Technology Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship

I've just recently wrapped up a course with the Institute of Technology and Social Change (TechChange). If you know me or read this blog, it's pretty obvious that I'm deeply involved in the tech space. But recently I've also taken a keen interest in social entrepreneurship, a field that's been increasing in popularity over the past few decades. More recently, there has been a real movement of social entrepreneurs developing technological solutions to complex social problems. Naturally, I had to learn more. I storified what I've learned over the past few weeks along with some of my favorite readings and videos from the course. Enjoy!


Technology Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship

Highlights from the Institute of Technology and Social Change's (TechChange) inaugural course on Technology Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship. For four weeks, we explored social media, mobile phone applications, and crowdsourcing tools for policy, advocacy and development.

Storified by Justine Yu · Thu, Nov 01 2012 22:19:23


We kicked off the course with an introduction to social entrepreneurship, deconstructing the term and exploring the current landscape. The article below from the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) is one of my favorite readings from the course. Making a case for a definition that sets clear boundaries as to what and what does not constitute social entrepreneurship, it's a great introductory read for anyone just beginning to learn about the sector.
Social Entrepreneurship: The Case for Definition (SSIR)Nonprofits The nascent field of social entrepreneurship is growing rapidly and attracting increased attention from many sectors. The term...
An interesting question was brought up by the TechChange facilitators and moderators: Does the financial model of an enterprise necessarily determine whether or not it is an example of social entrepreneurship? In other words, does social entrepreneurship need to have a profit-generating business model? Some responses...
JUSTINE: "I’m not sure if a profit-generating business model is necessary to qualify an enterprise as an example of social entrepreneurship but I do think that financial sustainability is vital. How an enterprise achieves this (through profits, grants, etc.) is another question. It’s essential that a social enterprise be financially sustainable so that it may do its work without disruption. If, according to the article, a social entrepreneur aims for “large-scale, transformational benefit that accrues either to a significant segment of society or to society at large”, then his or her enterprise must have the financial means to do so. I’ve worked with a number of non-profit organizations that, relying on conditional grants and inconsistent donations, have been burdened with financial hardship and their programs have suffered as a result. It would be difficult (impossible??) to create large-scale social change without a financially sustainable enterprise!"

MANUEL: I have often thought of social entrepreneurship as using business-acumen to fill in the gaps where government infrastructure and provision is failing in order to deliver public goods (e.g. energy, water, healthcare, and education).  In addition, social enterprises should operate with a vision to achieve social impact.  In fact, I tended to hold the view that the enterprise needed to generate a self-sustaining profit, without which they would simply be classified as a nonprofit.
As many of the students in the class are interested in starting their own social ventures, we also discussed the importance of mission statements. Below is another interesting article from SSIR that advocates for organizations and enterprises limiting their mission statements to eight words. I'm a huge fan of Shakespeare's "brevity is the soul of wit" so I'm all for this...though I'll be more lenient and give a ten word allotment!
The Eight-Word Mission Statement (SSIR)Don't settle for more. Whatever windy drivel they might put forward as a corporate mission statement, mainstream for-profit businesses ha...
...and here's Jessica Jackley, co-founder of Kiva, on her experience starting up this wildly successful social venture. It's a wonderful TED talk and just full of Jackley's optimism.
Jessica Jackley: Poverty, money -- and lovetedtalksdirector


Design thinking--an approach totally unknown to me before this course--is all about using design techniques to tackle complex social problems. It's about working closely with users to usher innovations from the bottom up. Reminds me of Eric Ries' Lean Startup.
Design Thinking for Social Innovation (SSIR)Designers have traditionally focused on enhancing the look and functionality of products. Recently, they have begun using design techniqu...
A really insightful presentation and chat with Adam White, co-founder of Groupshot, about technology-based solutions for social problems.
TC108:Adam WhiteTech Change
SocEnt and Tech- TechChange and Amani.pdf - Google Drive


