jueves, 1 de febrero de 2007

Chapter four: The new heroes

Social entrepreneurs are essentially individuals who have decided to face by themselves the answers to problems afflicting their communities, and to do so by applying the same vision and determination for achieving goals that characterize businessmen and –women.

Bill Drayton has accurately defined those people as “persons possessed by an idea, who, by means of unquenchable determination and revolutionary ideas, are solving problems around the globe.” Like himself. Like Rodrigo Baggio, Iqbal Quadir and Fabián Ferraro, who transformed football into a tool for the social inclusion of kids from low-income neighborhoods.

Bill Drayton: “The most radical change”

“How do you intend to put your initiative into effect? How will you manage to make others join you? How will you do it?” How, how and how. The kind of question theorists hate, but which obsesses Bill Drayton and all entrepreneurs of his kind.

Drayton, an American, studied in Harvard, Oxford and Yale and was a member of President Carter’s administration in the EPA. Almost thirty years ago, influenced by Gandhi, the American civil rights movements, and his own travels in India, Indonesia, and Venezuela, he reached the firm conclusion that everywhere in the planet there were people who thought that their ideas could improve the world significantly. It was the passion and enthusiasm expressed by those people that persuaded Drayton that every one of them was a social entrepreneur, a catalyst for large-scale social transformations. And this is what he had in mind when in 1980 he revolutionized philanthropy by eliminating the words “non-profit” and “donations” from its vocabulary and creating Ashoka, the organization of which he is both president and CEO.

During its twenty-five years’ existence, Ashoka has supported 1,700 people in 62 countries – people Drayton defines as social entrepreneurs, using the latter word to signify their ambitious, competitive characters, which one would rather expect to find in the business world than in this area.

“Magical opportunities are out there for everyone willing to face the challenge and go for a social solution,” he affirms, adding that “if we allow people the deep satisfaction of being able to contribute, of feeling they are total citizens, they will love it, because it’s contagious. We are nearing that end: if we multiply the number of change-makers from 1% to 20% in the next fifteen years, that will be the most radical change ever witnessed since the agricultural revolution.”

Rodrigo Baggio: Everything started with a dream

A dream in which slum kids transformed their reality by means of informatics. The year 1993 was drawing to a close and the dreamer was Rodrigo Baggio, at the time an employee of IBM and bound to be featured a couple of years later on the cover of Time magazine as one of 50 youths likely to change the world in the Third Millennium.

Baggio created the Committee for the Democratization of Informatics (CDI), an entity that currently has branches in 10 countries and has already introduced more than 500,000 youths to the use of new technologies.

“How can we use information technology as a means for transforming our society into a more just, equitable, and free one?” he asked himself at the beginning. In 1994 he started the first computer-donation campaign Latin America had ever seen. “We received the computers from companies and delivered them to low-income neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro. But then I started thinking about a model school of informatics and civil education.”

What Rodrigo immediately realized was that, in order to make a real change, he needed to replicate the school he had created in one Rio de Janeiro neighborhood in the hundreds of other slums or low-income areas of the region. Aware that he clearly couldn’t do it on his own, he decided to work jointly with the communities, creating a simple franchising system that could be autonomously developed in different parts of Brazil. It was then that he made the fundamental decision of trusting this project in the poorest areas of his country and gave local leaders the responsibility of making the schools work.

“We believe that through our schools we help young people help themselves,” Baggio says.

Meet Rodrigo Baggio

Iqbal Quadir: “Connectivity is productivity”

Thus the motto of this entrepreneur who grew up in the rural areas of Bangladesh. A motto that in 1997 led him to seek answers for the telecommunications problem of his country, where one had to wait over ten years to have a phone installed, and that at a cost of USD 450, one of the highest in the world.

Combining state-of-the-art digital wireless technology and the Grameen Bank’s experience in granting micro-loans, Quadir created Grameen Phone and launched the Village Phone program. His aim: to increase the non-urban, low-income population’s access to communications, by means of the introduction of mobile phone terminals managed by rural operators, preferably women.

Community telephones have been installed in 40,000 villages since the program’s inception, which means that 50 million peasants are connected.

Telephones are used, among other purposes, to exchange information about health issues and product prices. “Not only is the program socially beneficial, it is profitable as well. It has also represented a significant increase in the Bangladeshi communities’ economic activities, promoted commercial exchange, and created new sources of income,” Quadir explains, adding that “the economic impact is also relevant with regard to the person managing the telephone service: rural operators are usually women who, thanks to their jobs, can be the source of about 25% of their homes’ income.”

Fabián Ferraro: “The wonderful thing is to see the changes”

“… and see how kids start changing their personal appearance, their way of acting, their vocabulary – how they respect each other, want to improve their lives and start having hopes. It is with these kids that we have to work, because it’s them who are going to make the changes,” says Fabián Ferraro, who lives in Chaco Chico, a densely populated neighborhood in the Buenos Aires suburbia where many of the 6,500 residents are unemployed. Like many Argentinean young men, Fabián had played football since he was a kid, and soon after started playing it professionally. It was around this time that he began working with street kids. And then, convinced that football could be a powerful tool for social change, he decided to quit professional playing and create the Asociación Civil Defensores del Chaco (“Chaco Defenders”) club.

Says Fabián, “in 1996 we formed a team and started working with fourteen youths. As the club started growing, we began teaching the older ones how to train the younger.” Like Rodrigo Baggio, Ferraro had also grasped that giving responsibility-involving tasks to young people who grew up marginalized and undervalued by their environment could have a real impact on their personal development.

The organization Fabián leads uses street football as a method for social inclusion, violence prevention and informal education for youths in “risk situations”. For some 1,500 children and teenagers, its offices have become a space for having non-competitive fun, for teamwork and collective construction.

Meet Fabian Ferraro

In the words of its founder: “Defensores is no longer a dumping ground. These sports fields and this club that we built jointly with lots of entrepreneurs are a school without walls. This is a space for education, where human values are intensely transmitted.”

Ideas in action

The sheer variety and quantity of social organizations formed by these and other entrepreneurs is glaring evidence of how far these people are from traditional relief organizations focusing on charity: they have new, distinct work methodologies, new concepts – they develop a management style in accordance with their aims and their members are people with very different qualifications and profiles. They are joined by a central idea: that solidarity is not enunciated but practiced; that one must not give away the fish, but teach how to cast the nets; that the common good is everyone’s good and we have to act now.

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