In a world slowly waking up to the power of social entrepreneurship—sustainable, scalable solutions developed through rigorous market feedback and testing based on private sector principles—PowerMundo represents the bleeding edge.
Developed by a group of students from Colorado State University's groundbreaking Global Sustainable and Social Enterprise masters program, PowerMundo does not actually develop any products for the BOP. Instead, PowerMundo leverages its network of suppliers and retailers to provide a portfolio of products that customers can buy to improve their lives in diverse ways. The products available thus far offer a range of benefits, from cheaper cooking to money saving devices that promise to pay for themselves within a year.
Filling a Much Needed Niche This is important because it doesn't matter how ingenious and field-tested a product may be if the people who need it most living in far-flung communities have no way of learning about it. Product awareness was one of the biggest problems faced in Africa by KickStart and its renowned MoneyMaker pump as explained by co-Founder Martin Fisher during a presentation at NYU Reynolds. In many cases, word-of-mouth is the only “marketing” available to cash strapped social startups in a world where the internet and television are distant ambitions.
PowerMundo's on the ground “social marketing” service fills this much needed niche. It is beautifully business, and represents the increasing sophistication of the social enterprise sector--providing efficiency-boosting cohesion and information flow between retailers, manufacturers, product designers, and the end consumer. PowerMundo improves the strategic robustness of the sector, instead of just another tactical offering. PowerMundo's savvy has been duly noted by the community, having raised $109,000 in seed funding within their first year of operation by placing in business plan competitions around the United States.
A Bold Vision It is not just the clarity of mission, but the audacity of vision that makes Michael Callahan, Jacob Castillo, and the rest of the PowerMundo team provocative players in the sector. “We want to be the Circuit City for sustainable products,” said Callahan at a conference celebrating social entrepreneurship in Denver in 2008. BHAG's like “make social business the new sustainable standard for international aid and development” populate the home page—tangible support for a new way forward as popularized by books like White Man's Burden and Dead Aid.
Slightly concerning is the fact that PowerMundo's website seems to have had no updates for a while, and also an inactive blog. They do have a few spanish tweets emerging from their account, so lets hope all is well.
With such a clearly articulated strategy and initial success, I would not be surprised to see competitors spring up in other regions such as Asia and Africa where the name PowerMundo may not hold as much capital. This, of course, is one of the paradoxes of being a social business: more competition equals more smart minds working to improve the world's problems, but also means more smart minds working to take a slice of your business.
This article was written by me for publication on Care2.com