International Development

Water monitoring in China, and the changing role of citizenship

My Hearts in Accra - Sun, 2014-04-20 20:15

This January, a few hundred employees of Alibaba, the massive online retailer and digital payments company, participated in an interesting experiment. Like many Chinese, they traveled home to celebrate the Lunar New Year. While at home, they used inexpensive water testing kits to sample water in their villages and uploaded their findings via smartphone to an environmental mapping website, Danger Maps. Employees measured water quality in 420 locations across 28 provinces, testing open bodies of water as well as sources of drinking water.

The experiment was a trial run for a much more ambitious rollout, announced this week. Jack Ma, Alibaba’s billionaire founder, announced that water testing kits would be sold through Taobao for between 65-80 yuan ($10-13) and invited the public to join his employees in becoming water quality monitors. Yang Fangyi, one of the managers of the Alibaba Foundation, explained that by mapping areas of poor water quality, the Foundation can work with local environmental authorities and NGOs to work on cleanup plans.

Test results posted to

Environmental degradation is one of the most serious problems facing China. A report from the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning suggests that China lost 3.5% of the nation’s GDP in environmental damages in 2010. Air pollution contributed to 1.2 million deaths in 2010, and journalists have compared Beijing’s air quality (unfavorably) to that in airport smoking lounges and industrial London on the most polluted days of the mid-20th century. Maintaining and improving air and water quality while continuing to rapidly industrialize are huge challenges for the country. Environmental issues are also an area where the Chinese government has been comparatively open about discussing problems and seeking international cooperation; Premier Li Keqiang addressed environmental problems in his address to the National People’s Congress last month, and US organizations that work with China report that it’s far easier to cooperate on environmental issues than on more sensitive issues like human rights or worker safety.

The kit, and its contents

The little blue kit, manufactured by Greenovation Hub, may test China’s openness around environmental advocacy. Inside are tests for ph, Phosphates, Ammonia, Chemical Oxygen Demand (used to indirectly measure organic contaminants in water), and for five heavy metals, including cadmium and zinc. It’s more home chemistry lab than slick, sophisticated sensors – you’ll be dipping litmus paper into a stream and measuring the color that results, then entering the data into your phone if you participate in the project.

It’s unclear how many of Alibaba’s 500 million customers will purchase water quality kits and start uploading data to Danger Maps. Even if only a few participate, the implications could be very interesting. Land use issues are a major civic flashpoint in China. If farmers are able to document damage to the local watershed from a new factory, for instance, it might change the dialog, bringing nascent environmental watchdog organizations and government departments into the debate over land use.

Groups like Public Lab in the US and Safecast in Japan have been using crowdsourcing models to document environmental issues, monitoring water quality and radiation levels. Their work raises questions of whether we want citizens to be cooperative sensors, or citizen scientists. The latter is a high bar to cross – we need citizens not only to collect data but to formulate and test hypotheses. What we gain in exposing participants to the scientific process, we may lose in terms of data quality and believability. Safecast has traded accessibility for accuracy – their bGeigie geiger counter is pretty expensive in kit form, but is a lab-quality instrument, which allows Safecast to use the data collected to engage the Japanese government in dialog about post-Fukushima reconstruction. On the other hand, using a Safecast counter, it’s easy to feel like your job is simply that of a data collector, not someone figuring out the complex puzzle of when towns and villages will be safe to inhabit. (Safecast describes itself as a global sensor network, acknowledging that it’s strength is data collection, not the broader issue of citizen science.)

There’s a balance between accessible sensors, high-quality data and the ability for users to formulate and test hypotheses that crowdsensing projects need to wrestle with going forward – based on some of the results thus far, it seems like the Greenovation kit favors access over accuracy. (I suspect there’s not really that much standing water in China at ph10, despite reports on the map.) But it’s possible that communities affected by industrial pollution might purchase multiple sensors, organize testing plans and oversampling to improve accuracy. They might also look for sources of industrial runoff and test hypotheses about how industrial development is affecting their community. Consider a project from CMU called CATTFish. It’s a water monitor that sits in your toilet tank and measures temperature and conductivity to sense possible changes in groundwater quality. It’s designed for communities concerned about pollution from hydrofracking – with high quality, regularly updated data from multiple homes, a community could have an early warning system for detecting potential ill-effects from oil extraction. (h/t to Heather Craig, who introduced me to the project.)

I think there’s another subtle change we should watch for as well. Environmental crowdsensing is a form of monitorial citizenship, an idea we’ve been discussing a lot lately at Center for Civic Media. John Keane uses the term to describe the non-governmental and civic organizations that act as watchdogs, keeping governments honest and, sometimes, in check. Inspired in part by David Ronfeldt’s work on tribes, institutions, markets and networks, we’ve been looking at ways networked individuals can have similar monitorial power. The work we’re starting with Promise Tracker begins with asking citizens to monitor issues in their communities using mobile phones and will likely expand to asking citizens to use sensors to monitor water and air quality.

In our experiments with Promise Tracker in São Paulo and Belo Horizonte, using mobile phones to document community problems and governmental and community responses to them, we quickly learned that many people don’t just want to collect data – they want to use data to tell stories and to advocate for change. Will citizens become sensors or scientists? Participants or activists? This may also have a lot to do with whether Greenovation Hub wants to build a business model or a movement, and whether a powerful, visible figure like Jack Ma is willing to have Alibaba become the nexus of an emerging environmental movement. That might be more potent and less dangerous than having individual groups organize to address water quality issues on a small scale and face potential backlash from local authorities.

