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Social Enterprise Conference Blog


Ashoka and the 2012 Career Fair


The news that Bill Drayton, the founder of Ashoka and the progenitor of the term “social entrepreneur”, would be a keynote speaker at this year’s conference generated a lot of excitement across the Harvard campuses – the College, Law School, HBS, and HKS. While practitioners and aspiring entrants in the field are mostly familiar with his coined phrase, relatively few know about the invaluable contributions that the mild-mannered man has made, which principally laid the foundation of social enterprise. By building a platform that revolutionized the process of identifying and purposefully organizing people who innovate new social technology, Bill Drayton’s footprint in the sector is immense.

The career fair at SECON 2012 will host Ashoka: Innovators for the Publics as a participating employer that is energized to meet with attendees, to discuss roles and responsibilities at the outfit, and to describe the field experiences derived from their global programs. Ashoka’s primary goal is to indentify, support and promote social entrepreneurs on an international scale. Their network of Fellows stretches across 60 countries and 5 continents and is supported by their headquarters in Arlington, VA.

There are multiple ways that you can engage with Ashoka:

  • If you have a great idea for a social enterprise, apply to be a fellow. Also check out a new initiative that has been getting a lot of press:
  • If you just graduated with an interested in putting your hat in the ring for a unique opportunity to join Ashoka as a colleagues, mentors and mentees (and getting paid!) for a year, apply for Affinity Year:
  • If you are an undergraduate or graduate student, Ashoka accepts interns on a rolling basis:
  • If you are the kind of person that is looking for a transformative volunteer experience, Ashoka has opportunities available at global and regional offices, positions with fellows and even the opportunity to volunteer for virtual translation. Check out all the opportunities:

To help you craft talking points, you can read an interview with founder Bill Drayton here: Ashoka and more than 20 other high-impact organizations that can open doors to career in social enterprise and organizations will be represented at the Conference’s Career Fair. Make some time to introduce yourself!


All you need is a great idea!


We’ve challenged graduate schools spanning the globe, from University of Hawaii to London School of Economics, and as far as University of Toronto to Texas Tech to have their students submit their social venture ideas for our annual Pitch for Change Competition. From the overwhelming pool of applications, we are pleased to announce our 12 Pitch for Change semifinalists – Congratulations to them!

The Venture Think Tank @ North Korea: Creating “governo-preneurs” to drive business-friendly policy changes and raise living standards in North Korea

pledge4good: Ties participants’ everyday activities to donations for social impact causes

Essmart: A Rural Retail Company in Southern India: Brings essential technology to end-users through distribution to rural retailers

A Better Life: Gaming solution to poverty, allowing users to immerse themselves in life at the bottom of the pyramid while making donations to alleviate poverty

Kismet Denim: Designer jeans for women with minimal environmental and social costs

OyeIndia: Brings welfare and recognition to artisans of Indian handicraft, as trader and retailer of handicrafts

Emprofit: Creates commission-based, door-to-door sales team in Haiti, focused on job creation and long-term poverty alleviation

Ho’oulu Pacific: Increases self-sufficiency and health of Pacific Islanders by building farms to grow fresh vegetables and fish

Educate Lanka: Underwrites education of Sri Lankan children by matching them with donors in diaspora, while also providing workforce development and job training

Good Earth –Aidvertising: Smart-phone application that ties advertising revenue to donations for non-profits

Jamela Oil: Argan oil business in Southern Morocco focused on sustainability and investment in local communities

SmartBridge: Clean tech social game for energy utility companies and co-ops to encourage behavioral changes in utility consumers

Pitch for Change awards 4 of the teams who make it to the finalist round with cash and consulting hours from social enterprise accelerators/incubators in order to advance their concepts. Our judges will determine the best ideas to compete in our finalist round and will select the top three winners.  Our attendees will also be given the opportunity to weigh on their favorite pitch for the “Audience Choice” award.  We’ll send a flare when it’s your cue to vote for the idea that you think best fits with our theme of Innovation, Inclusion, and Impact!

You’ll also have the opportunity to personally meet with our 12 semifinalists at the Saturday networking reception.  They’ll be stationed at booths throughout the evening to discuss their ideas and present their views on social change.


Join us at the 2012 Career Fair!


The organizations represented in our Sunday Career Fair embody the 2012 theme of our conference: Innovation, Inclusion, Impact.

Masschallenge, just one of the Career Fair participants, is currently promoting Innovation throughout the northeast United States with its annual global startup competition. Individuals and teams enter ventures ranging from agriculture to biopharmaceuticals and energy. Masschallenge not only promotes healthy contests among startups, but also generates buzz and funding that benefit the launch organizations. NetBlazr, an alumni of Masschallenge 2011, just received $325K to expand its broadband development in the Boston area.

Uncommon Schools, an urban charter school developer, is a steward of Inclusion. Uncommon Schools starts schools in underprivileged areas to prepare low-income students to graduate from college. You may ask, “What makes this organization different from all of the other urban school programs in America?” 1) Uncommon Schools not only teaches their students geometry and literature, it instills confidence in its students on a daily basis. Each classroom is named after prestigious schools in the country so that students are reminded of the mission and vision of their school on a daily basis. 2) The numbers speak: Uncommon School’s students have the lowest performance when they enter in 5th and 6th grade. By 8th grade the students are competitive with other schools in the metropolitan area.

