5 Lessons from an Office on the Edge

Kris Ansin is the executive director of Mali Health Organizing Project - an amazing company increasing access to primary maternal and child healthcare in Mali.  This past year, Mali repelled an Islamic coup and had it's first case of Ebola, hopefully contained.  To say Kris lives in a complex and complicated world is an understatement. This is his story of what he's learned living and working at the edge.

I have a passion for exploring the world’s corners – those places far away from a Wall St, Main St, or any another familiar boulevard. These corners have been the places and times where I’ve learned the most about the world and myself. For the last three years, I have satiated this string of my DNA with an unconventional job – as Executive Director of a small NGO addressing maternal and child survival in slums of Mali, West Africa, where health outcomes are among the lowest in the world. Despite this unconventional “corner” office, the lessons I’ve learned (or in some cases, those imposed by necessity) have been profound, and many seem applicable in myriad professional settings.

More and more offices exist at the corner, situated in the messy confluences of cultures and technologies and in the borderlands of traditional disciplines.  As a millennial leader, I see the ways our generation’s coming of age in the workforce has prepared us to lead from these spaces, to support a more inclusive and empathetic framework, and to embrace failure as an inevitable process towards achievement.


Every time I have assigned someone a task, rather than taking it on myself, the net effect – short-term, long-term, or both – is decidedly positive. As my grandfather, my own mentor in management, would remind me, “delegate, but don’t abdicate.” Far from the desertion of tedious tasks or monotonous busywork, this means giving team members control and independence, and constantly cleaning the edges of my own plate that, almost by definition of the role, will constantly overflow. Identifying the right person for the right job at the right time is not always obvious and itself merits deliberate thought.  This process feels more like the conducting of an orchestra than the delivery of orders or obligation. Effective distribution of accountability and responsibility, then, leads to better musicians, increased practice, more time in the spotlight, and most important, harmony.

The Danger of Assumptions

So often dissonance, disappointment, or disaster is a result of poor communications. In this job, it’s necessary to navigate differences in language, culture, and distance. It is easy for messages to be lost or distorted with such obvious traps. The recipient of a message, for completely legitimate reasons, understands in a wholly difference context than its original intention.

Assumptions, conscious or not, frequently contribute to poor communications, and I’ve tried to make that admission to myself in my interactions – often, I have no idea what another person is thinking. I have to ask, and I have to make time for the answers, and both steps are equally important. The difference between interest and position (thank you, Getting to Yes) is often clouded, but if you ask enough and listen more, the way forward can also become clear.  Last, if possible, I save important conversations for when there is no computer screen separating me from others. Despite technology’s accomplishments, there is no substitute for physically being in the same space.


I can’t outcompete anyone, or nearly anyone, when it comes to employee compensation. It’s a troublesome and common trend in nonprofits but particularly in a small organization with a startup attitude. What I’ve found, however, is traditional views of compensation don’t reflect how people behave in – or towards – this organization. Other factors, like meaningful work, a wide degree of autonomy, and strategic recognition (both internal and external) seem to be more powerful drivers.  The ability to offer an environment replete with these conditions have nullified, or at least mitigated, what would commonly be seen as an Achilles heel. We have to pay something, and expect compensation levels to reach more equitable levels as we grow, but more meaningful forms of motivation have boded well for this organization. Interns are given real responsibilities (with real results), staff are trusted and given their own budgets to plan and manage, and a mission-driven attitude is permeable when staff members collaborate, focusing on a shared pursuit. Employee of the Month, annual Family Days, professional development stipends, the distribution of meat to field staff at the end of Ramadan, and FedEx Days are all ways we have built this culture of compensation beyond bottom line.

All of me

Professional roles in Mali are rigid. Structure and formality are common in the professional context, and if I were graded based on this rubric, I’d fail. Just ask my staff. Rather, during my extended stays in our field office, the traditional divide between work and life blurs. For me, this is a positive development. Bosses in any culture hold a degree of power and can encourage interactions that are artificial or soul-sucking (One NYT Sunday Review article just cited the fact that in a typical day, spending time with one’s boss is the #1 unhappiest activity one can perform).  Allowing my staff see a more personal side of me has led to a more intimate and productive office.  They can laugh, and appreciate, when I stammer through local languages, and helping me to navigate unfamiliar moors provides space for them to lead. They come to know me better when I share personal experience, or spend time with them in an informal setting. And in turn, they can be more of themselves, and bring more of themselves, to our shared cause.

The F-word

Addressing child survival is no small undertaking. If progress were easy, this challenge, and the many like it, would undoubtedly have been solved. But behind a simple problem are often complex influencers that necessitate sophisticated solutions. Which carries greater risk. In the nonprofit sector, results are often necessary within a calendar year, and in a business setting, quarterly earnings often inform value and success. Real progress however, is more messy and less linear. We have to innovate, test, fail, and try again, in order to ensure a true impact on such a societal problem.  Yes, evaluation is important and progress is our goal, but failure is an important part of the process, and too often swept under the rug. In traditional contexts, failure is the opposite of success; instead, failure must serve as a tool that helps achieve a goal, a course-correction that must be recognized and understood, not reduced and forgotten. The challenges of today require a redefinition of failure, and young leaders are poised to carry that torch. Having lived in a short time in the context of incredible forces of progress and regression, we realize both the consequences and the opportunities. Both are great. To find success, we have to fail.

BIO:  Kris Ansin is the Executive Director of the Mali Health Organizing Project, increasing access to quality primary care in peri-urban communities, the world's fastest growing populace. Through health saving and financing initiatives, strengthened systems between communities and clinics, and quality improvement programs at local health centers, Mali Health is developing a sustainable and participatory model of healthcare delivery in resource-strained environments. Kris grew up in Massachusetts, holds a Masters of Public Health in International Health and Development from Tulane University in New Orleans, and has worked with a number of large and small organizations in Africa and South Asia. As Executive Director, he is responsible for crafting Mali Health’s strategic vision, communications, programs, financing, and fundraising. He divides his time between the US and Bamako, Mali.

A version of this was originally published in Switch and Shift.

A Better World by Design

Indeed, we can design a better world! Since 2008, RISD and Brown students have united innovators around the globe, across many disciplines in a common goal, "Building a Better World".  