I’m interested in monitorial citizenship because I see monitoring powerful institutions – commercial, governmental and otherwise – as something one can do every day as a citizen. Elections come around every few years and get all the attention, but it’s possible that the real power of citizenship comes from the monitoring that takes place between the elections. In a Chinese context, where power doesn’t come through electoral mechanisms, monitorial citizenship may have even more power – it may be a more genuine, authentic, believable path to political power than others available to most Chinese citizens.

Investments Intern - Boston Spring 2012

Next Billion - Thu, 2012-01-19 18:08

Organization: Invested Development

Location: US

Overview Title: Investments Intern
Start/End Date: Spring Semester 2012
Schedule: 15 hours per week
 Pay: Stipend
Location: Boston

Invested Development is looking for a highly motivated business student at the junior or senior undergraduate level. The ideal candidate enjoys learning about technology startups and businesses that create impact in emerging markets. Specifically, an interest in international business, investing, entrepreneurship, and mobile tech and/or alternative energy startups is preferred. The intern should possess a strong commitment to social enterprise.

Job Description

The intern will report to the ID Marketing and Research Manager. Primary tasks will include compiling key findings documents from research reports, online research, sourcing pipeline, lead generation, and creating deliverables for internal and external use.

Initial assignments will include:

  • Updating and creating an intuitive, robust system for tracking and sorting online pipeline leads and lead sources.  
  • Identifying hotspots and trends in pipeline and communicating the trends in different ways (written, orally, visually).


  • Demonstrated research skills and analytical savvy. 
  • Attention to detail and highly organized. 
  • Excellent communication skills, both oral and written.
  • Works well independently and in a start-up environment by taking initiative. 
  • Takes responsibility for and pride in his or her work.
  • Can create user-friendly Excel sheets and visuals to present qualitative and quantitative data. 
  • Microsoft Office proficiency. Advanced PPT skills and graphic design skills are a plus. 
  • Is adaptable and punctual.


Send resume (PDF preferred) and cover letter to Christina at ctamer[at] Use “ID Intern - first name last name” as the subject. Please note that only shortlisted candidates will be contacted for an interview.

About Invested Development

We are a for-profit, impact investment fund manager sourcing and funding the most impacting solutions to global poverty. We invest in seed stage social enterprise with mobile technology and alternative energy solutions that are affordable and scalable in emerging markets.


India Country Director

Next Billion - Thu, 2012-01-19 18:06

Organization: Waste Capital Partners

Location: IN


Waste Capital Partners, a solid waste management company with a social mission, is seeking a country director for its India operations. Waste Capital Partners employs waste pickers to conduct doorstep garbage collection while also utilizing the collected garbage to create and market compost and recyclables. We are a rapidly growing young international company with a focus on delivering better livelihoods for waste pickers, cleaner cities, and a better environment. We seek an experienced professional that has strong field operational experience and is now seeking to build a high-performing business working with marginalized communities.


Manage Waste Capital Partners’ two service lines in India: Household and Municipal Solid Waste Management Services.

  • Recruit and train operation managers, execute waste collection service across multiple sites, evaluate business data, and tweak operations as required 
  • Establish household demand for waste management services and willingness to pay 
  • Coordinate Waste Capital Partners technical and management staff to provide support to operation managers and partners to set up and execute solid waste management at scale 
  • Conduct market analysis, establish waste processing sites, and market compost and recyclables to drive profitability 
  • Establish a metric dashboard and maintain meticulous management of accounting system for donors, investors, and corporate headquarters


  • Required 10+ years of demonstrated performance with a track record for performance, including 2+ years in the field in India working at a social enterprise or field office of a corporation including demonstrated ability to work with marginalized individuals (preferably as producers) 
  • Strong academic aptitude preferably with a post graduate degree
  • Exposure to Indian municipal systems is a strong plus
  • Past experience creating a new service line or organization is a strong plus – tweaking a failing service to succeed is an even stronger plus 
  • Experience raising finance and exposure to international work environments
  • Experience in solid waste management a plus but not required


  • Able to speak, read and write English and Hindi (ability to speak/ write another language such as Tamil or Kannada is a strong plus) 
  • Excellence in Microsoft Office and financial reporting (Familiarity with accounting software like Quickbooks is a plus) 
  • Demonstrated leadership of a team of at least five and outstanding communication skills
  • Eager to spend considerable time at the ground level and getting one’s hands dirty

COMPENSATION is competitive and will be a combination of salary and vesting stock.

LOCATION is flexible Please apply by submitting your resume and cover letter at


Social Entrepreneurship in Egypt: Challenges and Opportunities

Next Billion - Thu, 2012-01-19 11:00

Authored by: Myra Valenzuela

(Pictured: Abduallah Abdel Qassim, 47, a partner in aluminum shop making window frames that received microloan from Social Welfare Fund for equipment. Image credit: World Bank Photo Collection).

Editor's Note: This post originally appeared on the World Bank's Development Marketplace blog, where updates on this competition will posted. 

High rates of youth unemployment across the Middle East and North Africa were a major catalyst for the Arab Spring revolutions. To help address this pressing issue, the Development Marketplace is preparing for a country-level competition in Egypt early next year. The proposed DM competition will focus on social entrepreneurs with projects that have a strong impact on creating sustainable job opportunities, especially for low-income and marginalized groups. The main focus of the Egypt DM will be on supporting projects in the agricultural supply chain sector.

