Two undergraduate Social Impact Fellows recap a recent episode of Dollars and Change. The July 31 show was hosted by Sherryl Kuhlman and Sandi Hunt. Guests included Matt Bauer, CEO and Co-Founder of BetterWorld Wireless; Saul Garlick, CEO and Founder of ThinkImpact; and Jason Tarre, Startup Partnerships Manager for Venture for America.
“If you can get market forces working, that can drive social change – in a way that philanthropy is limited.”
This overarching notion has come up several times in our work so far this summer as fellows at WSII and was a central topic in last week’s opening of Dollars and Change.
Business leaders are problem solvers. We see this everyday – in the classroom, during club meetings and in large corporations. WSII seeks to harness the knowledge and creativity in the university community to develop solutions to social problems.
Our first guest was a prime example of this – in an industry that is dominated by huge corporations, BetterWorld Wireless differentiates itself through its social mission.
Infusing social impact into a three trillion dollar industry:
Matt Bauer, CEO and Co-Founder at BetterWorld Wireless, is leveraging “the world’s most popular tool and activating it for social impact.”
Admittedly, both of us are hugely reliant on our cell phones, so Bauer’s discussion of cellphone use and mobile devices was very relatable. He began the conversation by describing mobile phones as “narcissistic devices,” but Bauer strives to change the way people use and think about their phones by “using the product itself as a vehicle for change.”
We were excited when we heard that BetterWorld Wireless is a for-profit company that partners with non-profits. Bauer breaks the assumption that corporations with a social good must be non-profit. When he started the business, he quickly realized that due to its self-sustaining revenue stream, incorporating as a for-profit company would allow him to expand more rapidly.
One example of an initiative they are involved in is their “Phone for Phone: Buy One, Give One” program, which donates mobile devices to people in need. This model, as opposed to simply donating a percentage of their revenue, keeps their initiative “transparent,” regarding where the phones are going and how their impact is shown and measured. This program also engages the users in the impact by sending them text messages about the difference they have made by simply using their cell phones.
Using experiential education to catalyze social innovation and entrepreneurship:
Saul Garlick, CEO and Founder at ThinkImpact, is also leveraging mobile technology to foster change. Unleesh, a mobile application created by ThinkImpact, offers a platform for individuals to build skills and connect with one another through experiential learning.
The experiential learning platform stemmed from ThinkImpact’s “Institutes” programs, which offer students a unique immersions experience in rural villages in Africa and Latin America; students develop relationships with local community members and collaborate with them to find solutions to social challenges.
The end result: students essentially become “micro-entrepreneurs” in these communities, and they engage in a meaningful, authentic experience abroad. ThinkImpact’s long-term goal is to “nurture an entrepreneurial mindset among both the students and their community partners.”
Immediately, we thought about our friends participating in similar programs. Oftentimes, we question how genuine these “service trips” actually are, and how much the local community benefits.
Is this merely poverty tourism? Not so, says Garlick. “It’s about the way you engage with the community,” he says, eschewing “staged poverty moments” that often create “awful power dynamics.” Instead, ThinkImpact students center on experiencing life as a local and on working with people towards a mutual goal.
In fact, he says, a company survey found that 84% of their past participants still keep in touch with community members – a testament to the genuine, authentic relationships that they form during their involvement.
Mobilizing graduates as entrepreneurs:
Jason Tarre, Startup Partnerships Manager for Venture for America (VFA), discussed the value of experiential learning to foster entrepreneurial skills and mindsets. VFA recruits college graduates for their fellowship program, provides fellows with intensive training, places them in startups around the country, and then helps them raise funding for their own venture.
Overall, VFA seeks to help early stage startups succeed by creating and providing startups with access to a pipeline of talent from universities nation-wide. Additionally, VFA cultivates a network of like-minded, entrepreneurial individuals with complimenting skills and passions. As college students interested in entrepreneurship, VFA presents an exciting opportunity for us to consider for the future.
This week we saw a pattern of transforming traditional practices into socially impactful ones. We thought Matt Bauer powerfully summarized this idea when he talked about turning the cellphone from a “me” to a “we” device.
As members of the millennial generation, one of our many other nicknames is the “me generation” – we’re stereotypically marked by self-interest and a general unawareness of the world’s problems. But the experts on “Dollars and Change” showed us that we have the power to become a “we” generation by taking day-to-day activities or tools, and transforming them into modes for impact.
Dollars and Change broadcasts live from SiriusXM channel 111 every Thursday morning from 8-10 a.m. EST, and is replayed throughout the week. Listeners and subscribers can hear our show, and the rest of Business Radio’s 40 hours of unique programming, on demand at SiriusXM.com.
For members of the Wharton network, an exclusive “Best Of” segment is now available using your Penn ID. Listen in at http://businessradio.wharton.upenn.edu/bestof.
Christianne Molina is a Wharton Social Impact Fellow and rising junior at Penn majoring in economics and minoring in consumer psychology. She is a coxswain on the Penn women’s rowing team and passionate about entrepreneurship. She believes in the power of innovation and market-based solutions to drive social change.
Hera Koliatsos is a Wharton Social Impact Fellow and rising sophomore at the Wharton School, planning to major in finance and social impact and responsibility. In her spare time, she tutors for the West Philadelphia Tutoring project and enjoys playing tennis. She believes that everyone has a responsibility to harness their talents to make an impact.