This year, I'm honored to do a workshop on applying Aristotle's classic virtues (e.g, love, courage, prudence) to the design process and innovation.  My required haiku:

Oceans deep hide rare

Blue Lobsters found in 'random'





Every Business Is Social (Like it or not)

Mali HealthGiven the great comments on last week’s post and a Huffington Post article on the subject by Matt Murrie, I thought a follow-up was in order.   The comments centered on two themes:

  • Investment funding’s acceptance of “Social” as a viable type of business
  • Business Modeling – social vs. regular


Venture capitalists have traditionally funded for-profit businesses with a strong focus on ROI – Return on Investment vs. ROIm – Return on Impact (ROIm will be a forthcoming blog post).  To most, the two ROIs are either incompatible or irrelevant.  Foundations and other philanthropies have traditionally funded non-profits with a strong focus on the ROIm.  Slowly investors are realizing this is an artificial distinction. 

  • No matter what your business, if it’s not having an impact on the customer in a way that delights the customer, you won’t need to worry for long – thank you Darwinism. 
  • The number of investors focused on maximizing both ROI and ROIis increasing.  For instance, FSG and New Profit come to mind, with returns some ‘regular’ VCs would love.  Accelerators for social enterprises are helping fledging ventures sustainably scale, such as the SE Greenhouse
  • The assumption that you have to be a non-profit to ‘do good’ is slowly becoming arcane.  While there are good reasons for some companies to remain non-profits, there is no reason that a socially-impact minded business cannot be for-profit.  The corporate designation B-Corp allows a company to blend doing well and doing good in a for-profit structure.  Examples include Method Products, Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s and two of my favorites, Runa and Susty Party.

Business Model:

As an early adopter and co-creator of Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas (BMC), I use it the most.  A Social Business Model Canvas had been created specifically for social ventures, and there is a lot of value to looking at a business from this perspective.  The reason I prefer the BMC is its flexibility.  You can change the labels on the boxes and use colors to highlight differences. The BMC impels you to think about the sustainability of the business and the compelling value to the customer in a way traditional social businesses haven’t – as a real live business that has to compete for customers’ attention and resources just like everything else – including two of the biggest competitors – “Doing Nothing” and “Good Enough”.   Take a look at a canvas for Pencils of Promise.  Instead of Revenue, the box is labeled Outcomes & Outputs.  Outputs are things like revenue and profit. Outcomes are the difference you make for your customers – the real value you are delivering for them.  In the case of Pencils for Promise, both are important – if they are not having the impact they want – changing lives, educating kids, then what are they doing? Doesn't this also apply to any business - ultimately?

While the Social Business Model Canvas has a box for surplus – what you are doing with what’s left over, I posit that’s a question every company has to answer.  Any business hopefully has a surplus – at least eventually.  If some of that surplus is not reinvested in the company to support, enhance, add to their compelling value proposition, then the shareholders won’t be getting anything back either.  Perhaps a social business will choose to reinvest all of it’s surplus directly into the business while a for-profit may choose to give dividends, but that’s not a hard and fast rule for either type of company.  Reinvesting a surplus can be in all sorts of resources – equipment, material and perhaps most importantly, people. 

This is not an either/or issue – it’s an ‘and’.  Hopefully, over time, the distinctions between social and ‘regular’ businesses can fade, because I truly believe, any business of any sort that doesn’t focus on it’s impact on its customers, communities and the world, on it’s ROI eventually won’t have any ROI anyway.


Every Business Is (Or Should Be) a Social Business

Mali Health Clinic

I believe the distinction between social and non-social business is a false dichotomy. And yet, it’s one we continually want to make. We talk about “social businesses” — those that are mission-led and focused on creating positive social change — and “non-social businesses” — those that focus on revenue and profit. Social entrepreneurs launching ventures may ask themselves if their business models need to be different. Does pursuing a social purpose require something unique to describe and structure your business?

As someone who works with a variety of organizations in my roles as strategy and innovation consultant, venture capitalist, professor, and mentor, this question intrigues to me. To answer it, I evaluated a few years worth of business models created and implemented by clients (usually established, mature businesses), invested companies (early stage), entrepreneurs I’ve mentored, and college students starting new ventures. The results? I found that both social and non-social businesses focused on making sure revenues were greater than costs, either through selling something, raising money or getting grants. The differences were more along traditional business characteristics: virtual vs. physical product or service, B2B vs. B2C, etc.

That said, this initial evidence showed that social businesses focus more on achieving a positive impact in each of the nine business model elements — value proposition, customer segment, channels, relationships, key partners, key activities, key resources, costs and revenues — as well as the whole model. Many of the non-social businesses in my sample also focused on the impact of each element and interestingly, they are very successful businesses (might there be a correlation?).

All businesses are social. All companies have people as customers, employees, and suppliers. At some point, in deciding which supplier to use, in engaging your workforce, and in getting your product into users’ hands, relationships with people matter. Improving these their experiences always improves the outcome for your company.

If a business isn’t providing valuable, meaningful solutions to real customers’ problems or delivering outcomes that both make a positive difference in the customers’ lives and support the company’s mission, the business won’t have to worry about profits or outputs for long. The market has a way of taking care of that.

The historical division between social and non-social business and “purpose” vs. “profits” is artificial and antiquated. Almost exactly two years ago, Michael Porter and Mark Kramer called for a new definition of capitalism — “shared value” — to unify this false choice. I think this is how Adam Smith envisioned capitalism; we just redefined it to serve our purposes. In fact, our financial crisis in part stems from non-social businesses divorcing impact from profit and the outcome will haunt us for a long time.

To further test what I had learned, I turned to business model guru and friend, Alex Osterwalder (I’ve used his Business Model Canvas since 2009 because I believe it’s one of the best methodologies out there). He has vast experience creating business models all over the globe, in almost every industry sector, and he came to the same conclusion: There is no significant difference in the business models themselves. In fact, we agreed that for-profit social businesses are a powerful way to increase impact. For instance, Sun Edison’s business model demonstrates that increasing impact doesn’t decrease profitability. One of Alex’s favorite businesses, PeePoople, is implementing a similar model to provide basic personal sanitation to the 2.6 billion people who don’t have it today. As Alex says, “The most amazing business models are those where profit and impact live in harmony. Business models can be designed where impact doesn’t diminish revenues or profit and vice versa.”

Does this answer the question about needing something different for a social business? I think so and the answer is clearly no. It’s time we stop talking about “social” vs. “non-social” and encourage all entrepreneurs to focus on impact in every element of the business model as well as the whole. We read about companies, like Patagonia, Virgin, Cemex, who profitably and purposefully balance doing well and doing good. If they do it, why can’t you?