In order to understand the bigger picture of social entrepreneurship in Egypt, I spoke with Ehaab Abdou, who recently joined the Development Marketplace team to develop the Egypt DM program. Prior to coming to the Bank Ehaab was an Ashoka Fellow and advisor for the Middle East Youth Initiative at Brookings. For Ehaab, there are three main challenges facing social entrepreneurship in the MENA region and in Egypt in particular:

  • Social entrepreneurship infrastructure is missing. There are few supporting intermediaries that are present in the region, such as SE incubators, angel investor networks, replication funds, etc, that SEs require to develop and go to scale.
  • Policy and regulatory frameworks are restrictive. Capital market laws must be amended to encourage social investment funds to participate in the region. In addition, under current laws, NGOs are not allowed to be self-sufficient through hybrid models; they remain heavily donor-driven. 
  • Cultural mindsets and educational systems don't provide a supportive environment for SEs to flourish. Few would argue that critical thinking and analytical skills are essential for building a new generation of social entrepreneurs. However, schools in the region need to encourage critical thinking and reasoning skill sets to develop in the classroom. Additionally, a greater emphasis on community service would expose budding entrepreneurs to recognize and find solutions to the problems in their local communities.

Although the social entrepreneurship field in Egypt has its challenges, there have been some recent positive trends. The SE ecosystem is growing; for example, Technoserve is likely to expand its work to Egypt, joining other major players like Ashoka, Acumen, Endeavor, Schwab, and Skoll Foundation, all of whom have been working in the region for the last few years.

Plans to hold public-private dialogues around the restrictive regulatory framework are in the making. Additionally, civil society groups interested in becoming implementing partners of the Egypt DM program have expressed a desire to work collaboratively and not competitively. There is a strong sense of urgency now to build on this recent momentum and offer social innovators in Egypt the support they need to transform society. (Pictured: A Yemeni woman entrepreneur who rents the use of this pool table to the residents of her town. Image credit: World Bank photo collection). 

As Ehaab asserts:

"For social entrepreneurship and inclusive business models to thrive and play their desired and much needed role in the region's development, we have to create the necessary ecosystem which includes the missing intermediaries as well as addressing the restrictive legal and regulatory framework." 

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Investor Relations Associate

Next Billion - Wed, 2012-01-18 18:26

Organization: Calvert Foundation

Location: US

Calvert Foundation seeks an Investor Relations Associate to work closely with impact investors supporting low-income communities throughout the US and around the world. The Associate will support the organization’s work with investors, donors, and financial professionals at the cutting edge of investing for social impact.

The Associate will be a primary point of contact and provider of administrative support for impact investors. The successful candidate will be a talented and socially-committed individual, with strong communication and administrative skills, a sharp attention to detail, and a can-do spirit.

Principal Duties and Responsibilities:

  • Primary Customer Relations Contact for Calvert Foundation – Responsible for helping individual and institutional investors and financial advisors with their questions related to Calvert Foundation and impact investing. 
  • Investor Administration – Primary contact for all investors in the servicing of their accounts. Handle investor communication and reporting, including mailings and supporting the Social Impact Reporting process. Use Salesforce to document activity and communicate with team regarding key relationships.
  • External Relations – Support business development and external relations efforts to help meet organizational goals and build the impact investing industry. This includes representing the organization on the phone and at in-person events.

Qualifications, Skills and Required Experience:

  • Interest in using the power of investing to support community development and social enterprise 
  • College Degree 
  • Excellent Communication and Customer Service Skills 
  • Strong Computer Skills including Microsoft Excel and familiarity with databases, experience with Microsoft Access and Salesforce preferred 
  • Ability to accomplish multiple tasks while maintaining attention to detail
  • Desire to work within a team framework and take initiative

Comments: This position is full-time with generous benefits that include medical, dental, life, PTO & sick leave, 401(k), transportation subsidy, and more. The position is based in Bethesda, MD. No phone calls please. Interested candidates should send a resume and cover letter to with “Investor Relations Associate” in the subject line.


New Businesses Manager - Kigali

Next Billion - Wed, 2012-01-18 18:26

Organization: H2O Venture Partners

Location: GB

What is H2O Venture Partners? H2O Venture Partners ( is an exciting, ground-breaking business in the field of social entrepreneurship and impact investment.

Based in Oxford, UK, but with activities in India and Africa, we are a team of ten entrepreneurs and support staff. We style ourselves as ‘pre-business plan investors’ who then run a full, highly creative process of business creation. Increasingly we apply our skills to impact investment: creating sustainable, profitable enterprises benefiting the poor of developing countries.

As part of H2O’s East African agricultural program we are establishing processes for identifying and mentoring a cadre of local entrepreneurial managers who can work to validate nascent commercial opportunities and, if appropriate, develop these into full businesses.

What is the Job?

We are recruiting a New Businesses Manager to be based in Kigali to identify and recruit entrepreneurial managers in-country (supported by executive search consultants) and thereafter to support the business development activities of those managers on their individual projects, including:


  • Establishing and managing an office. 
  • Identifying and engaging consultancy expertise as required to support individual projects. 
  • Managing the reporting process for projects to ensure interim reports and draft business plans are produced to time. 
  • Liaising with the UK-based Programme Manager, who will travel monthly to Kigali.


