Imagine looking into your smart phone, pressing a few buttons, and getting a prescription for eyeglasses. EyeNetra, an award-winning project out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, has created a phone app and clip-on attachment that enables people to easily diagnose a variety of eye conditions. The project team’s goal is to “democratize access to eye care” around the world… using a device that nearly everyone owns.
David Schafran, a project manager for EyeNetra, explains how poor vision plays a role in work productivity and illiteracy — two driving factors of poverty in developing countries. In addition, many countries lack the professional and technical resources to offer basic eye care to the millions who need it. Through EyeNetra, people receive a prescription to correct vision problems so they can be more effective in their jobs or perform better in school. The device can also spur development of microenterprises and other businesses catering to the local population.
The EyeNetra device has been piloted in over 20 locations around the world over the past year. The team is now exploring various social enterprise business models to spin off from MIT, and is actively seeking angel and social venture capital investors. With EyeNetra, the key to better health, economic opportunity and quality of life is in everyone’s pocket.
Click the audio player below to hear more about EyeNetra.
Forming a new business can be daunting, and social entrepreneurs often face additional challenges related to their unique mission. That’s why Jessica Manganello and Shannon Jamieson established New Leaf Legal, a dynamic law firm in Cambridge, Mass., committed to educating and empowering their social enterprise clients. The team helps determine the most appropriate legal structure for emerging businesses, enabling clients to effectively implement their social benefit missions.
Each attorney brings particular knowledge and expertise to the table. Jessica’s primary focus is business structuring, including internal organization, filing, maintenance and selling. She is considered one of the Boston area’s legal experts on the L3C (low-profit, limited liability company) structure, an increasingly popular option for social purpose organizations. Shannon focuses on intellectual property issues such as copyright and trademarks, including acquiring, selling and licensing. She also assists clients interested in setting up nonprofit organizations.
Both women are passionate about advancing the field of social purpose business and helping entrepreneurs to achieve their dreams. Part 1 of our discussion includes an overview of New Leaf’s philosophy and services, and Jessica sheds light on the L3C and B Corp structures. Watch for Part 2, covering nonprofits and intellectual property, in the weeks ahead.
The concept of sustainability is often discussed in terms of positive impacts to people and the environment — which is all well and good, but can be a bit dry. A new shop called Twelve Chairs, in the Fort Point neighborhood of Boston’s Innovation District, is helping people discover the beauty in sustainability.
Founders Roisin Giese and Miggy Mason, graduates of the interior design program at Cornell, have created a warm and comfortable display space in a soaring old industrial loft building. The furniture and accessories are all sourced from vendors and artisans who meet Twelve Chairs’ requirements for sustainability and social responsibility. The “People & Planet Principles” are grouped into four categories: local, healthy, conserving and responsible. This allows the shop owners — and their many satisfied clients — to be sure they’re getting interior furnishings that won’t adversely impact the world.
In addition, Twelve Chairs offers sustainable interior design services, a growing field that the women both discovered and embraced during their studies at Cornell. An online store is currently in development.
Giese and Mason also practice what they preach. They have sought out socially responsible business service providers such as banks and insurance companies. They are also preparing to apply for the new B Corp business designation.
The Social Enterprise Alliance was created in response to a conversation among conference attendees who believed that people working in the field needed a focused forum to connect and share their experiences. It has since grown to become a national resource and advocacy organization with 11 local chapters.
Anne Wunderli serves as board chair for the Massachusetts chapter of SEA. The chapter is building a rich “ecosystem” for professionals who are engaged in social enterprise, offering a variety of free events and activities across the state. In addition to promoting knowledge among practitioners, SEA-Mass works to educate policymakers about ways to advance the field, such as state adoption of the L3C business structure.
Public education is also on the long-term agenda — to help people better understand what social enterprise is and the value it provides. “It’s an exciting message to be able to share,” Anne says. “And I think it resonates very strongly when people hear it.” Anne says that consumers will prefer to have their dollars go to an organization with a social mission, but she understands that the mission alone isn’t enough to sell products or services. “We have to be true competitors in whatever market we’re operating in.” SEA-Mass is working to help socent businesses succeed in the marketplace and achieve their social impact goals.
Click the audio player below to listen to Anne’s interview and learn more about SEA-Mass.
After working on a CSR project in Costa Rica, Mike Norman was inspired to find a way to encourage the business community to expand its participation in social change activities. So he founded SoChange.com — a customer loyalty platform helping consumers support businesses that implement social change projects.
Visitors to the site purchase gift certificates that can be used at a local business that has agreed to a SoChange “challenge” project. Recent challenges have focused on areas such as creating jobs for at-risk youth and reducing a shop owner’s carbon footprint. The company has recently begun a larger challenge in support of 350.org’s campaign encouraging the U.S. business community to focus on climate change issues.
“We all have the power to convince business to be more socially and environmentally responsible,” says Mike. SoChange helps consumers join together to exercise that power with their purchases, engaging business owners to make a positive impact on local communities and the world.
Click the audio player below to listen to Mike’s interview and learn more about SoChange.com.