Lloyd Nimetz is a successful serial social entrepreneur. He has worked for Prosper, Ashoka, Endeavor, the UNDP and the IADB. Before obtaining his Masters of Business Administration from Stanford University in 2008 he was one of the founders of HelpArgentina which is an organization that promotes philanthropy by helping individuals, businesses, and foundations identify and support effective non-profits within Argentina. He is now the managing director of Blitz Bazaar, a campaign hosting solution which puts the tools of professional campaigners in the hands of citizen organizers. Through Blitz Bazaar’s technical platform ordinary people are now able to run full scale social initiatives that were previously inaccessible due to the high level of effort and money required to run such campaigns.
Here are my 5 questions with Lloyd and his answers:
1) As a social entrepreneur, how do you personally rectify the competing motivations of the entrepreneur side wanting to “do well” and the social conscience side wanting to “do good”?
I don’t. It’s a false dichotomy that I don’t feel like I need to rectify. I believe that no matter what job you have, banker or rabbi, you can and should do both good and well. In fact, doing well for yourself is necessary to help others. The trick is to first understand what you’re getting into and make sure it’s right for you before jumping in. I could start HelpArgentina out of college because I had a Fulbright grant that was backing me at the time and my family was willing to support me after that. Otherwise, it probably would have been the wrong decision. At the same time, I don’t feel like people in for-profit jobs should think they’re off the hook to do good. A smile and positive attitude from a grocery store cashier can have a bigger social impact than a lot of the non-profit employees I know. Our current economic crisis sure demonstrates what some ‘good’ bankers could have prevented.
The key point, however, is that I am not any more ‘good’ than anybody else. I just had the chance to spend a lot of my time advancing social causes. In the day to day of my work, I have selfish thoughts (especially due to all the fund-raising pressures) and don’t feel any more important to society than anybody else. In fact, I get very annoyed by this strange notion that the nonprofit practitioners are doing God’s work (or at least something pure) while the people in the for-profit are not. Both sectors promote this erroneous notion that permeates our society to its detriment. For-profiteers like to be able to hide behind their job and the company, and feel entitled not to have to ‘do good’. It’s really just laziness and apathy. Non-profiteers want to feel special for their financial sacrifices and demonize the rest. The whole thing makes me sick because it’s fake. Doing well and doing good should be built into everything we do and every organization in the planet.
2) What is your opinion of Social Return on Investment (SROI) as a success measurement? And as a managing director of a socially conscious venture, how do you weave SROI into the framework of your short and long-term vision?
I’m not a big fan of SROI measurements, but it is definitely a good idea to have some social impact metrics. The idea of bundling them all into one common denominator that somehow measures social impact per dollar invested is not a good idea. I used to be a bigger fan until I realized that it’s impossible. It’s impossible to objectively measure social impact because people value things differently based on their values and past experience. I used to consider myself an economist, so the economist in me must come out every now and then, Return on Investment (ROI) works because money is an objectively tangible measure for which everybody agrees a dollar equals a dollar. They don’t have to agree that a dollar equals a soda can; they just don’t have to buy the soda can if it’s worth less than a dollar to them. Only the people who value a soda can for more than a dollar will make the transaction. In this sense, SROI is a nonsensical concept.
I do like keeping social metrics however because it keeps you honest and it lets your constituents, and the general public, get an idea of your progress and your impact. Then, based on this data, they are empowered to decide for themselves if they think it’s valuable or not.
At Blitz Bazaar our metrics are the following:
- Number of change-makers: people registered on the platform and taking action to promote social change
- Level of activity on the site: a point system that measures how much people are doing to promote social change
- Successful blitzes: number of blitzes (campaigns) that achieve their respective goals
- Number of social movement plan competitions in the world (not just ours)
3) In a recent blog article of yours (Social Entrepreneurship vs. Activism; SOCAP09 vs. Momentum09), you discussed the divide between traditional activism and social entrepreneurship. You stated, “Most social entrepreneurs, like me, don’t identify with activism…” Why do you think there is a disconnect between these two groups (that seemingly have aligned goals)?
