Transparency Talk

Category: "Entrepreneurship" (9 posts)

Eye On: Airbnb Co-Founders Joe Gebbia, Nathan Blecharczyk, and Brian Chesky
April 26, 2017

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets.)

Two friends were struggling to pay their rent when they realized they could earn much-needed funds from travelers.  In 2007, they charged their first three customers $80 a night to sleep on an air mattress in their San Francisco apartment when local hotels sold out during a conference.

And the rest is history.

Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky, friends and former Rhode Island School of Design classmates, expanded their enterprising idea.  With Gebbia’s former roommate, Nathan Blecharczyk, the trio founded Airbnb in 2008 and revolutionized the art of renting home space.  As Gebbia explained in a TED talk, Airbnb designs for trust to create a “culture of sharing… that brings us community and connection instead of isolation and separation.”

Within 10 years, the trio has groomed Airbnb into a $30 billion tech giant, a disruptive and controversial force that has transformed the travel and tech industry and popularized the idea of the “sharing economy.”  As Airbnb has grown, so have controversies and debates over its impact in already tight rental markets.  Criticism that the company has contributed to community displacement and a reduction in available long-term rentals have led to ongoing legal battles. Yet, despite the regulatory struggles, even hotels are rallying to find ways to imitate the trendsetting Airbnb.

 

Entrepreneur - Airbnb Trio
The Airbnb co-founders are among the youngest to join Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates in the Giving Pledge. It also marked the first time all of a company’s co-founders committed at the same time. Credit: Entrepreneur


Now the entrepreneurial trio – who are each worth an estimated $3.3 billion and among the youngest on the 2016 Forbes 400 billionaires list – have started making visible strides in the original sharing economy by engaging in philanthropy. 

The Airbnb co-founders are among the youngest to join Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates in the Giving Pledge, whereby wealthy individuals pledge to give away the majority of their wealth within their lifetime.  When they joined the Giving Pledge last year, it also marked the first time all of a company’s co-founders committed at the same time.

In a Fortune interview, the entrepreneurs credit Warren Buffett and Bill Gates with their decision to join the Giving Pledge.  Gebbia touted Buffett as a “Jedi master of philanthropy.”  And Chesky said Buffett’s argument resonated with him – wealth beyond a certain point has zero utility, and such wealth could have a greater social impact.

Still relatively new to philanthropy, the trio acknowledge they are taking their time to give away their wealth.  However, openness is at the heart of the sharing economy, and the Airbnb co-founders understand a public expectation of openness in philanthropy exists.

“I’ve always believed that you should [be public about giving], such that you can be very public about your values and what you stand for,” Chesky said in a Fortune interview.

Corporate Philanthropy

As the Airbnb co-founders design their philanthropic strategy, the company is experimenting with different ways to use its platform for good. 

The San Francisco-based company has created a disaster response platform that brings together hosts and community groups to provide free temporary housing for individuals and families displaced by disasters, as well as relief workers.  When a disaster occurs, Airbnb contacts local hosts who may volunteer to provide free housing; if no hosts are available, Airbnb will subsidize the housing cost.

“I’ve always believed that you should [be public about giving], such that you can be very public about your values and what you stand for.”

Airbnb connects hosts to help support local and national disaster relief efforts, and arranges disaster preparedness training.  Airbnb also contributes travel vouchers to support advance teams and large groups of relief workers for major national and international disasters.

More recently, the company has pledged to use its disaster response platform to aid refugees affected by President Donald Trump’s executive order. Over the next five years, Airbnb has committed to provide short-term housing for 100,000 refugees and those barred from entering the United States.  Airbnb also pledged $4 million to the International Rescue Committee over the next four years to support the most critical needs of displaced people worldwide.

Airbnb also recently announced a scheduled launch of a humanitarian division next month focusing on global issues such as displaced populations, rural flight and bias against strangers.

Given that building community is one Airbnb’s central philosophies, the company’s platform supports a number of opportunities for Airbnb hosts to make a positive social impact via global volunteerism and “Open Homes,” which provides housing at free or reduced costs for medical treatments, college visits, or family gatherings.

Through a “social impact experiences” program, Airbnb guests enjoy culture and learn about local causes in the cities they are visiting.  Local community leaders and volunteers are invited to create an opportunity that brings people closer to their work.  Nonprofit leaders and Airbnb hosts lead the experience, and the nonprofits receive 100% of the social impact experience fees. 

Airbnb hopes this will connect guests to issues they care about or introduce them to new causes.  The social impact experiences run the gamut, from visiting a local artist or animal shelter to attending a dinner and theater event, or spending a day with an urban gardener to create green space in Los Angeles. 

Airbnb has committed to fighting homelessness in New York City, where the company recently settled a lawsuit involving legislation that would fine Airbnb hosts up to $7,500 for renting out certain types of apartments and homes for less than 30 days.  Last year, the company donated $100,000 to WIN (formerly Women In Need), a group that helps homeless women and their children.  Additionally, Airbnb pledged to recruit volunteer hosts and guests to assist WIN clients with professional skills training, such as resume building and interviewing for jobs, and increasing children’s literacy.

Personal Giving 

The trio’s individual giving appears to be driven by a spirit of entrepreneurship; they want to give others the opportunity to achieve their dreams and support “future creatives and entrepreneurs.” 

Joe Gebbia

Joe GebbiaIn Joe Gebbia’s Giving Pledge letter, he described his hope to help other entrepreneurs: “I want to enable as many people as possible, especially in underprivileged communities, to experience this magic firsthand… and achieve their dreams.”

The 35-year-old Georgia native added, “I want to devote my resources to bring the moment of instantiation, when someone who has an idea sees it become real, to as many people as I can.  It can unlock the understanding that they can make things happen, that they can shape the world around them.”

Gebbia serves on the Board of Trustees at his alma mater, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).  In 2014, he pledged $300,000 to RISD for a $50,000 term scholarship and an endowed fund for talented students in need of financial aid.

