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Social Impact Investing Had a Breakout Year
In 2011, investors started to get serious about combining financial return with social impact. Impact investors shared their approach with GOOD readers. New tools, like the Global Impact Investment Rating System premiered this year to help investors identify which funds and companies are providing the most value, which brought with it an obsession on measurement for social enterprises that need to establish their bona fides. This kind of rigor helped increase the real talk in the sector, with some arguing that some famous projects aren't paying off; for instance, the LifeStraw is a dumb idea. And to help get the next group of innovators off the ground, we gave social entrepreneurs a set of do's and don'ts to help them find funding for their fledgling projects.
Daily Deal Sites Came of Age
Daily deal sites went big this year as more consumers and businesses began taking advantage of the internet's ability to put buyers and bargains together. The big name in the sector, Groupon, launched a major IPO—but do you remember that Groupon began as an offshoot of a charity fundraising site? That's something they seem to have forgotten, based on their offensive Super Bowl ads. Many of the clones picking away at Groupon's market share are doing so by snatching socially conscious consumers. They can help you make healthier choices, find green businesses, and be a better philanthropist.
Social Enterprise Boosted Developing Economies
In 2011, we saw social enterprise help clear the path to economic development in emerging markets. In Africa, social entrepreneurs helped tackle the problem of waste (allowing us to run an a story about “fecal sludge”), created jobs to spread important health tools and fight poverty, and even developed innovative insurance products for some of the poorest people in the world. India was identified as a hotbed for the impact economy. One company in the United States found ways to make trade work for both sides by making a living wage central to their business model. And we helped celebrate 15 innovators coming up with bold ideas for global development.
Crowdfunding and Democratic Finance Gained Momentum
As banks earned criticism for their failures, new models of democratic finance gained steam in 2011. A rare bipartisan consensus is beginning to emerge in Washington, where lawmakers are starting to remove the barriers that would allow crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter to actually invest in new companies. Companies like Prosper and LendingClub are facilitating peer-to-peer lending. You can even crowdfund medical expenses! Old-fashioned experiments in community finance are gaining new adherents—we told you where to go when you were sick of your bank and tracked the exodus to credit unions. Perhaps not coincidentally, more MBAs are starting to focus on social enterprise.
Buy-One-Give-One Business TOMS Attracted Competitors—and Criticism
BOGO went from being a TOMS industry to being critiqued for hurting more than helping by hindering local economic development. Nonetheless, the model has its defenders and sparked tons of we-can-do-it-better-than-TOMS copycats. The net effect is more businesses using marketing dollars to remind Americans to do their part abroad. After we covered TOMS "A Day Without Shoes" promotion, readers had a lot to say about the efficacy of the program. We came up with some ideas to help TOMS do BOGO better, and examined another BOGO company, Better World Books, to see if their plan to donate books abroad would have real impact. And what about eyeglasses?
Revolution Was in the Air
In Cairo, demonstrations in Tahrir Square helped topple dictator Hosni Mubarak and kickstart the Arab Spring—and Egyptians even found time to start a pop-up kindergarten in the midst of the protests. Solar power advocates thought the wave of democratization could give them a better chance to bring clean energy to North Africa. Even businesses took lessons from the protestors in Tahrir.
Meanwhile, the Occupy Wall Street movement's demonstrations across the country didn't fail to leverage the latest in social innovation to spread their message: They used online voting to help develop their platform and Tumbled protests against economic inequality across the internet.
Microfinance Went Through a Rough Patch
At the end of 2010, major microlender SKS was in trouble after its stock tumbled following a public offering, a reminder that credit alone isn't enough to promote sustainable economic development. This year didn't start off too well, either, with microfinance prophet Muhammad Yunus, shown above, ousted from his Grameen Bank and forced to defend himself from accusations of predatory lending. Despite the trouble, microfinance will continue to be an important development tool; one way to help stabilize the microfinance market could be expanding guarantee programs.