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5 Tips for Women Starting a Social Purpose Business

Heather_FranzeseThis post was written by guest blogger Heather Franzese, co-founder and executive director of Good World Solutions.

I spoke recently at the Lead On women’s leadership conference in Silicon Valley about how to build a successful social enterprise or social purpose business. The women I spoke with were working on diverse issues from elder care to human rights to breast cancer. But all wanted to achieve the maximum impact with their limited resources.

I’ve pulled together some tips from my experience over the last four years launching a social enterprise that leverages mobile technology to give voice to factory workers and improve their working conditions. No matter what issue you’re trying to tackle, these tips will get you closer to the impact you envision:

  1. Don’t try to do it alone. Assemble a team of advisors on key content areas. In the early days of Labor Link, I used BoardMatch, LinkedIn and my network to find individuals who were passionate about our mission and could advise on areas like talent development, pricing strategy, and ‘mobile for development.’
  2. Start small and iterate. We applied the principles of Lean Startup to Labor Link, starting with a ‘minimum viable product’ that we tested in Peru. Based on that learning and evidence of initial traction, we switched our technology approach from SMS to voice-response before expanding to India and China.
  3. Know yourself and find others who complement you. Going back to #1, build a team that brings diverse strengths to achieving your mission. Our team is using Gallup’s StrengthsFinder 2.0 tool to deepen our understanding of what we each do well so we can lean into our strengths.
  4. Place a few unlikely bets. In the beginning, you have nothing to lose so it pays to take chances. I attended a small conference in Switzerland where I was one of only two Americans in attendance, but I happened to sit next to the Head of Ethical Trading for Marks & Spencer. They were one of our first customers and have been a great partner for years.
  5. Once you have traction, focus focus focus! This is the hardest advice to follow. In the beginning, we tested Labor Link across different workplace types – rural farmers, factory workers, and home-based artisans. We found that the factory workers manufacturing our clothing and electronics are eager for their voices to be heard, and companies have an urgent need for real-time data from this workforce. So we put agriculture and artisan sector work on the back burner to dedicate all our energy to improve the lives of factory workers.

Whatever social issue you’re trying to address, take care of yourself. There’s no shame in getting lots of sleep. In fact, it’s coming back in style. You cannot achieving maximum impact if you or your team members are always on the verge of burnout.

A Purpose Economy 100 (PE100) global changemaker, Heather Franzese is the Executive Director of Good World Solutions and has been working for 15 years to improve the lives of vulnerable workers in global supply chains. Her award-winning social enterprise has leveraged mobile technology to give voice to factory workers and real-time data to leading clothing and electronics companies. Since 2010, the organization’s Labor Link platform has reached over 200,000 workers in 16 countries, including China, India, Bangladesh, and Brazil.

Heather brings together industry experience with Columbia Sportswear Company and field experience working with small-scale farmers in West Africa. She sits on Etsy’s Manufacturing Advisory Board and holds a master’s degree in economic development from Harvard Kennedy School.

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No Inclusive Growth Without Women and Girls in ICT

Last week we partnered with the WEF in launching the 2015 Global Information Technology Report highlighting the importance of closing the gender gap in ICT to ensure everybody benefits from ICTs. Today as we celebrate the ITU’s Girl in ICT day all around the world, we recognize the challenge in front of us: fewer women and girls than men and boys use mobile phones and the Internet, fewer girls have shown interest in ICT careers, and fewer women currently hold positions in this industry.

Some of the statistics are sobering:

  • Teenage girls are 5 times less likely to consider a technology-related career compared to boys of the same age, even though the way in which each gender uses computers and the Internet is nearly identical.
  • Only 18% of undergraduate computer science degrees were awarded to women in the United States between 2008 and 2011.
  • In OECD countries, women account for less than a fifth of ICT-related specialists.

The ramifications of not encouraging young girls to cultivate a love of science, technology, engineering, and/or math (STEM) – and more specifically, ICT – are broad reaching and impacts countries, communities and individuals. An enormous gap exists between the size of the ICT workforce demanded and the current global supply. Simply put, more positions are available or are in the process of being created than there are skilled workers to fill them. Employers around the world are struggling to fill hundreds of thousands of ICT jobs, and part of the problem is the lack of women trained in these fields.

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Cisco Offices Worldwide Celebrate International Girls in ICT Day

Even though I grew up surrounded by engineers and technology in Silicon Valley, I didn’t decide to seriously study science until my freshman year in college, when I switched my major from economics to theoretical mathematics at the suggestion of my calculus professor. That was the first time a teacher told me I had a strong aptitude for math and encouraged me to expand my idea of what kinds of studies and careers to pursue. Mentors are widely recognized as being a key factor in helping girls decide to study science and technology. This is especially true in developing counties where there are traditionally fewer professional female role models. Cisco is a champion for educating girls and women in technology and understands the importance of mentors early in a girl’s academic career. This is why 70 Cisco offices in 52 countries are putting on events for International Girls in ICT Day, introducing students to successful professionals and encouraging them to study science and technology.

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Cisco Celebrates International Girls in ICT Day

Women earn 57% of all U.S. undergraduate degrees but only 18% of undergraduate computer and information sciences degrees, according to the National Center for Women in Technology. Yet according to U.S. Department of Labor estimates, more than 1.4 million computing-related job openings will exist by 2020, with only enough computer degree graduates to fill 30% of them.

And globally, women comprise less than a third of workers in the computer science, engineering, and physics fields in some of the world’s key emerging economies, according to a report by Women in Global Science & Technology.

Attracting more girls and women to the technology field benefits women, their families, their communities, and the businesses they work for. Women are powerful catalysts for change in any society: When women are able to earn an income, they typically reinvest 90 percent of it back into their families and communities.

To help tap this valuable talent pool and attract more women to careers in the information and communications technology (ICT) field, Cisco is participating in Girls in ICT Day – an international event organized by the by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

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Cisco Hosts Future Women Leaders from Tunisia

rbartmesThis post was written by guest blogger Richard Bartmess, a Cisco IT analyst.

Inspired by the 2011 Tunisian Revolution and the demand for more freedom, transparency, and democracy, Afràa is determined to fight against corruption and to help lead her country forward. Imane has a master’s degree and works in an engineering field dominated by men. Neila co-founded a political party that won four seats in Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly.

Afràa, Imane, and Neila are just 3 of the 17 women from Tunisia who visited Cisco today as part of the Women’s Initiative Fellowship of the George W. Bush Institute.  The Women’s Initiative Fellowship is designed to enhance the leadership skills of women around the world, with a focus on women in the Middle East and Africa.

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