Nathan and Elizabeth Blecharczyk

Nathan and Elizabeth BlecharczykIn Nathan and Elizabeth Blecharczyk’s Giving Pledge letter, the couple said they are in a “unique position to have significant positive impact” by giving away their wealth.  “We feel a responsibility to share our good fortune, and we pledge to dedicate the majority of our wealth over time to philanthropy,” the Blecharczyks said.

Nathan Blecharczyk, 33, who developed Airbnb’s website, demonstrated his entrepreneurial spirit early on.  When he was 12 years old, Blecharczyk learned how to code and wrote customized programs for clients; he developed popular programs for e-mail marketing.  By age 14, he founded an Internet software business and funded his Harvard University tuition with the sale of his business. 

The San Francisco residents cited their upbringing – his parents taught him to be inquisitive, confident and motivated, and her parents and teachers taught her to be self-aware and use her strengths to help others – as the reason to direct their philanthropy toward the “potential of children” and “transformative ideas.”

“Airbnb went from an off-the-wall idea to a transformative company as a result of assembling the right team – cofounders, mentors, investors, and later employees – and now we want to help others pursue unconventional ideas that can make the world a better place,” the Blecharczyks said in their letter.

The couple said their interests are in the areas of education, scientific research, medicine, space exploration, environment and effective governance.  “Our philanthropic approach will be reflected through the lens of our own passions and experiences but rooted in analysis to ensure we are choosing wisely,” the couple said.

Brian Chesky

Brian CheskyBrian Chesky, 35, wants his philanthropy to spur youth entrepreneurship.  “We all live with unknown potential.  The younger you are, the more unknown it is,” Chesky said in his Giving Pledge letter.  “But the clock ticks by each day of your life.  And each day someone young isn’t exposed to what is possible, their potential slowly dims.”

The New York native credited a high school teacher and RISD professors for helping him to dream and see that he could “design the kind of world I want to live in.”

“You can have a lot of impact on someone just by showing them what is possible,” Chesky said.  “With this pledge, I want to help more kids realize the kind of journey I have had.  I want to show them that their dreams are not bounded by what they can see in front of them.  Their limits are not so limited.  Walt Disney once said, ‘If you can dream it, you can do it.’  I would like to help them dream.”

To learn more, visit Foundation Center's Eye on the Giving Pledge feature and check out individual profiles for Joe Gebbia, Nathan and Elizabeth Blecharczyk, and Brian Chesky.

-- Melissa Moy

Innovation at the Speed of Change: Exploring Knight’s Tech Innovation Portfolio
March 1, 2017

SAVE THE DATE: April 13, 1:30-3:00 p.m. EST.  Like this blog series?  Attend our Inside Innovation Funding event in person in San Francisco, or virtually via livestream in San Francisco.

(John Bracken is vice president for technology innovation at Knight Foundation.)

This post is part of the Funding Innovation series, produced by Foundation Center's Glasspockets and GrantCraft, and underwritten by the Vodafone Foundation.  The series explores funding practices and trends at the intersection of problem-solving, technology, and design. Please contribute your comments on each post and share the series using #fundinginnovation. View more posts in the series

John Bracken - Knight PhotoIt’s become a truism to say that the world is changing, and that the pace and scale of change is ever accelerating. “It’s not just technology that’s moving at an exponential pace, but change itself;” write Joi Ito and Jeff Howe in Whiplash.

Even the world of grantmaking, often criticized for its slow pace, is adapting to these rhythms. For example, last month, we at Knight Foundation helped launch a fund on ethics and artificial intelligence. The fund itself came together quickly over the course of a few weeks, and we plan to announce our first grants in the coming weeks, but more on that later. As I talk to people involved with the creation of the tools, a single note keeps coming up: the technology is developing faster than we had anticipated even a year ago.

The recent news of Libratus, an artificial intelligence created at Carnegie Mellon that defeated four champion humans in Texas Hold ‘Em poker, demonstrated that “the best AI’s ability to do strategic reasoning with imperfect information has now surpassed that of the best humans,” said Libratus’s co-creator Tuomas Sandholm. This feat of reasoning, coming on the heels of Google Deep Mind’s victory over the world’s preeminent Go player last year, came much earlier than most in the field had anticipated.

These developments are happening at a rate that outpaces our ability to process them, and yet it’s becoming the new normal. Millions of us are now living with smart personal assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home in our living rooms and Internet-connected televisions and thermostats. As a society, we’re still not sure just how to handle these devices, as the debate over how to use audio evidence collected by Amazon Echo during a 2015 murder and the hacking of unsecure home appliances to take down much of the Internet last fall demonstrated.

Knight Foundation Logo
Our inability to appreciate the depth of the change even as we experience it reminds me of how the French military struggled to adjust to modern warfare at the outset of World War I. As described by Barbara W. Tuchman in her classic The Guns of August, French generals prepared for German tanks and aerial bombings by sharpening their swords and donning their traditional brightly colored uniforms adorned with plumage. Even after the battle was joined, and a decade after the emergence of modern warfare in the Russo-Japanese War, the French leaders stuck to their old tactics. Tuchman wrote, “The impetus of existing plans is always stronger than the impulse to change.”

Part of our mission at Knight Foundations is to ensure that the civic institutions upon which our democracy depends-- libraries, museums, news organizations, cities-- do not follow in the footsteps of those 1914 French commanders. How do new and old civic enterprises sustain themselves as traditional fundraising approaches like mass mailings hold less appeal for new donors? How do organizations adjust their cultures to attract and retain talent and audiences who bring with them different expectations and needs from their predecessors?

