Guest post from Bob Ness, Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition (GSEC) Advisory Committee member. As we prepare for GSEC at UW next week, Bob reflects on what keeps him coming back each year, and you should too.
I’ve been involved with GSEC since 2006 as one of the first Advisory Board members. My friend and GSEC sponsor, Howard Behar, suggested I get involved. I started out judging and moved through various roles, including mentoring. Then we invented the trade show, and I did that. As a trustee of the Peg and Rick Young Foundation (another GSEC sponsor), I have also participated in supporting the competition financially.
The energy of the teams and the excitement of seeing innovation has kept me involved, and over the years I have gotten to know some of the teams. The Mongolian presentation (Radio Mongolia) of a product to provide radios in the Gobi resulted in a personal connection with the presenter. I’ve become friends with Lumana founders (winners in 2009) and have appreciated watching their organization bloom in Ghana. Our foundation provided Wello, a technology for rolling water from place to place, with seed money to pilot their work in northern India. Ruby Cup, a winner this past year from Denmark was also memorable in its efforts to provide a new feminine hygiene product in an international context.
I find the judge role most difficult. Giving direct and useful feedback the team can use requires finesse and good judgment. The other judges have many different skills, so finding a common language and method of coming to decisions as well as giving feedback is challenging. There is a lot of learning going on for the judges—the perspectives of the other judges hones your own ability to assess a social enterprise and the teams provide lots of opportunities for you to ask yourself hard questions. I think I’ve honed some of my own business and social enterprise skills in the process, and hopefully provided useful feedback to the teams as they attempt to improve their plans and innovations.
Seattle is a nexus for social entrepreneurship. GSEC has contributed to that movement in the international sphere as well as locally. Many of the social entrepreneurial leaders in Seattle have been involved in some aspect of GSEC. The idea that business can change the world by providing a social benefit and a return to investors is a strong concept that is finding favor in business schools across the world and, increasingly, investor interest. Students are excited to see and participate in social purpose organizations, and business schools that provide these opportunities are on the leading edge. GSEC is a great way for business leaders to become more familiar with the needs of the developing world and our increasingly challenged global natural environment.
Want to change the world? And use the free market system to do so? Check out the potential for innovation, new products and services, opportunities for investment, and a terrific educational opportunity for the teams and educational institutions involved…you’ll be glad you did!