There are also some quiet, under the radar companies, like 6th generation family-held Menasha Corp. in Wisconsin’s Fox Valley. The 164-year-old corrugated packaging firm has over $1B in revenue. Despite being in a commodity-driven market, it has experienced seven consecutive years of remarkable growth, even during the recession. Menasha’s plants use heat from the corrugators to warm the buildings; they’ve reduced water usage while increasing production; their culture is collaborative; and their people are active in their communities, serving on school boards, supporting art and music, and having plain old fun in the Muscatine Great River Days boat races. The result is synergistic growth of a company and its communities.

By focusing on each individual business model element and the model’s overall impact to create outputs that support sustainable outcomes, perhaps our social entrepreneurs can help society break down this tired, man-made wall between social and non-social businesses.

This post originally appeared in Harvard Business Review's  Scaling Social Impact series.

Let Them Fail

This guest post is by fellow mentor/advisor to the Social Innovation Fellowship (formerly C.V. Starr Fellowship) Robin Pendoley, Founder/CEO of Thinking Beyond Borders.  This is a must read for innovators and entrepreneurs of any type.  Please read on! 

“I have failed.”

This phrase opened Natasha Blackadar’s summer blog post about her first social venture. Warning: This is not an inspiring story about how resilience and perseverance created a dramatic recovery.

Nope. Natasha’s venture failed. Spectacularly. And that’s a good thing. Perhaps the most important part of this is that Natasha has recognized, accepted, and courageously made it plain to the world. Fortunately, this young social innovator lives on to fight another day, stronger for the experience.

As a Social Innovation Fellow at Brown, Natasha spent this past school year (her sophomore year of college) building a social venture that would bring college student volunteers to support a local development agency in a small South African community. As part of the fellowship, she received funding, coursework in theory, and mentorship. This process consumed her life, shifting the focus of her learning from theory to practice. Being a social entrepreneur and leader of her venture became her identity.

When she arrived in South Africa, she quickly realized that, despite months of communication and planning, the community partner did not want her or her team of student volunteers there. Within just a few days of the start of a 10-week project, she became concerned for the safety of her team. Natasha came to the conclusion that the relationship with the partner organization could not be salvaged. To try to continue would be disruptive to the community and put undue strain on local relationships.

Natasha pulled the plug.

As any resourceful project manager would, she utilized her network to create new opportunities for her team elsewhere in the country. They completed service, had a cross-cultural experience, and learned about international development. But, Natasha’s vision of a sustainable venture that would provide assistance to the community and learning opportunities for students has died.

Reading her blog posts makes it clear that Natasha was heavily invested in this venture. Yet, she did what so few social entrepreneurs are able to do – recognize a failed project and move on.

There has been a lot said recently about the importance of recognizing and accepting failure in social entrepreneurship (Jonathan Lewis in Huffpo, Failing Fast by Anna Ebbessen, Harvard Business Review). Not only can it result in better ventures, but accepting failure is crucial to ensuring we don’t create negative impact. “Resilience” seems to be the new golden ticket to social entrepreneurship. To succeed, social entrepreneurs must try, fail, and repeat until they succeed.

Outside of college programs, accepting failure is not easy to do. The social innovation sector is filled with perverse incentives. Ventures are rewarded with funding and exposure for visions of delivering grand scale and fundamental system change, all with a business plan achieving sustainability within 18-24 months. These aren’t perverse because they aren’t great aspirations. They are perverse because they reward early stage ventures for taking enormous risks.

There are risks for every stakeholder. The entrepreneur invests not just their time and energy, but often their whole identity in their venture. The funders invest resources in vetting, funding, and supporting the venture. Partners commit their time and energy to collaborative efforts. These stakeholders risk losing both their resources and their clout if the venture fails.

But, it is often the most vulnerable stakeholder group that carries the most risk – the community to be impacted. Social ventures target populations with a fundamental need like nutrition, health care, or education. Ventures that fail to deliver positive and productive impact risk squandering the efforts and resources of the community.

That, however, is not the worst-case scenario. The worst-case scenario is that, despite good intentions, the venture negatively impacts the community. And, because the rest of the stakeholders are not incentivized to recognize and accept failure, the venture continues delivering this damage unabated.  

What no one tells you in this sector is that the venture is not truly failed until the social entrepreneur deems it so. As support dries up, the social entrepreneur can continue to iterate, try new approaches, and keep the venture alive – even if it should be scrapped.

There are two conclusions to draw from this story:

  1. For the sector to be viable and maintain its focus on creating meaningful and positive social impact, the incentive structures must change to support entrepreneurs to recognize and accept failure.
  2. Programs like the Social Innovation Fellowship are crucial to preparing future social entrepreneurs to be effective. While the funding, studies, and mentorship are key components of that learning, providing a safe space to fail is crucial.


Robin Pendoley is the Founder & CEO of Thinking Beyond Borders, a nonprofit that designs and leads

 international gap year programs for students to prepare for a lifetime of commitment to creating meaningful social impact. Robin also serves as a mentor for the Social Innovation Fellowship (formerly known as the C.V. Starr Fellowship) with over a decade of experience in international development theory, education, comprehensive internationalization, and nonprofit management.

Will You Leave a Mrk?

I love my iPhone case! Do you? How many cases have you gone through? Me, a few...but this one is it.  My nice blue Mrked case is the brainchild of 3 kids - yup, kids. Just your average college kids yet again deciding it's their right to change the world.  15% of the revenues from Mrked goes to teach young girls in emerging markets how to read.  Beauty & Benificence in one. Shahneel shares their story - read it and go get a case!


Three sets of parents migrated from South Asia in order to provide their future children an opportunity to access better education.  The struggles our parents endured to make it in America motivated us to excel in our academic journeys.  This as well as our want to provide an opportunity for people, like you, to better the world we live in developed into the driving force behind Mrked.

Mrked is a tech accessories company that not only offers quality, fashionable products, but also a chance for you to “Leave a Mrk” on the world.  Fifteen percent of Mrked’s revenue helps support the works of Room to Read’s Girl Education Program.  Educating girls is to most effective and powerful approach to fight global poverty. Educating women will lead to them educating their children, which results in ending the literacy cycle by one generation.  

The idea of creating quality tech accessories came from fellow founder Safin Maknojia after he expressed his frustration with the accessories he saw in the market.  Walking into the Apple store, you may have noticed the vast selection of iPhone snap cases and high-end fashionable cases that barely offered your $500 investment any protection.  On the other end of the spectrum, there are cases on the market that offer great protection, from your waterproof cases to your extreme sports enthusiast cases, but took away from the aesthetics of the iPhone.  Our goal was to create a case that would protect a smartphone from the everyday bumps and dings and allows consumers to express their style through our designs. 

