IT is like a modern day Cinderella; some of the beautiful gowns to be worn at this year’s May Balls have been made to order by a tailor in Vietnam, with the proceeds used to fund the education of vulnerable women. So no longer will they need the goodwill of Prince Charming to give them security.

Alora is a social enterprise run by students in Cambridge that sells high quality, handmade bespoke gowns and dresses and so far has funded the training of three Vietnamese women as tailors, giving them the skills to set up businesses of their own and earn a comfortable living.

Dr Shima Barakat, research and teaching fellow at the Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning based at Cambridge Judge Business School, says social entrepreneurship is on the rise: “Alora is ambitious and creative as well as born global – a modern enterprise by any standards.

“There are many initiatives across the university involved in spawning and supporting social enterprises, including ourselves, the Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning (CfEL). As part of the UnLtd Social Entrepreneurs Awards, CfEL is offering a 12-hour ‘Starting a New Enterprise’ course for Cambridge social entrepreneurs in developing business models.

“Our Postgraduate Diploma in Entrepreneurship over the last two years has supported the conceptualisation and development of a number of social and sustainable enterprises including an education system for pupils with Asperger’s syndrome, e-nursing, support for women micro-entrepreneurs in Malaysia and a specialised technical university in Africa.”

A social enterprise can take many forms but essentially it is a viable business where the purpose or the profit is used to support a social or environmental goal. Although the UK has a long tradition in social enterprise, with the Cooperative Society leading the way, creating a sustainable business presents unique challenges in how to blend commercial and social values.

Fortunately, there are a number of models emerging that have done this successfully, and to share this best practice, CfEL has appointed two social enterprise pioneers – Dr Neil Stott, chief executive of the Keystone Development Trust and Tim Jones, chief executive of the charitable organisation Allia – as entrepreneurs-in-residence to give students the benefits of their experiences and insights.

One of CfEL’s key teaching values is that the best people to teach entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs. This philosophy has led to the centre collaborating with a network of over 300 experienced entrepreneurs, innovators and other practitioners to provide relevant, credible and practical training.

Tim Jones of Cambridge-based Allia has pioneered the development of a new type of social and charitable bond; and the company has raised £20m over the last 13 years. The latest, the ‘Future for Children’ bond, helps fund a project providing intensive support for young people with behavioural problems and promises a 12 per cent return on investment. Proceeds generated by Allia have over the years supported the creation of affordable work space across Cambridge, helping to create 200 businesses. It has also enabled 40 charities to develop sustainable business models.

For Tim Jones – who built and then sold a successful business based on his own invention, a recyclable water bottle – supporting others develop their own businesses is “enormously rewarding” with each day creating a new set of challenges.

“Behind every successful enterprise there is a good idea,” he says. “‘Ideation’, the process of formulating and developing these from their initial concept, is exciting. At Allia we support businesses at every stage from first thoughts through to flotation on the stock exchange.”

He sees his role as entrepreneur-in-residence as making his knowledge available to students through coaching, mentoring and the occasional presentatiwon.

“To be a successful social entrepreneur you need the same skill sets as a traditional entrepreneur but also you need to understand the legislative environment, for example how to set up a board, how to conform to the Charities Commission regulations and those of the Financial Services Act. There is a lot more to get right.

Neil Stott agrees: “The desire to make a difference in challenging times and provide new opportunities for disadvantaged people and places is a key motivation behind establishing a social enterprise, however, necessity is also a key driver.

“With increasing public austerity, many charities or community organisations are forced to find alternative means to raise income to achieve organisational purpose. This is creating new demands on their management teams and that is why programmes such as those developed by CfEL are so valuable for sharing best practice.

“Passion is important, but so is taking off the rose tinted glasses and having a firm grasp of basic business principles and recognising that whatever is proposed has to be financially viable to survive.”

Neil has developed a sustainability plan for the Keystone Development Trust that has moved it from a position of total reliance on public funding to generating 80 per cent of its own income in just four years.

“Government policy has recently emphasised social enterprise and provided resources for experimentation and organisational transformation,” he says, “and this has provided new mechanisms for recycling profits into social action. The struggle is to turn ideas into viable businesses often working with limited resources and clients or customers with limited income.”

