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[Guest Post]: Bridges to Entry

Shital Shah
6th May 2009
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Editor’s Note: Guest blogger Lindsay Clinton is an Associate Vice President at Intellecap, where she is the Managing Editor of Beyond Profit and Microfinance Insights. Prior to joining Intellecap, she worked as the Marketing and Communications Director at The White House Project, a women’s leadership organization based in New York City. Lindsay writes a semi-regular column in the Austin American Statesman, and blogs at http://indiarevisited.blogspot.com

Last week, over 400 social entrepreneurs, social investors, and socially motivated types converged to talk shop in Bombay (that’s Mumbai for you progressives). The Sankalp Social Enterprise and Investment Forum brought people from across India, and some very committed folks from abroad (who we hope used some sort of carbon off-setting system), to discuss how we can create inclusive wealth for those living at the base of the pyramid.

Because I was part of the team presenting the event (Intellecap, of course), I didn’t get a chance to attend many of the small sessions, but I did get to listen to some of the larger panel discussions, featuring the likes of Sequoia Capital,* the Rockefeller Foundation, Monitor’s Inclusive Markets Group, the MINT (India’s Wall Street Journal partner), etc. (The smaller sessions featured 50 emerging, growing and high impact social enterprises!)

There was the usual talk about scale and impact. You really can’t escape these buzzwords nowadays. But, something else struck me. During a post-mortem session with a colleague who attended the event, another theme emerged: bridges vs. barriers. Whereas an objective of for-profit business is to build barriers to entry, in social enterprise, we try to build bridges, open the floodgates, let the light shine in.

Take for example, this anecdote. Intellecap, the company that publishes Beyond Profit, is a for-profit social business that facilitates investment, provides advisory services, and creates knowledge-all within the for-profit development space. Whether we are working with rural cotton farmers, a microfinance technology solutions provider, or a global foundation, we aim to provide positive outcomes related to the global imbalance of power and wealth.

I found it odd when, during my first few weeks at the company, a team from a firm I considered a direct competitor came into our offices for a chat. They sat down in our conference room, and we had a 3-hour discussion about what we do, how our company is structured, who are clients are, etc. Would McKinsey ever do the same with Boston Consulting Group? Would Goldman sit down with Merrill to talk about the ins and outs of the business? Me thinks not.

But, Intellecap, and many other social businesses, although for-profit and competitive, are primarily concerned with providing social value. So, making connections and building bridges to entry is part of our work. It means that our target market-the poor-will have better access to opportunity at the end of the day. It means that we can provide lower cost services and products to the customer we are trying to benefit.

For-profit businesses with no social focus hold their cards much closer to their chests. Coke isn’t going to share their secret recipe for cola with Pepsi! It would be insanity.

So, many of the discussions at Sankalp were based on this premise of shared information, partnership, inclusivity. Sound a little too Kum Ba Yah?

Let me know what you think.

* Wait, Sequoia? Yes, because of the microfinance investments, we wanted to hear from the big guys who are straddling the fence between financial and social.

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