The idea of creating a philanthropic element to Mrked came from my background in international development studies and my desire to create a social enterprise like Warby Parker and Oliberté.  I’ve spent hours and hours throughout my years at Brown University reading about the issues in the developing world – health, education, political, and social issues.  All of which are elements that have led to today’s current state of global poverty.  After researching about the positive impact a proper education can have on a girl’s life in an Asian and African country, we knew this is what we wanted to support.  Finding Room to Read was just the cherry on top in our efforts to Leave a Mrk on the world.  

“But Shahneel, how does combining tech accessories and educating even make sense?”  Yes, Warby Parker’s partnership with Vision Spring does make sense.  And yes, a company like TOMS donating pairs of shoes does make sense.  But, who says everything we do in this world has to make obvious sense.  We wanted to take a product that we use everyday and provide girls in Asian and African countries with a concept that we also use everyday, education.  So is there a direction relationship between tech accessories and education?  Maybe, maybe not, but that debate is what makes our company beautiful and the reason why we wanted to enter this market and cause some disruption. 

After creating the idea of Mrked, we now had to bring it to life.  After sketching out the basic structure of our case, we then started to finalize the materials for the two parts.  We decided the outside layer should be made out of polycarbonate plastic because of its high-impact resistance and durability.  The inner layer would be composed of thermoplastic polyurethane because of its shock absorption, smoothness, and its ability not to attract lint like silicone.  After creating the 3-D rendering of our case, we now moved into designing the cases.  One of our main goals was to offer consumers an array of designs from which they could pick at least one favorite.  This idea led us to create five different categories: one color (Crayon Box), two color (Double Dutch), three color (Honor Roll), trendy designs (CLASSroom), and animal print (Jungle Gym).  Since Safin and I have always been into sneakers and fashion, we started looking through blogs, magazines, and Instagrams to see which color combinations and patterns were popular and trendy.  After creating the designs and getting the approval of our third founder Akil Momin, we finalized the 25 designs that currently comprise the 5 collections.  The final and definitely the most difficult process of this all was finding a manufacturer.  After months of conversations and samples, we were able to finalize our manufacturer.  This was the most draining and scariest process of creating Mrked because we knew our selection would impact the quality of the cases. 

If someone asked me, "Is Mrked worth all the late nights in the library trying to balance school and the company while sacrificing your 'normal' college experience?" I would undoubtedly smile and answer, "YES!"  We were able to create a solution to a problem that your everyday smartphone owner struggles with and accomplish a philanthropic ambition, which will aid young girls in providing a better future for their families and themselves.  My parents migrated to this country to provide me with a better education and give me the chance to do something great.  Attending an Ivy League university was part one. Hopefully, the success of Mrked will help me take steps towards part two: accomplish something worthwhile and Leave a Mrk on the world. 

Planting SEEEDs of Innovation

Last week, my daughter Chana and I attended the SEEED Conference on Social Entrepreneurship at BrownChana Scofield ('22) & Gladys Ndagire ('14) ~ Sayles Hall, Brown University University.  It was an amazing gathering of those doing, funding, supporting, working in and for social businesses.  These are Chana's thoughts on the first day of the conference.  Chana is 13 years old and in 7th grade.  Yes, I am a proud mom and find her insights cut to the chase.


While the entire SEEED Conference (Social Enterprise Ecosystem Economic Development) was interesting and enlightening, by far I found the panel “Core Elements for Building a Social Enterprise Ecosystem” the most intriguing. The varying beliefs and experiences of the panelists were highly educational and made the experience all together enjoyable. Dan MacCombie, co-founder of Runa, in particular, cut down to the basic fundamentals of social entrepreneurship by stating the devotion his company had for their cause. There was also discussion over funding for these enterprises, and finding the balance over providing funding for a company based on their cause or the structure of the company. Overall the points were fairly addressed, even with the occasional run-on answer. The metrics of social enterprises were discussed, the overall topic discussion ending when Dan pointed out that the best way to communicate a social enterprise's success and outcomes are (for now) a good story.

Interestingly enough, I pulled more information from that hour and a half panel then I would have from any given day at school. I now have a good enough idea of social enterprises that I feel comfortable weighing in on a conversation or offering up my thoughts. I do believe that funding social enterprises can be extremely difficult. On one hand, an investor doesn't want to invest in a company whose cause they don't believe in. On the other hand, it can be risky to invest in a social enterprise whose company is doomed to fail or doesn't have a stable enough business plan to succeed. It can be very difficult to find that silver lining, especially when the companies are interested in convincing you to invest, and not providing a complete image of how their enterprise actually runs. There is also the fact that in a social enterprise the focus is on the cause, not on pleasing investors. Those who have invested may not receive dividends since this money will most likely be redistributed into the company. For this reason many investors choose to distribute their money into a regularly functioning enterprise versus a social one.

These reasons are why I believe that Allen Kramer and Gladys Ndagire, plus their team, have created something special. What they have created is a $50 Million investment fund whose focus is solely on social enterprises, the New England Impact Capital. They are set to create a list of criteria to help to help them decide which companies to invest in. Seeing the amount of trouble investors have when it comes to social enterprises, this venture capital will benefit both the investor and the company by choosing social businesses whose causes are just and promises a return on investments similar to the average venture capital firm.

The SEEED Conference had given me an understanding of the importance of social enterprises, as well as the difficulties that come when choosing to invest in them. I think it is important for the investor to have full faith in the company and it's cause, as well as the enterprise's stability and business plan. This is why an investment fund based solely on social enterprises like the one Allen and Gladys are creating is not only an exceptional idea, but would provide support for budding social enterprises as well as a safer way to invest. 

Lessons in Cambodian Silk Supply Chains

Marcelia Muehlke one of the great young entrepreneurs I get to hang out with.  She's just your 'average' 20-something creating an international supply chain in the fashion industry, and succeeding.  In the spirit of 'and/both' instead of 'either/or', Marcie doesn't accept the 20th C cut throat culture of the Garment District.  This is a wonderful story, with lessons for all of us! 

Marcie Muehlke

My boyfriend Brian and I were backpacking in Washington State when he proposed.  The engagement caught me off guard, but I didn’t know then just how many more surprises that proposal would lead to--in my professional life. 