Given this new world of accelerating technological advancement, and the expectation that all of our work at Knight will be impacted by future advancements, our grantmaking will focus on the ways in which digital technologies could impact our fields. Knight has always been interested in technology’s potential for strengthening the ways in which Americans learn about and participate in community. In the ’80s, the Knight brothers’ company, Knight Ridder, invested in and experimented with early interactive tools such as Viewtron and Dialog Information Services. A decade ago, we built on this interest by creating the Knight News Challenge in an attempt to better understand the potential of the Internet for transforming journalism. This year, we’re focused on two topics:

  • We are co-founders of a fund on the ethical aspects of artificial intelligence. AI has shifted from a future prospect to a present reality, and has the potential to impact every aspect of society. That’s why we’ve helped to craft the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Fund to take an applied, multidisciplinary approach to AI, exploring its potential benefits and ill effects.
  • As part of the NetGain Partnership, a collaboration between five foundations to explore public interest issues around new technologies, we are exploring how connected devices (the Internet of Things) might impact cities. In the coming months, we’ll be making some grants designed to strengthen cities through technology.

The change we have been living through is only going to increase-- adjusting our work incrementally isn’t going to cut it. To thrive, we as individuals and institutions need to develop our comfort with insecurity, with failing, with risk, and be ready to pursue routes we may not anticipate.

Soulful Innovation: Increasing Diverse Tech Entrepreneurship
February 22, 2017

SAVE THE DATE: April 13, 1:30-3:00 p.m. EST.  Like this blog series?  Attend our Look Inside Innovation Funding event in person or via livestream in San Francisco.  More details and registration info coming in March.

C-Brown-Photo(Cedric Brown has been a leader in philanthropy and the civil society sector for nearly two decades. He is currently the Chief of Community Engagement at the Kapor Center for Social Impact, in Oakland, California. The Kapor Center won the 2017 Crunchies Social Impact Award.)

This post is part of the Funding Innovation series, produced by Foundation Center's Glasspockets and GrantCraft, and underwritten by the Vodafone Americas Foundation. The series explores funding practices and trends at the intersection of problem-solving, technology, and design. Please contribute your comments on each post and share the series using #fundinginnovation. View more posts in the series

Frankly, I get tired of talking about innovation. Sometimes discussions about innovation come across as Sisyphean pursuits, where style is greater than substance, and preening is greater than practice. I’m looking for conversations about innovation with soul. With gravitas. With a conscience. Ones that advance uplifting solutions that make this Earth more habitable or help more people meet their hierarchy of needs (or as of late, that strengthen the fast-unraveling social contract necessary for humankind to co-exist).

Three years ago at the behest of our benefactors, the then-Kapor Foundation began to explore how to move away from our traditional responsive grantmaking. The benefactors had begun to invest in seed-staged tech startups that aim to address and mitigate equality gaps. They witnessed the power of designing solutions for markets - "communities" - that operate at scale. They saw how different and disruptive ways of approaching problem solving can create a culture shift. They came to us, the foundation staff, and requested that we start thinking about this intersection of tech-for-good and our grantmaking work.

“Are we overlooking the resourcefulness that resides in the 'hood, favela, sticks, and bush?”

In the ensuing years, we experimented with different approaches, borrowing from our new knowledge of Lean Startup principles. Through a clunky, iterative learning process - which in hindsight I would like to label as our R&D - we decided to lead the way by doing our part to expand access to the tech sector and innovation economy.

Van Jones has shared that his dear friend Prince said we need to create a "Black Zuckerberg." While I take issue with that particular mold (pattern recognition and Ivy league degree-as-entry-barrier are part of tech's diversity problem), I get The Purple One's point, echoed by Mitch Kapor: "Genius is evenly distributed across zip codes, but opportunity is not." Working with a variety of partners in this ecosystem, we seek to plug leaks in the tech talent pipeline while sharpening the skills and talents that reside in all of our diverse communities.

To this point, I’ve judged a number of youth hackathons and design sessions, mostly attended by low-income, “low opportunity,” or similarly-labeled young people. These youth are participating in these activities as an initial exposure to tech skill-building and careers, and I am consistently impressed by how these young teams create apps that address information and resource gaps: student loan payment platforms; mentoring matching; anonymous bully identification; and safe passage routing among them.  

Our premise is that as the high-tech industry becomes more inclusive, companies and teams will become better at problem solving, will create better products and solutions that serve a wider market, and will utilize tech-driven platforms to solve pressing problems that are informed by their lived experiences. Our backup? Heavy hitters like  McKinsey, Catalyst, Kellogg and Stanford have found this to be true.

How are we benefiting from the terrific brainpower, scrappiness, and necessity - as the mother of invention - that resides in nonprofit leaders, in low-income communities, with people who are "making a way out of no way" as my church folks used to say?  Are we overlooking the resourcefulness that resides in the 'hood, favela, sticks, bush?

Kapor_logo_dark_rgb

You've heard these questions before, I'm sure. So what are we doing about it?

We're catalyzing and strengthening tech innovation, in line with the theme of this blog, by introducing and preparing more people to lead its creation. Tech shouldn't be an insular economy; now more than ever, we need thinkers, tinkerers, designers, and dreamers who are motivated by the pursuit of a significantly positive impact rather than a sinfully profitable buyout.

In 2017, the Kapor Center - including our sibling organizations, Kapor Capital and Level Playing Field Institute - are committed to increasing diverse tech entrepreneurship, access to capital, access to tech and STEM education, and building strong community institutions to promote a more diverse tech ecosystem in the Bay Area, with a special focus on Oakland, our home.

We’re employing a range of old tools for new outcomes - convening key partners to coordinate around systems-level goals (kind of collective impact-ish), providing financial support to select roundtables to support this coordination work, and utilizing the visibility of our benefactors and brand to raise awareness about the issues at hand and to channel resources to efforts aligned with our work, helping to create a larger, stronger network of collaborators. And we’re using our brand-spankin’ new building on Oakland’s Broadway corridor to host events that welcome, validate, leverage, and enrich diverse talent - namely people of color and women - as they pursue their entrepreneurship, technical, and impact goals. We see this work as a powerful overlay between the ubiquity of tech, the possibility of entrepreneurship, the integrity of fairness, and the necessity of economic mobility and empowerment for a just society.

