Yesterday GroundFloor Fellows, Rob DeHaas of Dallas Teacher Residency, Celina Pena of Accion Texas Promise Loan, and Todd Collier of FoodsourceDFW participated as panelists at SMU’s Social Innovation Forum alongside other leading social entrepreneurs in the community.
The conversation encouraged potential social entrepreneurs to get outside their comfort zone and take risks. This group of innovators drove home the idea that social innovation can take many shapes – for profit, non profit, hybrid – education, income, health – and whatever form it come in won’t be easy, but the benefits will be huge.
As GroundFloor Mentor, SMU Adjunct Professor and panel moderator, Trey Bowles said, “There is no age limit for social entrepreneurship and innovation.”
Following is the transcript from SMU student, Marissa Braun’s live blog of the event.
What is Social Innovation? – Live Blog
4:47 pm Apr 2, 2014
This is Marissa Braun, Senior Communications major, live blogging SMU’s Social Innovation Forum
The Panel consists of Mina Chang, Todd Collier, Michael Craven, Rob DeHass, Zach Freeman, Celina Pena, Brittany Underwood, and Gazel Woods
The moderator for this forum is Prof. Trey Bowles, adjunct lecturer for entrepreneurship
The room is gradually filling up with eager students and adults. Panelists are socializing together and excitement is building
Forum today is intending to show how social entrepreneurs can help solve global issues, from education to poverty
The panelists and their org.-Chang with Linking the World, Collier with FoodSourceDFW, Craven with Goodworks Company, DeHass with Dallas Teacher Residency, Freeman with Veterans Moving America, Pena with Accion Texas, Underwood with Akola Project, Woods with The Mentor Matcher
This forum was made possible by SMU Hegi Career Center, SMU Meadows School of the Arts, and United Way Ground Floor and Program Director Kate Knight
Panelists are being seated and preparing to begin
Hegi Career representative begins with a thick Boston accents that leads audience to laughter
“Could SMU become the hub for social innovation?” volunteering to internships to careers shows positive possibilities
Passion and purpose lead to lifelong careers
Hegi representative introduces the moderator for this evening, Prof. Trey Bowles
Bowles thanks contributors, panelists, and the two students who founded the forum
Kate Knight is spearheading with United Way Ground Floor a social innovation fund and program
The mood is light-hearted, friendly, and inviting
Panelists will do a 3 minute overview about each of their organizations, beginning with Chang
Chang-”we responded to some of the worst catastrophes in the world”
Chang’s Linking the World fosters hope and empowers communities
Collier’s FoodSourceDFW moves food from sources to pantries, working with manufacturers and distributors, using ecommerce system online
Collier- “FoodSourceDFW empowers pantries to say ‘yes!’”; feeding hungry families
DeHass’ Dallas Teacher Residency solves the problem of inexperienced teachers; 7 billion dollars across the nation to replace first year teachers
DeHass trains and retains teachers to save money and create a better learning experience
Freeman’ Veterans Moving America is a work employment assistance company that hires only Veterans
Freeman’s Veterans Moving America offers free service moving service, provide opportunity through employment, assimilating to civilian lifestyle, dealing with PTSD
Pena’s Accion Texas is a non-profit micro-lender, provides capital to small business that are considered unbankable
Accion Texas “thinks outside the bank”
Accion Texas provides education and capital for entrepreneurs and provides a “hand up for those who are trying to live the American dream”
2006 SMU Grad Underwood started Akola Project after visiting Uganda to uplift and empower women
Akola Project has successfully empowered 220 women to become artists, trained to make high-fashion jewelry
The money raised supports families with 7-15 children; vocational programs, fresh water wells, training women to work textiles and women in Dallas will finish the products in Dallas
Akola Project empowers and trains women and 100% of the proceeds return to their villages and help create community projects
Woods grew up in impoverished Dallas and was an airline stewardess, but 9/11 made her want to switch jobs
Woods recognized the problem that people face when job searching; tries to help “where you are now and what you want to do”
Woods’ The Mentor Matcher wants people to stay in school and have a better understanding of the jobs that people think they want
Bowles begins the forum: “Where do you find social opportunity?”
Chang says to work in the field and on the ground, know what social responsibility is; encourage volunteering and internships
Pena says to tap into leaders, “what is moving and what is not,” look at the people that you want to serve
Bowles to Underwood: How did the project progress to its current state?
Underwood moved to Uganda and identified specific needs that kids faced. Digging deeper, the project was able to pivot swiftly and build the Akola Project
5:33 pm Apr 2, 2014
Underwood says to “Get as much advice, mentorship, and partnership as possible” to find the most innovative solution; She went to grad school after and learned the economic empowerment that was necessary to get where she is now and where Akola Project is
Bowles says “innovation is about constantly improving the way you’re doing things to create impact”
Bowles: How can students find what to work on? How does personal experience play a role?