The New Businesses Manager will also undertake some travel to provide business development support for other H2O projects in the region.

Who Are We Looking For?

Educated to first degree level or higher in a relevant subject, you preferably have experience of working in the region.

You are a creative self-starter, who enjoys working autonomously and with considerable discretion to deliver high level outcomes. You are an experienced pair of managerial hands, able to run a process to tight timescales, willing to identify and address problems promptly, and able to work effectively with a range of people of different backgrounds, personalities and skill sets.

You will have a strong ability to communicate in written and spoken English, and a good grasp of Excel and PowerPoint.

Experience of business development is also highly desirable, but for candidates with demonstrable entrepreneurial potential the post will provide an opportunity to gain considerable exposure to the excitement and challenges of business creation.

What are the terms of employment?


  • A 50 week contract, initially. 
  • Based in Kigali, Rwanda. 
  • Remuneration package commensurate with experience.
  • Country allowance and home leave travel expenses.
  • Start date: as soon as possible.


Please respond with a CV and covering letter to Dr. Antonia Cardew

Closing date: we will run a rolling recruitment process, but in any case, please submit applications before 16 February 2012.


Centre Manager

Next Billion - Wed, 2012-01-18 18:26

Organization: Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship

Location: GB

The Skoll Centre is looking to hire an entrepreneurial leader to help grow the Centre as the Skoll Centre Manager. This is a senior position within the team dedicated to designing and driving forth overall strategy and its operational implementation. They should have deep experience in global social entrepreneurship and a proven track record of managing teams and organisations.

The Manager will work directly with the Centre Director in all external facing efforts in building a collaborative network, including partnership and business development, as well as relationship management across Oxford University, the Skoll Foundation, and other investors.

The Manager oversees all operational aspects (including budgeting, marketing, finance, human resource and reporting) whilst also serving as a strategic advisor on the Skoll Centre activities, especially its Developing Talent portfolio.

The right candidate will need to know how to spot opportunities, manage people and key relationships, and create structures in flexible and open environment. They will be a collaborative self-starter, an excellent written and verbal communicator and an experienced ambassador for social entrepreneurs.

Full details available here.

Closing date February 10, 2012


Decentralized, Distributed and Disruptive: The New Diseconomies of Scale

Next Billion - Wed, 2012-01-18 11:00

Authored by: Stuart Hart

Editor's note: This post originally appeared on Stuart Hart's blog.

Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, economies of scale have ruled the day, with massive investments in power plants, pipelines, factories, transmission lines, dams, and highways to more efficiently serve the burgeoning consumption needs of the rising consumer classes. Industrial-era technologies (such as electricity, petrochemicals, and automobiles) were also closely associated with mass production, the assembly line, and centralized, bureaucratic organization, resulting in the rise of organized labor, worker alienation, and growing social stratification. 

As we enter the second decade of the new century, however, the "dark satanic mills" of the Industrial Revolution are giving way to a new generation of technologies that promise to change dramatically the societal, economic, and environmental landscape. The information economy powered by the microchip has already begun to revolutionize society by democratizing access to information and empowering the repressed. Indeed, YouTube, Twitter, and the rapid emergence of the "blogosphere" have spawned a bottom-up revolution in user-generated content. 

Continue reading this story...

Mobile Money Payments: Why It's Time to Move From P2P to Me2Me

Next Billion - Tue, 2012-01-17 11:00

Authored by: Ignacio Mas

Mobile money helps people pay for things in two ways. Directly, by sending value to suppliers of goods and services; and indirectly, by getting remittances from friends and family members which can be used to pay for things. Mobile money works best when there is a coincidence of timing between sources and uses of funds, as then the transaction is immediate. But when there is separation in time between when money is available and when it needs to be paid out, mobile money has so far proved less useful.

The separation in time can occur for two main reasons: (i) if the payment needs to be made on a specified future date (e.g. rent, school fees, electricity bill, seeds for planting), or (ii) if the payment is sizable relative to income flows, such that there needs to be an accumulation of funds prior to the commitment of the expenditure (e.g. buying a motorcycle or new farming implement). These expenditures constitute spending goals, and people will use a variety of mechanisms to achieve them.

Bridging that gap is the role of the store-of-value account in a mobile money system, except that it appears that most people don't leave much value in there. That is probably to a large extent because for regulatory reasons mobile money is usually not marketed as a savings vehicle. But it could also be that people find mobile money too liquid, too easily available: like cash in the pocket, it is best gotten rid of in favor of something valuable (a chicken or a pig), lest it comes to be used for something superfluous.

Since these spending goals represent future expenditures, one could use a system of deferred payments to apply current income to these future goals (see this detailed paper, Savings as Forward Payments: Innovations on Mobile Money Platforms, written by Colin Mayer and myself). Think of these as Me2Me payments (across time), instead of the garden-variety P2P payments (across people, in real time). All it takes to create them is one additional optional field in the standard money transfer menu: the date when the transaction is to take effect. (Immediate execution could be the default, if no date is specified.)

Thus, if I had a good day and made $5 today, I'll cash in the $5, send $2 to myself for February 28 because that's when school fees are due, and another $2 to myself for June 30 because that's when I aim to buy a bicycle; the remaining $1 I'll keep in my liquid mobile money account for daily expenditures. Or if I am a farmer, I'll cash in the value of my crop at harvest time, but can then send good chunks of it to myself to those dates when I need to pay for the rent of the land for the next season, and pay for soil preparation and seeds at planting time. With the remaining value, the farmer could even create monthly payments to himself emulating a salary until the next harvest.