But back to the issue at hand - innovation. I think that soulful, meaningful, conscientious innovation is rooted in a nagging question: “What can we do to be more effective?” It’s organic; a quest to find the bull’s eye of effectiveness en route to real impact. It requires experimentation, evolution, and even a bit of envy - as a competitive motivator to be top of class, of course. And while so many of these variables are present in innovation economy practitioners, I’d like to see them more firmly rooted in addressing real world issues informed by and for real people.

--Cedric Brown

From Early Stage Funding to Lasting Impact: The Venture Philanthropy Approach to Funding Innovation
February 1, 2017

(Christy Chin, Managing Partner at Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation [DRK], is instrumental in finding, funding and supporting DRK entrepreneurs, as well as cultivating and engaging DRK’s network of donor partners. As a venture philanthropy firm, DRK provides critical early stage capital to social enterprises tackling some of society's most challenging issues.)

This post is part of the Funding Innovation series, produced by Foundation Center's Glasspockets and GrantCraft, and underwritten by the Vodafone Foundation. The series explores funding practices and trends at the intersection of problem-solving, technology, and design. Please contribute your comments on each post and share the series using #fundinginnovation. View more posts in the series.

Christy Chin Photo - DRKWow! How time flies by when a partnership works so well.  As I prepared for my final Watsi board meeting, I reflected on how much Chase and his team had accomplished and what a joy it is to be part of their quest to make healthcare accessible to all. 

In July 2013, we first met Chase Adam.  It was only a few days after he had pitched Watsi, the first nonprofit to be accepted into Y-Combinator.  In no time, Ron Conway, Tim and Billy Draper were urging DRK to take a look at Watsi.  Chase was ready to make the case for Watsi to be in the DRK portfolio, and he had a few questions of his own.  From the first meeting, there was a constructive and respectful exchange because we were aligned on the end goal – healthcare for all.  As a venture philanthropy firm, DRK conducts rigorous due diligence, not unlike the way in which a venture capital firm evaluates a for-profit investment.  These are our key questions:

Is it addressing an important social issue?

Definitely. A large percentage of our work at DRK is focused on global health, so we know that access to medical care, especially surgical treatments, is a critical problem.

Watsi, the first global crowdfunding platform for medical treatments, leverages scalable technology to solve a substantial need for patients abroad.

Chase’s commitment to radical transparency was distinctive. From the very beginning, Watsi allowed anyone and everyone to see how the money was moving and how the patients’ treatment, with their consent, was progressing.  Transparency of funding increased accountability from the moment a patient’s profile was shared to the delivery of the medical procedure. There was an elegance to Watsi that was extremely appealing.  

“ We firmly believe that multi-year, unrestricted funding is precious capital that nonprofits need to build organizational capacity.”

Is the solution being proposed likely to create meaningful change?

Yes, early results were promising.  In the first seven months after launch, Watsi processed more than 3,700 donations and funded medical treatments for more than 250 patients abroad. DRK has seen many success stories of how technology can enable rapid transformation of an ecosystem, and we truly believe in the power of technical innovation to make an impact on vulnerable populations.

Does the leadership team have potential?

Even though Watsi was still in its early stages, I was confident that Chase had what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. His passion for the mission was contagious, and he was clearly a resource magnet. Chase was able to attract both financial and human capital to support his vision.  

Is the solution scalable?

At the time, Watsi was already operating across 13 countries and working diligently to identify new partners to scale this model. Today, Watsi operates in 24 countries globally.

DRK bet on Chase in 2013 because we saw the potential for this model to dramatically shift the way governments and institutions fund healthcare treatments abroad, with real-time data collection and complete transparency. I had the privilege of joining Watsi’s board for those three years; DRK requires a DRK representative serve on all grantee boards. As part of DRK’s portfolio support and board service, we openly share our networks to help connect our entrepreneurs with people we believe can catalyze their efforts. In return, we ask for a three-year projection of the organization’s metrics and milestones that demonstrate the impact the entrepreneur hopes to achieve while s/he is an active member of the DRK portfolio. We also expect that the entrepreneur will regularly engage with DRK through written progress updates and in-person check-ins, as well as ongoing conversations with the board representative and, as needed, other key members of our finance, operations, and development team.  

I was fortunate to be joined on the Watsi board by Premal Shah, President of Kiva (an early DRK grantee), and experienced firsthand the power of the DRK network coming full circle.  In December, as my final board meeting with Watsi approached, I reflected on what made Watsi a great example of why we at DRK are so passionate about our work and strongly believe in this investment approach.  

DRK stacked logoDRK was founded in 2002 by Bill Draper and Robin Richards, two highly successful venture capitalists who chose to leverage their success in the venture capital world, applying their skills, expertise, and resources to solve complex social issues. DRK’s venture philanthropy model has been shaped by Bill and Robin’s legacy – we find, fund, and support early stage social entrepreneurs whose ideas have the potential to drive systems-level change.

Since our founding, we’ve raised $110 million in private capital and funded over 100 social enterprises – and we’re aiming to double that number over the next five years. We seek out entrepreneurs with qualities that we know are critically important – vision, energy, determination, courage, passion, and empathy. Our entrepreneurs are tackling important challenges across the globe, including healthcare, education, social justice, poverty alleviation, and the environment.

In the 15 years that DRK has been involved in this work, we’ve learned some powerful lessons that we hope to share with the funding community.  We firmly believe that multi-year, unrestricted funding is precious capital that nonprofits need to build organizational capacity.

