Social Enterprise

The Venezuela Conversation at Menlo Church

I am being asked about Venezuela. Last year we hosted an event at Menlo Church which outlined the historical issues and economic problems with Venezuela. We thought the problems would be somewhat short-lived with the possible and immanent replacement of President Nicolas Maduro with opposition leader Juan Guaido. Then things went south. Guaido has been struggling with a scandal that threatens his political aspirations.

So in the meantime. Nothing much has changed with Venezuela. Every day 5000 Venezuelans leave the country. Those who stay behind struggle with an economy that has seen inflation approach 2 million percent each year . Maduro recently raised the minimum wage 300% to $6.70 per month. The Venezuelan refugee crisis (4.6 million) is about to surpass the Syrian refugee crisis in terms of sheer numbers.

In 2019, Next Step partnered with Menlo Church to host a conversation regarding the problems with Venezuela and possible solutions. Speakers included Professor Diego A. Zambrand (Stanford University), Carlos Suarez (Justice International), Diego Travieso (Operation Blessing) and Wolfgang Fernandez (Next Step). I think we raised $40,000 for Venezuela.

We are thankful to Menlo Church and Senior Pastor John Ortberg for allowing this conversation to take place. And to Missions Director Dave Shields who emceed the meeting.

Next Step is supporting recovery efforts in Venezuela. They have recently sent thousands of dollars worth of medical equipment donated from Bay Area hospitals, and have purchased 10 acres of land in Venezuela for an agricultural project that is currently producing food for a community and extra to help other communities. They are currently purchasing another 4 acres of prime farmland to replicate this successful project. One investor has given $30,000 towards this purchase but the other half of the funds still needs to come from somewhere.

I visited Venezuela in 1986 as part of a mission that involved educational books, children’s ministry, work in prisons and schools. It was a different country back then and I am grieved beyond words. Hoping and praying for real transformational change to happen in this country.

I will be adding podcasts of this event shortly on my main blog.

Feeding Syrian Refugees at the Syrian Border

From the main blog

A little update from me.

We arrived at the Serbian border a few days ago and started cooking immediately, both for the team and for the stream of Syrian refugees. Most of them were in too much of a hurry to stop and chat – they were at the finish line of their long trip to enter Schengan Europe and aware, as we were, that the border could close at any time. Fair enough.

So we decided to go south about 30 kilometers and meet them there. The last few days we have been in a small town, camped out at a lake with about 20 people on the team in two vehicles and lots of tents.

But now the border has closed, as the Hungarians told us it would when we were there last week, and we expect a huge swell of refugees (do we have to call them that? – sounds soooo inhumane when talking about real people who we, as fellow-nomads and travellers, feel a special bond with?) to grow around the border area.

So . . . we are heading back up again today and will set up base at Subotica where there is already a growing presence of refugees. There is an abandoned brick factory called Ciglana (see Sima Diab) which has become a camping ground (reminds me of the tent village we set up in NZ), and we hope to be a presence there.

Many people are on their way to join us right now from all over Europe and our little team of crazy hippies could possibly double in size this week to 40.

The truck is running great and its awesome having a mobile kitchen that can chase down the refugees and set up wherever we need to be at a moments notice. Damn I love my job!!!!!!!

These are our needs right now:

We need this week to learn some Arabic phrases and some Syrian recipes so they can have some good homecooked food. The best food in I ate in Cairo during the Arab Spring was a Syrian dish that I would love to recreate here.

A van has been donated from Austria that we hope to fix up to accommodate and transport team members. Its a bit crap and not licensed but we are happy to receive it. We need someone to pick it up and drive it to us here at the Serbian border.

The Rainbow Snowball Caravan, of which are are a part, has managed to raise 550 Euros and this will really help us with the food costs. Awesome. When we arrived a few days ago, our food was depleted and we didn’t have enough diesel money to drive south. Some of you have sent gifts through SAMS  to our family for expenses and this should be processed in due time and eventually reach us. THANKS!!!

Having said that, our greatest need is not money but rather love and compassion and perspective, wise choices, courage, a good team spirit. And for these things we covet your prayers.

I think we need a few Syrians on our team. Could you pray that we pick the right ones this week?