Woods says to “stop right where you are and look around” because there are things in our own backyard we don’t see until we look around
DeHass suggests an internal approach and says to figure out what you’re passionate about
Bowles talks job changes but not passion change; “there is no age limit for social entrepreneurship and innovation”
Bowles: What is unique in DFW in terms of support and getting behind causes?
Collier says Dallas has isolated bubbles, and people don’t see poverty. “the food is out there,” but time and resource is what is necessary
Freeman advises “go outside of your comfort zone”; he went to Dominican Republic and lived with a veteran which opened his eyes
Freeman says taking a step outside of comfort is “terrifying” but it’s important and people recognize the step you take and will be willing to help; your passion will show through
Bowles highlights TedxSMU talks and says to see if anyone else is doing what you want; if someone is, join him or her.
Bowles: Once a project is identified, how do you fund it?
Chang says we need social entrepreneurs to partner with organizations that are on the ground resolving problems. You can make money in the social sector. “If you have the solution to an issue, and you can make money and be wildly successful doing it, then go for it.”
Freeman says you can do good and also make money. He found 3 investors that believed in him and his project. they were “genuinely interested because they see the impact it can have in the DFW area and a national platform”
Pena says Accion Texas makes 50 cents on the dollar, so their budget is 13-14 million dollars per year. Solution is benefit corporations-social enterprise meets entrepeneurship
Underwoods’ Akola Project says it’s a hybrid; decided to stay non-profit and slowly scale because they wanted the women to be the bottom line, didn’t want to think of profit over people
Underwood’s jewelry was able to cover cost through markups of jewelry; Underwood believes it is the best model for Akola Project. Fusion models and B-corp are also great ideas for organizations, and she is looking into those.
Bowles: Measuring effectiveness is key. How do we prove that something works and get investors to agree? How do you address the problem, and what solutions do you have?
Woods says to quantify graduation rates and the jobs they receive after graduation
Chang says their recipients of aide determine success over the donors. The recipients become the partners. Volunteers work for months and years with people on the ground and see the results.
6:04 pm Apr 2, 2014
DeHass tracks retention rate over other teacher preparation programs in Texas, and student achievement can be tracked which reveals how the teachers are doing
Freeman says success is determined by customers (are they happy with what they receive?) and the veterans. Talk to veterans themselves regularly and figure out if they are doing well, happy, or if there is anything else that Veterans Moving can assist with.
Pena says funders will always ask you “how do you use money to improve and create more efficient results?” Pena uses programs and qualitative results to figure out success
Underwood says the women create their own standards and monitors of success; “They think of things we wouldn’t.”
Underwood 63 women started their own businesses in addition to kids going to school, sustainability for their lives, still working their jobs. PR markers ask the question of connecting with people
Collier moves 4,000 lbs of produce a month, but resolves the problem of dumping the food in the landfill for the food suppliers. “It’s an emotional issue.”
Bowles opens the floor for questions: What are the things you look for when you realize you need a succession plan to keep the project growing?
Collier says to surround yourself with trusting people who will honestly advise
Chang says to understand the recipients of aide and recognize the effects your company has immediately, over time, and what it will in the future. It is easy to get caught up when a program grows, but don’t lose sight of the people you are helping
Floor question: How do you see non-profits using marketing communication in the for-profit sector and use it as a tool to gain more funding and donors from general public (i.e. attaching a label to a company and incorporating them into daily life)?
Chang says that idea has become very sexy, but you need to not exploit the people you are trying to help. “It’s a form of pornography in my opinion….We see the power of social media…so we can see the positive it can do for people.”
Underwood says “Fair Trade Products aren’t fair… A dollar a day doesn’t help these people.” Low cost products are made and marked up greatly. “Marketing can be very deceiving,” and most people can tweak their promotions to seem like they give 100% but they don’t. She encourages people to lift the veil and do research.
Floor question: How to avoid people who are just in it for the money?
Freeman says to find people whose passions align with yours. Chang says she crosses lines to get the results she needs. Pena says she incorporates thoughtfulness
Pena says investment comes in different ways, and Accion Texas develops young leadership and moves them to be tech-ready and successful. “Raw and respectful” is a gutteral way of investments and gaining success
Bowles asks all of the panels to ask for 1 thing each, that students can actively be involved in now
Answers vary from spread the word, donate, let the veterans serve you again, buy jewelry, send teachers to the Dallas Teachers Residency, and to volunteer
Bowles concludes the Social Innovation Forum and a warm round of applause to thank the panelists and contributors finishes the night
Following this forum is a one hour networking reception for anyone interested in meeting the panelists or interested in getting involved today
Thank you to everyone who followed along with tonight’s live blog of SMU’s Social Innovation Forum. Good night!