Can Organizations That Do Good Teach Us Something About Good Business?

 Leadership, Social Impact, Social Value  Comments Off on Can Organizations That Do Good Teach Us Something About Good Business?
Dec 102012

Written by: Drew Bewick
Managing Director, Tree House Ventures / CSVC Social Entrepreneur in Residence

The Washington region has a growing number of resources and networking events for would-be entrepreneurs, innovators, business professionals, and future leaders. Advice is particularly valuable when developing a business plan, attracting capital, or expanding services into new markets. One leadership challenge, however, often underestimated, but very important to achieving competitive advantage in a knowledge economy involves improving workforce engagement and motivation, especially to sustain creativity, performance, and problem-solving capacity to think “outside-the-box”.

Engagement & Motivation

Contrary to conventional wisdom, recent social science research, including research by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston (FRB) in 2005, suggests traditional incentives – such as goals set by managers or rewards in the form of monetary bonuses – actually dull employee creativity and problem-solving and are not effective motivators alone for newer 21st century tasks often associated with knowledge work.

Dan Pink, whose 2009 Ted Global-London presentation about the “Puzzle of Motivation” is captured on YouTube, suggests a key driver of motivation of individuals engaged in knowledge work may be influenced more on the basis of allowing individuals to develop more autonomy, mastery, and purpose, instead of assigning goals and rewards. Social enterprises, organizations that borrow and adapt the logic of the private sector to address issues that have traditionally been beyond its scope, excel at achieving higher levels of workforce engagement and motivation and can provide valuable insights about workforce engagement and motivation in the broader context of improving local business productivity and competitiveness. Allowing individuals to find personal meaning and purpose in the work they do, especially in tasks that require creativity, problem solving, and thinking, can be a winning strategy.

Successful Local Social Enterprises

ACTion Alexandria, for example, is Alexandria’s online platform for community change. It connects neighbors and local organizations to share ideas, create action and make an impact. Launched in February 2011, ACTion Alexandria has already made a measurable impact on the community in-part because it enables volunteers and collaborators to find personal meaning in supporting their community. Highlights achieved in just 18 months:

•    $559,654 raised in community investment (counting playground grants & online fundraising);
•    2,542 community members = 1.82% participation rate by total population;
•    3,920 items donated for Alexandria nonprofits (medicine, books, food, diapers, etc.);
•    437 actions taken on the site by Alexandria citizens to support local nonprofits;
•    229 ideas submitted by citizens in idea challenges; and
•    6,393 votes cast during community idea challenges by approximately 2,000 people.

Building-To-Teach is a program of the Alexandria Seaport Foundation with a mission to create a more competent and competitive American workforce by training instructors and engaging volunteers to help students learn and use math through hands-on building projects and exercises. Launched in March 2012, the growth of the Building-To-Teach (B2T) instructor training program in the first 6 months exceeded expectations:

Online Training
•    145 instructors involved in training
•    86 organizations participating
•    28 states, DC + Chile and Canada represented

In-Person Training
•    60 instructors trained
•    35 organizations participating
•    15 states represented
•    1,500 (est.) students served within 12 month

Empowered Women International, established in 2002 with offices in Alexandria and Rockville, provides a 3-month intensive Entrepreneur Training for Success (ETS) course along with ongoing business coaching, networking and support services that have trained hundreds of disadvantaged women to launch new jobs and small businesses. EWI’s impact, made possible by the motivation and engagement of its volunteers, is noteworthy:

•    58% of graduates increased their production level after completing ETS;
•    34% plan to hire additional employees next year;
•    49% of graduates increased their personal incomes after completing ETS, on average between
•    90% of graduates volunteered with a local organization;
•    83% donated money or goods to charitable organizations; and
•    Unemployment among EWI clients decreased by 34%

Underpinning the success of these local social enterprises doing good are highly engaged and motivated workforces designed deliberately for the purpose of sustaining creativity and innovation to make a difference in people’s lives. In today’s knowledge economy fueled by out-of-the- box thinking and innovation, a highly engaged and motivated workforce is becoming a necessary ingredient to improve business productivity and competitiveness. For those who seek to improve business performance and productivity, local social enterprises might have as much to teach us about the importance of motivation and engagement as doing good.