Me2Me payments to future dates are functionally equivalent to commitment savings sub-accounts, each of which is associated with a particular future date. Through this scheme, there is no need to pre-define or open multiple accounts. In the customer's mind, each date, and hence each sub-account, would be associated with a purpose. In this fashion, mobile money providers can create an easy-to-use commitment savings platform that maps out how people think about their needs and their money.

Most people save because they want to buy something. Applying a payments logic to savings behaviors makes it more tangible and relevant for people. It's parking money for a purpose, it's pushing it forward until you have enogh. It's reinforcing the positives (the spending goals) rather than the sacrifices (savings).

Enabling Me2Me payments is a value add for mobile money providers. But more importantly, it can help soften the brutal network effects that are inherent in the early phase of development of P2P networks. With Me2Me, mobile money may be a very useful even when few other people are on the network, because it helps people manage their own money. 

The Second Wave of Social Entrepreneurs?

Next Billion - Mon, 2012-01-16 19:00

Authored by: Blair Miller

Editor's note: This post was previously published on the Acumen Fund blog. 

I had an interesting moment of reflection the other day about the field of social entrepreneurship. We are reaching a point where we are seeing a second wave of professionals moving into this space. I look back to about 7-10 years ago when I started pursuing this work. We were all entrepreneurs in our own right trying to define a career path that just didn't fit with the mold. We all came at if from different angles and were experimenting in different sectors, geographies, and educational degrees.

The other day though I began to realize that the field of social entrepreneurship is becoming more professionalized. We have people prescribing their careers. First consulting out of undergrad, then a one year stint at an NGO or social enterprise abroad, then B-school, then they land a "job" at an organization in this field. It is so interesting that people are pursing "jobs" in this space, and it is also exciting to see as it is demonstrating that the industry is growing and becoming more institutionalized.

So as I observe this shift, there are two things I am thinking about.

First, what does this mean for the level of innovation pumping in and out of the industry? With a more "traditional" career path into this field, will it stifle the entrepreneurial drive of our industry and/or bring in the systems and processes we need to really grow?

Second, while there is a more traditional path into the field, there are still not traditional career progressions within the field. I find that many people who come into the field for a "job" struggle to see what their career path beyond that job looks like. That aspect of our industry is still very entrepreneurial: the people who are successful at staying in this field understand how to move in and out of sectors and organizations.

With this in mind, it is interesting to see how our field will evolve...

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NextThought Monday: SABMiller, Providing Beer at the BoP

Next Billion - Mon, 2012-01-16 11:00

Authored by: Marc Gunther

In the developed world, brewing giant SABMiller, whose global brands include Miller, Peroni, Grolsch and Pilsner Urquell, competes with the even bigger brewing giant Anheuser-Busch InBev, which owns Budweiser, Beck's, Stella Artois and Michelob. They're the Pepsi and Coke of beer, which, by the way, is the world's third most popular drink, after water and tea.

But in Africa, SABMiller's biggest competitor is the guy (or gal) who makes beer at home. That's a big reason why the company, which had revenues of $28 billion last year, recently began selling Impala, a beer made from cassava, in Mozambique. Similarly, for about a decade, SABMiller has been selling Eagle Lager, a beer brewed with sorghum, in Uganda.

Using ingredients local like cassava and sorghum crops appeals to local tastes, supports local farmers and keeps costs down so SABMiller can price its beer lower to compete with homemade brews.

"By using locally-sourced raw materials, we can make high-quality, but affordable products for consumers who would otherwise be drinking informal or illicit alcohol. So the long term commercial opportunities are significant," Andy Wales, SABMiller's global head of sustainability, told me in an email interview.

Beer at the bottom of the pyramid, you could call it.

Continue reading this story...

Scaling Up Impact Investing In China

Next Billion - Fri, 2012-01-13 19:59

Authored by: Tracy Elsen

Editor's note: This post was originally published on the WRI Insights blog. 

Opportunities in China for impact investing are growing, where investors look to create positive social and environmental benefits alongside returns. Impact investors actively choose to put their money into companies that address social and environmental issues through their business models. Tao Zhang, the Chief Operating Officer of New Ventures, WRI's center for environmental entrepreneurship with local operations in China and five other high growth markets, answers questions on the country's current investment climate for environmentally-focused small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Is there a culture of impact investing and impact-focused companies in China?

Zhang: Impact investing is a very new concept in China and most companies remain very commercially focused. Many companies with environmental and social benefits inherent in their business models are not yet familiar with the impact investing concept, and thus are not in a position to present themselves as "impact" companies. At New Ventures, which is led in China by Country Director Walter Ge, we have worked with companies that have only realized the environmental impact they create after they have gone through an exercise to help them manage their environmental performance. In this exercise, New Ventures helps companies to quantify the positive impacts of their products and services, such as reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

However, on the other hand, there are many companies that provide real environmental solutions in China, such as those that we work with in the energy efficiency, water quality, and recycling sectors.

How big is the impact investing opportunity in China?

Zhang: There is abundant opportunity in China for impact investing, particularly relating to the environment. A lot of the big business decisions in China are driven by government, not by the private sector. However, there is a huge demand and room for the private sector and investment, particularly SMEs, to help implement the government's goals for environmental protection and poverty reduction. The government has a "top down" approach, and it makes sense to add in a "bottom up" approach, which is where SMEs and their investors can play a significant role.