It’s all about optics and therefore generational. The perspective around activism in the US, as compared with other countries that didn’t grow and thrive as much this last-half century, is that activism doesn’t work. Americans, rightfully or not, believe that amazing social and economic progress is primarily achieved by working hard and creating value, not by arguing, protesting or legislating. People would admit that at times activism is important but for the most part feel it’s a nuisance. During my lifetime, entrepreneurs have been the heroes. Bill Gates has been on a lot more magazine covers than any social entrepreneur I know. The result, of course, is that my generation doesn’t want to be that annoying activist guy/gal but still wants to make the world a better place and respond to the enormous social ills facing us. The result… we create a new label where we can be the hero (the entrepreneur) and make the world a better place. In short, it’s all about labels.
For example, I had to co-opt the word ‘blitz’ instead of using ‘campaign’ because millennials don’t identify with campaigning; it’s too loaded with political and power connotations… big turnoffs. They want to mobilize people for social change but they don’t think of themselves as political or power-hungry. They get annoyed if I called them grass-roots campaigners. So instead they’re starting a blitz and are changemakers, social entrepreneurs or social innovators.
4) Slowly but surely it appears that consumers are becoming more socially conscious. However, there are only a limited amount of case studies where a company or product’s social contribution has affected sales, and even then some of these initiatives have backfired (When Rainforest Ice Cream Melts: The Messy Reality of ‘Socially Responsible Business’: Jon Entine). Do you think that the market will evolve in such a way that, at some point in the future, being a social venture will actually be a competitive advantage?
Yes, absolutely. I think it’s going to change pretty quickly in favor of companies whose ‘blended value’ creation (net ‘good’) is the most positive. As we all know, the private sector has only embraced corporate social responsibility in the last two decades; most big companies now have corporate social responsibility departments and initiatives. It’s not taken all that seriously yet because it’s mostly geared towards, again, optics… creating the perception that the company is good.
However, there is hope in the emergence of what I call, ‘action branding’. It’s inevitable. As transparency increases and the public has inevitably a better and better ability to measure a company’s ‘net good’ based on data and reliable information, companies will be forced to gradually replace all those marketing dollars that today create the impression their company is ‘good’ with real community action that convinces society that their company is good. As people, we are what we do. We understand this intrinsically on a human level. Soon companies will abide by the same rules.
5) Where do you see social entrepreneurship heading over the next decade? Personally, I’ve seen two reoccurring patterns: one, endeavors such as Kiva and The Big Issue enabling individuals with the resources to be productive; two, the socially conscious endeavors, such as Ben & Jerry’s, which have made advancing social causes a part of their overall core value system. Do you see innovations on the horizon that will expand the reach and effectiveness of social entrepreneurs?
I see two major patterns that I’m very excited about. The first is empowering the masses. We’ve lived far too long in an elitist society where only the top 1% of the population have all the power to dictate the rules of the game and forward strategy. This will not end in my lifetime I’m afraid but it’s changing enough to make me happy. Well designed Internet platforms and applications like Kiva, DonorsChoose.org, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and hopefully Blitz Bazaar will continue to make it dramatically easier for the masses to have a stronger voice and better means to engage and shape our communities and our countries. The Internet is still not mature. The first step was getting information out there more efficiently. The second was connecting people and things. The next step will be organizing and coordinating people and things. When the relief efforts in the next Haiti or Chile emergency is more coordinated hundreds of thousands of fewer people will die. When the sustainability movement is more coordinated, the next Copenhagen climate change meeting will be a success. I’m very excited about the future prospects. Blitz Bazaar makes it easy for anybody to wake up one morning, roll out of bed and have the organizing tools to save the polar bears or clean up crime in their neighborhood. It’ll still take work but you don’t have to start a non-profit anymore and you don’t have to leave your day job.
The other major trend is extending the power of mass industrialization to the world’s poor. For profit and non-profits are starting to move into developing countries not to help the poor but instead to sell to them. They’re starting with the no-brainers: water pumps since 95% are farmers, cheap infant incubators so mother’s can save their prematurely born babies when there is no hospital nearby; LED lights where dangerous and expensive kerosene is now being used. Right now it’s still hard because the social infrastructure is not in place: no roads, no distributors, no payment systems, poor communication due to language differences and education deficits. However it’s a huge market and after these first trailblazers go through, solve many of the current problems, and show that it’s possible and profitable; others will come and come in hoards.