Dr Joanna Mills, CfEL’s programme director for the Postgraduate Diploma in Entrepreneurship says the working knowledge of entrepreneurs is invaluable to the programme and the centre greatly appreciates the contribution that Tim and Neil will make to the learning experience of students.

“The entrepreneurs in residence are appointed on a pro bono basis. They mentor students through business plan competitions and courses, are available for panels, share their experiences and insights for workshops, presentations and case studies. They act as ambassadors to advance the work of the CfEL – its vision and mission.”

Neil believes that social entrepreneurs, like traditional entrepreneurs, require communication skills, business acumen, resilience and the ability to sense opportunity. However he says: “They also require empathy, a sense of social justice, ethics and how to operate in multiple worlds with different languages and values simultaneously: business, public and NGO’s.

“Social enterprises are basically businesses that tend not to distribute profits to individuals or shareholders, rather reinvest in people (including employees) or places they serve. If personal wealth accumulation is your goal, social entrepreneurship is not for you!”


 Alora is holding fittings every other Saturday from 12-4pm in The Vaults on Trinity Street in the run-up to the May Ball season. Email [email protected]

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What if the old “apple-a-day” approach to health is wrong? Normally, we’re completely focused on the details of a prescription for a healthy life — an apple a day, eight hours of sleep, 30 minutes of exercise, no cigarettes, no saturated fats, limited sodium, and so on.

But what if you started with the big-picture instead — like, your purpose in life? It sounds a little ambitious, but Vic Strecher , director for innovation and social entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan School Public Health, says that’s the kind of approach we should take to see meaningful, healthy behavior change.

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Off and on for some time we’ve been writing about the intersection of entrepreneurship and creating social value along with economic value.  There is a school of thought that creating economic value itself is a social value, which we think is true: adding something to the human environment in such a way that there is a net gain fits the definition of making social value —jobs are created, families are raised, the economic health of communities is maintained and improved. By contrast, consuming something from the human environment in such a way that there is a net loss is a good way of destroying social value, as we’ve seen with the Groupon mess .  But while neat frameworks and taxonomies make for good copy and research projects, the real world is more diverse and confusing.  What about a med-tech entrepreneur who decides there’s a need for everybody to understand the real facts about environmental issues? Social value?  Entrepreneurship?  Success?  Meet Kate Sackman.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Kate, you’ve started and run a nonprofit focused on the environment.  Where did that come from?

My professional background started out in banking at JP Morgan in the ‘80s, followed by business school and marketing stints at Kraft and Baxter.  I pursued the corporate route early in my career to learn a variety of skills so that I could become an entrepreneur. In the ‘90s I had my first opportunity, co-founding a company in medical informatics based on technology developed at University of Chicago Medical Center, which ten years later we sold to a strategic partner.

My great love of nature started when I was a young child tiptoeing as silently as possible through the woods so that I wouldn’t disturb the wildlife. Not everyone has had extended childhood experiences of nature that make their commitment to the environment so visceral, especially with over 80% of Americans now living in urban areas.  I started to notice how difficult it has become engaging people in protecting nature.  People are overwhelmed by negative and complex environmental messages because the issues seem unsolvable, far away, confusing, and polarizing.  As a result they tune out and don’t believe that their individual actions will have an impact.

Sometimes businesses are formed out of necessity rather than out of a specific desire to form a new company. That was the case with EcoMyths Alliance .  I was not looking for a new gig. But I was driven to empower people who currently feel confused or powerless to help the environment. For many years I had served on a board of a non-profit land trust, which was constantly struggling to engage the public in preserving the health of their woodlands and prairies.  In spite of good intentions, dog walkers and other users of their properties were inadvertently damaging those environments. So together with several scientists from Chicago -area institutions, we started EcoMyths Alliance to bust environmental myths in an entertaining way and at the same time inspire and educate the public.

What is EcoMyths?

EcoMyths is a nonprofit that partners with over 20 of the most well respected environmental institutions in Chicago and nationally. We use colloquial language, humor, and cartoons to make the topics accessible to people who are not science geeks.  We change their understanding of the environment by making it personally relevant and entertaining through funny, approachable, science-based articles and related content that entertain and educate the public about sustainable living.  A witty cartoon introduces science-based, colloquially written articles.  The cartoons circulate on the internet and are linked to EcoMyths’ website ( ) for a more in-depth look at the topic depicted in the cartoon. We now have offerings in the e-print, cartoon, and audio genres and we are planning to complete our offerings by adding energetic and entertaining video as the topmost layer of the content portfolio.