Based on my experience as a bride, I've started a fair trade wedding dress company that cares about the workers, working conditions and the environment. Making eco-socially-responsible wedding dresses requires a very special international supply chain and lets me combine my background in international development and my MBA. I thought I was keeping it simple (just a handful of designs and one color) but in the past year I’ve learned just how complex even a seemingly simple supply chain can be.

Weddings are a $50 billion industry in the US and green weddings are growing rapidly (about half of all brides choose at least one “eco” product or service at their wedding) but there are few options for eco or socially-responsible wedding dresses. That lack of options means little competition which is tempting but also gave me pause – was it possible to build the kind of supply chain I was imagining? To find out, IFigure 1 bought a plane ticket to Thailand and started setting up meetings with silk makers and sewing groups there and in Cambodia and Nepal.  To get started, I just needed one reliable silk making group and one talented clothing producer that followed fair trade practices and would agree to my low minimum orders.  This was my initial view of the supply chain (figure 1).

It has been a year since that first trip and I am still learning just how challenging, complex and rewarding it is to develop an ethical supply chain Figure 2 (Figure 2).

The Celia Grace supply chain starts with our fabric, heirloom Cambodian silk.  Our silk is hand woven in rural villages on wooden non-electric looms using traditional craft techniques passed down through families for generations. I visited the village where our silk is woven and walked under houses on stilts to visit with the women as they wove, chatted with neighbors, and dried rice on tarps in the sun.

Silk: Making silk “thread” is a difficult process.  It requires growing mulberry trees, raising silk worms, unwinding cocoons, spinning thread, and crossing the border from Vietnam to Cambodia. Customers ask if Celia Grace silk is organic or pesticide free and whether silk worms are killed in the process.  These are excellent questions but ones I can’t yet answer – I’ll be visiting the Vietnamese silk farm on my next trip.

Cut & Sew: This is when we make the actual wedding dresses.  I am incredibly fortunate to work with an amazing women’s sewing cooperative in Cambodia where several dozen women work in safe and fair working conditions. They pay a living wage and treat members like the smart, talented, professionals they are by offering benefits, professional development and upward mobility unheard of in the rest of the country’s garment industry.  We had to figure out how we’d handle a surge of orders and ensure a steady supply of work, and therefore wages, despite the cyclical demand of the wedding industry. We are regularly in touch about work conditions, pay rates, work policies, and adding an additional layer of (extremely important and rewarding!) of communication, documentation, and thought, helping us earn fair trade recognition (currently in review).

Wedding dress need the right trim and supplies like liner fabric, zippers, buttons and embellishments.  This is a challenge since the high quality zippers and beautiful glass beads we use can’t reliably be found in Cambodia.  I don’t know who was more shocked in this process:  me when I discovered how little was available, and with regularity, in Cambodian markets (“what do you mean you can’t get the same buttons this month?”) or the Cambodian women when we sent a few pre-fab sections of beading from the garment district in New York (“You can buy all these in a store?”).  Quality control poses additional issues: even thread coloring and thickness, every dress element done completely and correctly and arriving perfectly white and pristine after traveling around the globe. 

Another important element of the supply chain is building and managing relationships and business-to-business issues.  This involves all the logistics of a business relationship – invoicing, payments, product changes, placing orders, inventory, and more, but with the added layer of language barriers, cultural differences, and the learning curve of a small business.  And we haven’t left Asia yet!

Import & B2B: Sending dresses from Cambodia to the US is the last step in the Celia Grace supply chain.  How will they be shipped, what is the port of entry, what classification does each dress style fall under and what is the rate of duty?  I went to a daylong course on this topic only to learn that people do only this professionally for decades--and still get it wrong!

The amazing thing is that what I have described is an incredibly simple supply chain: one source of silk, a cut and sew producer, export/import from one country.  We are looking ahead to next year and have plans to expand to more regions.

What have I learned through these past two years? I can summarize them in three lessons that apply not just to my supply chain, but I believe to many supply chains:

  1. Partners matter! Given the kind of product and impact I am trying to make, building a mutual relationship with trust is essential.  This starts with face-to-face meetings and spending time to get to know one another’s needs, strengths, and weaknesses.  It continues through regular, clear communication, flexibility, and transparency.  While it is a partnership, both parties are also businesses that want to grow and earn money, so negotiation will take place but should look for win-wins rather than distributive solutions.
  2. Supply chain and product development go hand in hand. With a socially responsible supply chain, chances are you can’t take your product and tell a producer “I want exactly this, reproduce it without any changes.” Instead, developing a product takes place alongside developing the supply chain, which will take extra time, more communication, and probably more money.  Be flexible and open to changes and new solutions that you might not have considered but work in context.  For Celia Grace, one example of this was adapting our designs so that they worked with the local silk.
  3. This will take longer than you think.  This advice is nothing new but it is important – physical distance, communication challenges, natural disasters, delays from times when I am particularly busy, even abundant national holidays seem to conspire to slow things down.  So plan for this, give yourself a buffer, and create systems as you learn to move things along and make them run smoothly.

It is no surprise that building a supply chain, even a simple one and especially a socially responsible one, is a complex process that takes time, flexibility, and the understanding that you are building a partnership.  What is surprising is just how exciting and rewarding it is – in my case the highlight has been meeting the most incredible women who live and work in really tough situations.  These women are smart, honest, savvy business people who care deeply about their work and the impact it is making.  I am so honored to work with them, share their story, and support the work they are doing, all while adding meaning and beauty to weddings here in the US.

Lessons from Amazonian Culture and Ecology for Talent Management

Tyler Gage and Dan MacCombie are the founders of one of my favorite startups ever, Runa. We drink the tea in our home all the time.  Runa is a wonderful example of a B-Corp, doing well and doing good.  Their business model is unique and there are so many lessons for our businesses and organizations from their story.  Tyler shares their story about talent with us.  Go buy some Runa Tea, enjoy, and learn.  Thank you, Tyler.


I studied indigenous Amazonian languages and Ethnobotany in college and managed to avoid taking any math, science or business courses (yes, I went to Brown University).  Starting a business, let alone a beverage company, as an undergraduate was not something I had planned on doing.   As ill prepared as I was, my passion for creative communication and intercultural exchange gave me a unique basis for becoming a manager and running what is now a 70 person organization in only 3 years.

