Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Micro....buzzword prefix 2008.5

MicroFranchise (a 2007 buzzword). MicroEndowment. Micro-consignment. MicroFinance. Micro - the buzzword that is so small it is big.

Micro is the new macro (as in a script or set of instructions for a repeatable action, see your computer software manual).

This is fascinating to me. Going global relies on first going small. Going big - as in the old version of things we used to call "scaling," or "replicating" - is now being premised on the recognition of individual actors taking ideas out, moving them along 1:1. So micro is either a buzz -prefix or a whole new buzzconcept.

This (somewhat incomplete) train of thinking was sparked by an email from ASHOKA announcing its newest fellows. One such fellow is Greg Van Kirk, who is described as follows in the email (Entire paragraph cut from email):
"Greg has found a way to deliver health–related products to remote Guatemalan villages. Rather than distributing hand-outs, Greg trains villagers to be entrepreneurs, taking goods and service provision into their own hands. Through Greg’s “Micro-Consignment Model,” [emphasis added] implemented by U.S.-based Community Enterprise Solutions, villagers – mostly women – go door-to-door advocating for better healthcare and selling affordable products such as eyeglasses, wood-burning stoves, and energy-efficient light bulbs. These entrepreneurs are transformed into community leaders who are improving public health and the local economy. Greg is currently working on adapting and expanding his model to Mexico, Paraguay, Nicaragua, and India."
This concept of micro-consignment grabbed my attention partly because I had the honor of moderating a panel over the weekend that included Mari Kurashi of GlobalGiving, Mark Ward of US AID, Troy Stremler of Newdea, and Chuck Slaughter of LivingGoods.

LivingGoods is very similar to the Community Enterprise Solutions described in the paragraph above. When Chuck talked about the reach, the return, and the rapid growth of his organization's nascent partnership with BRAC in Uganda you could see people in the room start to understand that change - big change made in repeated small steps - was possible.

In addition to health goods, the LivingGoods Health Promotion Partners will begin providing clean cook stoves, clean water goods, and a variety of other personal and family-size goods. On the cook stove front, LivingGoods points out there is a "quadruple bottom line" (Next buzzword?) from this kind of good and this kind of distribution model:
  1. returns to the individual entrepreneur,
  2. returns to the nonprofit (sustaining its work),
  3. returns to the users of the stoves in terms of money saved, and
  4. returns to the environment (less pollution, more efficient use of bio-mass fuel)
Big changes from repeated small steps. This is what the micro-prefix, or what the micro-prefix buzzconcept, is all about. I'll have to add in some of these examples and ideas to my 7 Building Blocks of Open Philanthropy, one of which was build for the poorest and another was to design for global but rely on the local (in other words, go small to go big).

I'll be following up on this in the forthcoming book (that is a nudge to myself) but this buzz is big. So small its big.

Over Disclosure: I've known the founder of LivingGoods since my freshman year in college, 1981. I think the LivingGoods model has genius award written all over it, even though just saying that may doom it. I've also known the panelists from GlobalGiving, Newdea, and the Open Silicon Valley hosts for some time. I met Mark Ward of US AID while preparing for this conference panel.

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