We’ve also learned that handing over grant dollars alone isn’t enough. At DRK, the biggest difference we can make for our grantees is providing them with unrelenting support and serving as an advocate on behalf of their organizations.  We’re one of the first institutions to believe in their vision, and we never stop asking the tough questions. As a team, we’ve developed pattern recognition from sitting on many diverse boards and have gained a deep understanding of the challenges our entrepreneurs are likely to face. However, there is always a level of risk we have to account for, and not every DRK portfolio organization becomes a successful endeavor. We are incredibly fortunate to have a supportive board and a community of donor partners that not only accept, but encourage our team to take those risks and explore new possibilities with the potential for great impact.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of our entrepreneurs’ efforts across the globe, and I encourage you to take a moment to visit DRK’s website (www.drkfoundation.org) to learn more. For any institutions interested in exploring the venture philanthropy model, please contact us and we would be more than happy to share our learnings. We have seen the difference that early-stage funding can make for social entrepreneurs. I hope the next time your organization comes across an entrepreneur like Chase, an extraordinary leader with a big idea, you too will make that bet.

--Christy Chin

 

Fueling Innovation Through Competition
January 25, 2017

(June Sugiyama is director of Vodafone Americas Foundation, leading programs for social impact innovation.)

This post is part of the Funding Innovation series, produced by Foundation Center's Glasspockets and GrantCraft, and underwritten by the Vodafone Foundation. The series explores funding practices and trends at the intersection of problem-solving, technology, and design. Please contribute your comments on each post and share the series using #fundinginnovation. View more posts in the series.

June Sugiyama PhotoInnovation is a word used so frequently that perhaps it has become almost trivial. Globally, we use innovation to describe many things, from new technologies, to new processes, to disruptive ideas, but the action of innovation itself becomes harder to define, and harder still to execute. Countless ideas are abandoned because entrepreneurs could not find the proper funding or mentorship to build their idea from a mere thought to a reality.  

Many entrepreneurs and startups will turn to venture capitalists (VCs) to try to gain funding and support, but it is a challenge in and of itself to get a meeting with a VC, much less secure VC money. This is where foundations and philanthropies, which might be more poised to take risks, can help fill the gap by providing grants to new social impact ideas and start-ups. At the Vodafone Americas Foundation – whether through grants or competition – our goal is to support organizations that use wireless technology to impact change, spark innovation, improve lives, transform the global development sector, or empower women and girls.

“ Countless ideas are abandoned because entrepreneurs could not find the proper funding or mentorship to build their idea from a mere thought to a reality.”

One avenue we take to support organizations – whether a nonprofit, university project, or start-up – is to provide traditional grants earmarked to help develop their product or service to drive social good. However, traditional grants are not the only model for supporting innovation; companies and foundations big and small are developing competition programs to help good ideas develop and move forward. A competition with specific criteria and parameters becomes a refined filter to find driven and passionate individuals - not an arbitrary search. Both commercial and philanthropic organizations host competitions to find the perfect match for unique, effective, innovative, and sustainable solutions to rise to the surface.

Specifically, for us, since Vodafone is a telecommunications service provider, we focus on the ability of mobile technologies to drive innovation for those in need. Because mobile technology is ubiquitous, with over 7 billion mobile subscribers worldwide, it is one of the most effective tools for social change. Innovative mobile solutions have already started to change economies through mobile money, mobile micro-loans, delivery of healthcare through mHealth, education through mobile platforms, and so much more.

VAF_WIP-w-o-winner-block_3inEach year we look for new ideas that leverage mobile for a better world through our Wireless Innovation Project, (WIP) a competition.  The competition is designed to promote innovation and increase the implementation of wireless-related technology. The competition recently opened its ninth annual call for submissions. In March 2017, we will select the winners, with first place receiving $300,000; second place $200,000; and third place $100,000. The winners can receive both the funding and potential mentoring they need while we can invest in the causes and services that are important and meaningful to our mission.

We are excited each year for the WIP competition because it provides unique opportunities for entrepreneurs and the Foundation alike. For example:

  • We get to see their passion firsthand. Each year, we ask the finalists to pitch their project in person at our California offices. This provides us the opportunity to meet new entrepreneurs (and for them to meet one another) to witness their drive and passion for the project. Although there are costs for the Foundation to hold in-person competitions and get everyone under one roof, we feel strongly about getting to know the person behind the innovation; we need to know that they are as committed as we are to ensure a good partnership.
  • Competition brings out the best. In a competition format, naturally there are winners. Driven by a prize and inspired by their peer competitors, all participants are compelled to perform at their very best. A competition sometimes forces people to think outside of the box and go beyond their original concept to differentiate themselves throughout the competition. Within just the competition period itself, entrepreneurs and their ideas may undergo multiple evolutions to arrive at a distilled, quality product or service. The competition format also allows participants to become inspired by one another’s work in a way that is not often possible in traditional grantmaking in which grantees blindly compete against one another.
  • Focus more on potential than current status. What happens when you have a great idea and not much to show for it yet because it’s simply a little early? While it may not be true for all competition models, our Wireless Innovation Project makes it easier for entrepreneurs to highlight the potential of a product or idea and win the competition based on the future impact it can drive versus actual business results seen to date. This allows a greater range of companies, especially start-ups, to gain funding where they may not have been able to otherwise. Our prize money might be just what they need and just at the right time to propel them to where they need to go, like completing a prototype or testing a market.
  • Gather multiple ideas at once. Our annual competition seeks innovations in more than one issue area so it allows us to tap into a diverse source of information and ideas, all at the same time, as well as support these ideas in a bigger way. While we work with different organizations throughout the year for traditional grants, the WIP competition opens up the possibility for us to witness an individual solution or organization to grow and evolve. In one year, we may have a winner that has a solution for the environment and another for financial inclusion. It is truly an engaging experience to learn about, guide, and finally support so many novel and potentially valuable ideas. The WIP competition allows us to generate new connections that we previously may not have made through the traditional grant-giving route. We can break out of our own network to create larger, more integrated networks with entrepreneurs and startups across multiple industries as we make connections with almost all the applicants – not just the winners. We hope that with these partnerships that we create and foster, we continue to make sustainable and dynamic discoveries for solutions that impact great change. 