Who are the investors in China right now putting money into companies creating impact?

Zhang: Right now it is very much commercial capital, as I don't think there are many self-declared impact investors. There are a few trying to gain traction, but they face challenges building capacity on the ground to source deals and interact with entrepreneurs. These developments will require significant time commitment from investors. Impact investors from more mature markets in the U.S. or Europe do not have enough resources to set up an office or hire staff on the ground in China. And it's hard to find and hire the right type of people in China because qualified investment professionals tend to choose to work for more traditional investors.

What needs to take place in China for impact investing to grow?

Zhang: Given the need for China to create sustainable economic growth over the decades to come, impact investing has an important role to play and should gain traction in the country.

The government has an opportunity to develop policies that encourage more investment into Chinese impact companies both internationally and domestically. Specifically, policies relating to foreign investments in Chinese start-ups need further clarity. Investors have been finding it challenging to convert their money into local currency upon entry and vice versa when they repatriate the capital upon a successful exit.

Meanwhile, organizations that promote impact investing can do a better job marketing its potential benefits. When one talks to different stakeholders in China, including government officials, about impact investing, time and energy is required to explain to them what it is all about.

The good news is that some Chinese cities, like Shanghai, are starting to pilot foreign limited partner-friendly policies to improve the investment climate for international investors. This growing trend in China will potentially make international investors feel increasingly comfortable investing in local companies.

The government is also starting to take notice of impact companies. At the recent China New Industrial Development Forum in Shenzhen, China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) announced a report on the "Green Impact of Chinese SMEs", which is scheduled to come out in March 2012. The report, which makes extensive use of the environmental performance indicators that New Ventures uses, will collect and analyze the financial, environmental, and social performance of Chinese green SMEs, highlighting their environmental and social contributions to the economy.

What is New Ventures planning to do in China to grow the impacts of the environmental companies it works with?

Zhang: New Ventures China recently received funding from a Hong Kong-based foundation to look into the feasibility of creating China's first genuine environmental impact fund. The objective of the study is to look at the macro picture and figure out how to take advantage of New Ventures China's portfolio of environmental enterprises to either set up or help facilitate a fund.

Hopefully, New Ventures can help provide these companies not only with technical assistance but also the necessary financing to help them scale up to the point where they are sufficiently attractive to traditional venture investors.

We will also work with the Information Centre of MIIT to tackle the barriers to the growth of environmental entrepreneurship in the country. By sharing best practices from New Ventures China's high-impact environmental SMEs, we are well placed to develop recommendations for policy-makers and investors to accelerate environmental entrepreneurship and green investment in China.

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Director, Centre for Impact Investing

Next Billion - Fri, 2012-01-13 19:32

Organization: MaRS Centre for Impact Investing

Location: CA

Position Type: Full-time
Location: ON - Metro Toronto
Application Deadline: 2012-01-30
Category: Executive

Position Overview:

The Director, Centre for Impact Investing will provide strategic direction for the Centre’s programs and initiatives, manage the operations and staff of the Centre, and manage an extensive network of external stakeholders and partners.

About the Centre for Impact Investing

Building upon the foundational work of the Canadian Task Force on Social Finance, which was supported by Social Innovation Generation (SiG) and MaRS, the Centre for Impact Investing is a national social finance hub dedicated to advancing impact investing in Canada. The MaRS Centre for Impact Investing will increase awareness, develop and share knowledge and expand the effective application of social finance, by catalyzing new partnerships, mobilizing new capital, attracting and developing talent, and stimulating innovation focused on tackling social and environmental problems in Canada. The Centre will support the growing, vibrant network of players active in social finance across Canada, and help connect Canadian partners to the active global community working in the field of impact investing in both developed and emerging markets. The Centre will be active in market and product development, as well as develop and deliver programs and services focused on research and policy, impact measurement, education and multi-sector engagement initiatives to mobilize private capital towards public good. The Centre will also deliver current MaRS programs such as the Social Venture Exchange (SVX), the Canadian B-Corp licensing hub, and

For more details, visit:

How To Apply:

Interested candidates should forward their resume and cover letter to by January 30th, 2012.

MaRS thanks all candidates; however, only candidates selected for an interview will be contacted.

If you have any questions about the position, please contact Allyson Hewitt, Director, SiG@MaRS and Director, Social Entrepreneurship. Allyson can be contacted via email at


Lending Analysis Assistant

Next Billion - Fri, 2012-01-13 19:32

Organization: Root Capital

Location: US


The Lending Analysis Assistant supports the growth of the analytical capacity of the Lending Team by providing additional analytical capabilities to the Lending Analysis Manager and to the Junior Analyst. He/she will also support ongoing projects between the Lending Analysis and the Impact Assessment team as appropriate. This position will work closely with other members of the lending team, accounting team, and supervisors. Through his/her work, s/he will reflect the organization’s belief that a well-supported and well-informed strategic team will be the most effective in achieving RC’s mission.


Root Capital’s mission is to grow rural prosperity by investing in small and growing agricultural businesses that build sustainable livelihoods in Africa and Latin America. Root Capital is a nonprofit social investment fund that grows rural prosperity in poor, environmentally vulnerable places in Africa and Latin America by lending capital, delivering financial training, and strengthening market connections for small and growing agricultural businesses.


