• “Doing” digital technology

    By Editor of SocialBusiness.org

    “Digital technology” is something like a buzzword in social entrepreneurship communities. It’s a step up from “social media” (as a buzzword, not in reality) but it still carries some of the same resonances. Ok, but what exactly can digital technology really do for you? For your social business? For the world?

     Courtney E. Martin, author of Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists and Project Rebirth: Survival and the Strength of the Human Spirit from 9/11 Survivors, wrote a piece at the beginning of December for the Stanford Social Innovation Review called “Transforming Democracy Through Digital Technology: Five lessons from groundbreaking women,” which was essentially a delineation of what she learned from moderating a TEDxWomen conference panel called “Power of Technology to Transform Democracy.” Whether or not democracy can be “saved”  — and by technology no less — was the bigger question here. Martin broke it down into five easily digestible lessons from the panel: 1) “It’s not just you. No one’s got it quite right yet;” 2) “Don’t build it. They won’t come;” 3) “You are not the target user;” 4) “Data is where it’s at;” and last but certainly not least, 5) “Optimism is the technology we need most.” The point is that everyone is struggling and trying to negotiate digital technology with larger questions of democracy, civic action and citizenship. Martin’s last point, about promoting optimism, was echoed by the founder of Girls Who Code, Reshma Saujani. But the Girls Who Code ‘About’ page isn’t filled with optimism, really at all. Take a look at some of the stats:

    Today, just 3.6% of Fortune 500 companies are led by women, and less than 10% of venture capital-backed companies have female founders. Yet females use the internet 17% more than their male counterparts and represent the fastest growing demographic online and on mobile, creating more than two-thirds of content on social networking sites. Technology companies with more women on their management teams have a 34% higher return on investment, and companies with women on technical teams increases teams’ problem-solving ability and creativity. 

    The numbers speak for themselves. By 2018, there will be 1.4 million computer science-related job openings, yet U.S. universities are expected to produce enough computer science graduates to fill just 29% of these jobs. And while 57% of bachelor’s degrees are obtained by women, less than 14% of computer science degrees are awarded to women.

    And yet. “Forget the bells and whistles—a lot of these entrepreneurs voiced that the most difficult hurdle they face is getting people to believe in the political and democratic process again,” Martin wrote. “All the websites and apps in the world can’t substitute for the fundamental power of people believing that a) this nation is still ‘perfectible’ and b) they are part of the solution.” And so, maybe the reality of it all is that technology isn’t the place for answers but a place to create more questions about how to innovate, which means, how to fail and push forward in light of whatever it is you want to do with social entrepreneurship.

  • Three postcolonial concepts for social entrepreneurs


    By Editor of SocialBusiness.org

    Prayer on the Housetops, Jean-Leon Gerome, 1865

    Orientalism Orientalism is one of those books that changed the world. And in my undergraduate education, probably around my third year in university in Montreal, I was exploring beyond my traditional International Development Studies courses, and found myself in both a Gender and Postcolonial Lit class and a Theories of Difference English course. It was then that Orientalism changed me, too. Orientalism is a concept developed by postcolonial theorist Edward Said and is also a book published in 1978 under the same name. For Said, orientalism is “a manner of regularized (or Orientalized) writing, vision, and study, dominated by imperatives, perspectives, and ideological biases ostensibly suited to the Orient.” It’s essential to think about when entrepreneurs talk for or even about marginalized subjects. Orientalism creates objects, especially, as we see in Gerome’s piece, in art. It’s the way we (read: The West) talk about, present, re-represent and imagine the Other. Hybridity Hybridity is a term typically attributed to being developed to the postcolonial intellectual Homi Bhabha in his 1996 book The Location of Culture. It can be, and it is to me, a little more optimistic than orientalism. Hybridity, as you can imagine, is an in-between state. Or rather, an in between process. “The borderline engagements of cultural difference may as often be consensual as conflictual; they may confound our definitions of tradition and modernity; realign the customary boundaries between the private and the public, high and low; and challenge normative expectations of development and progress,”  writes Bhabha. Hybridity can be creative, it can also be a site of resistance so think about productivity and creativity when you’re straddling two worlds, whatever those worlds are. Maybe it’s business and social good or maybe it’s the United States and Kenya. Subaltern Antonio Gramsci’s idea of cultural hegemony laid the grounds for the postcolonial concept of the subaltern as it is viewed today. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is maybe the poster woman for “subaltern” as a concept and she insists that

