would rather have spent time in TiECON's oil and gas track than listen to a dilettante mouth off.  Speaking about social capital means having competence in allocating capital.  Family mouthpieces need to have the most competent parts of their bloodline facing the public.  The weaker people should stay on the sidelines at the polo field.

The final panel shared some best practices for nonprofits' success.  The panelists wasted time talking about everything their nonprofits did, except for how they succeeded!  I kept wondering about a best practice for scoring with hot nonprofit babes.  If donors are the equivalent of VCs for nonprofits, they should make their expectations clear through the various forms of donor-advised giving.  If nonprofits want to avoid being held hostage to donor demands, they should develop market-based revenue streams that will make them financially independent.

TiECON is doing the right thing by branching out into social entrepreneurship.  More care in selecting their noted experts would enhance this track's credibility at future conferences.  TiE should note how SOCAP operates.  The nonprofit sector doesn't generate the returns that TiE's capitalist entrepreneurs are accustomed to seeing in their careers.  I appreciate the hot Indian babes who attended this particular track.  I'm certain I can leverage their assets in some future joint ventures, if you know what I mean.