There are many competition models across the industry, but our model has already identified outstanding innovations that have gone on to win more accolades and additional funding, which has allowed them to reach market and even expand their solutions to create greater impacts. Two of the many notable examples are Mobile ODT, which uses a phone camera for colposcopies, and Nexleaf, which makes a vaccine monitoring platform. Each has been able to turn their ideas into scalable solutions that are revolutionizing healthcare capabilities in emerging markets.   

Finding what was never imagined possible is why so many foundations, companies, and even governments take advantage of the competition model. The model allows brilliant ideas to come forward and help solve specific, important issues in our world today.

--June Sugiyama

 

Eye On: Giving Pledger Mohammed Dewji
October 20, 2016

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets. For more information about Mohammed Dewji, and the other Giving Pledgers, visit Foundation Center's Eye on the Giving Pledge.)

Mohammed-dewji photoA Tanzanian businessman and philanthropist hopes a family legacy of giving will continue in future generations.

Spurred by his parents’ philanthropic example and his Muslim faith, Mohammed Dewji is one of the latest to join the Giving Pledge, whereby wealthy individuals have pledged to give away most of their wealth during their lifetime.

“I hope that my children and grandchildren inherit this ethos and lead by example in years to come,” Dewji said in his Giving Pledge letter. He described his “deep responsibility” to give back to his community and called it a “moral obligation” to help the less fortunate.

 Mohammed Dewji:

  • Richest man in Tanzania (Forbes #21 in Africa)
  • Businesses: manufacturing, finance, real estate, beverages and edible oils
  • Founder of Mo Cola soft drink
  • B.S. in Business Administration, Georgetown University
  • Former member of Tanzania’s National Assembly
  • Net worth: $1.1 billion

Big Business

Dewji is CEO of MeTL, a Tanzanian conglomerate that includes manufacturing, financial services, real estate, and beverages and edible oils. His father started the business in the 1970s.

“Dewji’s strategic giving is designed to stimulate socio-economic development.”

After graduating from Georgetown in 1998 - and a brief, unsatisfying turn on Wall Street - Dewji's father urged the 23-year-old to join the family business and give up "chasing pennies in New York when there was a fortune to be made in Tanzania."

Within 10 years, the skillful Dewji grew a $30 million business into a pan-African conglomerate with revenues of $1.5 billion. Under his leadership, the company now has 31 industries in 11 countries, and also includes cellular phones, finance and real estate. In 2014, Dewji launched Mo Cola, a soft drink beverage brand that Dewji hopes will one day rival the popularity of Coca-Cola, which has dominated the market for decades.

Dewji, 41, is a key influencer in African philanthropy and politics. A former member of Tanzania's National Assembly, Dewji is the nation’s wealthiest man, and among the 50 richest in Africa.

Strategic Giving

Motivated to address the severe poverty in Tanzania, Dewji not only focused on philanthropic efforts but also served as Member of Parliament in his home region of Singida to effect change. From setting up Singida Yetu in 2005, a charity that focused on sustainable socio-economic development to establishing his family foundation, Dewji has passionately sought philanthropic opportunities to improve lives in Tanzania.

Dewji’s strategic giving is designed to stimulate socio-economic development. In 2014, he established the Mo Dewji Foundation to align with his “philanthropic vision of facilitating the development of a poverty-free Tanzania.  A future where the possibilities, opportunities and dreams of Tanzanians are limitless.” In a statement, Dewji noted: “I have been blessed and I am very proud of the success of my company, MeTL, but with this success and the subsequent wealth comes responsibility…it is the duty… to redistribute this wealth to less fortunate people.”

Childrens-Cancer-Unit-hostel-and-school
National Children’s Oncology Center at Muhimbili National Hospital

His foundation focuses on health, education and community development. The foundation targets increased access to education and supporting existing health care facilities and contributing to healthcare infrastructure that includes better nutrition, drilling water wells, adaptive hygienic practices such as building latrines in schools and providing mosquito nets.

Dewji is also seeking tangible opportunities to help and invest in Tanzanians, from personal mentoring and interest-free start-up loans to four-year university scholarships to high-achieving high school students. Through the Mo Entrepreneurs Competition, Dewji offers personal mentoring, support and training, and a $4,584 interest-free loan for entrepreneurs who have “high-potential start-ups but lack further support in the form of growth capital, networks and mentoring.”

“When God blesses you financially, don’t raise your standard of living. Raise your standard of GIVING.”

In collaboration with the University of Dar Es Salaam, the Mo Scholars program selects outstanding high school students and provides four years of undergraduate college to “create a community of passionate students and provide them with the capacity to achieve their greatest potential.”

The businessman has received multiple recognition and awards for his philanthropy from African magazines and business leadership organizations.

He recently Tweeted, “Success shouldn’t be solely defined by your wealth. It should be about the positive impact and influence you have on your community.”

What’s Next?

Dewji remains committed to philanthropy and the betterment of his country. By signing the Giving Pledge, Dewji wants to motivate his fellow Africans and global citizens to consider “the funds they truly need to maintain their families versus their ability to give.”

“We all have a moral obligation as the more affluent in society to give back as best we know how,” Dewji said in his Giving Pledge letter. “When God blesses you financially, don’t raise your standard of living. Raise your standard of GIVING.”

-- Melissa Moy

Eye On: Chobani Founder Hamdi Ulukaya
November 18, 2015

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets. For more information about Hamdi Ulukaya and the other Giving Pledgers, visit Foundation Center's Eye on the Giving Pledge.)

Ulukaya_medium photoFamily and homeland helped shape this Kurdish American billionaire’s interest in global philanthropy and improving the plight of worldwide refugees impacted by war and poverty.

Chobani yogurt founder Hamdi Ulukaya said that his mother’s generosity toward those in need seeded an early interest in philanthropy.  Even the company name reflects his native Turkish roots.  Chobani is the Turkish word for “shepherd,” and Chobani has said that the moniker is an homage to the “spirit of giving farmers.”