We explored various social innovations in the field...all tackling very different social problems but all leveraging technology for solutions.
Digital Green:
Digital Green in ActionAdam Booher
tem_computer_0608.pdf - Google Drive

TC108 Katy PetersTech Change
Social media and advocacy
Katherine MaherTech Change
mGovernment (mobile government) initiatives
Parliament Watch:
Gregor HackmackTech Change


Though we covered high level technological solutions, our class also shared simple, everyday tech tools that we could all use to run our nonprofits and social enterprises more efficiently. Nick kicked off the discussion with a run down of the tools he and his team use at TechChange.
6 Tech Tools for Growing Your Social EnterpriseTech Change
MAX: Evernote is another great one, not just for remembering things, but also for keeping a real-time updated set of notes between team members. We created a username that several of us had access to and could put down anything important we thought of using our smartphones. People at home can log in and check anything we’ve added on computers as well and add their own notes.
- Fluid Surveys: Wonderful survey tool; more functions than SurveyMonkey if you are using the free version.

– Lucid Chart Very quick way to produce flow-charts if you don’t have MS Visio!


- Salesforce Chatter for collaboration and communication

- Ning groups to manage relationships with some customers and partners

- Skype and other VoIP technology to cut communications costs

- WebX for presentations and demonstrations

- Twitter and WordPress for micro-blogging and blogging

- LinkedIn for recruiting (and Twitter)

- Drupal for content management, Intranet


- Google Drive/Dropbox: We’re a pretty dispersed team of people. We’ve got team members working in all corners of the globe so having our working documents on the cloud is essential.

- Google Analytics: Fantastic way to keep track of stats and analytics for our website. Gives us a great understanding of how visitors our using our website: where they are clicking, their paths throughout the website, and how long they stay on the site or when/where they drop off.

- CrazyEgg: This one goes hand in hand with Google Analytics…the tool specializes in eye tracking, generating heat maps for our website showing us where people are looking and clicking.

- Zoho: We are currently in the middle of implementing this CRM software. Before this, we’ve been working to keep track of applications and trip participants through a clutter of Excel files and Google spreadsheets. Hoping this will make our work flow a lot smoother and a lot less frustrating.

- Facebook/Twitter: These two social networking sites have been vital to our success. Our biggest referral source for applications has been through word of mouth and Facebook especially has been an incredible tool to facilitate that. 

- Hootsuite: Use this amazing tool to schedule Twitter posts in the future so that I don’t have to sit on my computer tweeting all day every day. As a dashboard, it’s also a great way to keep track of all the conversations going on about topics we’re interested in as an organization.

- Vertical Response: Email marketing tool.

- We post jobs, internships and volunteer opportunities here.

- Causevox:  A great fundraising tool that gives each person a unique and interactive fundraising page.


- Social Media: Twitter, Facebook, WordPress blog

- File-sharing: SugarSync, Dropbox, GoogleDocs, Jing (for screenshots and image sharing)

- Design: InDesign

- Research: LinkedIn. I admit that’s a strange choice but I find I use LinkedIn extensively to research people I’m meeting.


Armed with this knowledge, we're now off to apply our learning to the real world and begin cultivating our own social ventures. Another tech tool to help us on our way is Ashoka's Changeshop, a global marketplace where anyone with an idea for social change has the opportunity to track their progress, connect to new funding opportunities, and highlight their achievements for the public. Here are some of the inspiring ideas and projects members of the class are implementing...
Terah Crews' Access Elite
Access EliteAccess Elite
Manuel Peralta's Partnering for Vocation and Engagement
Partnering for Vocation and EngagementMy idea is to start an online vocational training/civic engagement match program with multinational corporations (MNCs), universities, an...
Aldo de Pape's aswegrow
aswegrowBuilding Classrooms for Quality Education #aswegrow believes each child has the right to a proper education that matches its needs and ef...