Drew Bewick is a Social Entrepreneur-In-Residence at the Center for Social Value Creation within the Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. He brings more than 20 years of experience involving the most challenging issues where technology and innovation intersect. As Managing Director of Tree House Ventures, LLC, Drew serves as an advisor to multiple companies and non-profit organizations assisting visionary innovators launch successful ventures by discovering opportunities and using entrepreneurial principles to organize, launch, and manage a successful venture to make an impact.  For more information on how to take your socially driven idea to reality, e-mail

Dec 012012

Written By Amadou Cisse

Are you ready to change the world?
We still are.

Joanna and I returned from Ibarra (in northern Ecuador) just a couple of weeks ago, and while there witnessed firsthand how the Institute for Self-Reliant Agriculture (SRA) is making a difference in the lives of others.  Thankfully, Joanna spoke Spanish fluently and was familiar with the Andean culture, which made it really easy on us. The staff in Ecuador was fantastic and so welcoming that we never felt out of place. We accomplished everything we set out to do, and more.

One of our first stops was the SRA demonstration farm. The farm is located within 26-hectares (64 acres) of land set aside by the local university, and it’s where the SRA hosts local families to help them get a better sense of the 19-month program. During the program participants learn small-scale agricultural techniques that enable them to provide sufficient and balanced nutrition to their families. The farm was clearly well maintained and more productive than the rest of the land under the care of the university.

After the farm visit we headed to the office to talk program strategy and opportunity. The SRA has a unique model that includes agro-pastoral activities in addition to basic hygiene and nutrition lessons, which is key for communities with low education levels.  They have partnered with a university (Universidad Technical del Norte) to obtain free land, labor, and research, and also have a dedicated, knowledgeable staff that cares tremendously about the families they educate.

We focused on understanding recruitment efforts and program retention, and were surprised to learn that a total investment of only $1,500 is needed for a family to become self-sufficient for the rest of its life! We also devoted our time to the development of a marketing plan, with emphasis on the telling of unique and appealing stories that would attract individual donors.

Once we completed our assignment, we had the pleasure of touring some of the best parts of Ibarra.  I have to admit, I had no clue what Ecuador was like since it was my first visit in South America, but I fell in love with the country and the people.  I am from the Sahel and a meat eater de facto, so I really enjoyed all the parillas (local BBQ).  We learned about the Quichua culture as well as the Caranquis, all descendants of the fearless Inca warriors.  We also got to visit Cayambe (the mountain that eats clouds) and its volcanic lake.  We even stopped by Otacache, the capital of leather, to see some incredible work from the local artists.  A last, we got to straddle the elusive equator line and were very close from the center of the world, at least from a GPS perspective with coordinates 0°0’0”.

Joanna and Amadou straddling the equator line.

Overall, I was very impressed by the government investment in infrastructures to allow the economy to prosper.  We were too far from Guayaquil and Esmeralda (two other major cities) for a visit, but I heard they attract a lot of our compatriots for retirement. Quito, the capital city, was bustling with people and everywhere we went we saw new construction.  Miguel, the animal specialist at SRA, invited us to his parents’ house for lunch and we had a wonderful time.  He then proceeded to give us a tour of Quito where he grew up.

Honestly, Joanna and I could have stayed there a semester and learned a lot more but duty and family called us back to the good old US of A.  Now, we are putting the final touches on our marketing plan and will present it to the client by the end of December.  We will always cherish our time in Ecuador and be forever grateful for the opportunity to change the world. We came back with fond memories of great people and with more resolution than ever to continue to work in improving and changing the lives of others.


Amadou Cisse, originally from Mali, is an EMBA candidate currently working as a contractor in the federal government providing program management services.  He has an environmental engineering background and has dedicated his career to programs focused on strategic planning and maintaining community sustainability.  Amadou’s long-term goal is to become one of the world leaders in sustainability and development by implementing sound natural resources management and capacity building to address urban and rural poverty.