Root Cause is a nonprofit consulting agency that partners with nonprofits, government and business. Their mission is to Impact society with creative solutions to today’s problems. Root Cause’s CEO, Andrew Wolk, was recently quoted in an article regarding performance-based bond financing for nonprofits. The state of Massachusetts is conducting research on the development of Social Impact Bonds, which will connect nonprofits, government, and private businesses, with the ultimate goal of saving the government money and providing financing for nonprofit organizations. Under the proposed model, a third party would issue a bond to a nonprofit if the nonprofit attained certain outcomes and saved the government money. Andrew Wolk stated that the applicability of this model was “limited”, but anything “to drive a link between the results of a nonprofit and the resources they’re given by the government is a good thing.” Housing First, an organization that moves homeless from shelters into stable housing, is an organization that is being considered for this program, as the initiative is projected to save the government around $9,000/year per person in emergency room visits.

Socially-minded organizations from non-profit consultants to inner-city development initiatives to social finance advisors will be presenting diverse set of roles on Sunday. The fair is a great platform to get acquainted with the opportunities aligned with social enterprise




It’s everywhere. News covering social enterprise and impact ventures fills print, online, and social media. No longer relegated to the pages of NGO newsletters or more progressive outlets like Mother Jones, the conversation pops daily in specialty publications like InformationWeek, McKinsey Quarterly, Outside Magazine, and even mainstream pubs like Financial Times, BBC News, and Huffington Post. For the first time this year, Forbes’ December edition profiled “Top 30 Social Entrepreneurs” (Unreasonable Institute’s Dan Epstein will be making an appearance at our conference).

There are even entire publications dedicated to trends, ideas, thoughts, op-eds, and topical issues in social enterprise: NextBillion, Triple Pundit, JustMeans, Beyond Profit, Social Edge, Elephant. These sites produce tons of daily content highlighting good news for a public thirsting for positive stories.

As social enterprise gets its much-deserved attention, notice of the Social Enterprise Conference at Harvard grows as well. Forbes recognized it as one of 2009’s “Big 12 Conferences” alongside executive gatherings that included the World Economic Forum in Davos and the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual summit.  The Financial Times mentioned the conference in its 2008 story, “Everybody Wants to Save the World”. As far back as 2004, the New York Times described the role of the event in terms of demonstrating Harvard‘s commitment to social entrepreneurship in an article. “The Enlightened MBA”.

For 2012, SocialBrite included the Social Enterprise Conference in its “SuperGuide to 2012 Nonprofit and Social Change” alongside other “must attend” events for people interested in social ventures. Our attendees and speakers have gotten their fair share of attention as well. Last year’s Pitch for Change competition winner, Wello, was featured by ABC News for the organization’s efforts to provide clean water to the world’s poor.  And recently, Inc. magazine ran a feature on Robert Fogarty and his Dear World campaign, which was launched as part of his keynote speech at SECON 2011.


Do you have your Google alerts set to capture this deluge?







At February 6th, the conference is just 3 short weeks away. Our featured keynotes have stolen the show so far, but equally remarkable is the quality and depth of our panel participants and workshop leaders, all of whom will be listed in our new website.  Our crew of coordinators spent nights and weekends together (no, literally they isolated themselves from distractions by going on retreats hours away from Cambridge to places with no electricity and wood-burning heat) to formulate panel and workshop schedule that would satiate the demands of our diverse audience – from grad students just learning the ins and outs of social enterprise to seasoned practitioners.

Panel topics cover both domestic and international perspectives, ranging from education and healthcare in the US to Social Enterprise in China. Attendees won’t be able to do them all, but fortunately our new website (launching soon) will include a Conference App that will enable you to easily pinpoint the sessions you want to attend. With this technology, they’ll be able search sessions by panel leader biographies, participating organizations, subjects, and other criteria. Even if you are torn between two occurring simultaneously, we’ll find a way to be sure you can enjoy the content after the fact J. Our conference program book will also give you some tips on navigating these sessions.

Let’s take a break from deep thought for a moment to take-in a snapshot of just a few panel participants:

  • Anthony Bugg-Levine, CEO of the Nonprofit Finance Fund (speaking on the Measuring Impact and Attracting Capital panel).  The Nonprofit Finance Fund is the only community development financial institution exclusively focused on nonprofits, and Anthony recently came to the Nonprofit Finance Fund from the Rockefeller Foundation.
  • Timothy Prestero, CEO of Design that Matters (speaking on the Importance of Prototyping in Poverty Alleviation panel).  Design that Matters is an innovative nonprofit that leverages volunteers in academia and industry to design new products and services for the poor around the world.  Design that Matters started as a volunteer program run by MIT graduate students; prior to MIT Tim spent time in West Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer.
  • Andrew Kassoy, Co-Founder of B Lab (speaking on the New Structures to Enable Social Changes in Businesses panel).  Andrew spent 16 years in private equity before co-founding B Lab, which certifies sustainable businesses who meet social and environmental performance standards, based on several dimensions.
  • Ayr Muir, Founder of Clover Food Labs (speaking on Food Security in the Urban Environment).  Ayr is an HBS alum (’04) and worked as a management consultant at McKinsey before deciding to follow his passion for healthy, sustainable food.  If you are attending the conference and are looking for food options around Harvard Square, I highly recommend Clover for affordable, healthy and inventive vegetarian food!

We’ll broadcast the announcement regarding our new website so you know when to access for full panel and workshop descriptions. In the meantime, click on our schedule page (Saturday and Sunday, separately) so you can scan the outline of the content and schedule structure.