Ethics and Entrepreneurialism
8 September 2014
What is SocEnt?
Being a hub for social innovation, Seattle is home to a very strong branch of the international group Social Venture Partners. SVP’s goal is to seek out Social Entrepreneurs, business owners who are running companies or organizations that concern themselves with social impact just as much as or even more than profits, that are effectively having a positive impact locally. Having done this, they connect these entrepreneurs with investors or donors that also hope to have this sort of innovative positive impact. Some of these ventures seek to positively impact various disadvantaged populations, such as homeless people or various minorities. Others aim to provide services to more ordinary citizens of the region by connecting them with opportunities to easily have a positive impact or by providing them with information or resources to become a more aware and active citizen. While some of the specific problems that they address are addressed through proven, analog solutions, many of SVP’s favored organizations and companies take an innovative approach to these difficult problems by applying new technologies and ways of thinking to them. The example which I will discuss is a perfect example of the methods in which new, innovative research, is being applied to an enormous problem with the hope of solving a problem for which top-down solutions have not achieved nearly enough by attempting to address it from the bottom-up.
Hippocampus Learning Centers is an organization based throughout India which receives funding from the Unitus Seed Fund, a seed fund for social innovation run by one of SVP Seattle’s most prominent members, Will Poole. The problem which HLC aims to address/solve is that, though India has a high nationwide primary school enrollment rate (around 96%), the sort of education that is provided by the government schools that serve rural areas is not nearly effective enough to provide the pathway out of poverty that education is meant to. The problem being faced here is fairly unique in the context of India’s state of development, as the problem in many similar areas is much simpler: a simple lack of the needed infrastructure. Rather, India’s problem is, in many ways, similar to the problem of ineffective urban schools that charter schools are aiming to address in the United States. However, considering a recent study by the World Bank, HLC hopes to narrow their issue to what they describe on their website as the fact that “by the time poorer children in many countries reach school age, they are at a significant disadvantage in cognitive and social ability.” Of course, the solution to this problem is providing access to a service that is much rarer than schools themselves in rural India: pre-schools. In 104 schools in small villages “across the districts of Mandya and Davangere,” HLC has established extremely low-cost centers that provide exactly this service to children between the ages of 3 and 6. To address the greater issue of education, HLC also provides an after-school program to primary school students that accompanies their school curriculum with a more innovative system that better serves to maintain their cognitive levels. Finally, the provide the tertiary service of training teachers in order to provide local women with jobs and better equip them to provide an adequate education to the students at the low-performing government schools where these women will teach.
Of course, on a basic level, the solution that HLC presents is certainly analog in that it’s simply providing a secondary level of infrastructure, as innovative and effective as this may be. However, the innovation going into this project goes well beyond this. The most effective aspect of this innovation is the assessment method that HLC has developed, dubbed STEP. STEP asses students each month on a four point scale, ranging from starter to tentative to excellent to par-excellent. Once these levels are identified, teachers use technology to identify specific problem areas on which to work with students. This sort of customization of education better serves to help students achieve academic success than virtually any other method. Respectively, these students are better equipped to make it out of the trap of poverty that exists in India, and solve the greatest problem with HLC aims to solve.