A friend is setting up another fundraiser for expenses connected to our truck and diesel and other things that will not be covered by the Rainbow Caravan. Thanks. Details here really soon, including the cheesy name that I chose for it.

The team is feeling good. We are in the right place at the right time. Last night we had a talking circle until 11pm. Some of the team want to go to Syria to bring peace and love. All of us are glad to be here, hoping to make a difference, willing to use whatever resources we have.

One of the greatest challenges of ministry, as I shared with the team last night, is just turning up and being present.

Well, we turned up.

Keep praying for us.

 Read more.

Go to The Skinny on the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Help fund our project here.

I support syrious love



Our WorldWide Dinner Party

Tonight was our worldwide dinner party as part of the Feast on Good movement. We made our own pizza and had a nice dessert (thanks Claire!) The issue we chose to tackle was poverty in our area. 


Here's what we came up with.

Poverty is a real issue in our area. We want to help but we know that we can't solve hunger by throwing cans of food at people. We can't solve the homeless problem by sentencing vagrants to a life of unaffordable mortgage repayments. Getting kids into college or university is not the answer if interest on their student debt becomes a personal millstone and a national curse.

Empowerment is personal. It starts at home. It starts with people.

Why not empower people to make their own stuff, to build their own eco-houses, to cook their own food, to live well without luxuries, to grow vegetables and milk cows, to fix their own cars, to create blogs, to butcher meat, to see how life shared together can create a commonwealth that benefits everyone?

Feast on good dinner party

We will create a tent village experience on a farm that will empower young urban people on the fringe to take the reigns of their lives and start creating stuff that will sustain them.

Our next steps are to build camping facilities on our land, share the idea widely, and identify the skill base and resources.

We can do this with volunteer labor, free use of the farm, and with only $5000 which is needed to build some camping facilities, an outdoor kitchen and some scholarships for at-risk youth.

We will launch in December 2012 and run all through January. 

Thank you Feast family for the encouragement to make this happen.


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The Feast Worldwide Dinner Party kicks off here

UPDATE: We just had our dinner and it was GREAT. Read about it here.


ORIGINAL POST: The creative people at Feast on Good, who I met in New York and have mentioned on the blog before, are hosting a worldwide dinner party for good on Friday Oct 5. And we are doing it with them by hosting a pizza party with a difference. Why not?

Feast worldwide dinner party

We happen to be in New Zealand right now so we thought we might as well KICK OFF the Worldwide Dinner Party here. Something to do with the International Date Line being right on our ass. 

Feast dinner party world map

There are various challenges each dinner party can choose. We have chosen the poverty challenge and my guest list includes people that are actively involved in social enterprise among the poor in the local area. 

Some of the resources to inspire the dinners are worth looking at. They pointed to one project that is turning church pews into beds for the homeless

SHOULD BE FUN! You could host a party also. Think about it.

Overhead on non-profits

Summary of study from GreyMatter: New research shows the average American believes it is reasonable for non-profit organizations to spend 23 cents out of every dollar on overhead expenses such as fundraising or administration.  However, 62% believe non-profits typically spend more than is reasonable for overhead, and the average American estimates spending on overhead at 37 cents on the dollar for the typical non-profit organization.  Over a third of Americans believe non-profits typically spend at least half of their money on overhead. More


$500 mini-grant to know Your community

Starting a social enterprise? You need to know the community you serve. My friends at Echoing Green want to encourage you to do this by offering $500 for the best strategy. You have until August 8th to submit your idea on how that $500 could make a difference. That's one week. So on your bike and off you go . . . 

How well do you know the people who will be on the receiving end of the good work you want to do? What are their strengths? What do they like about their community? What would they change? And do they want your help in creating that change? Getting to know the people who will benefit from your work is the first step to effective public service, allowing you to challenge your assumptions and transform altruism into high impact, culturally competent work.

Submit an idea before August 8 for how you would spend $500 to better understand and build deeper relationships with members of the community you most want to serve. Rally your friends and colleagues to give your submission a "thumbs up." Echoing Green


How Communities Heal

Update: GREAT evening. Photos are on Facebook.Thanks Vivian for your inspiration! And thanks Colin and Laurel for the invitation.


Original Post: Debbie and I have been invited to a book launch tomorrow for How Communities Heal: Stories of Social Innovation and Social Change, by vivian Hutchinson who spells his first name in lower case. Either that or the spelling is a typo repeated throughout the book. I am guessing "vivian" a way to insist on informality. Nice!!