“Growing up, I watched my mother give to those who needed and it came from the most amazing place in her heart,” Ulukaya said in his Giving Pledge letter, whereby individuals pledge to give away the majority of their wealth during their lifetime.  Upon joining the Giving Pledge in June 2015, he dedicated his Pledge commitment to his mother.

In addition to family, peer influence also played a part in Ulukaya’s decision to make a “public commitment” to help refugees.  In his letter, the New York resident praised Bill Gates and Warren Buffet for setting an example for global philanthropy.  Ulukaya is among 138 Giving Pledge participants in 16 countries.

“I hope that my commitment to the Giving Pledge will in turn inspire others to do the same,” Ulukaya said in his letter.

Hamdi Ulukaya:

  • Founder, Chairman and CEO of Chobani yogurt
  • Kurdish American entrepreneur and businessman
  • Ernst & Young’s 2013 World Entrepreneur of the Year
  • Founder of the Chobani Foundation, which focuses on youth and underserved communities, and entrepreneurs and small business owners
  • Founder of the  Tent Foundation, which provides direct aid to refugees and advocates for refugee rights and policies
  • Personal net worth is over $1 billion

Humanitarian Giving

The Giving Pledge marked Ulukaya’s public commitment to donate the majority of his personal wealth to helping refugees and finding a solution to this humanitarian crisis. 

Earlier this year, the 43-year-old launched the Tent Foundation to specifically provide direct aid, effect policy changes and develop strategies to help 50 million forcibly displaced people worldwide.  His foundation aims to collaborate with worldwide governments and organizations.

The magic and power of the American dream is something I believe should be available to everyone.

Since the early days of founding his Greek yogurt empire, Ulukaya has donated 10% of his profits to the Chobani Foundation, which focuses on access to food for youth and underserved communities, and supporting entrepreneurs and small business owners. 

In 2013, the Chobani Foundation distributed $624,920 to 17 organizations in the United States, Canada and England, according to the foundation’s 2013 990 Form, a form that certain federally tax-exempt organizations file with the IRS.  The largest gift of $285,630 helped establish the South Edmeston Community Center in Edmeston, New York, and the city that is also home of Chobani’s first yogurt factory.

Other gifts included $100,000 to the Canadian-based Global Enrichment Foundation, which supports leadership in Somalia through educational and community-based empowerment programs; $92,230 for the Halabja Community Playground Project, a London-based charity that built an adventure playground for children in Halabja, Northern Iraq; and $25,000 to the Boys and Girls Club of Magic Valley in Twin Falls, Idaho.  The Idaho city boasts a Chobani factory, which opened in 2012 as the world’s largest yogurt factory.

Entrepreneurial Spirit

While studying English in New York in 1994, the Turkish immigrant became fascinated by the idea that “anyone can start something in America,” he said in his letter.  By 1997, Ulukaya enrolled in business courses at the State University of New York.

“The magic and power of the American dream is something I believe should be available to everyone—and is part of my hope for a modern Turkey and for entrepreneurs around the world,” Ulukaya said.

I believe that as people who have been blessed with opportunity in our own lives we must give hope to others.”

Growing up in a hardworking communal culture in Turkey, Hamdi Ulukaya used his background as a Kurdish dairy farmer to cultivate his entrepreneurial dream into a billion-dollar reality.  In 2002, he started a modest feta-cheese factory. 

In 2005, Ulukaya took a risk purchasing a defunct yogurt factory in upstate New York and launched Chobani.  In October 2007, he shipped his first Chobani yogurt order to a Long Island grocer. 

Relying on his entrepreneurial skills, the savvy Ulukaya negotiated with supermarket retailers to pay the slotting fees – the fee to place product on retailer shelves - over time and also in yogurt rather than cash.  He also relied on social media to promote Chobani.  Within five years, Chobani grew into a billion-dollar business.

In his Giving Pledge letter, Ulukaya pointed out the benefits that entrepreneurship has on impacting community change, including his own success.  His foundations provide local and global grants.

 “I believe that as people who have been blessed with opportunity in our own lives we must give hope to others,” Ulukaya said.

--Melissa Moy

Eye On: Sylvan Adams
September 30, 2015

(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets. For more information about Sylvan and Margaret Adams and the other Giving Pledgers, visit Foundation Center's Eye on the Giving Pledge.)

Generosity has become a family legacy for the son of a Holocaust survivor.

Sylvan-adams-150Sylvan and Margaret Adams joined the Giving Pledge last week, whereby individuals pledge to give away most of their wealth during their lifetime.   Sylvan Adams is president and CEO of the Quebec-based real estate firm Iberville Developments.

“From my parents’ example, it was natural for me to continue the family tradition of trying to do some good in the world around me,” Sylvan Adams said in the couple’s Giving Pledge letter.  

Adams, 56, learned about philanthropy from his parents, Marcel and the late Annie Adams. 

After surviving three years in a Nazi labor camp in his native Romania, Marcel Adams fought in the Israeli War of Independence before moving to Quebec City in 1951.  He earned a living as a tanner until an investment in a housing project yielded a 70% return.  He founded Iberville Developments in 1958. 

Over the years, Marcel Adams built the family real estate empire in Quebec.  Marcel Adams made Forbes Magazine’s Billionaires list in 2013 and 2014.  Today, the family owns and manages 100 properties that span 8 million square feet and feature shopping centers, offices, industrial properties and residences.

Sylvan Adams

  • Quebec City, Canada, native
  • President and CEO of Quebec-based Iberville Developments
  • Trustee, Jewish General Hospital Foundation in Quebec
  • Award-winning competitive bicycle racer
  • Net worth is approximately $1 Billion

Sylvan Adams, who holds an MBA from the University of Toronto, said that his parents taught him about philanthropy and giving.  “My parents were generous givers early on, when they didn’t have great means,” he said.

The family’s donations escalated as their business and wealth grew.  In 1986, the family launched the Marcel and Annie Adams Institute for Business management Information Systems at Tel Aviv University.

