Archive for the ‘Bubba posts’ Category

Flat vs Spiky

Posted: September 1, 2010 in Bubba posts

Today (in Ohio) we’ll discuss the evolution of America’s nonprofit sector. Those who study networks, social media and “technology” will argue that nonprofits are becoming more global while others will argue that nonprofits have never been more local. I think we’ll find that the sector is both getting more global and more local and that the really interesting question is how to govern nonprofits in such a world and what policy makers, foundations etc. can do to ensure that the sector continues to progress. The question whether the world is getting flatter or more spiky do have different policy implications for how to address social problems. Tom and Joe discusses the issue of flatness here.



Is there an entrepreneurial core?

Posted: August 26, 2010 in Bubba posts

Is it possible to teach entrepreneurship? While some argue that the intangible features of the entrepreneur make any ent.ed . meaningless because we cannot teach these features there is another aspect to take into account, perhaps we have too much to teach. Social entrepreneurship is a multi-level and multi-disciplinary subject so exactly what constructs, theories, methods etc. are most important. When we tried to design an introductory course in nonprofit entrepreneurship the problem was what not to talk about. Even economists appears to have this problem:

“Several months after having completed an introductory economics course, most students are no better able to answer simple economic questions than students who never took the course. The problem seems to be that principles courses try to teach students far too much, with the result that everything goes by in a blur”

These conclusions come from Robert Frank who instead proposes that we ought to focus on key principles rather than bombarding students with more complex material. Frank also suggests a simple tool for students to utilize:

“the “economic naturalist writing assignment,” an essay in which students must pose an interesting question about something they have personally observed and then use basic economic principles to answer it in no more than 500 words”

Are there such core principles in social entrepreneurship hiding behind all the “clutter”? This is what I am trying to figure out and hopefully transform into a paper to be presented in San Diego next year. I will try to post the preliminary results in the future.


Tattoos in the classroom

Posted: August 25, 2010 in Bubba posts

In two weeks my good friend from Chicago will join me in the classroom to discuss social enterprise, he is covered in tattoos and always make sure to hide all of them before entering the classroom. However, as entrepreneurial scholars we constantly observe how institutions change and what was once different is now slowly becoming mainstream (more than a third of gen nexters have tattoos, and 40% of Gen Xers) but even more encouraging for my friend is that undergraduates seem to prefer tattooed instructors. I will recommend a sleeveless shirt for him this time and hope for spillover effects.


More ideas

Posted: August 22, 2010 in Bubba posts

Talking about innovation and ideas, one early thinker to touch upon social entrepreneurship is Charles Leadbeater. His “The Rise of the Social Entrepreneur” is one of the most referred pieces, especially in European scholarship. He has also spent a lot of time discussing disruptive and amateur innovation from the user perspective. We use Leadbeater when discussing the importance of organizational strategic autonomy.


The role of ideas

Posted: August 22, 2010 in Bubba posts

Inventions (i.e. ideas) is perhaps the key component of any entrepreneurial endeavor and in our classes we utilize the simple notion that an idea are two previously known things put together into a new thing, blanket + sweater = snuggie, poor people + bank loans = micro credits and so on. So where do such ideas come from? We believe that the combination knowledge + information is key and given the growth and abundance of both information and knowledge it is feasible to assume that we have more ideas than ever. This is in indication that individuals are important but that collective and social aspects of entrepreneurship is even more essential. Hiding behind the interesting title “When ideas have sex” Matt Ridely point out that humans have indeed been able to become more prosperous as they are getting more populous.


I am constantly encouraging nonprofits to pay more attention to data because each organization sits on an incredible amount of useful information. The problem is that few agencies have figured out a way to capture and analyze this information. But how do you measure entrepreneurial activities? Mark Kramer asks this question from a funder perspective and concludes:

“In short, without more rigorous research, one cannot know that the new idea just discovered is actually a more effective approach to a given problem than other methods that may have been tried. Collecting the practical information needed for immediate management decision-making is essential, but so is the codification of that knowledge so that more general principles can be discovered and learnings can be shared more widely. If results are not tracked consistently and systematically, it will be very hard to improve over time.”

Still, how and who interprets this information. I often come across foundations with highly elaborate outcome measures and accountability systems in place only to find that the data is never used for anything. Why? We don’t have time, resources or competence are among the most common answers. Measuring as an end itself, no wonder certain individuals are questioning the purpose and legitimacy of foundations. Another observation I’ve made is that the person (if any) in charge of data organizing and data cleaning is often hidden away in some windowless room and not easy to access for anyone.


Yesterday’s discussion

Posted: August 13, 2010 in Bubba posts

Apparently a lot of people are interested in discussing nonprofit vs. business practices, we even had to move to a bigger conference room. Unfortunately the debate went south pretty quickly. To summarize, “if nonprofits operated more like business then ….” fill in your own (often heavily uninformed) comment and there is our discussion. At four separate occasions I asked people to back their comments and opinions with research or any type of investigation over time that support the claim that businesses are better at solving social problems to the degree that nonprofits should seek to mimic them, but ignorance is apparently bliss or it is “obvious that businesses are more efficient”. Still, efficiency is not effectiveness and once again I had to surrender to foundation executives and nonprofit consultants who are better salesmen than I am.

Perhaps our most interesting debate focused on outcome measures – are OM objective or socially constructed creatures? In particular, when can OM provide useful information about the impact of nonprofit activities? I argued that OM are often more political than actually useful tools to capture effectiveness especially since OM’s tend to be very short-term in nature. Alan Johnson put his finger on this problem when asking is the mainstream ready for output-based aid? In addition, GPOBA had launched an e-book about outcome-based activities and best practices. It is also interesting to notice that even foundation executives cannot still not differentiate between outputs and outcomes.