How communities heal takes a community

The book is good. Having been away from NZ for a few decades, I was wondering if NZ was keeping up with the global movement towards social enterprise and this book was a refreshing reminder that not only is New Zealand in the game, it might be adding a few kiwi contributions. There are also some organizations that have popped up that I wasn't aware of, including the New Zealand Social Entrepreneur Fellowship.

One of those kiwi contributions is in social accounting where vivian stresses the danger of "inappropriate use of business paradigms in a complex social context, and the anxious drive to reduce results into simplistic commercial terminology in order to gain support from funders." [page 130] Well said! I remember going through the official social accounting course in the UK, when we launched The Sorting Room, where the metrics were very very VERY commercial and every [expected] social outcome had to be quantified in purely mathematical terms. Which is not always easy to do and can sometimes bias the proposal towards results that can be easily [and commercially] measure. Good to see a more human touch in the accounting area. I heard the book Expanding the Pie tackles this also. 

Entrepreneurship for the common good

I haven't read all the case studies and people profiles yet but the one that jumped out to me was Campbell Roberts, Director of the Salvation Army's social services. One of the turning points for Roberts was addressing the fact that their $80 million worth of welfare and services were not really performing as intended and, in fact. "conditions had actually deteriorated."

"The question for us became: Do we keep doing this? We knew we couldn't withdraw some of our services because they were helping people . . . but we also had to accept that they weren't really changing things in the community. It was time for a change." Campbell Roberts, How Communities Heal, page 124

That shift in thinking [and social accounting] led Roberts and his team to move away from being perennial landlords to developing new social solutions including entrepreneurial initiative and innovative ways of helping elderly people keep and maintain their own properties.

I am looking forward to reading the rest of the book, and to meet some of the authors at the book launch tomorrow.

Related on TSK: The Feast Conference for Social Entrepreneurs, Emerging Philanthropy, Philanthrocapitalism.

Check out vivian on Stuff.

Hybridrization Movement: integrating social and financial enterprises

In Search of the Hybrid Ideal is a good article based on some research by Stanford and Echoing Green on the emergence of "hybrid" social enterprises, early stage projects that focus on both social impact and financial sustainability. This integration is something we have both worked towards for many years. All of the social and mission projects we sponsor, for example, have an economic strategy that enables them to move from dependence to sustainability and actually, we hope, creates strong organizations that can give generously to the next cycle of social enterprise launches.

Chart hybridization movement 427x358

They give an example of Hot Bread Kitchen

Hot Bread Kitchen exemplifies a larger trend among social innovators toward creating hybrid organizations that primarily pursue a social mission but rely significantly on commercial revenue to sustain operations. Such hybrids have long existed in certain sectors, such as job training, health care, and microcredit—but in recent years they have begun to appear in new sectors, including environmental services, consulting, retail, consumer products, catering, and information technology.  In Search of the Hybrid Ideal
 Finding a balance is important.

Hybrids also must strike a delicate balance between social and economic objectives, to avoid “mission drift”—in this case, a focus on profits to the detriment of the social good. In Search of the Hybrid Idea

I recommend reading the article and if you have time, check out what I wrote on the subject of 4th sector enterprises in early mission experiments.

Also on TSK: Resourcing Missional Entrepreneurs {without creating charity cases).

Are you successfully launching "hybrid" models of missional enterprise? Let me know.

On having a bender and what else we might learn from Kony2012

So Jason Biggs appears to be the first serious contender for a Jason-Russell-style naked-meltdown parody. I expect more people will follow Jason's example and there might even be some niche products and T-shirts on their way.

Ring-tone, anyone?

I chose not to blog the Kony2012 uber-trending event. Sorry if you were expecting me to jump on the wagon. I was quite busy at the time, driving through Eastern Europe and negotiating with corrupt border officials so I didn't have much energy or time for it.

And besides that, there are so many organizations out there LIVING among the global poor rather than talking about them, pursuing economic and spiritual possibilities rather than military solutions, and spending MOST of their budget on impacting vulnerable people rather than salarying themselves to create cool videos. So I decided to let it go.