    subaltern is not just a classy word for “oppressed”, for [the] Other, for somebody who’s not getting a piece of the pie. . . . In post-colonial terms, everything that has limited or no access to the cultural imperialism is subaltern — a space of difference. Now, who would say that’s just the oppressed? The working class is oppressed. It’s not subaltern. . . . Many people want to claim subalternity. They are the least interesting and the most dangerous. I mean, just by being a discriminated-against minority on the university campus; they don’t need the word ‘subaltern’ . . . They should see what the mechanics of the discrimination are. They’re within the hegemonic discourse, wanting a piece of the pie, and not being allowed, so let them speak, use the hegemonic discourse. They should not call themselves subaltern.

  • Where’s the focus on collaboration and early education?

    By Tiana Reid, Senior Editor of SocialBusiness.org

    It’s September and so, like every year, there’s a breadth of blog posts and articles on improving academic success. And this is something that’s personal to me since I’ve been a student for, well, pretty much 22 years — give or take a few relatively short professional and non-professional breaks in between.

    Image via Stanford Social Innovation Review

    On September 4, writer Arshad Merchant (who is also a partner with Wellspring Consulting) outlined, on the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) blog, the most important areas in which they thought students needed help to complete their degree, and thus, improve graduate rates all around, which included:

    1. Staying on track to graduate—which meant selecting a suitable major, understanding what requirements they must fulfill to graduate, and using strategies and support to improve their academic performance
    2. Building their employability—through securing part-time jobs, writing a resume, and defining a desired career path
    3. Maintaining sufficient financial aid—by renewing their scholarships, staying current on scholarship payments, and making smart financial decisions
    4. Managing life—by staying connected with people who cared, maintaining a positive attitude, and resolving problems that might challenge their ability to graduate

    The title of the piece was called “A Simple Method to Improve College Graduation Rates” and it was looking specifically at a Boston-based organization called Bottom Line that helps low-income students get into college and, of course, graduate.  The problem was that not a successful amount of them were.

    So from the four areas of need outlined above, they created DEAL: “Degree (academic performance, on track to graduate); Employability; (access to financial) Aid; and Life (emotional support).” Not super innovative, huh? Which I guess is where the “simple” comes from in the title. One commenter named Yvonne C. Hunnicutt said: “Isn’t this common sense for ANY college student?!” While I don’t fully agree that this is the case, since a lot of DEAL is easier said than done, I do think most college students do recognize the necessity to keep those four areas in mind even if they don’t fully articulate it that way.

    As a grad student myself, my main concern is this: why doesn’t DEAL mention the collaboration with the college itself? Most colleges and universities offer this kind of support whether it’s mentoring, career workshops, financial advising, etc. However, it is true that a lot of students (including myself as an undergrad) don’t take full advantage of these resources but they’re there.

    And what about pre-college? Pre-high school even? The 2011 PBS special with Tavis Smiley Too Important to Fail shows many young black males don’t even make it to college; they don’t even graduate from high school. This, for the most part, is because of things that happen way before an organization like Bottom Line intervenes. This includes but is not limited to: poverty, institutional racism, disproportionate suspension, crime in the community and unprepared educators.

    DEAL did in fact increase the graduation rate at Bottom Line, which is great, but it’s important also to go beyond that and consider who gets into Bottom Line’s program to begin with. Who is already excluded from that? As a child of a grade one teacher (so I’ve had too many dinners to count where the topic revolved around pedagogy), I’m a firm believer that educational success (employability, knowledge, literacy, etc.) must be considered holistically from the early days.