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Former Chairman of SKS Microfinance Vikram Akula Shares Lessons Learned


Vikram Akula, the former Chairman of SKS Microfinance, broke his silence today about the mistakes he made in his social venture, in a speech at the Social Enterprise Conference at Harvard.

Akula acknowledged the legitimacy of the criticism he had received from Mohammad Yunus, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Professor and Founder of Grameen Bank, who had long taken issue with SKS’s deployment of private capital in microfinance and its profit orientation.

“Professor Yunus was right” Akula said tonight, amidst a room of 500 attendees at the Conference.  “Bringing private capital into social enterprise was much harder than I anticipated.”

Recent press reports indicated SKS Microfinance agents may have used coercive loan recovery practices, departing from the traditional values-based model of social enterprise. Other reports have emerged that recipients of the loans were entering into potentially un-repayable debt. Akula stepped down from SKS Microfinance in November.

Akula also stated tonight that he had focused on scaling SkS’ model and had not fully anticipated the potential downside of accessing the public market for social enterprise.

At the end of his speech, Akula expressed hope that future social entrepreneurs would learn from his experiences. “The mistakes I’ve made can help the rest of you” said Akula.

About The Social Enterprise Conference

The Social Enterprise Conference is the leading annual symposium that advances the practice and study of social entrepreneurship. In its 13th year, the gathering of more than 1,500 participants has established an impressive track-record for offering inspiring speakers, engaging workshops, illuminating panels, and door-opening networking. Organized by students from the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, the conference builds on topical knowledge developed in the field, through academic study, and at similar events throughout the year. This year’s theme, “Innovation, Inclusion, Impact,” asks participants to find new ways to address social problems in a way that makes a positive difference for all stakeholders.


The Power of Academic Institutions to Affect Social Impact at Scale


Sita Magnuson | The Value Web

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on the expanding field of social impact (including social movements/activism/innovation/enterprise) and have been exploring/examining the value of the diverse approaches to affecting change. Of particular interest are The Occupy Movement, the rise of youth-driven social impact networks, and the adoption of social enterprise programs at premiere academic institutions.

The Occupy Movement

The Occupy Movement is arguably been the most visible effort of the three. It has united citizens of various ages and ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds around perceived systematic policy failures. Consensus is derived on system change, not on how to achieve it. There is no commonly defined purpose, and many in the Movement lack experience in community organizing and advocacy. While the Movement’s convening power is significant, and it’s ability to engage individuals is high, prospects for sustainable transformative political, economic, and social impact are limited due to the diversity of intentions and experience and the consensus processes utilized.

Left photo: Occupy Wall Street Road Trip helps facilitate a General Assembly in Northampton, MA on February 2, 2012 | Photo: cc Sita Magnuson of The Value Web

Youth-Driven Social Impact Networks

Youth-driven social impact networks, such as the Sandbox Network ( are comprised of young, ambitious entrepreneurs eager to affect change. These networks are generally decentralized in nature, but designed by a core team to maximize connection, scale and impact. Network reach is extensive and often global in nature. Members interaction via online platforms are increasingly supplemented with face-to-face meetings and annual global summits, encouraging continuous connection both online and offline.  Informal research indicates that many of these networks foster new business development and innovation in the field of social enterprise with unprecedented speed, agility and robustness.

Social Enterprise Programs at Major Universities

Connected to youth-driven networks, is the formal adoption of social enterprise programs at premiere academic institutions. The top 20-ranked business schools, according to US News and World Report, include a social enterprise center, career path or student association of note. These efforts support the burgeoning field of social enterprise in much the same way as the youth-driven networks; many individuals likely participate in both. Unlike social networks, academic institutions expressly focus on identifying and sharing best practices, as well as utilizing experiential learning to bridge the gap between knowing and doing. Some institutions have been slow to adapt; however, significant progress is being made. These efforts seem to be the most promising for delivering sustainable social impact at scale. Individuals emerge with a deep understanding of economics, historical/social context, innovative business models, and an ability to communicate both within the confines of the current economic system and increasingly at the fringes. The reach, rigor, and structure of academic institutions speak to their unparalleled ability to be major drivers of social impact moving forward.

The Social Enterprise Conference at Harvard is one of the many opportunities for students and professionals to come together to share, learn, and collectively push the field of social enterprise forward. I encourage academic institutions and the students who attend the Conference to keep the ball rolling. Harness the power of your formal and informal networks. Share and learn as much as you can from as many diverse sources as possible. Doing so will better position us to establish social enterprise as a norm, and social impact as part and parcel to how we live, work and play.

