Ayllu (pronounced “eye-you”) is a Brazillian organization named after the beautifully communal, Incan term for the basic political and family unit. It is also an Echoing Green semifinalist. Helmed by social entrepreneur Melissa Richer, Ayllu is dedicated to lashing together the famously fragmented social venture space with much needed infrastructure.
Ayllu Ready for This? The social enterprise sector has mushroomed over the past decade, transforming from the strange younger cousin of philanthropy into the primary lightening rod of social transformation—attracting intellectual, monetary and sweat equity from all over the world. Passionate agents, mid-career switches as well as a burgeoning number of university students, are flocking into the field, dedicated to harnessing business principles to achieve social victories. Developing and scaling a social business model successfully requires solving a series of intractable problems. As explained by Peter Eliassen of VisionSpring in a NextBillion article on Ayllu, "Too often we have our heads down to the ground trying to determine our optimal operational strategy, and that creates a silo environment. Maybe someone else has already discovered a way to execute a similar strategy and we don't know about it." This means that although the sector has achieved a thrilling critical mass of participants, sophisticated infrastructure is now required to ensure less redundancy, more synergy, and continuing success.
This sentiment is shared by Jonathan Jenkins in an article written for the Guardian's Social Enterprise Network in December: “infrastructure is the key to solving the sector's spectacularly inefficient and fragmented marketplace of supply and demand.”. In many ways, this challenge comes down to scaling the social enterprise sector as a whole, instead of just one particular business model. The solution needs to be as “glocal”[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glocalisation] as social entrepreneurship to be successful.
The iuMap One of Ayllu's primary initiatives, the iuMap, is the world's largest directory of market solutions to poverty, with over 450 enterprises in 65+ developing countries. iuMap was built in partnership with OpenAction, a technology startup based in New York City that has worked with heavyweights such as Acumen Fund and Ashoka Foundation in the past to make it simpler for social enterprises to visualize information for their stake holders.
Since its launch in July 2010, iuMap has voraciously grown its database of social enterprises, and also unveiled greater functionality in January 2011. Users can search for social enterprises by name or by tags. Searches can even be filtered by location, issue area, legal structure and “supporters.” This last filter, to search ventures by supporters such as Skoll Foundation or Echoing Green fellow shows incredible foresight by Ayllu and is a great step towards pulling all the important players in the ecosystem together. In the coming months you can expect better curation of Ayllu's massive database with the unveiling of maps dedicated to the energy sector, as well as Indian social enterprises.
Vulnerable to Competition? The road to transforming what is little more than a database into a set of intelligent tools is long and vulnerable to hungry new players entering this critical niche. I feel that Ayllu has done a great job so far of dredging up cloistered social market information on to the internet, although I do question their decision to focus on tactical, issue-specific maps instead of plugging away at the broader, strategic organizational challenge.
Nonetheless, founder Melissa Richer has an Ashoka pedigree and a wealth of on-the-ground experience working with the communities she wants to benefit. She also has exciting ideas about hyper charging “microfranchises” by tacking synergistic franchises together to offer a portfolio of solutions to interested communities: essentially a PowerMundo for services instead of products.
I wish Melissa and her team the best of luck for advancing into the next round of the Echoing Green fellowship.
This article was written by me for publication on Care2.com