Runa is a now vertically integrated beverage company that creates livelihoods for indigenous Amazonian farmers. We produce beverages made with guayusa ("gwhy-you-sa"), a “Super Leaf” from Ecuador that has as much caffeine as coffee and double the antioxidants of green tea. We’ve built our entire supply chain from the ground up and are the first to introduce guayusa to international markets.  We sell our bottled beverages and tea boxes in over 3,500 of the top retail accounts in the US from Whole Foods to Vitamin Shoppe and are generating over $100,000 / year of direct income for 2,000 indigenous farming families in Ecuador.

My business partner, Dan MacCombie, studied Marine Biology, so he was equally inexperienced in the art of management (unless we decided to employ invertebrates).  We knew early on that building a strong team and bringing in key leaders would be essential for our growth.

More specifically, we decided to model our staffing approach from two examples: one cultural and one environmental.  Traditionally, indigenous communities wake up together before dawn to drink guayusa. They sit around the communal fire drinking gourds full of guayusa until sunrise. During this time, the community members recount dreams, tell myths, and discuss hunting techniques, politics, and weather patterns. Every time I used to get up and drink guayusa with the Kichwa communities in this way, I was struck by a seemingly simple realization: the foundation of this entire culture that has thrived for thousands of years stands on this simple cornerstone: waking up, drinking tea, and sharing with each other. My theory may sound reductionist, but witnessing the strength it builds in these families and communities is what convinced me of this tradition’s power. 

As we began envisioning our business, we thought that if we could get a community of different partners from managers to farmers to government officials to consumers to collaborate, we could build a thriving organization. This spirit or exchange, respect, and transparency became essential to our strategy for building partnerships and learning from industry “elders” who had walked the path before us.

The second example that reinforced this strategy for us was our understanding of Amazonian ecology. The average sugar, corn, or tea farm is very weak ecologically – in being dominated by one specifies, the flow of nutrients is stifled, natural water flows are hindered, and soil structure becomes degraded, requiring heavy inputs of fertilizers and pesticides.  In a forest ecosystem, no intervention is needed. The diversity of species naturally cycles nutrients, protects the soil, and manages insect populations.  Thinking about how this might relate to our organization, we saw that a team of Tylers and Dans would be tremendously weak.  This analogy for me is the most concrete rationale for the true value of diversity I’ve encountered.

Our first hire in Ecuador was a great man named Fausto. We met Fausto through a friend of a friend of a friend. He was an experienced forestry engineer who had managed a number of different cacao and coffee projects in the region. A driven man who had a natural ability to lead, Fausto gained our confidence. We decided to empower him as our Regional Manager, and give him the freedom to be entrepreneurial in building his team. We let him pick the communities we were going to work with, hire his staff, partner with other local organizations, and develop his own research programs.  Fausto helped us grow from nothing into a team of 15 people and about 500 farmers, at which point Fausto’s leadership started to falter. What I learned in working with Fausto was that Entrepreneurship, Management, and Leadership are three very different things that often get lumped together. Fausto was an inspiring leader, a creative entrepreneur, but a poor manager.  His contribution early in our growth allowed us to take the first step, but as our focus shifted and we began thinking about how to scale, tight management became more of a priority.

After he built his team and was more responsible for reporting, planning, and overseeing a team, he outgrew his job and we had to replace him with some one who was less creative but much more diligent, personable, and attentive to details. When thinking about new job descriptions and interviewing candidates for positions, we use this lens of “Entrepreneur, Leader, Manger” to assess our real needs and where an applicant’s skills truly are. 

One level below Fausto, we hired a team of “técnicos,” field staff who directly recruit, train, and coordinate farmers. These técnicos are a key lifeline of our organization, because they are the direct point of contact between Runa and the farmers that grow the guayusa.  Early on we found 3 técnicos who were charismatic and natural leaders in their communities. They leveraged their relationships and reputations to recruit farmers to commit their time and productive resources to grow a crop they had never commercially sold to some young gringos who had no local credibility. Their ability to inspire farmers and know what they cared most about is what made them successful.

Over time, the intimacy of their relationships with farmers came to be a weakness, in a way, for the institutional capacity of Runa.  Once we caught a técnico driving his company motorcycle while drunk and fired him immediately. This meant that we lost our direct connection to 100 farmers whose homes in the jungle we could barely locate.  We recognized the need to value, but not overly depend on, the técnicos’s relationships. As our reputation as a legitimate organization grew, farmers knew us as “Runa” and less as “that organization that Fernando works for that we sell guayusa to.”  We’ve instituted a system where técnicos rotate into different areas and take detailed GIS coordinates of all the farms.

Recruiting new técnicos has been a further bottleneck to scaling. We adopted a tactic I learned from Andrew Youn, Founder of One Acre Fund, to counteract this pinch.  One Acre puts dozens of farmers through a multi-week training course to become field staff, even though they only have a few job openings at a time. The genius of the model is not that they get to pick from a large pool of candidates and analyze their capability over an extended period. The real value is in the aspiring applicants that don’t get the job, and return to their communities with a substantial amount of knowledge (that they then share with the rest of the community) and an even deeper connection to the organization. This training program has worked well for Runa and helped us scale more rapidly.

We’ve now copy-pasted this strategy in the US with our internship programs. This summer we’ll have over 20 interns. We have a great track record of hiring interns for new job opening (which is part of the reason we receive so many applications), but most don’t get jobs. The ones we hire will have been vetted for 3 months and already trained by our staff, while the ones we don’t hire will continue to be our biggest advocates and promoters at their universities and in their local communities. 

Transitioning from being a scrappy start-up to a more stable organization, while not losing our personality, is a major challenge.  In Ecuador, we’ve developed very strict rules and very high standards for our team and our suppliers, working against the tendency of people to see us as just another NGO that is “here to help” (aka doesn’t take our work seriously).  If anything, being “mission-driven” weakened our ability to be respected and listened to early on.

Keeping the inspiration alive becomes the next challenge, especially when most of our staff in the US spends their time negotiating promotions in supermarkets. To keep everyone engaged, we frequently have Skype calls between farmers and our sales reps in the US, field staff and our Board of Directors, and consumers and our regional managers.  Every other month we send detailed updates between each one of our entities (non-profits and for-profits), keeping every staff member aware of the progress we’re making and the challenges we face.  We’ve also committed to sending all of our team members in the US who have been with us for more than 1 year to Ecuador to visit the farmers and experience our work on the ground.

In retrospect, studying anthropology and linguistics might not have been the worst way to enter business (though the language of Balance Sheets and Cash Flow Statements is still fairly lost on me).

Learning from the communities that we aim to support as mission-driven businesses can not only inspire us to do good work, but even influence our business models and talent management strategies.

