Friendship without borders
Peter Mangan used to have a country house in Kerry, Ireland, in the same town where his father lived. He moved away to study in Dublin so he thought about renting it out on Airbnb. His father, Owen, widowed and retired, was happy to manage the entire process. Soon, Peter noticed that, in their reviews, tourists were mostly appreciating their interaction with his father who was doing more than receiving them: he was sharing stories, taking them out and showing them the most interesting places. He also noticed that his father was better humored and thrilled about his new activity. Then he thought about how he can bring more joy to other seniors as well.
He realised that even if usually being a senior often came with isolation and loneliness, things could be different. He came up with the idea of a platform which helped seniors travel and socialise. Most of the people who are alone, because their spouse passed away or his/her kids are away, have an big house with too many empty rooms. Also, they don’t have the confidence they can host someone or travel. The Freebird Club is an online community for people over 50, who pay a fee to become members; they interact and give details about their place if they want to be a host. People pay for accommodation, but the concept revolves around the idea of socialising, and not around finding a nice place to stay. Hosts and visitors also choose each other based on common interests and passions, and the host is always present. As Peter Mangan, the initiator of this project, mentions his idea is a combination of Airbnb and Match.com, with a focus on friendships without borders, not romantic relationships. His idea has reached 40 countries and was selected as one of the 15 most innovative tourism solutions worldwide.
Adopt a grandparent
In Madrid, Alberto Cabanes became friends with Bernardo, a lonely person, aged 86, who confessed that his life dream was to have grandchildren. Because they got along very well, Alberto proposed to adopt Bernardo as his grandfather. The latter proved to be not only a pleasant person, but also a life coach. Alberto understood that their story could be replicated and that both young people and seniors would have an array of advantages if they adopt each other. He developed the inter-generation app „Adopt a grandparent” through which Spanish youth could find a grandparent to adopt. The benefits are mutual: seniors feel they are loved, listened to and less lonely and all these have positive effects on their health. Young people get wisdom and life lessons, they learn how to listen and get in touch with the important values in life.
The project was scaled with the support of universities and now there is a waiting list of 12.000 young people who want to adopt a grandparent. Alberto says that his success will be measured when, in 60 years, one volunteer on his app will adopt him.
I could also mention Patient Innovation a platform which brings together the medical inventions of patients and their relatives, people who have found valuable solutions in treating their diseases. Or, more close to Romania, the already famous Meshteshukar Boutiq or wise.travel, a platform created by Andrei Rotaru, where you can book your accommodation or holiday and a part of the money go to social causes. These are only a few of the success stories of the social innovators and investors which change our future, today.
I’ve found out about all these and many more stories about ethical businesses being invited by the European Venture Philanthropy Association (EVPA) at their annual conference which this year took place at the Warsaw University Library.
For two days, 600 people from 50 countries debated on solutions for social problems in Europe, on doing good, ideas for the future, social innovation. I’ve pondered on how to tell you about all these interesting things, but also quite complex, without losing your interest. For sure, it’s not a topic for everyone, but I want to summarize it into the science of effective support.
Giving is a gesture as old as the world. Many things were built on the generosity of people. When you make a donation, you call yourself a philanthropist. The word comes from Greek, from philos – friend and anthropos – human being. In other words the philanthropist is a friend of the people, a person who loves people. The classic model of philanthropy, the one with someone donating for a cause, works in certain situations. In other ones, there is a more effective model. As Steven Serneels, EVPA CEO, mentions „it is not sustainable to create dependency through your donations, you need to find a way for your beneficiaries to become independent”.
„Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
This Chinese proverb synthesizes the idea of a social business and of sustainability: the capacity of an activity, of a business to last and to function based on responsible criteria. In addition, Steven Serneels thinks that nowadays sustainability should be a pillar of any investment.
Capital markets cannot solve poverty issues; nor is charity enough to address the challenges faced by more than two-thirds of the world’s population living in poverty. So, for some years, the concept of “venture philanthropy” has emerged in the world. “Venture philanthropy” turns the donation into investment. The investor may choose to offer a non-refundable amount or to offer a loan. It can also provide resources or knowledge. It may be, in some countries where the state is involved, the one who takes the risk of a social investment, and in the end either receives the money back from the state in case of success or it doesn’t. Profit is not out of the question, on the contrary, it is desirable because it brings virtually endless funding or can be redirected to solve other problems. But the main result that is measured is the social impact.
“We have had a technological revolution in the last 30 years, today we need a moral revolution. A moral revolution that means the courage and imagination to move capital so we can control it, not the other way around. A revolution to bring humanity to the heart of our economic and political concerns” said Jaqueline Novogratz, founder of Acumen, a nonprofit organization that has improved the lives of 270 million people through what they call social investments, not charity projects. A successful example of Acumen is D.light, the solar lamps with remarkable sales that have created a brighter future for 89 million people who did not have access to electricity (in total there are 2 billion people). They have generated profit while also creating a huge social impact: improving living standards, saving resources, raising money, increasing the level of education. D.light is the proof that social affairs are not necessarily marginal and that they can become sustainable global businesses and can considerably address social problems.
What motivates these people? What makes them have the patience to wait for the results of their investment sometimes five years, sometimes fifteen? What does social investment mean?
I think the Acumen manifesto offers a good answer: “It starts by standing with the poor, listening to voices unheard, and recognizing potential where others see despair. It demands investing as a means, not an end, daring to go where markets have failed and aid has fallen short. It makes capital work for us, not control us. It thrives on moral imagination: the humility to see the world as it is, and the audacity to imagine the world as it could be. It’s having the ambition to learn at the edge, the wisdom to admit failure, and the courage to start again.It requires patience and kindness, resilience and grit: a hard-edged hope. It’s leadership that rejects complacency, breaks through bureaucracy, and challenges corruption. Doing what’s right, not what’s easy. Acumen: it’s the radical idea of creating hope in a cynical world. Changing the way the world tackles poverty and building a world based on dignity“
What have I learnt from the stories of EVPA 2018 conference? First of all, there are many, extremely creative solutions to the world’s social problems and many talented people who can implement them. Secondly, it’s imperative for businesses to be ethical. Things are connected today: we use products and resources from all over the world, it is natural to care about what is happening beyond our fence. Also, I’ve found out that there is a huge gap between Western Europe (which attracts 54% of the social investment capital) and Eastern Europe (7%), but the latter has the chance to walk on a beaten track. And that investing for impact does not only offer one-off type of support, but it triggers a real chain of good. And finally, we can support this chain by choosing products and services of ethical businesses and of social investments.
And because this conference gave me the opportunity to discover Warsaw, I recommend you to read 10 reasons why you could fall in love with Warsaw.