Since 2009, we’ve created a library of dozens of myths that are published and shared via our newsletters and social media as well as those of our partner institutions.  We now have two radio shows produced by public radio stations in Chicago (WBEZ) and New England (WAMC), and our work is in our community, with a recent feature in Chicago North Shore’s Make it Better magazine.  We also are very excited about our new partnership with the National Wildlife Federation to create and distribute content.  Our first phase with NWF is focused on creating teaching modules for their Eco-Schools USA program, which provides curriculum and activity guides for indoor and outdoor green school certification.

We’ve talked over the years about for-profits and nonprofits, effectiveness, and the whole question of success and social value. How are you putting that into action in EcoMyths?

I’ve never worked for a non-profit before. Actually, it turns out that may be a good thing. With EcoMyths I work hard to bring for-profit discipline and performance expectations to our work.  This is becoming more common in the non-profit world.  Increasingly, organizations are now more accountable to their donors and the people or causes they serve for performance and effectiveness. People are using words like metrics and outcomes, which is not something we ever saw in the old days. Over the past four years, I am pleased that EcoMyths has become good at creating excellent content and has assembled a great portfolio that just keeps growing. My hope for EcoMyths is that, by using humor and mainstream media concepts we will engage not only loyal supporters of the environment, but also a broad, new audience that has until now not been actively involved.

We couldn’t do what we do without our scientific partners, which include a couple of universities and several major research institutions.  Our big challenges now are increasing distributing our content and creating a sustainable revenue model.  As a nonprofit we have traditional channels of financial support—private donors, foundations, and partner dues—that we are becoming better at cultivating.  But we know that in order to grow large enough to have a truly lasting impact on public attitudes and actions we need to be big, and we need to attract and hire the best talent in the fields of publishing, technology, and media.  So we’re looking closely at creating a captive for-profit to fund the revenue ideas that we’re developing.

Social ventures these days come in many forms.  I’m thrilled with the rise of triple bottom line companies and for-profit social entrepreneurship.  As someone who cares deeply about the future health of the planet and humankind, I am also pleased by the growing trend for large corporations to be focusing on the “greening” of their companies, both in their sustainable business practices and in their product offerings.  My hope for EcoMyths is that we can play our part in empowering individuals and families to live sustainably so that green living in a few years is mainstream and normal, not just for the granola crowd.


Contact: Kate Sackman, president, [email protected]

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Anyone who’s experienced the Cooper-Young district’s First Thursday Night Out celebrations knows what wonderful opportunities these evenings offer for supporting local, independent businesses and enjoying a melting pot of a community that’s at once uniquely Midtown and also an attractive draw for the rest of Memphis.

Save the date on Thursday for the chance to take advantage of deals on food and beverages while checking out the shops and listening to live music. Designed as a way to promote the district’s diverse small businesses, the monthly Night Out events continue to grow in popularity and the approaching milder temperatures should result in healthy crowds.

The fun officially begins at 5 p.m. and runs until around 9 p.m., but some establishments may opt to run specials a little earlier or later. Music at the gazebo starts at 6 p.m. Visit to see who’s playing where.

Celebrate midweek by attending the April Interactive Expedition breakfast, from 7:30 to 9 a.m. at the Holiday Inn at the University of Memphis. Join other technology buffs and social media aficionados in discussing the latest online tools and cool websites that will make your professional life easier.

Cost is $20 and includes the breakfast buffet, or $15 each for you and a friend if you bring a first-timer. Registration is requested and seating is limited, so visit to reserve your seat.

At 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, techie and blogger extraordinaire Beth Sanders will present “Effective Marketing Tips for Social Media” at the Cordova Library, 8457 Trinity Road. The program is sponsored by the Mid-South Women’s Networking group and is free of charge. Visit for more information.

Also on Wednesday, for entrepreneurs thinking of launching businesses or small business owners interested in making their operations better, the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation located inside the FedEx Institute of Technology at the University of Memphis offers two free courses this week to help out.

From 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. will be “Writing a Winning Press Release” and from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. will be “Effective Presentation and Pitch Skills.” Both are geared for business professionals who want to be more effective in getting word out about their enterprises to appropriate audiences. The meeting place is Room 326 at the FedEx Institute of Technology, 365 Innovation.