Intrapreneurship in "Social" Business

I'm again privileged to have an incredible "kid" share his wisdom on the role of intrapreneurship in social business. It's becoming more accepted in 'regular' business so let's apply it to social as well.  Allen Kramer, Brown '13, is going to change the world - so listen, learn, apply, iterate. 

Allen Kramer:  Reflection: Work with Assured Labor

I am passionate about giving low-income workers in Latin America access to jobs.  A powerful way to do this, called mobile recruitment uses text messaging (SMS: Short Message Service) to allow workers to find jobs. Having lived in and with off-the-grid communities in Latin America, in Nicaragua and Colombia, I had seen and felt the impact of low Internet and basic telecommunications access, especially when it comes to communicating with potential employers. Mobile recruitment bridges this gap in regions where access to mobile is on average 3 times greater than the Internet.

While working in Manizales, Colombia for Grameen Caldas (an affiliate to Nobel Peace Prize winning Grameen Bank in Bangladesh), the entrepreneur’s bug bit me and I finally decided I wanted to launch my own mobile recruitment service.  Like many “would-love-to-be” young entrepreneurs, I quickly realized just how much I didn’t know.  I did what most entrepreneurs do: I talked about my idea to anyone and everyone who would listen. Fortunately, I stumbled upon several people who took more than just a passing interest in what I was thinking about. I was directed to two companies already working in this market, Baba Jobs in India and Assured Labor in Latin America. Because of the regional interest, I contacted the CEO of Assured Labor, David Reich, to pitch my ideas.

When we met in January 2012, my idealist entrepreneurial dreams hit pavement as David shared their years of market experience in mobile recruitment while managing a large and rapidly growing team in over four countries. I knew little about developing mobile interface software or, when I admitted it to myself, how to build a business from the ground up. So I temporarily swallowed my entrepreneurial dreams and offered to work for the company to help them expand in key areas.

Over the course of the past year, there have been three distinct lessons that have stuck with me: 1) consumer insights can truly shape and determine a business’ success; 2) intrapreneurs play a vital role in (social) enterprise; and 3) being mission-driven is critical in deciding your own path.

First, some thoughts on consumer insights
The number of times I’ve heard people in social entrepreneurship communities off-handedly state ‘you have to know your beneficiaries’ is astounding. On the surface, this is a good thing – in fact, the point I am about to make is that you do have to have a profound knowledge of your target users in order to be successful.  But many of these people rarely dig deeper into understanding the real needs, circumstances and constraints.  Calling these people ‘beneficiaries’ instead of users or customers sums it up.

For instance, there is a company sells SMS to employers only to schedule interviews, not recruit. Less than 10% of the workers show up to interviews and many have dropped the service. Why? Employers send a SMS with little information about where and when the interview is to the workers’ cell phones with no tracking of receipt.  Why would a worker spend their scarce cash on a bus, with doubtful success of employment, to an unfamiliar area in a dangerous city like Bogotá from an unknown employer?

At Assured Labor, I tested the adoption of new products into new markets to understand product-market fit. My first step, a lá Four Steps to the Epiphany, was understanding workers’ pain points in trying to find a job. This customer discovery process let me identify the forces acting on a worker. What do they see when they wake up in the morning and walk out of their home? Where do the unemployed go to look for work? How do they learn where to go to find work? How do they pay for the bus to get there? What are the consequences of not finding a job? Who do they trust as reliable sources of information on employment opportunities?

This understanding lets me predict, sometimes simply better than asking directly, what a workers’ behavioral responses will be when they receive an SMS with a job opportunity, given a range of message content. Our investment in understanding answers to these questions has allowed Assured Labor to build viable solutions to the difficulties workers face while searching for jobs.

Intrapreneurship can drive organizational growth
I broadly define intrapreneurship as any role within an existing company that is largely self-directed and risky, forging out ahead of the status quo. Intrapreneurship has interesting power both to create opportunities for young people, such as myself, that are launching themselves into the social enterprise sector, as well as to spur significant innovation and growth within startups and existing larger companies. This power has gotten intrapreneurship featured recently in publications like Forbes.

My first experience with intrapreneurship was at Assured Labor.  I took responsibility, as well as the risk of my time and effort, to lay the groundwork for expansion to a new market. While the country had been on Assured Labor’s longer-term radar, I brought the bandwidth to actually take the first steps and identify its potential for short and medium-term company growth.

What does being an intrapreneur mean to the university student doing an internship or recent graduate? No more coffee runs or busy-work paper filing but the opportunity to flex your innovative muscles; the chance for independent learning-by-doing, while also taking advantage of the accumulated institutional knowledge and (hopefully) top-notch team of an existing company.

Intrapreneurship is a great way to prove your worth to the company when you do not have the credentials of years of work experience under your belt. This is especially true if you take on the financial risk of ‘bootstrapping’ your own intrapreneurial experience: take the personal and financial risk to do something new, get it done or have some good lessons from failure. You then have a better chance at creating a more permanent place for yourself within the team. Think of the job offer at the end as the ‘up-side’ to the initial investment. Obviously, most university students have scant savings to actually do this bootstrapping. Instead of using savings, there are a couple of alternatives. The first – which is the route that I took – is to apply to fellowships or grants that can provide some financial cushion. The second is to take a traditional paid or stipend internship and carve out an intrapreneurial role within it.

From the company’s perspective, fostering a culture of intrapreneurship brings significant advantages. First is the bandwidth to test out new ideas and to maintain a constant stream of innovation. As young companies move towards establishing their business models, rarely does a lack of ideas keep them from innovating.  It’s usually the limited capacity to test and iterate to find the best ideas and the best implementations. Recruiting motivated intrapreneurs can move this innovation forward. Second is the ability to create a recruiting pipeline of top talent and a team always thinking five steps out – especially when these intrapreneurs are students or young professionals where no long-term commitment is assumed at the outset. This just requires the management team’s dedication to cultivate internal leaders and to invest in them professionally.

Be mission-driven
Social entrepreneurship is facing a serious problem of ego. Too frequently, I have seen friends launch new nonprofits or social enterprises that largely duplicate the work of existing organizations and never scale, creating limited social impact. Two principal motivations seem to drive this duplication: 1) the desire to have complete ownership of the organization that is founded, with the sexiness that ownership confers; and 2) a genuine frustration with current existing solutions. Then, of course, there are just some bad ideas and stale social enterprise models.

