IDEAS

Forum brings together top social entrepreneurs, experts from the Americas

 

ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Arianna Huffington says it’s not only about focusing media coverage on what’s broken.

“We have a huge responsibility to focus on what is working and how we can scale the good things that are working,” the president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group told a crowd of several hundred people attending the Americas Business Council Continuity Forum on Wednesday.

What began as a purely news and politics site, the Huffington Post quickly evolved and expanded. Speaking on the future of media, Huffington said, “The era of the exclusive is over — media’s role is to tell us what millions of people see, hear, believe, and that can range from coverage of the Arab Spring to putting the spotlight on what is working in our communities,” she said. Noting that we are moving from a model of presentation to a model of participation, she added, “consuming news means sharing it. ... The creativity of this is the future.”

Huffington said after the Huffington Post launched “What is Working,” that area quickly became one of the most successful not only among readers but in terms of monetization. “It’s not just good for the world, it’s good for business,” added Huffington.

Huffington also talked about her entrepreneurial journey, how multiple failures paved the way for every success, and how you can’t listen to “the obnoxious roommate” in your head. Preaching about the power of a good night’s sleep and that multitasking can be hazardous to your health, “modern technologies can help us tremendously if we are not their slaves,” she said.

Now in its third year, the two-day homegrown abc* Continuity Forum, being held at the New World Center in Miami Beach in partnership with the global social entrepreneurship organization Ashoka, brings together high-profile speakers like Huffington passionately addressing social challenges across the Americas — from community building to poverty, food security and the war on drugs. The program includes presentations from 21 social entrepreneurs, all Ashoka fellows, and more than a dozen featured speakers, including Larry Summers, Buzz Aldrin, David Axelrod and Jane Goodall.

Founded by Poder Magazine and Latin American business and media leaders including Emilio Azcárraga, chairman and CEO of Grupo Televisa in 2008, the abc* Foundation aims to identify, replicate and scale innovative global solutions to social and environmental challenges facing the Americas.

“The Americas Business Council Continuity Forum provides a unique platform to discover and invest in innovative social and environmental projects,” said Camilo Galvis, executive director of the abc* Foundation. “With hands-on help from abc*, the initiatives will have the capacity to be scaled up or replicated to achieve specific objectives with measurable goals that help solve critical challenges in the Americas.”

Three promising ideas from the 21 presenting entrepreneurs will receive $100,000 each to help with financing, hands-on advising and operating expenses. Hopefuls included Flor Cassassuce of Grupo Eoz, a nonprofit that develops and distributes water purifiers to rural areas in Mexico. It has recently added a for-profit arm to distribute purifiers in urban areas, too. Francesco Piazzesi of Echale a tu Casa provides homes through revolving Social Financial Housing Funds, similar to little banks. Through the program started in Mexico and being replicated in other countries, “we have provided almost a million people with housing solutions,” he said.

Some of the solutions were surprisingly simple. How about a label that can change the world, asked Mitch Hedlund of Recycle Across America — and now Recycle Across the World. Recycling is as much an economic as an environmental solution, but the current system isn’t working, she said, providing evidence showing how common labels could wipe out the confusion. A key to her organization’s success is getting celebrities behind the campaign, she said..

Environmental legends Jane Goodall and Sylvia Earle discussed the past and future of the conservation movement. While the state of the movement seems dire, “what gives me hope is gatherings like this, business leaders talking about this,” Goodall said. “You can’t just look at the sky and say, ‘Woe is me,’ you have to soak it up ... and use your passion to make this world a better place,” Earle added.

Jeffrey Hollender, co-founder and former CEO of Seventh Generation — maker of hundreds of environmentally friendly household products — says businesses, including his own creations, have to think much more holistically. “We have confused ‘good’ with ‘less bad.’ A baby diaper can’t be good. Recycled paper towels are less bad but not good,” he said, using products of the company he founded as examples. “We support things that are less bad rather then trying to find large-scale sustainable solutions. ... Incremental change is no longer good enough.”

Hollender, who started his first social enterprise when he was 19, has recently launched a new company with his daughter. Sustain Condoms will offer the first non-toxic, fair-trade, sustainable condom, he said.

“I love to have businesses ask themselves, ‘What does the world most need that my business is uniquely able to provide?’ I think if corporations asked that question we would end up with very different businesses,” he said.

The conference continues Thursday with more presentations from social entrepreneurs and talks by Aldrin, Summers, Axelrod and others.

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

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