  1. Provide ad-hoc analytical assistance to support management on strategic decision making 

a. Conduct analytical analysis for portfolio management and reporting purposes.
b. Assist in identifying and creating a set of reports for different levels of lending staff.
c. Assist in the updating of the Lending Model by providing background and trend information.
d. Provide ad-hoc analytical support on a case by case basis for different projects.
e. Provide analytical support for the 2013-Annual planning process.  

2.  Collaborate and co-manage other interns in the construction of a "Lending Team Master Database"


  1. An Economics, Statistics or other related major is preferred  
  2. Proficiency in Ms Excel and PowerPoint is a must 
  3. Experience analyzing large data sets 
  4. Conversational level Spanish a plus 
  5. Enjoys working in a multicultural, international environment. 
  6. Passion for Root Capital’s commitment to worldwide poverty alleviation and environmental conservation. 
  7. Applicants must be authorized to work in the United States.

SALARY: Commensurate with experience.


More information about Root Capital is available at

Applications are due by February 29, 2012. Candidates are encouraged to apply as soon as possible.

Applications including resume and a cover letter describing your interest, qualifications, language abilities, salary requirements, and how you learned of the position should be sent to: Please type “Lending Analysis” followed by your name (Last, First) as the subject line of your email (e.g. “Lending Analysis – Marrero, Marc”).


Best Ideas of 2011: 2012, the Year of Archimedean Entrepreneurs

Next Billion - Fri, 2012-01-13 14:00

Authored by: Eric Kacou

2011 will live in history as the year Africa made a dent in the world, to paraphrase Steve Jobs. As previously discussed in this NextBillion series, The Economist, a 'beacon of afro-pessimism', headlined "Africa Rising" late last year. What a jump from "The Hopeless Continent" in 2000. 

Thankfully, the cover underscores solid empirical evidence. Africa leapt forward at 4,9 percent last year in a growth starved world. While the Arab Spring heralded a new era of accountability, inspiring - some might suggest - the occupy Wall Street movement. 

Moving beyond the Survival Trap

Anyone visiting Africa would be hard pressed to see Africans celebrate this feat. This is not for being an ungrateful people. Rather, it is because the growth spurt has not materialized into tangible improvements in the life of the average African citizen. At least not yet...

Who is the average African citizen? It is a young woman (or man) living off subsistence farming on a very small plot of land in a rural area. This citizen feels stuck scrapping to survive in the pre-industrial age while the rest of the world moves forward in the digital age.

In reality, most Africans are still mired in the 'survival trap', a vicious cycle that makes individuals, businesses and nations react to short-term crises instead of developing long-term strategies for prosperity.

This where Haiti and Africa share a lot more than meets the eye. Beyond a shared history and deep cultural roots, one realizes that their development indicators are very similar.

Today's greatest challenge is the struggle for prosperity. It is also, arguably, today's greatest opportunity.

Make no mistake: Freeing the 2.7 billion people struggling on less than two dollars per day from the survival trap is not optional. In reality, it is not only a moral imperative, but it is also an economic one.

Continue reading this story...

Toppling a Paradigm, Building a New One in Europe: From Subsidies to Investment

Next Billion - Thu, 2012-01-12 18:53

Authored by: Renee Manuel and Felix Oldenburg

Over the years, financial indicators and quantitative metrics have grown in importance in evaluating society's competitiveness. In spite of this, the most important indicator remains remarkably simple: How many changemakers are there?

As representatives from Ashoka, we talk about making a world where "Everyone is a Changemaker" - empowering people to engineer social change in a way that no one has thought of before. From 30 years of experience searching for leading social entrepreneurs, we have learned two things:

1. Social entrepreneurs emerge in every society, no matter how progressive or traditional, and often from the most unlikely backgrounds.

 2. As resilient and creative as they might be, the speed of growth of their innovations depends on whether we can create and support the needed infrastructure for their ideas to scale.

But what happens when the financial ecosystem in which social entrepreneurs work is fundamentally broken? Where, for instance, the financing structures that are offered encourage dependency, organizational growth, and shrinking salary pools to pay top level talent?

Instead of empowering social entrepreneurs to unleash their innovations on the market, the current forms of capital hinder citizen sector organizations and box their ideas into programmatic grants and traditional non-profit models, or offer loans and equity at conditions that threaten to undermine their social purpose.

Continue reading this story...

The View from Canada: Impact Investing 2.0 - Your Money, Your Way

Next Billion - Thu, 2012-01-12 13:50

Authored by: Carmelina Macario

When you start to think about investing your money to save for retirement or to grow your net worth, you are faced with a lot of questions: 

How much do I put aside every month? Who do I trust with my money? I am a high- or low-risk investor? What do I want to invest in? Enter the financial advisor - they can help answer those questions, set up a portfolio for you and give you piece of mind. But what about when they can't offer you something you want to invest in? What happens with even Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) funds don't met your needs?

Enter impact investing. Of course it isn't a new concept (NextBillion has covered it extensively) but it is a concept that is gaining popularity in the investment community. For the uninitated, impact investing is the act of investing your money into projects that will have a positive social or environmental impact and getting a return for it. Impact investing experts credit the gain in popularity to among other things: the instability of financial markets, the creation of a common framework for reporting on impact investments and to the shift of donors lending money to causes rather than giving money to causes.

Continue reading this story...

Graphic Design Internship with EIGHTY2DEGREES

Next Billion - Wed, 2012-01-11 19:29

Organization: EIGHTY2DEGREES

Location: US


Location: Washington, DC
Wanted: *Intern on a mission to drive social change through design!