Actually, the whole trending thing made me roll my eyeballs. It was like a day at the races, watching how fast and how high this thing could go, as if success became the all-encompassing reality and measurement criteria. Is philanthro-tainment a word?

However, I WAS tempted to send $10 to Invisible Children if Jason Russell would put his pants back on!

Jason Russell Kony Poster

On the other hand, the Kony2012 became a social media event and it would be just downright disrespectful for me not to acknowledge that Jason Russel launched the most viral video EVER!. 55 million in 4 days! That's something! 80+ million views total. That blows us all out of the park. Well done, Jason. Perseverance rewarded!

And not only that but it was a wonderful and marvelous thing that the most viral video in history was not about anything trivial like mating mutant cockroaches or elephant excretions but instead was about a real need in a real place that called for righteous anger and justice. Well done, planet earth for responding!

But the project has not gone according to plan, as you know, and there are a few lessons here for the rest of us who are launching and leading social enterprises.


1. Keep Bender's Private.

A lot of great leaders have benders, also known as emotional meltdowns, or as Jason Russell's case, a "reactive psychotic episode". It's not the end of the world. But if you feel a bender coming on, and you have the luxury of choosing your location, let yourself go in a somewhat private space. Or even better, go to a retreat center and have your meltdown in front of some trained counselors and supportive empathizers where you can wave your privates around and shout at the devil in a secure environment.

2. Prepare for Ridiculous Success.

It's not always failure that kills a social enterprise. Sometimes it's too much success, too soon. Learn to put the brakes on, install limits on your project, don't be afraid of stopping the machinery once your target is reached. You should also have a RIDICULOUSLY SUCCESSFUL strategy which includes what to do if your project greatly exceeds expectations, where the excess funds will go and how you will fulfill all obligations (millions of action packs??) in case the response is exponentially swollen above what you originally planned for. You might not achieve anything like ridiculous success but at least you will be prepared for it if it comes your way.

3. Focus on Facts, not Feelings

We all want to move people, somewhere deep in their bowels, with the essential importance and great eminence of our cause, but if we have to choose between presenting accurate facts and portraying moving stories in which the underlying reality might be somewhat dubious or at least untested, go for the facts every time! People want to give intelligently and they need the info. Beware of manipulating your givers through "emotional pornography" which can lead to Giver's Regret the morning after.

4. Shield Your Celebrities.

If you are lucky enough to have some well-known celebrities take on your cause, make sure they will come out looking better than they did when they entered your world. This involves marrying the campaign with the celebrity and ensuring they are a good match for each other. If there is potential conflict, don't let them go further. Their celebrity-ness is in your hands and you need to deal with it sensitively. They DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR THIS. They are too busy looking good so you have to do it for them.

5. Filter your Funders

Funders are privileged to partner with you in your worthy cause. Filter them carefully. Find out what other causes and projects exist in their portfolio before you accept their money for BOTH YOUR SAKES!. It's better to get a smaller chunk of funding from the right organization than it is to get big dollars from foundations and trusts that have embarrassing bedfellows or a jarringly different philosophy than you.

6. Lean on Local Knowledge

It's hard to appreciate the nuances of a far-off situation when you are living in a suburb in San Diego. There is no substitute for living with the locals ON LOCATION. There is much dumb-tax to be paid by those who choose to comment or act by remote. Much dumb-tax indeed!

How about you? Did you learn anything from Kony2012? Feel a bender coming on?

Emerging Philanthropy: NOW Funding, not SOON Funding

Sometimes, you need NOW funding to assist an emergency situation. When an earthquake hits, people need resources immediately. They have no house and only the clothes on their back. If its cold, their families will freeze. Rescue workers need to be fed or they will stop shifting bricks and more people will die.

Fundraising takes time and you need the funds NOW and not SOON, not even THEN, and forget about LATER.

$1000 in the first week of an earthquake is like $10,000 in the second week.

In Turkey this month, we badly needed NOW funding to assist the earthquake relief in the first week.

Earthquake zone arriving philanthropy

But unfortunately, most foundations and trusts cannot act that fast. There is paperwork and permissions and the presentation of proposals and the estimate of expenses and the signing of papers, etc.  Most foundations can help with SOON funding but very few can help with NOW funding.

Continue reading "Emerging Philanthropy: NOW Funding, not SOON Funding" »