Collaborating on Rural Innovation and Farming at Globalizer 2012

Editor's note: This post was written by Lauren Batcheck who works with the Ashoka Rural Innovation and Farming (RIF) Venture Collaborative Entrepreneurship (VCE) Program.

How do you increase the wellbeing and sustainability of rural farmers? Or improve the quality of life of the underserved poor? How does one person scale positive, irreversible social impact? And what are the challenges to scaling the impact of social innovative ideas in rural communities? These questions were at the forefront of discussions during the Rural Innovation and Farming Globalizer Summit in Geneva last month.

The Ashoka Rural Innovation and Farming (RIF) and Globalizer teams organized the fifth Ashoka Globalizer Summit where Ashoka Fellows selected from the RIF program gathered with some of the world's top entrepreneurs to explore the future of their ventures in rural communities in Sub-Saharan Africa and India.

For the first time, the Globalizer Summit focused on a cohort of Fellows who are working in the same particular field of work. They gathered together for a three-day exclusive weekend, leveraging their insights and sharing knowledge and best practices, to collaborate on solutions to the many challenges they are facing across the field.

Summit Day One

A People Business

Ashoka Fellow and previous Globalizer attendee, Andreas Heinecke, shared his personal scaling journey and insights at this year’s Globalizer.

"Ultimately, we are a people business,” said Heinecke. “We are not in the franchise business and driven by profit. People come first because money does not translate.

“Understand your own personal trek; keep in mind what it means for you personally. Life becomes very, very simple and we are all tempted to do more and more. We cannot change the world, we can change our world.”

Work with Personal Meaning

Fellows spent much of the day in small peer discussion groups focusing on the challenges they face when trying to scale. How does one manage his or her staff when the organization is growing? As the organization grows, the initial role of the social entrepreneur changes — how does an entrepreneur adapt to create space and time, and embark on new challenges while passing on previous responsibilities to others?

“Taking on responsibility creates boredom and stress,” said Ashoka Fellow Aditiya Natraj. “Taking on personal meaning creates energy.”

Additionally, how do social entrepreneurs choose the correct partners? What will create the most beneficial positive social change: scaling more in depth or more broadly? It is critical to recognize the difference between spreading your idea and growing your organization, and to know which you should pursue. Natraj commented on this issue in regards to creating positive change in the lives of children, “There is a certain joy in teaching only five children and directly witnessing one of them grow.”

Wellbeing, GDP and Innovation

Ashoka was fortunate to have Andrew Rzepa, Senior Consultant at Gallup, the research-based performance management consulting company, provide a presentation about how to use global data on communities’ wellbeing to scale the ideas of the Fellows.

“To measure is to know. If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.” —Lord Kelvin

Gallup is collecting data through the Gallup World Poll to determine the greatest indicators for wellbeing, hunger and undernourishment. Each survey presented to participating communities included questions based on interpreting wellbeing through the lens of three basic preconditions: 1) access to law and order; 2) access to food and shelter; and 3) access to institutions and infrastructure translated into good jobs and cohesive communities.

The lack of access to these amenities is a large barrier to scaling innovative ideas. Additionally, Gallup used the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale which allows individuals to position themselves based on multiple metrics on a life evaluation scale — ranging from suffering to thriving. Based on the wide range of collected data, Gallup states that communities that live well are less likely to fall victim to “brain drain,” since entrepreneurs stay in their locality. Further, high wellbeing is correlated with quality GDP growth as well as peace and stability.

Summit Day Two

Scaling Strategies

On the second day, each Ashoka Fellow presented their scaling strategy, which they developed with business advisors from McKinsey & Co., to a panel of four leading entrepreneurs in both the private and public sectors. Following the presentations, each Fellow had  60 minutes to meet one-on-one with the panelists who shared their insights into proven strategies for rapid growth, and crystallized the key needs and challenges associated with each Fellow’s change plan. The panelists then held a deliberation for each of the Fellows and presented feedback, suggestions and follow up offerings, including assistance with introductions and the fine tuning of business models.

Rural Innovation and Farming Opportunity Areas

After two fully packed days, the Globalizer team passed the baton to the RIF team, who led discussions on the four opportunity areas which they see in the field of rural innovation and farming: Monetization of Ecosystem Services, Aggregation, Nutrient Security, and Entrepreneurial Talent. Many of the Fellows identified themselves as working within one or more of these areas. Recognizing that they were part of a larger vision to increase the wellbeing of those in rural areas, and to create a world where everyone is a changemaker, Fellows forged deeper connections with one another.

The weekend concluded with a public event that included panel discussions and a cocktail reception hosted in combination with The Graduate Institute. Fellows, Ashoka staff and panelists departed with a strengthened sense of community support, new business scaling strategies, and renewed energy to explore opportunities  to create positive social change in communities back home (and around the world).

You can catch up with some of the most memorable takeaways with this Storify featuring tweets, pictures and quotes from the event.