*passion *drive *creativity *professionalism *innovative thinking *an affinity for fun! *social consciousness

Eighty2degrees is a multifaceted, creative studio that specializes in strategic and compelling solutions for those doing meaningful work. Our mission is to help our clients achieve their goals by effectively crafting their message through branding, communications, and design.

Eighty2degrees is the dream project of a graphic designer who has taught design at the university level for several years before taking a leap of faith and starting her own socially conscious design firm. Client roster includes the UN Foundation, Shakespeare Theatre Company, the Smithsonian Institution, UNEP, Indego Africa and The mHealth Alliance.

As an intern at Eighty2degrees you’ll be exposed to all areas of the design, both print and web, as well as business and marketing through hands-on training and experience on projects. Eighty2degrees will provide our interns with the opportunity to gain a better understanding of graphic design, our mission, culture and commitment to our work and clients. If you want to have an impact using your design skills this is the right internship for you! In addition, you will be able to create a network in our office space at the Affinity Lab, a shared office space for entrepreneurs. Read about the Affinity Lab in the New York Times.

» Work closely with the Creative Director on various projects (including branding, marketing materials, website design, publication design etc.)
» Attend client and internal business meetings, as well as brainstorming sessions as needed
» Gain comprehensive knowledge of the design process for print and web
» Help with production on ongoing projects

» A minimum 3.0 GPA & have completed their sophomore year
» Passion and experience for using design to make a difference
» Excellent design skills
» Critical thinking skills and the ability to solve complex problems with creative solutions
» Strong writing and communication skills
» Technical knowledge of Adobe Creative Suite & own a personal laptop

10–15 hours commitment per week for the Spring semester Modest stipend will be provided to cover travel and miscellaneous expenses.

Please send cover letter, resume and samples to: Ambica Prakash, Principal Email: | Website:


Technical Lead for a Startup Revolutionizing E-Governance in India

Next Billion - Wed, 2012-01-11 19:29

Organization: NextDrop

Location: IN

NextDrop, a social enterprise that provides water delivery timing information via mobile phone to residents in urban India, seeks a candidate to serve as the technical lead to work on developing the NextDrop IVR/SMS platform, as well as custom dashboarding technologies for urban water utility clients.

How we make a difference: “Will I get water today?” Hundreds of millions of people around the world ask this question everyday. In cities with intermittent water (90% of the cities in South Asia)—where piped water is available only for short and unpredictable intervals—people spend hours waiting next to dry taps, and are forced to buy water from private suppliers at high cost or use water from unsafe sources. NextDrop leverages the ubiquity of the mobile phone and delivers water delivery information via SMS and voice, thereby saving people time, reducing stress, and improving the quality of life for millions.

NextDrop Solution: NextDrop partners with water utilities to provide timely, reliable information on water delivery to residents via text message. When utility employees open valves at the neighborhood level, they call into our interactive voice response system. These updates are turned into messages for residents subscribed to the NextDrop service and live data for utility engineers, enabling them to identify and resolve problems as they come up.

Current Business Status: In September 2011, we officially launched our first product, a water notification system for urban households in Hubli. To date, we have over 5000 paying customers, and anticipate offering our service in all of Hubli (a city of 1 million people) by December 2012. To Date, NextDrop has raised over $450,000- the bulk of which has come as investments from Google and the Knight Foundation.

Responsibilities: The technical lead will be responsible for:


  • Creation of web based dashboard technology for urban water utility 
  • Maintenance of NextDrop water information database 
  • Maintenance and expansion of NextDrop SMS/IVR system


Knowledge Requirements:


  • Web development experience, particularly with Python (Django web framework), HTML, CSS, Javascript.
  • Experience with Google Maps API and the nginx web server preferred. 
  • Creation of and consumption from REST APIs. 
  • Basic sysadmin and server management skills.


Compensation: On Par With Market

Interested? Contact Anu Sridharan:


Guest Post: Promoting Green Entrepreneurship in India’s Auto-Rickshaw Sector

Next Billion - Wed, 2012-01-11 14:15

Authored by: Akshay Mani

Editor's Note: This article is cross posted from, an online resource for sustainable transport news, research and best practice solutions from around the world. The blog is produced by EMBARQ, a nonprofit program of the World Resources Institute. This blog post is a part of the catalyzing new mobility program and receives support from the Rockefeller Foundation.

Auto-rickshaw services in Indian cities are predominantly unorganized in nature, wherein services are provided by individual owners and operators competing against each other for the passenger market. This structure, coupled with an improper governance framework, has created significant problems for both drivers and passengers, and it has resulted in negative externalities in the economic, environmental, and social realms.

Some of the key issues include:

  • Improper permit and fare policies resulting in increased socio-economic burdens on drivers.
  • Lack of access for drivers to employment benefits, such as health insurance and pension plans, additional revenue sources (i.e. advertising) and financing.
  • Lack of a brand image, and problems associated with driver behavior, such as refusals and overcharging.
  • Poor vehicle maintenance and operational inefficiencies (i.e. empty trips,) resulting in negative environmental impacts.
  • Preference of individual owner-operators towards two-stroke engines (due to the ease of repairing), which are significant polluters of particulate matter emissions with harmful health impacts.
  • Lack of organization of fleet and access to technology to provide value-added services, such as dial-a-rickshaw (DAR) services.

Continue reading this story...

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