You may attend one or both and while there’s no charge to attend, organizers need to know how many people to expect so call 901-678-5266.

If you’re interested in the local creative community and would like to sample some of the past year’s best communications campaigns, then you won’t want to miss the 20th annual Vox Awards sponsored by the Memphis chapter of the Public Relations Society.

Keynote speaker will be Naomi Bata, chief public relations officer for archermalmo. The event begins with a networking period at 11 a.m. Thursday at the Holiday Inn at the University of Memphis, 3700 Central. The awards ceremony, which includes lunch, follows at 11:30 and should wrap up by 1 p.m.

Admission is $50 for PRSA members, $60 for guests and reservations are required. To save your seat, visit

Later on Thursday, discover how blogging can improve your business at the WordPress Memphis meeting at 6 p.m. at EmergeMemphis, 516 Tennessee. Whether you’re an old pro or only now thinking about starting a blog, join the group and learn how to maximize your online presence. There’s no cost to attend, but do the sponsors a favor and let them know you’re coming so that there’ll be adequate seating. Visit to learn more.

And finish your workweek by checking out the In Synk lunch and learn forum, from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday at Triumph Bank, 5699 Poplar.

Cost is $20 and includes a light lunch. For more details, visit

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Capitalizing on the momentum for social change in post-revolution Egypt, one new online initiative has launched a “revolution against the traditional concept of knowledge.”

Launched in February 2012, Tahrir Academy is an Egypt-based non-profit “Videopedia” that aims to crowdsource knowledge and brand itself as a non-traditional learning destination. The academy relies on an engaged community and volunteers from various backgrounds and age groups to design, review and deliver educational audio and visual content for users.

The team holds that traditional education methods only generate identical mentalities with stereotypical goals and visions, spreading an outdated approach to education, says Seif Abou Zaid, the CEO of  the Tahrir Academy. A cookie-cutter education doesn’t leave room for creativity or diversity and isn’t suited for the abilities, skills and needs which vary from one learner to another.

Like its revolutionary namesake, Tahrir Academy is rethinking the education process entirely; teachers, students, learning environment, and the curriculum itself.

The Academy has published more than 100 educational videos on topics including physics, astronomy, grammar, and even a chemical experiments entitled Ma’mal Al ‘Ouloum (Science Lab) for elementary and secondary school students, as often students don’t get the chance to actually perform these experiments in school.

The videos are typically short and easily digestible, explaining big topics with simple tools. In just their first year, more than 2.5 million viewers watched the Academy’s productions on its YouTube channel. Now, the team hopes to broadcast life classrooms and expand from YouTube to local TV to make education more accessible to their audience.

Building Partnerships

Video e-learning is not new in Egypt; Khan Academy , for one, well-known for its online education options. But Tahrir Academy hopes to distinguish itself with an original brand, unique scientific content, and Arabic content.

To create a balanced curriculum, partnerships will are key. “Cooperation is critical for us,” says Abou Zaid.

The economics course the startup is publishing this month is a collaboration with the House of Wisdom Center for Strategic Studies , an Egyptian research institution, while it collaborates with Injaz Egypt for its entrepreneurship course, and has previously worked with the American University in Cairo to prepare its physics series.

Challenges Future Plans

While Tahrir Academy received seed funding in its early stages, it has been developing a business model that will allow it to produce a educational videos  for companies and institutions in return for financial sponsorship. The team is also currently considering crowdfunding for the project.

Soon, the startup also hopes to offer user-generated content as well, offering users the ability to upload their own educational content to make video learning even more interactive. A challenge here will be ensuring video quality, but opening this option will allow the platform to truly be community-based.

Tahrir Academy has big ambitions, and their platform is gaining in popularity. Yet as with many social initiatives, a true change in the education system will take time. “Social entrepreneurs need to show some patience before they begin to feel the change they’re trying to make,” says Abou Zaid.

Rola Tarek is an Egyptian reporter who has worked in several development organizations and is holder of a BA in Political Science from the University of Cairo. She writes on social entrepreneurship initiatives and change movements in the Arab World and loves to search for answers for her many questions. You can follow her on twitter at @RolaTarek or check her blog here .

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