While economic upheaval has caused many businesses to fail, Ode has interviewed several entrepreneurs who have found ways to thrive and remain focused on positive social change. We interviewed them about their companies, how they view the current economic situation, how they define success, and how they came to combine their business skills with their passion for change.
To read more about how social entrepreneurs are going mainstream, click here.Ode Editors | March 2009 issue
Tell us a little bit about you and your company.
I’m the founder of Epic Change, a nonprofit social enterprise that helps hopeful people in need share their “epic” stories in innovative ways to generate the income they need to fund “change” efforts in their communities. We use donations to provide loans that fund locally-led social change efforts. To enable loan repayment, we collaborate with loan recipients to generate new sources of income that transform their hopeful stories into commercial products and marketing partnerships.
Our prototype effort, which seeks to prove the potential of this unique approach, is the construction of a locally-founded primary school in Arusha, Tanzania.
How do you feel about the current economic situation? Does it represent a challenge or an opportunity for you and your business?
There’s no doubt that fundraising will become more difficult and, with a renewed emphasis on domestic causes, organizations like ours with a global focus may find generating income and interest particularly challenging. That said, I believe the state of the economy presents a unique, potentially significant, opportunity for socially beneficial businesses like Epic Change. In a market where consumers are jaded, in which they fear and mistrust Wall Street and consumer confidence is abysmal, perhaps aligning your business with good is the only strategy that really makes sense. In an economy that’s dominated by fear, businesses like ours that seek to create hope seem likely to do well. It’s a theory that was espoused often by folks like Kevin Jones of Good Capital, and Karyn Barsa of Investors Circle at the inaugural Social Capital Markets conference held in San Francisco last October. Put simply, as I mentioned in a blog post after the conference, if greed got us into this mess, perhaps generosity is the best way out.
What types of metrics do you use to demonstrate your success both financially and in terms of social change?
To date, we have loaned over $65,000 in Arusha. Mama Lucy Kamptoni, our Tanzanian partner, has used these funds to purchase land, build 5 new classrooms, and obtain a refurbished bus that provides safe, reliable transportion for over 240 children who now attend her school. In addition, the school now has both a well, which is used by the entire village and solar power. Recently, we learned that Mama Lucy’s fourth graders ranked #1 out of 117 schools in their district on their national exams last year, the very first time her school participated in national exams.
Just over a year ago, this school nearly closed its doors because Mama Lucy didn’t have the funds to relocate when a developer bought the land she was renting. Children who may not have been in school this year, or who may have been transferred to some of the poorest schools in their district, are now among the best students in Arusha.
As one of our key goals is to share stories with a global audience, we’re also excited that Epic Change has created a significant online presence. Since our inception, our website has had over 70,000 visitors, we’ve created a social media audience of thousands with tools like WordPress, Facebook and Twitter, and online publications, including The NonProfit Times, Mashable, PlanetSave and TriplePundit, have profiled our unique approach to social change and innovative fundraising efforts.
Clearly, indicators like those above are most representative of our success to date. Financially, too, we’re making progress. In just 18 months since we received our 501c3 status, we’ve raised over $70,000 from over 750 contributors, the vast majority of whom have donated $40 or less. Of our first $35K loan disbursed in December of 2007, over 10% has already been repaid.
Have you always been a businessperson or did your idea stem from a passion to create change – or both?
While I’ve worked as a management consultant in both the public and private sectors for several years, I previously worked in the arts and my masters degree is from Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz School of Public Policy. It was always my plan to learn as much as possible in my consulting career so that I could carry the business skills I was developing back to the social benefit sector.