Good social entrepreneurship should be driven by passion for achieving the social mission – everything else is just a vehicle to do so. So, if you are passionate about a social or economic issue – unemployment, to take a salient example – the best first step is to explore the structural causes of the issue and next examine what solutions have been developed. Learn from the past success and failures.

For sure, I have fallen trap to the ‘solution excitement’ on numerous occasions. Ultimately, what I have found is that there is a significant amount of existing momentum in ‘social enterprises’ that can be guided towards greater social gains. Assured Labor is growing close to 500,000 workers registered. One of the questions I have been helping answer at Assured Labor is how we can always make and keep the SMS jobs platform relevant for the lowest income brackets so the next 500,000 workers and the million after that; how can we disrupt hiring in Latin America and make it more equitable? Had I gone on to found my own company, the chances are slim I could have grown it to a user base of that size in so little time. Now, I’ve had the opportunity to inject ideas and growth opportunities that do positively affect a huge market of job seekers. So, part of being mission driven is also being intrapreneurial.

Sometimes it really is too hard to alter existing institutions and change needs to be driven from the outside. We need to be more analytical about founding of nonprofits and social enterprises. If you are thinking about doing so, first look at what organizations, companies, and other forms of innovations already exist in order to find opportunities to create changes from within. Lastly, if you want an opportunity to build an organization or company from the ground up because of the excitement, go for it – just steer clear of marketing yourself as the bleeding heart type, because you can muddle what is going to create impact in this world. 

How to Have an Impact without Electricity and the Internet

This is a guest post by Kona Shen, Founder of GOALS Haiti, mentioned here.  What she has done for youth and their families in Haiti demonstrates courage, compassion, purpose and leadership savvy few CEO’s of any age possess.  Kona shares the starkly different definitions of ‘basic needs’ between the USA and Haiti and how it affects her productivity and impact…a lesson for us all!

Sometimes, when I get accused of being a workaholic, I laugh. I do work hard, but I don’t think I qualify. My schedule typically consists of a nine-hour workday, Monday through Friday. I don’t have internet on my phone, don’t work on projects late at night or on weekends, and almost always take a real lunch hour.

Mostly this has to do with living in Haiti. I began traveling to Haiti as a volunteer in 2007 and moved here in 2010 to launch an organization called GOALS. GOALS uses soccer to engage youth in public service and education that improve quality of life and develop new leadership. We’re up to 600 kids per month with a staff of 18 local leaders focused on long-term, community-driven development.

There are times when full-time electricity, internet, and air-conditioning would be nice. Most days, communications and logistics take more forethought and I can’t always be reached.  It took me a while to figure out what a meme was, and I can barely name any movie, song, or YouTube clip that’s been famous in the last two years.

Of course, I don’t want to minimize Haiti’s long-term infrastructure needs, including electricity and internet. But personally, I don’t miss the 24/7 access to power much. In Haiti, I read more books, do more yoga, write more essays, and cook more meals. I actually studied French instead of putting it off. Without the temptation of the internet and fewer gadgets, there seems to be more hours in the day.

In the U.S., electricity at night and streaming internet is usually enough to derail me. I find myself hammering out emails at 11PM on Sunday with the TV on and my phone lighting up with messages. Clearly, I don’t have the discipline to pretend that turning electronics on isn’t an option.

Why does it matter? Because, for me, more work doesn’t produce better work. It turns out, my light bulb moments come to me when I step back. I get so many new ideas out on walks or runs that I carry a pen to make notes. When I make an effort After Isaac: Cleaning out a kitchento do less, the truly important work gets done first, the biggest breakthroughs happen and GOALS is better for it. Best of all, I find myself looking forward to Monday morning instead of burning out before the week even begins. 


GOALS Haiti just won Beyond Sport’s award for Best New Project.

2 Degrees of Separation? Last month, Kona was in San Francisco meeting Arnold Ambiel, Director of Operations for One World Futbol.  He suggested she get in touch with Deb Mills-Scofield. Not letting on, Kona asked how he knew me.  He replied that he followed me on Twitter but didn’t know me personally.  Little did he know we were already connected – through bonds of purpose, passion and our alma mater.


Rebellious Optimism = Innovation

Optimism is the greatest act of rebellion.  So says my friend Carmen Medina.  If anyone doubts the veracity of that statement, evidence abounds in the form of people – of all ages, shapes and sizes – and especially by kids (e.g., anyone under 40).   To say I’m awed by what they are doing is an understatement.  They don’t take ‘no’ as an answer but a challenge; they view entrepreneurship and capitalism as an inherently social venture; they take system-level approaches to solving problems and by nature collaborate.   Their acts of rebellion are shaping a better world for all of us.

So, I’m going to regularly share “Optimism Greatest Act Rebellion Stories” with you and ask you to share your Optimism stories with the rest of us!  Let me start with an incredible young woman I met this past weekend at the Celebration of 120 years of Women at Brown.

Kona Shen graduated in 2010 with an honors thesis on the impact of foreign aid on Haiti’s environment and ways the international community could improve aid efforts.  Not your average thesis.  But moreso, Kona is not your average 24yr old - her poise, wisdom, leadership, business acumen and management skills are on par As a C.V. Starr Fellow at Brown, Kona was already drawn to Haiti and wanted to blend “social” and “entrepreneurship” to make a difference. After graduation, she founded, and runs, GOALS Haiti, a self-sustaining non-profit in Haiti that uses kids’ obsessive passion for soccer to engage youth in community work and education, improving their quality of life while teaching them leadership.  Children are taught how to create safe, clean, healthy environments and bodies for playing soccer.  The teams (adults, counselors, and kids) clean up their neighborhoods, collecting litter, trash collection, recycle, plant vegetable gardens, access mobile clinics, and build temporary shelters and public sanitation facilities.  GOALS Haiti uniquely emphasizes developing local capacity and youth leadership so its efforts are sustainable.  Currently, over 600 children are served a month in Haiti which also impacts their families, currently improving the lives of over 3500 Haitians a month.

There are many more fabulous stories of Rebellious Optimism to share.   One of my favorites is Runa, a B-Corp started by some Brown soccer players, classes of ’08.  Their story of doing well and doing good is one of the most powerful I’ve seen in blending innovative business models, techniques, processes and social impact.

So, if you’re worried about where this country is going, about our seemingly gridlocked government, relax a little.  There are amazing young people usurping government’s roles in productive, efficient and effective ways.  Perhaps Gov. 3.0 will be back in the hands of the people!  

Please contribute your own stories of Rebellious Optimism!