As the CEO of Geneva Global, Steve Beck, shared with me what I would be working on for the summer, he asked if I had heard of MySpace.com. MySpace had recently received tremendous attention in the media for boasting about its 80 million subscribed members and 50 million daily unique page views-an unprecedented accomplishment for an online social networking website. Then he said, “Imagine MySpace providing a platform for people to do social good-that’s what we want to create.” While I had limited experience in the internet industry, I was excited to take on the challenge and help them develop this concept.
Geneva Global is a new kind of investment bank-instead of brokering deals between Fortune 500 companies and investors, it connects high net worth philanthropists and governmental agencies with international nonprofits around the world. With a network of over 600 volunteer field experts in developing countries, they are able to find grass-root nonprofits that have demonstrated track records for alleviating social problems. Having started only in 1999 as a for-profit social enterprise, the company has already received recognition in The Economist, New York Times, and various other international publications. It is growing quickly and has 130 employees located globally.
As I worked there over the summer, I had the opportunity to observe how for-profit social enterprises operate. One of the benefits is that I got to come to work everyday and spend my working hours trying to figure out how to productively help the disadvantaged. But with profitability as part of the company’s objectives, projects and new initiatives maintained a perspective on financial viability and rates of returns. The CEO views making money as a positive attribute for social enterprises because it enables financial sustainability without fundraising costs.
Spending my summer at Geneva Global also opened my eyes to the lack of financial funds directed to international nonprofits. Out of the $260 billion in charitable donations that Americans granted last year, only 2-4% went outside the United States. While I would like to think this small percentage is an anomaly, the proportion has remained constant for the past decade. The reality is that outside of the U.S. nearly 3 billion people still live on less than $2/day.
The challenge, however, is finding nonprofits which effectively use the donations they receive. There is little information available for Americans to know which international nonprofits exist and how they spend their money. It is very easy to get a report on a U.S. NGO’s financial statements. This is not necessarily true for international NGOs. Geneva Global is trying to bridge the gap by requiring international nonprofits to not only provide financials, but prove how they effectively change the lives of the people they serve.
With Geneva Global acting as a third-party intermediary and independent auditor, more attention is being brought to best practices within social sectors and identifying which organizations in these sectors serve its beneficiaries the best.
As for my summer project, working with a small team, we completed the business plan. The online venture is expected to have its first series of beta launches in January 2007-Razoo.com. While Razoo will act as a separate and independent organization from Geneva Global, the continued theme of connecting people and organizations together to do social good will remain as their common bond.
HBS Social Enterprise Summer Fellowships Program was established in 1982, and since then the program has provided supplemental fellowships to over 400 students taking summer positions in the social enterprise sector. The fellowships allow students to pursue their interests in social enterprise and broaden the experience available in class discussion, and to learn firsthand of the rewards and complexities of working in social enterprise. Salaries from the employing organizations are supplemented by the School through funds established by HBS alumni. During recent years, MBA students have chosen to work for a wide range of social enterprises, with positions at organizations such as The Boston Children’s Museum, the International Rescue Committee, The Nature Conservancy, Ford Foundation West Africa, Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, and The Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. For more information on the Summer Fellows Program and the Social Enterprise Initiative at HBS, please see www.hbs.edu/socialenterprise.