Father and son both serve as Board trustees for the Jewish General Hospital Foundation, which supports the Jewish General Hospital, a 637-bed McGill University teaching hospital in Quebec.

It was natural for me to continue the family tradition of trying to do some good in the world.

The family is notoriously private, especially the media-shy, 95-year-old Marcel Adams.  Sylvan Adams and his British-born wife, Margaret, have been married for 30 years and live in Westmount, an affluent suburb of Montreal. 

With assets of nearly $11 million, the Sylvan Adams Family Foundation made two grants totaling nearly $1.2 million in 2014 to promote Jewish culture. The foundation gave $1 million to the Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal and $194,232 to The Canadian Committee for the Tel Aviv Foundation to promote Jewish culture, education and programs.

So why would such a private philanthropist take such a public pledge like the Giving Pledge? Sylvan Adams said he is inspired and motivated by the competitive nature of the Giving Pledge.

“The Giving Pledge is inspiring successful men and women to engage in what I would call ‘competitive’ philanthropy,” Sylvan Adams said.  “Directing the same competitive instincts that these driven people employed to achieve the pinnacle of financial and social success, the Giving Pledge is encouraging us to outdo one another in giving our wealth away.  Brilliant!!!”

The real estate magnate said he wants the family tradition of philanthropy to be a “generational project,” so that his children and future grandchildren work to “improve things around us, in appreciation of our good fortune.”

--Melissa Moy

Eye On: Sara Blakely
September 24, 2015

(Melissa Moy is the special projects associate for Glasspockets. For more information about Sara Blakely and the other Giving Pledgers, visit Foundation Center's Eye on the Giving Pledge.)

Sara_Blakely YellowSara Blakely’s desire to help female entrepreneurs and empower women and girls is rooted in her belief of “paying it forward.”

Through her philanthropic endeavors via the Sara Blakely Foundation, the Spanx Inc. founder is positively shaping the lives of women.  Bill Gates personally invited Blakely to join the Giving Pledge, whereby wealthy individuals have pledged to give away most of their wealth during their lifetime. 

Blakely’s mentor and friend, Virgin Group tycoon Richard Branson – the first British Giving Pledger – made his pledge in February 2013, and Blakely followed suit in May 2013, demonstrating the multiplier effect that being open about one’s philanthropy can have.

In her Giving Pledge letter, Blakely described her gratitude for being a woman in America when millions of women around the world are “not dealt the same deck of cards upon their birth.” She added, “Simply because of their gender, they are not given the same chance I had to create my own success and follow my dreams. It is for those women that I make this pledge.”

Sara Blakely:

  • Successful entrepreneur and owner of Atlanta-based Spanx Inc.
  • In 2012, Forbes Magazine named her the youngest self-made female billionaire
  • TIME Magazine’s The World’s 100 Most Influential People 2012 list
  • Clearwater, Fla., native
  • Minority owner of the Atlanta Hawks
  • Personal net worth is over $1 billion

At 44, Blakely has a number of “firsts” under her belt – including the youngest woman in the world to become a self-made billionaire and the first self-made female billionaire Giving Pledger.

I pledge to invest in women because I believe it offers one of the greatest returns on investment.

Through her Atlanta-based foundation, Blakely invests her woman’s shapewear fortune into philanthropic initiatives that focus on women and girls, from entrepreneurship and education to addressing homelessness.

The foundation gave $613,520 to 30 organizations in 2013. Significant grant awards made through the foundation in that year show a variety of philanthropic interests including: $100,000 to V-Day to stop violence against women; $100,000 to the Focus Foundation to help children and families with X & Y Variations, Dyslexia, and/or Developmental Dyspraxia reach their potential; $65,520 to help women survivors of war, poverty and injustice; $50,000 to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to help preserve marine life in her hometown of Clearwater, Fla.; and $40,000 to Girls on the Run of Atlanta to empower young girls, grades 3 to 8, through a youth development and running program.

“I pledge to invest in women because I believe it offers one of the greatest returns on investment,” Blakely said in her Giving Pledge letter. “While many of the world's natural resources are being depleted, one is waiting to be unleashed — women.” Using her fortune to invest in start-up female entrepreneurs must be very satisfying for Blakely, having been one herself not that long ago.

The Florida State University graduate developed the idea for Spanx while getting ready for a party. Blakely didn’t have the right undergarment to wear under her slacks. She cut the feet off of her control top pantyhose and liked the slimming effect.

With great tenacity, the Florida saleswoman researched the undergarment business and even wrote her own patent to save money. Facing skeptical hosiery mill owners in a male-dominated field, Blakely eventually convinced one mill owner to manufacture her products.

Blakely credits her big break to Oprah Winfrey, who named Spanx one of her “favorite things” in 2000. The next year, she sold 8,000 units on home shopping network QVC in the first six minutes.

Blakely’s commitment to “paying it forward” informs Spanx corporate philanthropy, which prioritizes giving female entrepreneurs assistance through its Leg Up program. Blakely notes that every woman can benefit from a “leg up,” or assistance from other women. The unique program offers female business owners the opportunity to promote their products to Spanx customers via the catalog, website and Social Media.

In 2015, Spanx selected two innovative Leg Up businesses, the Akola Project and Sseko Designs.

The Akola Project empowers Ugandan women in extreme poverty by providing a livelihood developing handcrafted jewelry; 100% of the profits are reinvested into the community.

Sseko Designs is a fashion company that employs impoverished Ugandan women and supports their education; 100% of the company’s employees are currently pursuing their university degrees or are graduates.

The entrepreneur’s passion around women’s issues is also expressed in the Spanx company mission, “to help women feel great about themselves and their potential.”

“Since I was a little girl I have always known I would help women,” Blakely said. “I have been setting aside profits since the start of Spanx with the goal that when the time comes I will have an amazing opportunity to help women in an even bigger way.”

--Melissa Moy

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