The views expressed in this post are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of other members of The Value Web.


Let’s talk structure…


One of the first questions that any (social) entrepreneur faces as they straddle the three legs of the stool – business, government and non-profit – remains: “What are you?” In essence, are you a for-profit, not-for-profit, hybrid etc.? Underlying that question (in addition to whether the organization might deservingly (or not) benefit from tax exemptions) is often a need to better understand the “motivation” behind the founding (and founders/owners/management team) of the organization?  Will your organization generate public value and/or will it privatize the gains in the form of dividends to shareholders?

These are complicated questions that lead to the heart of the wildly progressing debate on emerging structures for social enterprises. Certainly other options to consider beyond the more traditional “hybrid” structure of for-profits separated by arms-length agreements with their not-for-profit sister organization include authorized legal structures, such as Flexible Purpose Corporations and Low-Profit Limited Liability Corporations, and broadly accepted industry certifications, such as Certified B-Corps (certification given by the non-profit B-Lab from sunny Palo Alto).

Fortunately, the debate will continue at the conference, as Andrew Kassoy from B Labs, Todd Johnson of Jones Day (behind designing the legislation for Flexible Purpose Corps in CA), and Herrad Sabeti (founding thinking behind the idea of For-Benefit Organizatios) from Fourth Sector Network will be present.




Shared Value Spans Key Enterprise Functions


Shared value” is a buzz word in the social enterprise space, and rightly so. As a point of pride for the Crimson community, the term was formalized by Harvard Business School professor, Michael E. Porter and his long-time associate, Mark R. Kramer. Corporate strategies that focus on the intersection between positive financial return and social impact are typically the most effective forces for change, and many multinational companies are employing this market-driven approach. For example, Mars Chocolate, who will be speaking on Strategy with Social Impact: Sustainable Sourcing from the BoP (11:15 on Sunday), has realized that investment in the communities from which they source cocoa beans in Cote d’Ivoire strengthens their financial bottom line through better quantity and quality control.

One aspect of shared value that doesn’t always attract as much coverage as goods/raw material sourcing is the human capital version of this trend. The panel Creating Shared Value by Deepening Corporate Investment in Human Capital Development, at 3:15 on Sunday, will probe this topic with much-deserved thought by discussing how corporations are investing in the training of their next generation of workers. The mission of Genesys Works, founded by panelist Rafael Alvarez, is to train high school students in professional skills and help corporations find these students, so that they can immediately contribute to their operations. Genesys Works and the companies it partners with share the vision of a future education system oriented towards better preparing students for professional jobs.

Both of these panels will bring us fascinating discussions about how large-scale change can be achieved when for-profit companies identify coinciding social investment in all dimensions of their business practices. Be apart of the conversation on Sunday!


What we can learn from successful social entrepreneurs


Guest post by Daniel Altman, Director of Thought Leadership at Dalberg Global Development Advisors

How do you take the pulse of a growing field that spans the globe and touches almost every industry?  Social enterprise is so enormous and multifaceted that surveying it in a meaningful way might seem like a hopeless task.  But the field has its leaders – people who have created enduring organizations with national and even international visibility.  When these leaders share their hard-won insights, they can help the thousands of other social entrepreneurs to be more successful.

That’s the thinking behind the first Dalberg Survey of Social Enterprise, which we completed with a team from HBS’s “Innovation and Entrepreneurship” course for undergraduates.  We scoured our networks for leading social entrepreneurs and asked them to take a short online survey.  They told us some fascinating things about their enterprises: how often they changed their business plans, how close they were to becoming financially sustainable, how they used data versus storytelling to share their results with potential funders, whether they thought they would ever be able to depend entirely on their own revenues, and more.

We found sharp contrasts in approaches taken by successful enterprises in different industries and between for-profits and non-profits.  And the leading entrepreneurs also offered a wealth of wisdom gleaned from personal experiences, often echoing the notion that social enterprise was at least as tough as regular commercial enterprise.  As Premal Shah, the founder of Kiva, said, ”We need to take cues from Apple, Facebook, and others who keep their heads down and execute.”

To read about the results of the survey and more quotes from leaders in social enterprise, please click here ( And then, if you have a moment, please let us know what you thought:  What was most surprising about the survey’s results?  Did what the leaders said resonate with your own experiences?  What questions should we ask next time?